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15 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Ferret

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10. Ferrets love to get into trouble!

That old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat?” That’s literally true for some ferrets. When they’re out and about they require constant supervision to make sure they aren’t slipping under (or inside of) furniture, behind appliances like ovens and refrigerators, or chewing on rubber bands or other objects that could cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage.

They’ll frequently fall sleep in piles of laundry, under furniture, or even nestled in the sheets of your bed — so if the house has gone strangely silent and your ferret isn’t responding to your call, be very careful where you step and don’t sit down anywhere until you’ve found your furry friend and have them safely napping back in their cage.

More often than not, your ferret’s habits won’t be dangerous, merely incredibly annoying. Some ferrets will steal every dirty sock in the house and stash them all in a huge pile under your bed — I even had one who would knock over laundry hampers to get at them. Other ferrets might be obsessed with stealing toilet paper tubes out of your bathroom trash can. If these don’t sound like situations you can handle with grace, tact and a sense of humor, ferrets are not the right pet for you.

11. Ferrets live almost as long as some dogs.

While most small animals live only a couple of years, ferrets can live substantially longer — most live anywhere from 5-7 years, but a healthy ferret without any chronic health conditions (more on this point later) can live to be 10, 11, even 12 years old. Are you ready to make that kind of commitment? You need to be prepared to spend at least half a decade caring for and sharing your life with a ferret if you decide to adopt. If this seems like too long, consider another small pet, or maybe adopt an adult or senior ferret from a local rescue.

12. Ferrets can be delicate animals, so handle them with care.

Ferrets originated in northern Europe, so while they can handle reasonably cold temperatures fairly well, they’re not acclimated to the summer temperatures of many parts of the United States. They can get dehydrated easily, and because they don’t have sweat glands, they become uncomfortable at temperatures around 80 degrees, and can become severely heat stressed and die at temperatures higher than 85 degrees. Consider your local climate — and how much you’re willing to spend on air conditioning — before you bring home a ferret.

There are other health risks to consider when you have a ferret. The human influenza virus and some bacterial infections can be passed between people and ferrets — so if you’re sick, you need to either get a friend or family member to take care of your pet for a few days, or you need to thoroughly wash your hands before handling your ferret, and avoid touching him or her as much as possible.

Ferrets also need to be vaccinated against canine distemper — even if you don’t have a dog. The virus can be picked up from the ground or dogs you encounter outside the home and you can inadvertently bring the disease back to your house. This virus is 100% fatal in unvaccinated ferrets, so stay on the safe side and talk to your vet about getting the vaccine.

13. It’s not easy to find a good exotic animal veterinarian.

The sad fact is that most vet’s offices are only equipped to handle dogs and cats. Even vets who say they are willing to treat ferrets may not know that much about their unique health needs. If you’re going to get a pet ferret, you owe it to yourself to research your local options before making the commitment. Get online and look for reviews. Connect with groups of local ferret owners and ask for recommendations. Call vet’s offices and ask if they treat ferrets. If they say yes, ask for more details — try to find out how many ferrets a particular vet has treated, where they studied, if they have any pet ferrets themselves, and how long they’ve been practicing.

Then, once you’ve found one vet who knows what they’re doing, keep looking. Always have a backup plan in case your primary vet is out sick or on vacation. Find out what emergency veterinary options exist in your area while you’re at it, because you never know when you’re going to have a late-night or weekend problem come up.

14. Ferrets may not even be legal to own in your area.

Several countries and parts of the United States have banned ferrets completely for a variety of reasons. Ferrets cannot be imported into Australia at all — and this makes sense, once you realize how many problems they’ve had with invasive, non-native species. In New Zealand, wild ferret-polecat hybrids were intentionally bred to control rabbit populations in the 1870s, disrupting native wildlife populations.

In the United States, ferrets are banned from Hawaii and Puerto Rico due to concerns about the potential spread of rabies. In California, ferrets are banned because of fears that escaped pet ferrets might breed and disrupt the local ecosystem. (I think this is an unrealistic concern, given that most ferrets have been sterilized, but the law is the law.) They’re restricted in New York City and Washington, DC. Some states, like Rhode Island, allow ferrets only with a permit. Always check your local laws before you set your heart on adopting a ferret — you don’t want your pet to be taken away from you, euthanized, or denied medical care due to local laws.

On that note, most states require rabies vaccinations for ferrets, the same way they’re required for dogs and cats. Make sure you’re complying with your local laws even if ferrets are legal in your area.

15. Last, but not least, ferret ownership may end in tragedy.

Ferrets are, without a doubt, my favorite animals in the world. I love everything about owning them as pets. I love their quirky personalities, their habit of finding new and interesting ways to create mischief, their sudden surprises and their infectious enthusiasm for life. So while I don’t want to discourage anyone from adopting one of these wonderful pets, there’s one major drawback to ferret ownership potential pet parents need to know about.

Sadly, pet ferrets aren’t very healthy animals. They have a high rate of chronic illnesses and cancers, including cancer of the lymph nodes, adrenal disease, pancreatic cancer and even heart disease. If caught early, these conditions can be treated, but it’s often expensive and always stressful for both owners and their furry companions.

While you need to be prepared for the potential emotional pain of caring for an ill pet, you should also be financially prepared to pay expensive vet bills (potentially upwards of $1,000) when your ferret enters its senior years. Do not adopt a ferret if you know you can’t emotionally or financially handle the possibility of a very sick older pet.

That being said, owning ferrets is incredibly rewarding, and these pets can offer many years of loyal, affectionate companionship. If you’re prepared to stick with your furry friend through the good times and bad, and you’re committed to getting regular checkups as your pet enters its senior years, congratulations. You’re well on the path to being the best pet parent a ferret could hope for.

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99 comments

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5:10AM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

6:10PM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

They sound adorable and fun, but extremely high maintenance. Think I'll admire from afar.

4:52PM PDT on Oct 15, 2013

ferrets must be kept off carbs and sugars and anything with much magnsium as these things are very bad for their kidneys they can be given a tiny amount of a low mag low sugar friet once in a while like a berrey but to be safe google these first for magnsium and sugar thats a no brainer no banana or dried friut if you feed kibble don/t give anything else i find that right now mine are doing great on raw beef hearts i aviod chicken it pro cancer in any thing read dr. virginia livinston wheeler and you will know why too

8:30PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

No thanks, not I.

2:59PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

if ferrets smell awful, then you can likely blame their owners for either not keeping their cage/bedding clean, and/or feeding them the wrong food.

one thing that these articles never seem to fully cover is that ferrets can be born deaf. This article states that white ones are affected and that is not really the truth. Most of the dozens of white ferrets that I have been associated with have NOT been deaf. But, 1 type that is almost always deaf are the ones with a white blaze on the top of their heads. My last little deaf guy was so smart that he actually taught me hand signals and body language so that I knew what he wanted. As some have pointed out, they do get very sick and it is important to know the signs of serious illness. Most of my ferrets have died w/i 24 hours of their 1st symptoms. And twice vets have told me that we will have to keep an eye on them for the next few weeks, only for their illness to progress very quickly and kill them w/i days.

12:37PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

They are so beautiful, intelligent and adorable.

8:36AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

Thanks for sharing!

6:17AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

Thank you.

5:18AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

great article!
I once thought about having a ferret, but I don't think I can do it at the moment.
But from what this article says, there are many characteristics of ferrets that remind me of rats. I've had pet rats and they too have very different personalities, some like to steal papers (like my homework) or pencils from your desk, sleep under the desk, and if the cage is not rat-proof they can get out, and they nibble on everything. They are so smart and can be really cheeky. And they also very often get cancer when they get old :( A lot similar to ferrets, from what this article says. But probably rats are easier to care for.
So, after reading this, maybe I'll think about adopting a ferret once I have time and space for him :)

4:50AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

TY.

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