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Ferret

Ferret Care Sheet

Mustela putorius furo
Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Ferrets are affectionate, intelligent small animals who love to play and explore. They are known for their happy, inquisitive nature and humorous behavior.

Typical ferret appearance and behavior

  • Ferrets are intelligent, playful and mischievous. They love to collect and hide household items.  Digging is a natural behavior, so be careful with house plants
  • Ferrets are very social and generally love to live with other ferrets, especially if raised together
  • They sleep for up to 18 hours during the day and tend to be most active in the evening
  • Some ferrets may communicate by making entertaining noises or by using body language. The “weasel war dance,” one of a ferret’s iconic moves, can be observed when your ferret is happily excited
  • Ferrets are born with scent glands at the base of their tails that cause them to smell musky. These glands are removed shortly after birth in domesticated ferrets to limit their extreme odor, but de-scented ferrets retain a mildly musky smell
  • Nipping is a natural behavior to get attention or show defensiveness when awakened. Young ferrets tend to nip most and typically outgrow this behavior as they get older
  • Ferrets can be litter box-trained and can walk on a leash and harness. They need a great deal of out-of-habitat time daily to exercise and burn off energy

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Intermediate. Appropriate for pet parents with time and space available to socialize
Average Life Span up to 8 years with proper care
Average Adult Size 15 inches long
Diet Carnivore
Minimum Habitat Size Minimum size of 2’ x ‘2’ x 3’ with multiple levels

Habitat 

Habitat size

Ferrets need a large, multi-tiered, wire-sided habitat at least 2’x 2’x 3’ with good ventilation, a secure door and a solid floor. Openings between the wires should be small enough so the habitat is escape-proof. Provide the largest habitat possible.

Building your habitat

In addition to a large habitat, ferrets need a large, escape-proof, enclosed space. The area should be “ferret-proofed” so it is free of wires, loose objects and other items to chew on since they need daily time to run in this enclosed space for exercise. Ferrets acclimate well to average household temperatures, not to exceed 80°F. Avoid extreme temperature changes. Their habitat should never be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area.

  • Bedding - 1 to 2 inches of bedding should be placed in the habitat. Proper bedding includes high-quality, commercially available paper bedding, crumbled butcher or other plain paper, and towels or blankets, as long as your pet doesn’t chew on them  
    • A different substrate should be used in their litter box than what is used in the bottom of their habitat  
  • Décor - The habitat should also include a hammock, ramps, shelves to perch on, hiding places and a litter box. Ferrets particularly love tubes and tunnels to run through 
  • Toys - Your pet should be provided with ferret-safe toys free of small pieces or rubber that may be chewed and ingested

Cleaning your ferret’s habitat

Spot clean your ferret’s habitat daily as needed to remove soiled bedding and leftover food. Clean and disinfect the habitat and its contents completely at least once a week by:

  • Moving the ferret to a separate, secure location
  • Washing the habitat with a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Follow the habitat cleaner manufacturer’s instructions or allow the bleach solution to remain in contact with the habitat and décor for 10 minutes before rinsing off to ensure proper disinfection
  • Rinse and allow to dry completely before placing fresh bedding, dried décor and your pet back into the habitat

Feeding

What to feed your ferret

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means their nutrients must be derived from meat sources. A well-balanced ferret diet consists of:

  • A high-quality protein, moderate-fat, low-carbohydrate diet formulated specifically for ferrets 
  • Small pieces of lean, cooked meat are appropriate as occasional treats. While ferrets in nature consume raw food in the form of mice, domesticated ferrets should not be offered raw diets, as their gastrointestinal (GI) tracts are not adapted to bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter, which can potentially be found in raw food and cause life-threatening GI tract infections
  • Ferrets can be fed a limited amount of high-protein, low-carbohydrate treats. Treats should not exceed 10% of total food

Things to remember when feeding your ferret:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Feeding dry kibble helps keep dental tartar in check
  • Ferrets should be fed from untippable bowls
  • Ferrets will eat all day from boredom and become obese if they have no other enrichment. Therefore, healthy ferrets should be control-fed twice a day, similarly to most dogs
  • Middle-aged and older ferrets commonly develop pancreatic tumors called insulinomas, which release large amounts of insulin and drive blood sugar down. These ferrets should have continuous access all day to food to keep their blood sugar levels constant
  • All food given to ferrets 16 weeks or younger should be moistened for easier consumption and to ensure the young ferrets are properly hydrated. Once ferrets have their adult teeth, food no longer needs to be moistened, as long as they consume a sufficient amount of water
  • Do not feed ferrets chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these items are toxic and can cause serious medical conditions, including death. Avoid sugar, food and treats high in carbohydrates or fat

Ferret care

  • In some locales, ferrets are illegal as pets, so if you are considering a ferret as a pet, be sure to check your local laws first
  • Ferrets tend to keep themselves quite clean by grooming themselves. They may be bathed monthly with ferret shampoo to help keep them clean. They should not be bathed more frequently than monthly or their skin may dry out. They have a natural musky odor that bathing will not remove
  • Outer ears should be cleaned to remove waxy debris using a cotton ball and ferret ear-cleaning solution as needed
  • All baby teeth should be in by 3 months of age. They will begin losing these teeth as their adult teeth come in, which should happen by the time they are 9 months old. Adult ferrets should be taught to accept teeth-brushing by their pet parents with a small toothbrush, designed for ferrets or kittens, that fits on the tip of a finger, along with meat-flavored toothpaste formulated for ferrets or cats
  • Nails should be clipped every 2-3 weeks. Fur may be brushed daily with a fine-toothed comb or soft-bristled brush. Ferrets shed their coat twice a year—in spring and fall—and are prone to developing hairballs in their intestinal tracts when they shed. Therefore, daily brushing is essential to minimizing hairball formation
  • Never allow ferrets out of their habitat unsupervised, as they tend to chew on household objects such as shoes, furniture, electrical cords, earbuds and more. This can lead to the development of life-threatening gastrointestinal tract obstructions from ingesting these inappropriate items. They also tend to crawl into and hide in the smallest spaces, including dishwashers, washing machines and couch cushions
  • Avoid housing too many ferrets together in overcrowded conditions. Overcrowding is a major cause of stress, immune system suppression and disease, especially when ammonia from urine and fecal material accumulates
  • Like cats and dogs, ferrets should have annual veterinary checkups and receive vaccinations for distemper and rabies viruses
  • Distemper vaccinations are required at 8, 11 and 14 weeks of age; rabies vaccinations are required between 12 and 16 weeks of age, depending on the geographic locations. After that time, ferrets require annual distemper and rabies vaccinations
  • Ferrets should also be maintained on heartworm and flea and tick preventives to prevent potentially deadly infections,, especially if they go outside
  • If you take your ferret outdoors, you must use a harness and lead designed for ferrets 
  • As they age, ferrets should have annual blood testing to help diagnose certain diseases early while they are still treatable. Your vet may test for adrenal gland tumors and insulinoma tumors. when Consult your veterinarian regarding specific preventive medical care for your ferret
  • Because ferrets are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as flu (including H1N1) viruses, giardia parasites, and salmonella and campylobacter bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your small pet or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease
  • Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for small pets and should consider having a pet other than a ferret

Where to buy

Ferrets are available at select Petco locations, however, ferrets are illegal to own as pets in certain locales. To learn more about availability in your location, call your local Petco.

Supplies

Habitat mates

  • Ferrets are very social and may be kept in pairs or multiples if raised together and introduced correctly. Most domestically bred ferrets in the United States are spayed and neutered after birth, before they are sold, so that males and females can live together without the risk of reproducing. Unspayed and unneutered ferrets should not be housed together, or they will breed
  • Young ferrets may be asymptomatic carriers of Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE or “green slime diarrhea”), a viral disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Use caution when introducing new ferrets into your home, as a new young ferret may appear healthy but may be an asymptomatic carrier of ECE that can spread to other ferrets in the home who may become sick within 3 days to 2 weeks after exposure. Affected ferrets with ECE may have green, mucousy diarrhea, lethargy and decreased appetite. Seek immediate veterinary attention if you suspect your ferret has ECE
  • While ferrets typically enjoy living with other ferrets, they should not be housed with pets of other species. If they live in a household with other pets, they should never be left out unsupervised with these other pets, even if all the animals appear to live harmoniously

Health

Signs of a healthy ferret

  • Active and social when awake
  • Sleeps up to 18 hours per day
  • Shiny coat
  • Clear eyes and nose free of discharge
  • Eats and drinks regularly
  • Passes formed stool

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Diarrhea or dirty bottom
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Lack of urination or straining to urinate
  • Distressed breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Eye or nasal discharge
  • Skin lesions
  • Itchy skin
  • Prolapsed rectum
  • Overgrown nails
  • Broken or missing teeth

Common Health Issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueDiarrhea Symptoms or Causes Loose stools caused by poor diet, stress, internal parasites, unclean housing, ingestion of a foreign object, presence of a hairball in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or GI tract infection with viruses, bacteria or parasites. Suggested ActionConsult with a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment.
Health IssueEar mites Symptoms or CausesParasite that causes itching and brownish discharge in ears. Suggested ActionConsult a veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueRespiratory tract infection Symptoms or CausesSymptoms include crusty eyes, sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge and labored breathing. Suggested ActionConsult a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Isolate anyone in your house who may have the human influenza virus (flu), as ferrets are susceptible to contracting this illness from people.
Health IssueAdrenal gland disorder Symptoms or CausesLoss of hair; itchy skin; swelling of vulva in females; swelling of prostate in males causing straining and inability to urinate. Suggested ActionConsult a veterinarian.
Health IssueInsulinoma tumor Symptoms or CausesWeakness in hind legs, weight loss, pawing at the mouth from pancreatic tumor Suggested ActionConsult a veterinarian.

FAQs

  • How long do ferrets live? Ferrets can live up to 8 years with proper care.
  • What do ferrets eat? Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means their nutrients must be derived from meat sources. A recommended ferret diet would consist of a high-quality protein, moderate-fat, low-carbohydrate formula created specifically for ferrets. 
  • Are ferrets good pets? Ferrets are good pets for people who have the time and space to socialize them. They should never be left unsupervised, especially around young children.·  
  • Are ferrets rodents? Ferrets are not rodents but are members of the weasel family.
  • Why do ferrets have an odor? Ferrets are born with scent glands at the base of their tails that cause them to smell musky. These glands are removed shortly after birth in domesticated ferrets to limit their extreme odor, but de-scented ferrets retain a mildly musky smell.
  • Can ferrets eat cat food? Before there was commercially available food made specifically for ferrets, pet ferrets were fed cat food. Now there are specific diets made just for ferrets that are more appropriate for them than cat food.
  • Do ferrets and cats get along? Ferrets and cats are both predators and can live harmoniously in the same household but should never be left together unsupervised.
  • How big do ferrets get? On average, ferrets grow to approximately 15 inches long with males being larger than females.
  • Do ferrets get along with dogs? Ferrets and dogs are both predators and can live harmoniously in the same household but should never be left together unsupervised. 
  • Can ferrets use cat litter? Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, however, it is important to select the right litter to prevent health concerns. As ferrets like to root and dig with their noses, sand or silica-based cat litter can be detrimental to their nasal passages and respiratory tracts. Scented and clumping litter should also be avoided. There are a number of ferret-safe paper-based or pelleted litters made specifically for small animals that are a much safer option.   

 

Additional care sheets

 

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because ferrets are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as flu (including H1N1) viruses, and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your small pet or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for small pets and should consider having a pet other than a ferret.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about small animals and disease.

Note: The information in this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian.