Have you ever thought about getting ferrets as pets? You probably had if you are here reading this article.
Maybe you are someone who loves hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, rats, mice, or have an attraction for rodents, and are now considering buying or adopting a ferret. Still, you have some doubts about whether ferrets are good pets or not.
You might also be a parent whose child desperately insists on getting him a ferret as his first pet, and you just want to make sure that ferrets are not dangerous for children.
If you are in one of the positions above or you only want to know more facts about ferrets and their habits as domestic animals, keep reading. Further, I'm going to highlight the pros and cons of owning ferrets. At the end of this article, you should be able to make a better idea if a ferret is the most suitable pet for you or not.
Before talking about ferrets as pets, let's first look at how these animals live in the wild and their natural behavior and instincts.
|Scientific Name||Mustela putorius furo|
|Typical Lifespan||6 - 9 years|
Ferrets are what many consider to be a domesticated subspecies of the European polecat, a member of the family of mustelids. This group includes animals like weasels, wolverines, otters, badgers, martens, and others.
Even though ferrets are genetically very similar to the European polecat, the actual origin of the domestic ferrets cannot be determined accurately since the exact species we find for sale in pet shops cannot be found in the wild.
There is only a single species of wild ferrets called the black-footed ferret (scientific name, Mustela nigripes) that is indigenous to North America. Unfortunately, these wild ferrets are amongst the list of the most endangered animals in America.
In other regions of the world, in the wild, we find only polecats. Yet, because of their similitudes to ferrets, it's not uncommon for people to refer to these animals as "ferrets."
Polecats vs. Ferrets
Besides the different behaviors and temperaments, visually, there are only a few minor differences between polecats and ferrets:
- Polecats are typically larger and more muscular than ferrets.
- Ferrets have more fur color variations in comparison to polecats which typically are darker colors.
- Polecats usually have larger heads than the domestic ferrets.
There are also a few other not so obvious distinctions. For a more in-depth comparison between the features of ferrets and polecats, see this PDF from The Vincent Wildlife Trust.
It is not possible to determine precisely when humans began to domesticate polecats. Some claim that the domestic ferrets we see in captivity today are the result of the domestication of polecats that started more than 2,500 years ago. Presumably, this process began in Egypt, but this is highly questionable.
The original purpose of these animals was to hunt wild rabbits, but over time, ferrets have also been used to catch rats, mice, and other small animals.
Can You Keep Ferrets As Pets?
The number of ferrets as pets has rapidly grown in popularity in many countries in recent years. Before even considering getting or adopting a ferret, you should first check if you are legally allowed to own a ferret where you live. In some countries or states, owning ferrets as pets requires a special permit.
While you can legally own ferrets in most regions of the United States, it is prohibited to keep these animals as pets in California and Hawaii. The laws can change all the time, so make sure you ask a vet or someone at a local pet store before you make a decision.
The popularity of ferrets among pets has reached a very high level in recent years in the United States, and there seems to be an upward trend for the demand of these animals.
I think it's worth mentioning that in America, since 2014, there is even a national ferret day, which is celebrated on April 2nd every year. This date was accepted by the American Ferret Association as a day to educate people regarding the domesticated ferrets and to support responsible ownership of these animals.
What Do Ferrets Eat?
Both ferrets and polecats are carnivorous. This means that their diet is based almost entirely on the consumption of meat.
In the wild, the menu of polecats typically includes tiny animals like rabbits, rats, frogs, salamanders, birds, earthworms, and small mammals.
Some may be quick to conclude that ferrets are not good pets just because they are animals of prey who consume meat. However, I think it would be wrong to jump to conclusions already. Cats are also carnivores, and they make great pets and are our loved companions since ancient times.
For a healthy life, domestic ferrets should also have a protein-rich diet, mostly consisting of meat products and derivatives.
The ferret foods available in pet shops frequently also contain cereals, fish, yucca extract, and an addition of vitamins. Many times, these ingredients can also be found in many types of cat foods. Still, it is not advisable to give your ferret cat or dog food because they can have serious digestive problems if they eat certain meals.
Therefore, when you own this kind of pet, you should exclusively feed him with ferret food, or anything that you are 100% sure that is safe for ferrets.
Keep your ferrets out of your kitchen when you let them run free around your house. They might eat any food bits they find on the floor. While that can be perfectly safe for cats and dogs, this insignificant thing can become life-threatening for ferrets.
Ferrets have a slightly shorter lifespan than cats and dogs. Even though there have been cases when ferrets have reached the age of 14-15 years, the majority of them do not surpass 10 years of age.
The age that most well-cared ferrets will reach is between 6 to 9 years.
Temperament And Habits
If you owned a dog or a cat before, you probably know how energetic, friendly, and playful, these furry friends can be. But how do ferrets compare to these more conventional pets when it comes to temperament and habits?
Ferrets have become such popular pets mainly due to their above-average intelligence and the fact that they are such entertaining animals. Some say that ferrets are not as smart as dogs, but they possess an intelligence level that is close to cats.
If you love offering attention to your pets, ferrets are just what you need. They are energetic and entertaining animals and can spend extended periods playing. If ferrets don't have a play partner, they will play with their toys or use the things around them for entertaining.
Similar to cats and various predators, ferrets are nocturnal animals. This means that these mammals are naturally more active during night time, respectively in the morning and late evening. Yet, many times, they can adapt their sleeping habits based on their owner's schedule, just as many cats do. Hence, if you are used to a cat's routine, you might also quickly get used to the active hours of ferrets.
Because they typically sleep a lot throughout the day, ferrets can also be great pets for someone with a day job. Give them enough attention in the evening and ferrets will be happy.
Just as many other pets, ferrets can have a series of health problems.
After adopting or buying a ferret, it is recommended to pay a visit to a vet clinic for an initial consultation as soon as possible. The vet will check the general health status of your new pet and schedule the required vaccines.
Ferrets require shots against rabies and distemper, two deadly diseases that are common among many mammals. While there isn't a particular distemper virus that attacks only ferrets, they can get the disease from non-immunized dogs.
Usually, ferrets can start receiving their vaccinations at the age of 8, 11, and 14 weeks. Still, depending on other factors, such as the exposure to a dog with confirmed distemper disease, these can start earlier. Rabies and distemper shots need to be repeated every year. A veterinarian will be best able to determine the best vaccination program for your pet.
In addition to the diseases caused by the viruses mentioned above, ferrets are often affected by diseases of the digestive system. These are most often caused by an inadequate diet.
Ferrets have relatively big stomachs and short intestines. While they can digest small amounts of simple carbohydrates, the health issues start to occur when they have a diet that includes too many of these or complex carbohydrates. For more info related to the best foods for ferrets, go to "what do ferrets eat?" section.
Do ferrets smell?
Ferrets have a specific smell, many times described as "a musky" odor by their owners.
While many of the ferrets available in shops have been descented (by having some smell-emanating glands removed), you might still find ferrets that did not pass through this procedure. These will usually have a stronger odor, which may bother some persons.
It is worth mentioning that even the ferrets that have gone through this process still have some smell glands at the level of the face that are not removed.
While ferrets do not emit a prominent odor when in roomy spaces, this might become an issue for the persons that own more of these pets and keep them in smaller apartment rooms.
You can usually overcome this problem by ventilating these rooms more often and by getting a good ferret shampoo that should reduce their natural smell. Don't bath your ferrets more than 2-3 times a month, though. Removing their natural skin protective oil can stimulate their glands to produce even more of these smelly substances.
Do ferrets bite?
Ferrets possess sharp teeth and have a powerful bite that can do some severe damage, including crushing bones. Just as many domesticated animals, they only tend to bite in limited cases. For instance, ferrets can bite when they feel threatened, if they did not have enough interaction with humans in the past, if they were mistreated, or if not handled properly.
Ferrets can also bite while they are playing, but that's habitually just a "friendly" bite (commonly referred to as nibbles or nipping). This behavior is seen more often to young exemplars and will typically pass once the ferrets grow older.
Ferrets can also bite when they want your attention, but that's again only a light bite, which is also very common amongst puppies and cats.
One thing to avoid when you own ferrets is to touch them while they sleep. They are heavy sleepers and don't have very good eyesight. Bothering them while they sleep can activate their natural defensive instincts and can bite you before realizing who you are. If you need to wake up a ferret, just make some noise and call it by the name.
Are ferrets good pets for kids?
Ferrets are not the best pets for young children because they can bite if handled inappropriately. They might also perceive a newborn baby as a potential small prey if they've never seen a child before.
Unfortunately, there were recorded more of these types of sad events in the past related to ferrets attacking kids. That's also the case of a 4-month old infant who had seven of his fingers amputated by a six months old ferret who was the family's pet.
You should never leave a small baby unsupervised when you own one or more ferrets, regardless of how peaceful the animals seem to be. That's a rule, though, that might also apply to many other pets.
Can you potty train ferrets?
While it's not a simple task to train a ferret to use a litter box, it is not impossible. They are incredibly intelligent animals, and with a little patience and perseverance, you can potty train ferrets.
When left free in a room, ferrets typically like to pick the place for their toilet in one of the corners. Because of their natural self-protective instincts and their not very impressive eyesight, they always want to know what's behind them. Hence, a corner represents an excellent place for them to do their needs while having their back secured.
Place litter boxes in corners when you let a new ferret walk around the room freely. In time, they will learn to use them, and you should be able to find out which is the spot they prefer.
Do ferrets chew on things?
Ferrets like to chew on things made out of soft materials. Many have an attraction for items made out of rubber, foam, or any fabric they find luscious.
This can be very annoying when you take the ferret out of his cage since you have to continually watch out for him to ensure he doesn't chew anything you don't want.
If you decide to get a ferret, you should move any wires lying on the floor and remove any softer items that he might chew. Also, you should restrict his access as much as possible under the couch, under the fridge, or in any other tight spot where you cannot see what he's doing.
A ferret's passion for chewing on things might drop once with age, but that's not necessarily a rule of thumb. You might be able to cut a bit of its chewing appetite by buying him chewing toys.
After learning all this about ferrets, I think we can draw a short conclusion about whether or not ferrets are good pets.
Ferrets make excellent pets for the people willing to care for them properly. Just as any pets, they require time and attention from their owner.
Ferrets are curious animals, many times more playful than dogs and cats, social and highly affectionate, and can create strong bonds with their owners. While ferrets can bite in during playtime or when they feel threatened, their bites are usually no more damaging or more common than those of cats.
Since you now know all these facts about ferrets, you should be able to make your own decision on whether ferrets are the most suitable pets for you or not.