4. Getting a pet ferret
5. Getting ready for your ferret
6. Ferret supplies
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As with people, a ferret's inherent personality is more important than
color or gender. Choose whatever color you like best.
There's no consistent personality difference between a (neutered) male
and a female. Males are generally considerably larger, around 18" and
2-5 pounds (that's 45 cm and 0.9 to 2.3 kg, in the US; European-bred
ferrets differ a bit) compared to 15" and 0.75-3 pounds (40 cm and 0.4 to
1.3 kg) for females. Males' heads are usually wider, which can give
them a more cat-like appearance. If you're getting an unneutered
ferret, bear in mind that the cost to spay a female can be higher than
the cost to neuter a male. (Unless you're specifically planning to
breed them, you will NEED to "alter" your pets.)
There are two contradictory opinions regarding what age ferret is best
for a new owner. Adults tend to be a bit calmer and may already be
litter- and nip-trained, but they are larger and may have
acquired bad habits, too. Kits are very cute, and their small size
and (for a young kit) sleepiness can be less intimidating for a new
owner, but they require more care and a lot more training and will
become very active before too long. Ferrets under 7 or 8 weeks
probably shouldn't be away from their mothers yet, and many breeders
prefer to keep their kits for 10 weeks or more.
If you can't tell whether you have a male or female, it's probably a
female. :) Look on the belly of the ferret, about halfway between the
tail and the bottom of the rib cage. If you see what looks like an
"outie" belly button, it's a male -- and it's not a belly button.
Otherwise, look just in front of the anus for a second opening,
perhaps with a tiny flap of skin. If you see that, it's a female.
To double-check, look at a once-used litter pan. Ferrets usually
urinate and defecate in one "sitting," and because of the anatomy
described above, males leave puddles a few inches in front of their
piles, females right on top.
Ferrets don't need other ferrets to be happy, but if you won't be
around much, two or more will keep each other company. They'll also
be more fun, but more responsibility. Many people have three, five or
more ferrets, which may be more fun than you can take. :-)
I'd recommend getting one at first, so you can get to know it, and it
you. There's some advantage to only having to train one at a time,
too. I'd suggest at least a month between them, if you're going
to get several, although it's certainly not necessary. If you decide
you want more later, you can always get another; they usually get along just fine. There's no problem mixing (neutered) ferrets of
either gender in any combination.
Where to go
Many pet stores have ferrets, and there are often ads in the newspaper
placed by small breeders with kits to sell or people who want to
sell older ferrets.
A ferret from a ferret shelter is also an excellent choice.
They're often a little older than kits from a pet store, but they've
probably already been litter- and nip-trained, and the shelter
director will know more about their individual habits and
personalities. It's also less expensive to adopt from a shelter, and
of course you're giving a home to a ferret in need. A local ferret
club or a veterinarian who treats a lot of ferrets may be able to help
you find a nearby shelter.
What to look for
In any case, look for bright, clear eyes, healthy skin and whiskers,
soft coat, and a curious, alert attitude. You can't tell just how a
kit's colorings will turn out, but if you watch and handle a group for
a while you can tell a surprising amount about their personalities.
Young kits will generally be pretty sleepy and uncoordinated, but
they'll grow out of that soon enough.
Blue dots on the ear
If your ferret has two blue dots tattooed in his right ear, chances
are he's from Marshall Farms, a large breeder located in Western New
York. They tattoo one dot when the ferret is spayed or neutered and
the other when it's descented. Several other breeders also mark dots
in their kits' ears, so a tattooed ferret may not be from MF. Hagen,
a Canadian breeder, uses a red X (for females) or Y (for males).
Marshall Farms (MF) has been the subject of some controversy
because they sell ferrets to laboratories as well as for pets. Some
people feel that MF's efforts to produce ferrets for lab use might
have resulted in their pets being genetically less healthy, but
there's no evidence to support that. In fact, for many types of
research, genetically diverse animals are needed.
About Marshall Farms
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
There have been a lot of rumors going around recently concerning
Marshall Farms ferrets. I'm not sure where they got started, but
let's try to put this subject to bed.
Jeff Johnston, an epidemiologist (though not a ferret vet), adds:
Sure, Marshall Farms ferrets develop tumors. So do ALL ferrets
. We don't know why ferrets develop most tumors - we know
that they are most likely to develop them between the ages of 4
and 6, but not why. But it is certainly not Marshall Farms'
responsibility when a ferret that they sold two years ago develops
a tumor... To my knowledge - there are no inherent "defects" with
Marshall Farms ferrets. Don't get me wrong - I know that Marshall
Farms is the biggest breeder of laboratory as well as pet ferrets.
I don't condone laboratory research on ferrets, or other animals
for that matter and I don't do any. But I have never seen any
problems with Marshall Farms ferrets that I could relate to
The bigger risk for so-called "congenic" animals is not cancer,
which seems to be the alleged association with MF ferrets, but
infectious disease since a microbe that is seriously infectious to
one animal, will be equally infectious to all. And I haven't
heard anyone report that MF ferrets are more susceptible to
infectious disease than other ferrets.
I don't believe that the evidence exists to convict Marshall Farms
of breeding ferrets with defects. And now that so many
allegations have been lobbed against them, the information
gathered about MF ferrets is almost certainly biased. This
happens all the time in the epidemiology of genetic diseases. A
particular defect occurs twice in a family--perhaps
coincidentally--and the family and their doctors go out of their
way to look for it.
[This section was written by Kelleen Andrews, with contributions from
me and others.]
Dominance fighting is normal in ferret introductions. The severity can
range from nearly nonexistent to all-out war. Prepare for the worst,
and then anything less than that will seem like a piece of cake!
Patience is the most important virtue. Often all is well in 3-14 days
but sometimes peace is not achieved for 3, 5, or even 7 months.
Ferrets that have been away from other ferrets for two years or more
tend to take longer to adapt. Keep in mind that your final goal is
well worth the work and that having two or more ferrets that have each
other to love and play with is the greatest joy you -- and they -- may
It's often easier to introduce a new ferret when the others are still
fairly new themselves. A ferret who's used to being an "only ferret"
or a group which has been together for several years may resist the
newcomer more strongly. It's also sometimes easier to introduce two
at once, to divide everyone's attention.
Many techniques can be used to ease the transition. No one technique
works on all ferrets; a combination of them has the best chance of
success. Reassure all ferrets often that everything is OK and they
Unfortunately in very rare instances peace is never achieved and a new
home may need to be found for the newcomer. Of course you'll want to
be sure the new home will be understanding and loving, but also make
sure the prospective new owner is aware of the problems the ferret has
had getting along with yours, since even if he wasn't the aggressive
one it will affect his relations with other ferrets. You don't want
him to end up being passed from house to house, never able to fit in.
- Most important, make sure the newcomer is disease-free and current
on vaccinations before any interaction. You may choose to
quarantine the newcomer for one or more weeks.
- If you can, and if you know that all the ferrets at the breeder or
shelter are healthy and haven't been exposed to ECE, take your
current ferret along with you when you pick out a new ferret so he
can choose his own new friend. Also, a pair often blends into the
existing group where a single may have more problems. A kit
newcomer can be a plus but requires more precautions. Since a kit is
tiny, if the established ferret is too rough you may need to cage
it separately until it grows larger. A kit that is constantly
attacked and dragged around by an aggressive ferret may be seriously
injured or become so traumatized as to want nothing to do with other
- Make sure the first introduction takes place in a completely
neutral area -- not just an unused room in your home, but
preferably in someone else's home or someplace else neither ferret
has ever been near. It also helps if other ferrets and distractions
are there. One other ferret may be seen as an enemy whereas a group
is seen as a party!
- If an immediate introduction feels uncomfortable to you, keep the
newcomer in a separate cage near your current ferret's cage. Have
supervised visits often, and let one ferret out at a time for
playtime. The new guy can then get used to the new surroundings and
the established ferret will not feel he's being punished. Switch
their bedding back and forth so they become accustomed to each
- Give the ferrets baths immediately so they smell the same. Bathing
them together may help since misery loves company. You might also
put vanilla extract on their noses to confuse their smelling and
bitter apple on their necks to discourage biting. Smearing
Ferretone or Nutri-Cal on their faces will encourage licking rather
- Start out by holding the ferrets and letting them sniff each other.
Gradually, as you feel comfortable with it, give them more freedom
to interact with each other. Expect fighting, but always supervise
in case it becomes violent. When you pull wrestling ferrets apart,
if the loser goes back for more they are probably just playing
rough. A ferret that bites with a darting motion and shakes his
opponent roughly or tears at his skin is being more aggressive than
normal dominance struggles. If you leave them alone, one ferret
can end up with a neck covered in scabs, infected or worse.
Usually when a ferret is being hurt he'll get very loud vocally [150 kB sound],
often screaming, but this is not always the case, so constant
supervision is a must. (Some ferrets scream when they're not being
hurt, or even when they're the ones attacking, so don't assume the
loud one is the one being picked on.)
When undue aggression occurs, immediately scruff the attacker with
your hand, or better yet with your mouth, and gently shake
him. Scold him loudly, right up close. Afterward put the attacker
in his cage for a time-out. Don't hit him, even tapping his nose,
since that will only make him afraid of you, and he's already under
stress. If scruffing, scolding, and cage time don't work, he
probably needs a little more time to adjust. Also be sure to find
the newcomer and reassure him he is safe and loved.
If the ferrets groom each other, often around the ears or neck, it's
a sign of acceptance, but do not leave them unsupervised until
you're positive there is peaceful integration.
Sometimes, even after an established ferret and a newcomer have
stopped fighting, the first ferret may start to act depressed,
especially if he's used to being an "only ferret". Ferret psychology
is still an undeveloped field, but most people interpret this glumness
as jealousy or resentment of the new ferret. Be sure to pay plenty of
attention to all your pets, and give the depressed ferret a couple of
months to adapt. Chances are he'll come to see the new ferret as a
playmate instead of an interloper. In extreme cases, you may need to
resign yourself to only having one ferret, and find a good home for
Most ferrets don't get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents,
lizards, and the like, though there are some exceptions. For a dog or
cat, patience is the most important part of the introduction. Give
the new animal a chance to get used to you and your home before
introducing it to the other pets one at a time, very slowly.
Cats are generally less dangerous than dogs, simply because of their
size. For the first week or so, hold both the cat and the ferret (two
humans is handy here) and just let them smell each other a few times a
day. Over the next week or two, gradually give each animal a bit more
freedom, watching them closely, until they're used to each other.
Once you're convinced that they're used to each other and get along
all right, let them interact freely, but supervise them for a while to
be sure. Make sure the ferret has an escape route, a barrier the cat
can't get through or a safe hiding place.
It's generally believed that ferrets get along with cats better if
they're introduced when the cat is still a kitten and is more willing
to play, but there are plenty of exceptions. The same is probably
true of dogs.
[The following information on dogs and ferrets comes from Marie I. Schatz.]
(1) First, do some work training the dog. Buy a dog training book, go
to beginning obedience school (this should be something you do
anyway). You want the dog to listen to your commands without fail.
(2) Try putting the dog in a carrier or crate (modified so the ferrets
can't slip through) and let them run around the room while he watches.
Interact with the ferrets so he knows they're part of the "pack".
(3) Hold the dog very firmly, with your hand right under his muzzle,
while you let the ferrets run around and sniff him. Give LOTS and
LOTS of encouragement to the dog and make loving noises over the
ferrets. The ferrets are going to want to nibble his feet and jump at
his face - try not to let this happen (two people will help). If the
dog snaps at the ferrets, even with your hand right there, you won't
have enough time to react. (Swift, loud assertive NO!'s right away if
this happens.) So you may want to invest in an inexpensive cloth
muzzle. You can't keep a muzzle on the dog long since he won't be
able to pant, and it will tend to stress out the dog. I used one for
the first couple of 10 minute intro's - still holding the dog.
(4) If the dog seems to be doing well, i.e. fairly low prey and chase
drive with good bite inhibition - put a leash on the dog when you
finally get to the point where they are loose together. Stay close.
You may want to use the muzzle again for the first time. The leash
will allow a faster grab if the dog starts to chase the ferrets.
(5) Do the "advanced" stage introductions in a room where there are
lots of places for the ferret to get under or hide, or create some in
the room temporarily.
(6) If things work out reinforce by giving treats to the ferrets
first, then the dog - reinforce that the dog is lower in the pecking
(7) No matter how good things get, NEVER leave the dog's toys, rawhide
chews, etc. lying around. The ferret will naturally want to
investigate and hide them, and no matter how good the dog is it's just
asking for trouble.
(8) You should also try feeding the dog separately, when the ferrets
All any of this does is allow you to ascertain what kind of prey drive
your dog has, without risking the ferrets too much. If the dog has a
low prey drive and good bite inhibition and is just playful it should
be apparent, and all this may be unnecessary or go relatively fast.
If the dog does seem to have a very high prey drive, try a different
older dog. Sometimes rescue groups can help with this as the foster
homes may know a little about the dog's personality.
As every ferret owner knows, our little friends love to get into
trouble. Whether your ferrets live in a cage when you're not around
or are free all the time, whether they live in a single room or have
the run of the house, the first line of defense, both for your ferrets
and for your possessions, is a well-ferretproofed home.
Ferrets love to worm their way into any little hole (as small as 2 X 2
inches, or smaller for kits and some adults), which can be very bad if
the hole in question is under or behind a refrigerator or other
appliance (with exposed wires, fans, insulation, and other dangers),
into a wall, or outside. Crawl around on your stomach to look for
holes near the floor and under cabinets, especially in the kitchen and
laundry area. Even holes inside cabinets (which are particularly
common in apartments, where plumbers are often rather sloppy) should
be blocked, just in case.
Ferrets can open cabinets and drawers, which can be dangerous or just
annoying depending on what's inside them. Also watch out for
heaters or furnace ducts. You can block openings with wood or wire
mesh; be sure to leave ventilation around appliances. For doorways,
try a smooth piece of plywood or Plexiglas slid into slots attached to
the sides of the doorway. Recliners and sofa-beds are very dangerous;
many ferrets have gotten crushed in the levers and springs underneath.
They're difficult to ferretproof, except by putting them in a
forbidden room. Even regular couches and beds can be dangerous
if the ferret digs or crawls his way into the springs or stuffing.
Next, look around the area your ferret will be playing. Remove
anything spongy from reach, and put fragile items out of the way.
Keep in mind that many ferrets are good climbers and jumpers, and they
excel at finding complicated routes to places you never thought they
could reach. They can get onto a sofa, into a trash can, onto the
third shelf of a set of bookcases, into a bathtub or toilet (from
which they might not be able to jump out), and into the opening on the
back of a stereo speaker. They can also open cabinets and drawers,
unzip backpacks, and climb up drawers from underneath or behind to get
onto the desk or kitchen counter.
Apart from obvious dangers such as bottles of household cleaners,
which ferrets do sometimes like to drink, be particularly careful
with sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty,
foam rubber (even inside a cushion or mattress), styrofoam,
insulation, rubber door stoppers, and anything else spongy or springy.
Ferrets love to chew on that kind of thing, and swallowed bits can
cause intestinal blockages. For some reason, many ferrets
like to eat soap, so you'll have to keep that away from them.
(A little lick won't hurt your ferret, just give her a bit of
diarrhea, but large amounts can be a problem.) Human foods should
also be kept out of reach, since even the ones which aren't dangerous
to ferrets aren't good for them in large quantities.
Be careful about full bathtubs, where your ferret might possibly
drown, and consider keeping your toilet lid closed for the same
reason. Buckets of water, paint, etc. can also be drowning or
poisoning hazards, or might just be tipped over. Toilet paper and
paper towel rolls are a problem because ferrets get their heads stuck
in them and can choke or suffocate, and if you let your ferret play
with plastic bags, you may want to cut off the handles and cut a slit
in the bottom.
Certain ferrets may also have special ferretproofing needs; for
example, some like to eat paper, cloth, or plastic bags, which can
easily cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage. A few ferrets
like to chew on electrical cords or plants, and some common plants
are quite poisonous. Liberal application of Bitter Apple paste
to the cord or plant can help persuade your pet to stop gnawing on it.
What's that about cats and curiosity?
Finally, once your home is done, it's important to keep it safe.
Watch your ferret's toys to make sure they're not beginning to crack
or break apart, and keep in mind that you can be dangerous to your
ferret, too. Always double-check your dishwasher, refrigerator,
clothes washer and dryer (even top-loading models) before closing them
or turning them on, and watch where you sit and walk: that chair,
throw rug, or pile of laundry might be hiding a napping ferret.
Many ferrets dig at the carpet, especially near doors that are
closed. It's very difficult to teach them not to do it. You're
better off protecting your carpet by putting down a piece of plastic
carpet protector from an office-supply store. Chances are your ferret
will get bored with digging when she sees she's not getting anywhere,
though it might take a while for that to happen. A carpet scrap or
sample from a carpet store might work, too, although your pet will be
able to shred it, so she might not give up as quickly. For
out-of-the-way places, wire mesh can be nailed to the floor through
the carpet; be sure to protect any sharp corners or points.
Also be aware that ferrets like to dig in and possibly chew on
houseplants, and some common ones are quite poisonous. Plants can be
protected from digging (but not chewing) by putting large rocks or
metal mesh over the tops of their pots.
Many ferrets like to rip the cloth on the bottom of a box spring and
climb into it, where they can easily get crushed or caught. To
prevent that, try putting a fitted sheet on the bottom of the bed,
anchored in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a
thin piece of wood to the underside of the box spring. You may need
to drill air holes in the wood so the box spring can still compress.
Cabinets and drawers
Depending on how your cabinets and drawers are constructed and how
determined your ferrets are, you might be able to keep them closed
using strong tape, rubber bands around a pair of handles, a nail or
wooden dowel through the handles, or a strip of strong Velcro-type
tape on the door and frame. Attaching eye hooks (screws with a ring
shape at the top) to the door and cabinet and putting a nail through
them both has worked for some people, and the latches with a pair of
rollers on one piece and a mushroom-shaped catch are said to be strong
enough for most ferrets.
Some kinds of child-proof locks also work very well, though others are
too weak or open wide enough to let a ferret through. The magnetic
latch-and-key system works best for many people; they're available at
many hardware or childrens' stores, or from the Woodworker's Store
catalog (1-800-279-4441) or the Safety Zone catalog (1-800-999-3030).
The kind that lock around two handles at once, available from baby
stores, have also gotten a good report.
If your ferret scratches at the underside of your couch to get through
the fabric into the bottom, try taking off the couch's legs, if it has
them. Heavy cloth or plywood stapled or nailed to the bottom can
work, too, though ferrets can often rip cloth loose. Sometimes
ferrets try to get into the bottom or arms of the couch by burrowing
between the cushions and the back or sides. This is much harder to
prevent, but some people have had good luck blocking the area with
cloth or wood, stapled, nailed, taped or sewn to the couch. You can
also give in and remove the bottom fabric and lower stuffing from your
couch, putting a piece of plywood on the springs and the cushions on
that. Then it doesn't matter as much if your ferrets get into the
bottom, as long as they don't get caught between the cushions and the
Many ferret owners find it simpler to give up and get a futon or a
"suspended" couch that doesn't have an inside in the first place.
You will need:
Ferretone and Linatone are similar vitamin supplements that
nearly every ferret considers a wonderful treat. Bitter Apple
is a bad-tasting liquid or paste intended to stop pets from chewing
things. The paste will probably be much more effective. You may want
an H-type harness and a leash for walks. Ferrets love to play
in, and empty, water bowls, so you might want to give them a
rabbit-type water bottle instead, or at least provide one in case
their bowl gets tipped over.
You will almost certainly need more than one litter pan, particularly
if you have a large home. Small-size cat litter pans work fine, as do
plastic dishpans, storage boxes, or large school supply boxes. Many
ferrets don't seem to like the special triangular corner boxes,
probably since they can't climb all the way in, but yours might.
(Before buying one, ask ferret-owning friends. Chances are somebody
has one sitting around that his ferrets never use.) For a travel cage
or shoulder bag you can use a Rubbermaid-type plastic container
intended for bread or ice cream (about 6 X 9 X 5 inches). Make sure
the sides of the pan are at least 4 inches high, since ferrets
habitually back into corners to deposit their wastes and you don't
want messes over the sides of the pan. However, one side of the pan
should be no more than an inch or two high, so your ferret can get in
and out easily. This is especially true for a young kit.
If you're particularly sensitive to cleaning pans or to litter pan
odor, one novel suggestion was to use empty milk jugs, standing
upright, with the circular indentation on the side cut out. Use only
a small amount of litter, and the whole jug can then be thrown away
when it gets dirty.
Many people keep their ferrets in a cage or very well-ferretproofed
room whenever they can't be supervised. This drastically
reduces the risks of digestive-tract blockages from swallowing
indigestible objects, injury, and escape. However, even if
you plan to let your ferrets have the run of the house at all times,
you'll want a cage at first for litter-training and other kinds of training as well as for temporary use.
A metal mesh cage is probably the best choice. Many pet stores keep
ferrets in aquarium-like enclosures, but they are not recommended as
cages. They don't provide enough ventilation at the bottom, and your
ferret will feel isolated from whatever's going on in the room. Most
aquaria also aren't nearly big enough. Plain wood cages aren't
recommended because the wood soaks up urine and other liquids, so
getting the smell out and getting the cage really clean are nearly
impossible. If you use wood, cover the floors with linoleum squares
or coat the whole thing with polyurethane.
What size cage will I need?
If you plan to keep your ferret caged whenever you're not home, and
you'll be gone most of the day, a generous cage size is about 2 X 3
feet and 2 feet high (60 X 100 X 60 cm). A second or third ferret
could share that size cage. Of course, a nice, big "condo" is even
better, especially with lots of levels and hammocks to prevent falls
from the top shelf. If you'll only be using the cage temporarily,
such as when you're vacuuming or taking your pet on a vacation,
1 X 2 X 1 feet (30 X 60 X 30 cm) is sufficient for one or two ferrets,
perhaps three. For trips around town, a shoulder or duffel bag
equipped with a litter pan and mesh window works well.
One option is to make the cage yourself. It may be cheaper than a
store-bought cage, and you can get exactly the size and configuration
you want. Photos and descriptions of various types of homemade cages, as well as instructions for building one of them, are available. Of course, pet stores and catalogs have lots of cages, too.
Multiple-level "cat condos" are probably the most popular store-bought
cages. Some people like the easily cleaned medium or large size
plastic dog kennels, modified to make multiple levels, although others
think that they don't provide enough ventilation or contact with the
Many of the condos for sale in pet stores are made by Midwest and are
available for less from Dog Outfitters (cheaper than Ferret
Outfitters). Call 1-800-FOR-DOGS. Safeguard will make custom cages
to your design, and also sells several standard cages. You can call
them at 1-800-433-1819. Sorry, I don't have numbers for international
callers. (This is not intended as an advertisement. Specific
products are mentioned here only because people keep asking about
In the cage, you'll want some sort of "bedroom" for your pet. A
ferret won't be very happy sleeping on the open floor of a cage, even
on (or, more likely, under) a towel or shirt, but any small cardboard
box or basket works well as a bedroom. Old T-shirts and sweatshirts
make excellent bedding, as long as they aren't too easily chewed to
bits. Old towels usually work well too, though some ferrets tend to
get their nails caught in the loops. Don't use wood shavings.
The bottom of the cage can be covered with linoleum squares, carpet
samples, or cloth cage pads.
Other than food, water, a litter pan, bedding, and a bedroom, what you
put in your ferret's cage is largely up to you. Enough room to
stretch and move around is important, and different levels, ramps,
tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, and so on will
probably be appreciated. Hammocks made from old jeans or shirts and a
set of metal eyelets are very popular for both napping and playing.
Most ferrets get bored easily when caged and sleep much of the time,
so they probably won't get a whole lot of use out of toys; they'd
really rather be out playing. Just be sure nothing you put in your
ferret's cage could hurt him, whether by catching a toe, being
swallowed, or some other way.
Also be sure your cage door fastens securely, perhaps even with a
small lock, because ferrets can be very determined and rather
intelligent escape artists. Twist ties, cable ties, or bits of wire
often work well for fastening down litter pans or some bowls; and
clothespins and small bungee cords can be enormously handy for holding
all kinds of things down, up, or closed.
Cat toys work well for ferrets, though you need to be sure they don't
have any small, removable parts or foam stuffing which might cause
digestive-tract blockages. Most ferrets are rather harder on
toys than a cat would be, so choose accordingly. Plastic balls, with
or without bells, work well if they are not easily broken or swallowed
(the little "webbed" ones break too easily). Soft vinyl rubber is
okay, but not the spongy kind -- it's too easily shredded and swallowed.
For hard rubber toys, be sure they can't get stuck in your ferret's
mouth, and take them away when they start to crack. Avoid superballs:
ferrets love to chew them to bits and eat the pieces. Cat or dog
squeaky toys are good if they're tough enough to stand up to chewing
and easily squeaked. Catnip won't hurt ferrets, but it doesn't affect
them like it does cats. Remote-control cars are also popular, if
somewhat expensive, ferret toys, though they may prefer chewing on the
Most ferrets enjoy playing in a hammock made from a piece of cloth and
some metal eyelets, and the leg from an old pair of jeans will be fun
to crawl through or nap in. For other toys, try umbrellas, bathrobe
belts, tennis balls, golf balls, ping-pong balls, film canisters
(rinsed to wash out any chemicals), or old socks with bells rolled up
in them. Plastic shopping bags are popular, but watch to be sure your
pets don't suffocate or eat the plastic. Cardboard boxes are also
fun, especially several nested together with ferret-sized holes cut at
various places. Plastic bottles can be turned into clear ferret
play-tubes by cutting off their tops and taping them together.
Carpet-roll tubes and tunnels made of plastic pipe, dryer hose, or
black drainage tubing are popular too. Avoid tubes from toilet paper
or paper towels, though; they're small enough that ferrets can get
their heads stuck in them and choke or suffocate.
An excellent, inexpensive toy is a piece of plastic dryer hose about
4" (10 cm) in diameter. Wrap any loose wire ends. Be sure that your
real dryer hose is out of reach (or get a metal one), since you're
showing your pets that dryer hoses are great fun to crawl through.
Clear dryer hose is even more fun, though less sturdy. One brand is
Clear Duct by Dryer Mate, Model No. P48-C, a product of Nemco,
Inc.. Several ferret clubs and shelters have begun selling clear hose
as a fundraiser. If you can't find any locally, you should be able to
order the original hose in 8-foot lengths or by the foot, or new
heavy-duty hose in 20-foot pieces or also by the foot. Contact
Crissey Fowler Lumber, 117 W. Vermijo Ave., Colorado Springs, CO
80903, 719-473-2411, fax 719-473-0653. Talk to Stan in Plumbing.
No matter what you decide your ferret's toys are, he or she will
almost undoubtedly choose some household items you never expected, as
well. Keep anything that would be damaged with a little chewing, or
that might hurt your pet, well out of reach. Unfortunately, digging
up houseplants is also enormous fun to a ferret, but there are some
things you can do to protect your plants.
Depending on your ferret, either a nylon kitten collar, a thin, flat
leather puppy collar, or a piece of ball chain will work well. A
leather boot lace can also make a fine collar; just knot it at the
right size. The problem you may run into with a nylon collar is that
some ferrets will scratch at it, which pulls the nylon threads and can
tighten the collar dangerously. Also, be aware that both nylon and
leather can shrink if they get wet, so never leave a wet collar on
your pet; it may shrink and choke him as it dries.
Sizing the collar
For either of the collars, you may need to make an extra hole, then
trim off the extra length and (for nylon) melt the end together. Be
sure to leave enough to go through the little ring after it's buckled.
For the ball chain (the kind made for light-pulls or to lift the
stopper in a toilet), just snip it to the proper length. The collar
should be loose enough to go over your ferret's head easily; if it
gets stuck on something, better a lost collar than a choked ferret.
We've never had any problems with either of our ferrets getting hurt
by catching their collars in anything, but we make sure to leave them
loose enough that the furry snakes can slip out if they happen to get
caught. In fact, the easiest way we've found to get the collars on is
to fasten them, then shove them over the ferrets' heads while
occupying them with Ferretone.
The cord-like figure-8 leash with a screw for adjustments, sold
wrapped around a cardboard cutout of a ferret, isn't the best choice
for a leash. It's too easy to get out of and too hard to adjust, the
adjustment nut can break, and the cord can chafe the ferret. A flat
nylon H-type harness with a leash clipped to the back will work much
better. Several people have recommended the harnesses made by the
WarmFuzzy Rescue (610-926-9087 or <email@example.com>), andMarshall Pet Products (1-800-292-3424) also
makes a popular one.
Bells and tags
A small cat bell and small-size plastic tag have worked well for us on
a kit as young as 9 weeks. The slot on some of the smallest bells
is easy to get a nail stuck in, though, so you may need to widen it a
little with a nail file.
I recommend getting an S-shaped hook for the tag rather than a
split ring, since the rings have a tendency to loosen. Twice one of
our ferrets got hers caught in a sweater or blanket -- which both
frightened her and unraveled the item she was frantically rolling in
before she pulled out of the collar. You can also attach the collar
and tag using a neatly trimmed piece of stiff wire. For a nylon or
leather collar, you'll probably want to poke the S-hook directly
through the collar and put the bell and tag on the same hook, though,
since attaching them to the ring on the collar makes them hang down
far enough to drag on the ground.
Do the ferrets mind?
Neither of our slinkies seems to mind wearing a collar or bell,
although the first time we put them on our older pet she spent 15
minutes trying to convince us she was dying and then the next hour
playing with the jingly toy that followed her wherever she went.
In short, tags and collars are handy for nearly all ferrets. Ours
have never gotten out, but even just around the house it gives
enormous peace of mind to be able to tell where they are!
The key ingredients in any food for ferrets are fat and protein,
specifically animal protein, since ferrets' short digestive cycles
prevent them from getting enough nutrition from vegetable proteins.
Chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb are all fine; most ferrets don't like
fish, and it may make their litter pan smell worse. The food needs to
have 30-35% protein and 15-20% fat, and animal protein should be the
first ingredient and at least two or three of the next few.
Unless your ferret is overweight, you should just keep her bowl full
and let her eat as much as she wants.
The food debate
Cat foods seem to have done okay for many years, but there's a fair
bit of debate about which food is best for ferrets, whether
high-quality cat/kitten foods are good enough, and so on. The usual
conclusion is that while foods designed for cats probably aren't the
best we could do, most of the foods with ferret pictures on the bags
weren't designed for ferrets either -- they were designed for mink or
cats and maybe modified slightly, and priced twice as high. If you
choose a food packaged for ferrets, check its label just as you would
a cat food.
There is only one food I know of which was designed and feed-tested
exclusively for ferrets, and that's Totally Ferret, from Performance
Foods. It's very expensive and not available everywhere. (Call
Performance Foods at 1-800-843-1738 or write them at 38251 Industrial
Park Blvd., Lisbon, OH 44432 to find out the nearest distributor.)
Many people feel that it's the best food, at least for ferrets who
aren't overweight (it's pretty rich), but most people also agree that
cat/kitten foods are entirely sufficient, and that there's not
that much difference between them.
Kitten or cat food
Most people feed their ferrets high-quality cat food, such as Iams,
Science Diet, or ProPlan. High-quality food may cost a bit more than
grocery store brands, but your pet will eat a lot less and be much
healthier. We've found that an 8-pound bag of dry food (usually
$10-$15) lasts two ferrets a couple of months, so the cost of feeding
them even high-quality food is not very great.
Because of their high protein requirement, ferrets up to three or four
years old should get kitten or "growth" foods. Older ferrets can have
kidney problems from too much protein, though, so they should be
switched to the cat versions.
Soft cat food is not good for ferrets, partly because it generally
contains much less protein than the dry kind and partly because it
isn't hard enough to rub plaque off their teeth and can lead to tooth
decay. However, very young kits and those recovering from illness or
surgery may need their food moistened with water for a week or two.
Note that moistened food spoils much more quickly than the same food
left dry, so dump out leftovers every day.
Dog food is NOT acceptable, as it lacks some nutrients ferrets (and
cats) need. Among other things, ferrets and cats both need taurine,
which is found naturally in poultry; many cat and ferret foods
supplement it as well.
Variety and change
In general, feeding your pet a variety of foods, rather than just one
brand, is probably a good idea. Ferrets are known to be finicky
eaters, and if the brand you've been using changes or is suddenly
unavailable, you may run into problems if it's all your pets will
recognize as edible. To switch from brand A to brand B, start mixing
them before you run out of A. Add B a little at a time until they're
getting half each, then phase out A. (Also see information on
supplements, as well as fruits, vegetables, and treats.)
Every so often, a discussion starts up about ethoxyquin, which is used
in many pet foods to preserve the unsaturated fats. In short, it's
very unlikely that there's any problem. The amount of ethoxyquin used
in cat food is far below the maximum concentration allowed by the FDA.
No adverse effects have been shown in any studies, including some done
by researchers not affiliated with any pet food company. In fact,
ethoxyquin has been shown to have an anticancer effect in cats. Foods
which don't contain ethoxyquin use high levels of vitamin E instead,
at greatly increased cost and generally reduced shelf life.
Laura L'Heureux Kupkee, a veterinary student, says:
The original reports about ethoxyquin were started by one single
dog breeder whose bitch lost pups. They did not know why, so they
thought they'd send a [food] sample to a chemist friend. The
friend analyzed it, and said it contained ethoxyquin, a component
in car-tire manufacturing [but then, so are a lot of things,
including many compounds remarkably similar to Petromalt and
probably water]. The breeder was shocked and immediately blamed
the ethoxyquin, the newspapers grabbed it, and now here we are.
There was never any mention of the fact that the bitch in question
may also have had some autoimmune problems. Nor was there *any*
proof that the chemical caused the abortion of the pups.
Ferretone and Linatone
Ferretone and Linatone are two popular vitamin supplements. They are
also one of the most common treats, since nearly every ferret loves
them. They're very similar and can be used interchangeably, although
their exact composition is a bit different. Both of these contain
vitamin A, which can be very harmful or even fatal in excess, though
it probably takes a whole lot more than you'd ever give your ferret.
Still, some people prefer to dilute them 50/50 with olive oil or
vegetable oil (not mineral oil), which shouldn't hurt. Also, as with
hairball remedies, too much Ferretone or Linatone can give your
ferrets loose stools. No more than a few drops to one pump a day is
recommended, and it's not thought to be necessary to give them any at
all if you're using a good food.
Similarly, many people give their ferrets a small amount of a cat
hairball remedy such as Laxatone or Petromalt on a regular basis.
This can help them pass the styrofoam, rubber bands, and such that
they seem to love to eat, as well as helping to prevent hairballs from
fur swallowed during grooming. Even better, most ferrets seem to
think of this as a wonderful treat, too. As with all treats and
supplements, give them only in moderation; you can estimate how much
by taking the recommended cat dosage and adjusting for a ferret's
Lorraine Tremblay has compiled a WWW page with advice and suggestions
about ferret treats.
Most ferrets enjoy some fruits and vegetables. Although they're
not necessary for good nutrition if you're feeding your pets a
high-quality cat food, small amounts of these won't hurt. Just be
sure you don't fill your ferret up on fruit, since he'll need to eat
his regular food to get the required protein. Too much of nearly
anything can be harmful, so try to vary your treats.
Some popular suggestions: a slice of banana (mashed, so it's more
digestible), raisins, peanut butter, bits of pear, peppermint (small
licks), freeze-dried liver (sold as cat treats), Pounce cat treats,
puffed rice cakes, green beans, wheat crackers, Ferretone, Petromalt
... Try feeding your ferret pretty much anything, in small
pieces. You never know what yours will consider a fabulous treat.
I've heard of ferrets going wild for everything from spaghetti to
Things to avoid
Although most ferrets love milk and ice cream, they shouldn't be
allowed to have much. This is especially true for young kits, since
the lactose in cow's milk gives ferrets diarrhea, which can easily
cause them to become dehydrated. Goat's milk, available in some pet
stores, is okay. Likewise, I've heard that soy milk is good for them
and generally liked, but I haven't seen any verification.
Too much fiber can also give ferrets diarrhea, so limit raisins,
bananas, prunes, oatmeal, apples, and anything with bran in it.
Sugary treats aren't good for them either, since they can cause
dental problems. (Despite the rumors, there is no evidence that sugar
causes diabetes or other metabolic problems in mammals.)
Be careful with chocolate. Most ferrets like it, but the
xanthines/theobromine found in it may be toxic to them in large enough
quantities; nobody's sure. It's not recommended as a treat.
(However, many people give their ferrets an occasional chocolate chip
with no problems.) Likewise licorice -- the real thing, not the
plastic, fruity, red stuff that goes by the same name -- is
surprisingly strong. It's been used for medicinal purposes in the
past; it might not be a good treat. Both chocolate and licorice are
more likely to be dangerous to ferrets with heart problems.
Onions, garlic, and other members of that family can cause Heinz body
anemia in dogs and cats; nobody's sure about ferrets, or what the
dangerous dose might be (the tiny bit in some meat baby foods is
probably fine), but caution is advised.
Some people have had problems with the clumping varieties of litter,
due to some ferrets' habits of sniffing at their litter corners or
dragging their rumps across the litter when done using it. The litter
can get into their noses or rectums, where it clumps and causes
problems. You may not want to take the chance.
Likewise, cedar shavings are not recommended, for the same reasons
that they don't make good bedding.
Other than that, any kind of litter meant for cats is okay for
ferrets. You and your ferret may prefer one to another, since they
all control or cover odors differently, track more or less dust, cost
more or less, and so forth. Many people favor pelleted wood litters
(or wood stove pellets, available inexpensively at many large hardware
stores). Others even use alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), which are
often cheaper than cat litter but generally don't cover odor as well.
If your pet is used to one and you switch, it may take a while for him
to connect the scent of the new litter with where he's supposed to go.
(Also see the information on litter training.)
In short, no. Many pet stores and some breeders use cedar or pine
shavings as bedding/cage lining for their ferrets, but it is not
recommended. Cedar in particular has been associated with allergies
and respiratory problems in various animals, including, for example,
humans and rabbits, but pine and other woods also produce a fair
amount of dust and such which isn't very good to breathe. Why take
Furthermore, wood shavings are completely unnecessary. Ferrets are
more like cats than hamsters: they'll be quite happy with a clean
towel or old T-shirt placed in a small "bedroom box" or basket for
sleeping. Sure, some pet stores and breeders use shavings, but they
don't really have the option of using towels.
Dr. Williams' article
Of course, it would be better if pet stores didn't use wood shavings
either. Corn cob bedding is just as convenient for them and is
dust-free and safe. If you need some authoritative information to
convince your pet store to stop using wood shavings, here's an article
by Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM:
(The following short article may be reprinted by anyone desiring
to disseminate this information in a newsletter or non-commercial
publication. This material may not be altered or changed in any
way. Under Title 17 of the U.S. Code, Section 105, copyright
protection is not available for any work of the United States
WHY NOT CEDAR SHAVINGS?
For years, cedar shavings have been used as bedding for many
species of small mammals including ferrets. Over the last ten
years, increasing evidence is cropping up that this may not be a
Cedar shavings, as well as other aromatic soft woods, such as
white and yellow pines, release volatile hydrocarbons which affect
those animals living in them. Plicatic acid, a volatile
hydrocarbon, results in asthma in humans and rabbits. Other
hydrocarbons result in changes in the liver, which may impair its
ability to detoxify certain drugs, including various anesthetic
agents. Cedar shavings have also been incriminated in increased
mortality in rat pups, and various scientists over the years have
alluded to possible carcinogenicity. In chicken litter, cedar
shavings harbored more bacteria than other types of litter.
On the more practical side, a 1986 article in Lab Animal evaluated
many of the common bedding materials, also including hardwood
chips, sawdust, paper chips, newspaper, ground corncob, rabbit
pellets, straw, and hay (along with several others) for the
following: absorbency, dust, endogenous effects on the animal,
cost, use in nesting, and disposability. In all categories, cedar
shavings was not recommended. Interestingly enough, paper
products and heat-treated softwood chips scored highest overall.
In my experience, ferrets are happiest in old sweatshirt or
towels, which rarely cause problems. Beware, however, the bored
caged ferret, who may ingest parts of these items for lack of
other stimulation, and obtain a gastrointestinal foreign body in
1. Weichbrod RH et al. Selecting bedding material. Lab Anim.
Sept 1986, pp.25-29.
2. Kraft LM. The manufacture, shipping, receiving, and quality
control of rodent bedding materials. Lab Animal Sci. 1980
3. Weichbrod RH et. al. Effects of Cage Beddings on Microsomal
Oxidative Enzymes in Rat Liver. Lab Animal Sci. 38(3):
4. Hessler, JR. Design and Management of Animal Facilities.
In Laboratory Animal Medicine, JG Fox, ed. Academic Press Inc,
5. Chan H. et al. A rabbit model of hypersensitivity to plicatic
acid, the agent responsible for red cedar asthma. J Allergy Clin
Immunol 79(5) : 762-767.
Copyright © 1994-1998 by
I am not a ferret expert and cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information.
Last modified: 16 Jun 1999.
"Ferret Central," "The Ferret FAQ," and the silhouette of a ferret used in their logos are trademarks of Pamela Greene.