Cunning and persistent, lively and gregarious, ferrets have become popular household pets. But owning a pet ferret is not always fun and games. They require just as much care and attention as a dog or a cat, as well as proper diet and adequate housing.
Samantha Pfaffinger, an accredited pet sitter and owner of Crazy About Critters Pet Care in Las Vegas, NV, has had more than ten years experience in caring for ferrets and at one time, had seven ferrets of her own! Samantha has been kind enough to answer PSI’s questions about the curious critters and their care.

ferret_car“What type of exercise does a ferret need to stay healthy and fit? Do they like to climb and run? Is it safe to let a litter-trained ferret have “complete run of the house” – that is, if the house is properly “ferret-proofed?”

In my opinion, ferrets should NEVER have free run of the house. My experience is that just when you think your home is completely ferret-proof, they will find something new to get into!

We turned our master closet into a ferret room. But I would let them out at least a two times a day to run through the house – when I was there to supervise them.

And when I say “exercise,” I don’t mean “organized exercise.” Just being able to run around the house and play with ferret buddies is enough. This is where having more than one ferret comes in handy. They keep each other company. Ferrets do climb, but not like cats. For example, they can’t climb leather, but they can climb fabric.

Ferret_Litter_box“Is it as easy to litter train a ferret as it is a cat?”

Ferrets can be litter trained, but not exactly in the same way you would train a cat. Burying their own waste is instinct for cats. With ferrets it’s something you have to teach them to do. They are not always 100 percent accurate when using a litter box.

Ferrets like to use corners as their “bathroom.” So it’s a good practice to put litter boxes in the corners of rooms the ferrets are in most. I have one client who puts paper plates in the corners of her rooms since a ferret will just about poop in any corner. They also “aim high,” which can be messy. This is why I suggest “high back” litter boxes. Most pet stores sell them. [PlayTime Pet Sitters here again. We have met several people who use potty pads in the corners of their rooms. As long as you first make sure that your ferrets won’t eat them or play with them, they make clean up much easier.]

“Do ferrets chew on things like rabbits or dogs? “

Yes and no. They do chew – but not like a rodent or puppy. They don’t chew on rawhide or similar items. But they will more or less find something they like and try to eat it. This is a BIG problem! Intestinal blockages are one of the top killers of ferrets. I ha d a ferret that somehow found a piece of foam-type material and swallowed the WHOLE thing. It filled up her stomach and had to be surgically removed.

“What type of food do ferrets eat?”

Samantha: Ferrets have TOTALLY different dietary needs than dogs and cats. They also have very short digestive tracts (which means they can eat and empty their bowels in about three short hours.) So it is very important that ferrets eat a HIGH quality ferret food such as Marshall or 8-in-1 Ferret Food. Grocery store foods should be avoided.

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation“Are ferrets more of a social, pack-oriented animal or are they more independent creatures?”

Ferrets are very social pack animals. As they see it, the more the merrier! At one time I had six ferrets. Ferrets love to play together and will sleep with their bodies twisted around each other…sometimes so much you won’t know where one ferret ends and the other begins!

“How do they interact with other pets? (Especially “prey” type pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits)”

Ferrets are prey animals. They have a very strong prey drive and should never be around certain types of pets including rodents and birds. Even a large parrot is no match for a ferret. One of my friends had a ferret and several birds. She turned her head for one minute and the ferret squeezed through the bars of her Amazon parrot’s cage, attacked and killed the bird. These animals should NEVER be anywhere near each other. Ferrets can get along very well with dogs and cats. Those relationships are usually up to the dog or cat because ferrets in general will happily accept those types of pets.

“What do you suggest as ferret toys?”

It is very important to buy toys that are “ferret safe.” People like to buy dog and cat toys for ferrets which in general is not a good idea. Toys such as soft plastic squeaky toys made for dogs are easily destroyed and ingested by ferrets. Most stores sell toys that are especially made for ferrets, including ferret tunnels, dig boxes, etc.

“What is proper housing for a ferret?”

Ferrets need plenty of space. If you are going to keep a ferret caged, it needs a LARGE cage with multiple levels. And of course, no matter how large the cage is, ferrets still need 2-3 hours a day out of the cage. Like I said before, a walk-in closet or small bedroom is also a good place to house a ferret, although most people don’t want to donate a whole area like that to their ferrets.

Ferret_Dreams_Rescue“Where is an appropriate place to get a ferret?”

The best place to get a ferret is always from a ferret shelter. [PlayTime Pet Sitters here. You can go to the American Ferret Association Inc. to find ferret rescues around the country. Since many of you may be looking to adopt exclusively in Colorado Springs, Ferret Dreams is a wonderful resource.

“Describe a ferret’s personality. Are they super playful? Do they like to snuggle?”

If you are looking for a snuggly pet, a ferret is NOT the pet for you. My husband likes to compare ferrets to a two-year-old child on crack. They are either “on” or “off”. There is no middle ground with 99 percent of ferrets. When they are awake, ferrets like to go, go, go! But when they are asleep, (which is 22 hours a day), they are out cold!

Ferrets love to explore and play. has lots of good ferret videos. Ferrets do what is commonly known as the “weasel war dance.” They throw themselves around like they are acrobats when playing together. They are a lot of fun to watch!

ferret-ears“What are some of the medical issues that ferrets face? What are some things to consider when caring for senior ferrets?”

Oh boy…this is a HUGE subject. The biggest downfall to having a ferret is they don’t live very long and they have SEVERAL health issues. The average ferret lives 6 years. Ferrets are also EXTREMELY prone to cancer. M ost ferret enthusiasts blame over-vaccination and inbreeding.

Of the 7 ferrets I had, 5 died from cancer. The longest I had a ferret live was 8 years. My first ferret died from cancer at age 3. The others were between 4-6 years old when they died – with the exception of my Annie who died at a year old. The cancer they tend to get the most is insulinoma. (Cancer of the pancreas.) All of my ferrets that have lived past the five-year-old mark had insulinoma. Adrenal disease is also very common in ferrets. Two of my seven ferrets had surgery to remove their adrenal glands.

The MOST important thing to consider when it comes to having an elderly ferret is having the BEST ferret vet you can find.

“Is there anything else you would like members to know about ferrets?”

Ferrets are not for everyone. But for the right person, ferrets are wond erful, friendly, happy-go-lucky pets. For people who like a peaceful animal, the high level of ferret energy is probably going to be too much to handle. Another thing people don’t like about ferrets is their odor. Even after ferrets are descented, they still have a musky odor. (And even in the cleanest of houses, you can usually tell a ferret lives there!)

ferret-fun-factsFerret Fun Facts:

  • An intact male ferret is called a “hob.”
  • An intact female ferret is called a “jill.”
  • A spayed female is referred to as a “sprite.”
  • A neutered male is referred to as a “gib.”
  • Young ferrets are called “kits” and a group of ferrets are referred to as a “business.”
  • Ferrets are sexually dimorphic animals, meaning the males are substantially larger than the females.
  • Ferrets are closely related to weasels and European pole cats.
  • Ferrets have been domesticated for more than 2,500 years and were originally used to hunt rabbits and rodents.
  • It is illegal in some parts of the world to own ferrets. (Due to the damage they could do to wildlife and plant life.)
  • Ferrets lack a cecum to digest/ process fuits and vegetables.
  • A ferrets left lung has 2 lobes, while the right has 4.
  • A ferrets body contains 14 or 15 pairs of ribs.
  • A kit has 30 baby teeth, while an adult has 34.
  • Food fully travels throughout their system in 3 hours.
  • Ferret’s normal rectal temperature is between 100 – 104 with 101.9 being the average.
  • Heart rate is 180 – 250 bpm with 225 being average.
  • Respiration is 33-36 per minute.
  • Normal urine pH is 6.5 – 7.5
  • Blood volume is 60-80 ml/ kg.
  • Ferrets do possess toxoplasmosis in their systems. However, unlike cats they cannot release/ shed the infected eggs back into the environment, they hit a dead end, so humans cannot catch the disease.