Is A Ferret the Right Pet For You?

10) Specialized diets. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means that they require a special diet high in meat based protein in order to be healthy (34% meat protein and 22% fat is recommended). Some irresponsible pet owners feed low quality cat/kitten food to their ferrets because it is cheaper and can be picked up at the local grocery store; however this can lead to dangerous health problems for the ferret further down the road.

Most commercial cat/kitten foods use grain-based fillers such as corn, wheat or rice as their primary ingredient. Ferrets have very short gastrointestinal tracts which are unable to easily digest grains, fruits or vegetables; this type of food passes mostly undigested through their system, therefore they receive little to no nutritional value from the food, and eventually become ill and malnourished. High quality ferret food is available at pet stores and online, but can be pricier than standard dog or cat food; whether or not you can afford to purchase expensive food for your pet is one of the key factors to consider about ferret ownership.

9) Exotic pets. Although ferret ownership is legal in 48 states (it is illegal to own ferrets in California and Hawaii), many cities and counties can enact their own laws restricting ferret ownership. Verify that the city or county you live in does not have bans or restrictions requiring permits for your ferrets. If you rent or lease property, even if cats and dogs are allowed, do not automatically assume that ferrets are also included on the list of allowed pets. Violations of city or county laws can lead to fines, confiscation of your pet, and possibly euthanization. Violation of rental or lease agreements can also lead to fines and the possible eviction of you and your pets.

8) Children. Ferrets are NOT good pets for children. This is not to say that ferrets shouldn’t be kept in homes with children, as long as both children and ferrets are supervised while playing together. Rather, ferrets are very high maintenance pets, which require a great deal of time, commitment and energy. Most children are unable to do the necessary work required to maintain a healthy and safe environment for a ferret, which can be considerably more intensive than the care needed for a dog or cat. Ferrets are not like gerbils or rabbits which can be left alone in small cages for long periods of time. Ferrets are – in fact – considered “exotic pets,” and should not be purchased on a whim for a child because of how cute they look bouncing around in their cage at the pet store. For parents who think their seven-year-old is a prodigy and ready to learn about the heavy responsibilities of pet ownership; start with a goldfish, not a ferret. For one: a goldfish is much cheaper (ferrets can be anywhere from $80 to $140 not counting food, supplies and housing) and for another: when the inevitable happens and your child becomes bored of their cute new pet, which one do you want to end up taking care of for the rest of its natural lifespan? A goldfish that typically lives two to three weeks? Or a ferret that may live up to ten years?

7) Other Pets. Ferrets can be compatible with some household pets, but not others. As carnivores, ferrets will be guided by their natural instincts to hunt smaller animals like birds, rodents and lizards. If they can be kept safely apart from one another, it’s possible for ferrets and small animals to coexist peacefully, but keep in mind that all it takes is forgetting to latch the iguana tank once, and then no more iguana! Larger animals like dogs and cats can be trained to accept a ferret into the home and will sometimes even play together, although some dog species (like terriers, who were bred to hunt small mammals) might be more prone to attack or seriously injure a ferret. It is best to consider the temperament of your currents pets and how they have reacted to new people/pets in the past; they will likely react in a similar fashion to a new ferret. Younger animals that are raised together will naturally have the easiest time cohabiting; older animals are typically more territorial and resistant to change.

6) Ferret-proofing. Ferrets are naturally curious creatures that will explore every nook and cranny of your home, and can cram themselves into the smallest and most difficult to reach places. This can include places that are dangerous for the ferret, like between the springs of a mattress or couch, beneath or inside a major appliance like a washing machine or a dishwasher, or inside cabinets containing poisonous cleaners or chemicals. Just like with a toddler or a small child, before getting a ferret one must ensure that the entire house or apartment has safety measures in place to prevent accidents from happening. This can be time consuming and necessitate a lot of hard work as you will need to try to predict all the possible places your ferret might squeeze, dig, climb or claw their way into.

Ferrets share another similarity with toddlers in that they like to pick up small objects off of the floor and chew on or eat them. Ferrets have short intestinal tracts in which objects can easily become lodged. This happens most frequently with small pieces of rubber or foam which expand inside the intestine when ingested and cannot be passed. Without immediate (and costly) surgery, such blockages are usually fatal; this is why the second part of ferret-proofing is combing your home for things a ferret might try to chew on or eat, and making sure they are out of the ferret’s reach. Even larger objects like a foam rubber yoga mat or beach sandals can be problematic, since a ferret can gnaw off small chunks and swallow them. If you’re not willing to make some changes to your home environment for safety’s sake and be constantly vigilant of the whereabouts of your pet, then a ferret might not be the best choice for you.

5) Double (and sometimes triple) trouble. Ferrets are sociable animals, and need several hours a day of activity and social interaction in order to be healthy and happy. Many people recommend getting two ferrets instead of one, as ferrets will form strong pair bonds with their cage-mates. Although this is not a substitute for human/pet interaction, it can be helpful for people who need to leave the house for work during the day, but who still want to make sure their pet has companionship. The downside to having multiple ferrets is that you will need more space to house them, and you will be spending more money on food, litter, vet bills, and so on. However, if you are thinking about adopting a ferret from a shelter, it will often be a requirement that you adopt a pair of ferrets, as they will not wish to separate any of the ferrets from their cage mates. Pair-bonded ferrets that are separated can sometimes become deeply depressed to the point of refusing to eat, or even dying. This brings up another challenge, since if you decide to purchase two ferrets who become pair bonded, and then one dies, you are left with a solitary depressed ferret. For many people, the solution is to start out with three ferrets instead of two, but one must keep in mind the corresponding inverse ratio of more ferrets in your home to less money in your wallet, and plan accordingly.

4) Money. Ferrets can be expensive. Compared to buying a purebred dog or cat, the ferret itself isn’t very pricey – usually a single ferret from a pet store (think Petco or Petsmart) will be around $80 to $140. But then you’re going to have to buy a large cage (the larger the better – preferably with multiple levels) for your ferret to sleep in and maybe spend time in throughout the day if necessary – this will usually cost from $90 to $150. You’ll need food and water bowls, litter pans, bags of ferret litter, ferret food, ferret-tone and ferret-lax (a coat conditioning supplement and a hairball treatment… you’ll want both, most pet stores should have them), nail trimmers, a pet carrier, a hammock or sleeping tube for the ferret to lie in, and assorted toys. At this point you’ve probably spent at least $300 to $400 just for your initial setup.

Then you’re going to need to find an exotic pet veterinarian in your area who sees ferrets, as your ferrets will need check-ups and vaccinations like all other pets. If you rent or lease, you may have to pay an extra pet deposit – be sure to check with your landlord. As mentioned previously, ferrets have a specialized diet and the best quality ferret foods tend to be in the pricey range. Ferrets are exotic pets, so even though you see them in the pet store next to the gerbils and across from the Betta fish, don’t get the wrong idea; these are not cheap pets. If your ferret eats a piece of foam rubber that gets stuck in its intestine, you’re looking at emergency veterinary surgery costing over $1000. Even if the initial cost of a ferret doesn’t seem like much, consider whether you would be able to afford to take your ferret to the vet in case of emergency, which can be hundreds of dollars more than you originally planned for.

3) Smell. Ferrets have a musky scent. Some people like it, some people hate it, some people are indifferent. But there’s no way to escape the fact that the ferret is a musky, smelly little creature. Generally ferrets sold in pet stores are de-scented, but this does not entirely eliminate the ferret’s natural odor. You can buy waterless shampoo spray to put on the ferret’s coat which temporarily gives it a fresh, floral scent, but this disappears fairly quickly. It’s also possible to bathe ferrets using special shampoo, although supposedly this actually makes ferrets smellier afterwards because the shampoo strips natural oils from their skin, drying it out, which then causes their oil glands to overcompensate; this makes them smell worse than before their bath. There really isn’t any way to completely eliminate the ferret’s odor, however it can be minimized by making sure its cage/litter is cleaned frequently, and that it is eating high quality food free of fish byproducts. Before purchasing a ferret, go to your local Petco or Petsmart and put your nose over the top of the ferret cage; it will give you a pretty good idea of the type of smell you can expect to face if you bring one home.

2) Poo. Ferrets have a very high metabolism. They eat frequently, they digest their food quickly, and logically that means that they go to the bathroom a lot. When I say a lot, I mean A LOT. And ferret poo is smelly, so you’re going to want to clean it up quickly – luckily it’s small and easy to clean up. Just keep in mind that there’s going to be a lot of it. Ferrets can be litter-box trained to a certain extent – they have a natural instinct to back up into the nearest corner whenever they feel the urge to go, so if a pan filled with litter pellets is placed in the corner, eventually they will make the connection and go to the bathroom in the litter pan. However if the ferret is feeling lazy, it will often just back up into the closest corner even if there’s no litter pan there. If you want to be safe rather than sorry, you’ll probably end up with litter pans or folded up newspaper in every intersection of two planes in your house, which may or may not clash with the interior design motif of your furniture.

1) Affection. Ferrets are fun, amusing, intelligent, playful, adorable pets. However they’re not the same as dogs and cats. They don’t particularly like being picked up, or pet, or cuddled; they’re not very affectionate, although they do like stealing pieces of your clothing and stashing them in hidden nests throughout the house. Sometimes they seem glad to see you, although they might just be excited for the treats you’re bringing over. If you want unconditional love, you should probably get a dog. If you want a furry lap warmer, you should probably get a cat. If you want a fuzzy ball of energy that’s a whole lot of trouble, and that may or may not love you as much as you love it, but that will do its best to weasel its cute little way into your heart; then maybe a ferret is the right pet for you.