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Ferrets
By Michele Shumaker (personal comments by LawnElf)


Do Ferrets make good Pets?

Ferrets make excellent pets! As a long-time ferret owner, I can think of many reasons to recommend them as pets. They are fun, friendly, happy, outgoing, highly trainable, and have distinctly individual personalities. They are very playful and entertaining, both with each other and with you, and they remain very playful as they get older. They are smarter than cats and dogs, or at least they act like it. They are also very curious and determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a bother. They are friendly, and they do know and love you, though for some of them it can take a year or so to fully bond. They like other animals, such as dogs and cats. All my ferrets got along famously with my dogs. As a matter of fact, the female dog treated them like they were her puppies. They can only see reasonably well, but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. They can be trained to do tricks, and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or in a bag. Ferrets sleep a lot, and they don't particularly mind being confined to small places, like a cage or a shoulder bag, temporarily. They do need to run around and play for at least a couple of hours a day. A "single" pet ferret won't be incredibly lonely, although the fun of watching two or more ferrets playing together is worth the extra effort.

What is a Ferret?

Ferrets are domestic animals, they are a domesticated strain of a Eurasian weasal, Mustela putorius, the polecat. Other relatives include minks, ermines, stoats, badgers, black-footed ferrets, and fishers. They are not a wild animal. Some zoologists believe they were first domesticated by the Egyptians, over 3 thousand years ago, who used them to catch mice. They are not rodents; taxonomically they're in between cats and dogs, somewhat closer to dogs.

Where do I buy a Ferret? How much do Ferrets cost?

Ferrets are readily available in your local pet stores for a reasonable price. Prices for stores and breeders are usually in the $75-$250 range, typically around $100. Plan on another $100-$250 for a cage and supplies, plus around $75 for the first batch of vaccinations.

Ferrets come in several colors. The most common is the sable, which has a dark brown coat with a beige undercoat, dark legs and tail, and a dark mask across its eyes. Siamese ferrets have the same markings as a sable, except that their coat is a lighter tan instead of dark brown. White-footed ferrets, sometimes called silver mitts, have white feet or legs and in addition usually have a white spot on the neck. Silver ferrets have some white mixed in with their dark or tan guard hairs, and the albino ferret is all white and has pink eyes (there is also a variety that is white, but has normal black eyes).

Are Ferrets hard to care for?

They are fairly easy to take care of (they eat cat food and some people food). They love milk and dairy products, but should only be given small amounts as an infrequent treat. Ferrets can be given any fruits, vegetables, or meat scraps that they will eat. All ferrets (like children) have their own peculiar preferences in food. For instance, I once had an albino ferret that would do anything for bananas, while it's cage-mate (a silver mitt) would have nothing to do with them. They can also be litter trained.

When ferrets are babies, they are de-scented and usually sterilized. This is done mainly for health reasons - if a ferret female is not spayed, she will constantly be in heat and is susceptible to a variety of infections. They are also vaccinated against canine distemper, and should be vaccinated against it yearly.

Ferrets are very happy and playful. They await playtime with an usurpassed eagerness and often go a little crazy upon first being released from their cage. They do love scampering around and being mischievous. They are known for taking car keys, shoes, and just about anything else they find lying around, and hiding them. They especially love to play "chase". My ferret (a sable named "Iggy") seems overly fond of towels. They will play with a wide variety of toys - most are extremely fond of rubber squeak toys such as the kind made for dogs and cats. They like to chew these toys and will frequently chew until they have eaten a hole in the rubber. When this happens the toy should be thrown out and replaced with a new one. Ping pong balls also make great ferret toys.

What are the cons to having a Ferret as a pet?

Ferrets have lots of pros as pets, but there are some cons as well. They require a lot of care and training at first. They're "higher maintenance" than cats; they'll take more of your time and attention. Likewise, small children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination might be too much. You must ferret proof your home. Ferrets are less destructive than cats, but they love to get into EVERYTHING, so if you keep them loose you'll need to make sure they can't hurt themselves or your possessions. They like to chew on spongy, springy things, which must be kept out of reach or they'll swallow bits. They like to get into things- boxes, bags,and trash cans, need to be out of reach, and houseplants left in the open are prey to joyful digging. Some ferrets may scratch and dig at the carpet. These traits vary from one ferret to another, but fun, playful and curious is a constant.. If you're not willing to take the necessary time to protect your property and your pet, a ferret may not be for you.

Before you decide that a ferret is the pet for you, be aware that their life span is approximately 6 - 11 years. I would also recommend the purchase of a book about the care of ferrets - there are some other things that I did not go into here that are important to know, such as trimming their claws.

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