This post will provide you with lots of cool tips on how to keep your ferrets happy and healthy. First, here are some very basics for you. A ferret male is called a hob, and a ferret female is called a jill. There are also some other words, such as a sprite – for a jill who is fixed – but I’m just gonna be referring to males as hobs and to females as jills.
If you’re considering a ferret, think about getting an enclosure. You can’t have a ferret if you don’t have a setup to bring it home to.
- The enclosure that I’m using is The Ferplast Ferret Tower. I know that it’s not one of the cages that you tend to find in retail stores, or at least I haven’t seen it. Over here in the States, if you’re looking to have a similar enclosure by Ferplast, they also do the XL version.
- Another pen that I like is the Ferret Nation Enclosure. The reason why I didn’t choose it is that I don’t find the sides to be high enough, and Dobby and Niffler (as we’ll come on to later) do not like to use their litter pan. This means that if they are going to be pooing in a corner, it would literally get stuck on bars.
Whereas this over here has a plastic rim along the bottom, which is really nice and high, so if they poo against it, it is really easy to use wet wipes and cleaners to just remove the poo, rather than having to scrape it off of bars. This is what we had to do with our last enclosure, which was a bit of a nightmare.
It’s also nice, when you have an enclosure, to use lots of different levels because ferrets will climb. They’re not the best climbers, especially if they’re like Niffler. Niffler is not gifted when it comes to climbing at all – but Dobby does it, and she’ll actually climb up the bars to go to another level. That’s why they’ve got lots of hammocks spread throughout their enclosure. Hammock-wise, I’m using a couple of handmade hammocks.
Water & Personal Space
Ok, let’s take a closer look at Dobby’s and Niffler’s enclosure. There is a top level – a second level, which they can access through a tunnel that goes down to the bottom. They also have their food dishes here. Remember that some ferrets will fight. Luckily for me, Dobby and Niffler are very relaxed and don’t fight at all, so they’re delighted to share.
But if you see one dominating the food, or if one of your ferrets seems a little bit chunkier than the other, then there’s a good chance that one is being bullied off their food, so make sure that you have two food bowls if necessary. I also have this water bottle up here. Again, Dobby and Niffler are very good at sharing, but if you feel that you might need more than just one, definitely put that in.
Water is absolutely essential for ferrets. Remember that their diet is extremely high in protein, or at least it should be. That means there’s a lot of salt, so they’re going to be very thirsty. They must always have the right amount of water in their enclosure at all times. It should be changed out every single day, as much as their food bowls should be washed out every day.
Litter & Toys
My ferrets also have a litter pan, but I do not use it as a litter pan. Dobby and Niffler will never use a litter pan – we have tried the rectangular ones, we’ve tried these side ones. They just don’t like the feeling of going against them, and we’ve tried all the different corners. So, the reason why there’s one in the corner is to prevent them from pooing in that corner. Given the fact that there is a litter pan, they will not use it.
I know some people will be angry and say, “Well, why don’t you take the time to litter train your ferrets?”. To be honest, I don’t actually care that they’re not litter trained. I’m happy for them to go wherever they want to go, so if they’re going to use a litter tray, that’s fine; if they don’t then, that’s fine. I know that they use one of the other corners, which gets spot cleaned a couple of times a day. I also use a wet wipe to clean the wall next to it.
There is another section to their enclosure, which is, for the most part, entirely bare. You might be wondering why they don’t have toys, and the truth is they don’t really like toys. They will not play with any toys in their enclosure. They’re not like a rat, who likes to problem-solve, so they spend the majority of their time in their enclosure either playing with each other or asleep. They also have a bed that I found at some kind of discount store with a fleecy throw – they love being in there too.
The Ferret-Proofed Room
They also get a lot of running as well, because they have this entire room just for themselves. They get to run around here – it’s all ferret-proofed, and they really love it. However, because it’s quite cold at the moment, I bring them into the house as well.
As for the bedding, it really depends on your personal choice and what your ferrets enjoy. Many people choose to use fleece, but I personally prefer Carefresh. I find it’s hygienic and good at eliminating odors. Some say that it’s dusty, but I personally haven’t found this.
How To Choose Your Hob Or Jill (Or Both)
Now let’s think about actually choosing your ferrets. When it comes to choosing ferrets, obviously you want to choose a ferret that’s good and healthy. When we picked up Dobby, she was the runt of the litter. If you do pick a runt, then it is absolutely likely that it may not live as long as other ferrets. But Dobby is really lovely and healthy – thank goodness – in fact, she’s a bit of a little terror.
When you are looking for a ferret, make sure they seem really bright and alert. Try picking them up. You want to see they’ve got a nice bodyweight. You don’t want to feel too many ribs sticking out, and you want to have a ferret that’s quite comfortable with being handled. Dobby was quite wiggly when we first got her, but through lots of handling and positive reinforcement, she is now just the most amazing lovely ferret.
Ferrets & Temperature
If you own ferrets, take a look at their coats! Depending on the time of the year, their coats might be quite long or quite short. With Dobby, because she lives out in the porch area, which is quite cold, she actually has a nice long coat that she’s grown in. If you could see her in the summer, you would realize that she looks like a completely different ferret.
If you plan to keep your ferrets outdoors in a hutch, a shed, or a screened porch, don’t buy your ferrets in the winter. A ferret which is used to indoor temperatures won’t have enough of a winter coat to survive being suddenly placed in cold temperatures. Acclimate your ferrets slowly to outdoor temperatures, by keeping them outdoors from springtime all the way through to winter.
Make sure that you have an extremely secure enclosure to protect your pets from predators. Also, remember to offer more bedding and food in the winter, as well as double checking your water, in case it freezes. Elderly and sick ferrets will suffer from the cold, so bring them indoors, and keep them there until the spring.
Back to choosing your ferret, look for any crust around the eyes and nose. If you see any discharge coming from there, then it’s probably not a healthy animal, and I would stay away. If you’re in the United States, there are very few people who actually breed ferrets. There are a couple of big breeders who you might already be familiar with, and they will give you a kind of guarantee that their ferret is going to be healthy, but don’t take that for granted. If something just doesn’t feel right about the place you’re getting your ferrets, then just don’t buy the ferret. Oh, and adopt, where possible, because you’d be amazed at how many people give up their ferrets.
Also, pick up that ferrets and take a deep whiff, because ferrets have a body smell which is sort of musty and dusty. Now, the way that a dog or a cat has a smell, ferrets also have one – and you can’t get rid of it. If you rub a ferret on your clothes, your clothes will smell like ferrets.
The worst thing you can do is bath your ferret because ferrets have very itchy skin. If you bath your ferret too frequently, you’re going to really irritate ut. If the ferret that you pick up does smell absolutely horrendous in a very pungent way, and not in just a delicate and musty way, then that could be an indicator that their diet is poor, or that they have some kind of underlying health issue.
A lot of people do have that stigma that ferrets smell. To minimize that smell – because you will never eradicate it completely – just keep their enclosure clean. Spot clean it every day because it really is their feces and urine which smell bad. The body smell of a ferret, once you’re used to it, isn’t that bad at all. Also, when you bring home a ferret, realize that you give up rights to absolutely everything because everything you own becomes your ferret’s.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to write about common ailments. By far, the most common sickness you’re gonna come by is chronic diarrhea. Yes, I’m sorry to talk about the poo, but it happens. Ferrets have a very sensitive digestive system, and the smallest changes in their diet can really upset that. So if you see that your ferret has very loose stools or diarrhea, like watery diarrhea, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to check the dehydration. For that, just get the scruff of your ferrets, lift up a little bit, and then let go. That scruff, once you let go, should go back into the skin really quickly. If it stays up like a little mountain and it takes a long time to go back into place, then your ferret is very dehydrated.
As I wrote above, your ferret should have a lot of water anyway, because their diet is very high in salt, and they can dehydrate quite quickly. However, if your ferret is severely dehydrated, take them straight to the vet. Still, diarrhea and loose stools isn’t always a fatal thing. It happens quite regularly and can be caused by something as simple as licking something on the floor that shouldn’t be there. It happens – I speak from experience.
The next disease is also very common, and sadly, ferrets are tremendously affected by this disease. It’s called adrenal disease. In very basic terms, adrenal disease is an overproduction of a hormone, and that leads to cancer and other tumors. Signs of adrenal disease are being extremely thirsty – more so than usual, like an unquenchable thirst – and also losing body conditions. Thus, a once happy healthy chunky ferret might eventually slim down to becoming skin and bones. Also, fur patchiness and coats not coming in as well as they should are a sign.
Depending on where you live, you may have the option to buy a descented ferret or a ferret that is spayed or neutered. Here in the United States, most ferrets which are sold, unless you are a breeder, are sold already either descented and desexed or at least desexed.
If you live in the U.S., also do some research on the state you live in. A lot of ferrets are deemed exotic pets and therefore require a permit. Where I live, in New Jersey, you do need a permit. So if you buy a ferret from a pet store or adopt from a shelter, they should hook you up with a permit. So make sure you’re on top of your permits because you can get in a lot of trouble if you’re not up to date with them.
I believe it’s also a legal requirement if you’re selling ferrets, to sell them desexed, which means that they should not be able to reproduce. This is, in theory, to keep the population of unwanted ferrets down. Of course, if you’re in the United Kingdom or in Europe in general, then you will have the option to buy an intact ferret.
Just remember, if you buy or adopt a ferret that has everything intact and is not desexed, they still have the ability to reproduce. Just Be careful with jills if you’re buying them intact, without being desexed. If they come into season – which they will, at some point, if they are intact – they require to be brought out of season. If you keep your ferret jill in Season, she can die.
A lot of people keep vasectomized hobs around. This means that they’re not castrated, and they actually still can mate with a female. If you have a female that has come into season, in the UK we have something called a Jill Jab, which is what they give to ferrets to bring them out of season. If you’re not sure whether or not your ferret is in season, go straight to the vet because they may be able to advise you on what to do.
Vaccines and predators
On the subject of males and females, I’ve found that females tend to be a little bit more on-the-go and a little bit more energetic, and males tend to take it a little bit easier and are more laid-back. If you’re planning on taking your ferrets outside, it’s a good thing to remember that they can catch distemper. So if you’re planning on taking them outdoors, make sure that you go for your courses of jabs to make sure they don’t. These will have to be updated every single year, so make sure that you go for your boosters, to make sure they can still go outside and not get sick.
If you are gonna take your ferrets outside – which is a great thing to do when the weather is nice and warm – just look out for predators. Where I live, in New Jersey, we have a lot of birds of prey, and if I took Dobby and Niffler outside, I could be confident that there’s gonna be at least one bird of prey nearby who can spot them with their beady eye.
So keep an eye on your ferret, and also remember that not everybody who is going to be in the park potentially wants to see a ferret, or is going to be friendly about them. So I think it’s best to keep them somewhere beautiful and private, like your own backyard, but also make sure that you have them under supervision. Don’t let them go roaming for ten minutes and then go find them because they could get lost and, unfortunately, they don’t have a homing instinct.
A Ferret’s Diet
Now onto the subject of diet, and this is something which a lot of people are unanimously agreed on, is that raw food is absolutely the best thing for your ferrets. I completely stand by that. My old ferret, that was probably the healthiest ferret I’ve ever seen, was actually raised to be a hunter, so he was a hunting ferret before he got lazy, and then was rehomed to me.
His job was to hunt rabbits for people to consume. So if you don’t live in an area with a butcher who can provide you with rabbit, pheasant, or quail, then I would suggest raw food diets from Wysong. Wysong is probably the only manufactured ferret food that I’ve found that I enjoyed giving my ferrets because it’s actually got a very high percentage of protein. My two ferrets are still being converted onto raw food.
So, as a staple diet, what Dobby and Niffler have is the ferret Epigen 90 from Wysong – it’s got a really high percentage of protein, and it’s starch-free, as well. Therefore, I’m thrilled with this, and my ferret’s coats have come in beautifully. To assist them in going on to a raw food diet, I am using a rabbit formula, but Wysong also has quail, chicken, and turkey. They’ve got lots of different fresh food diets which come prepackaged, and they’re freeze-dried, which locks in all the goodness.
How To Prepare The Diet
Then you can basically just add warm water, let it sit for 15 minutes, and it’s a sweet gravy that you can pour onto your ferret’s food. So this is the rabbit formula for ferrets, and I’m really excited to come onto this one because eventually, I would like to move Dobby and Niffler almost exclusively to pheasant, quail, and rabbit
I know that some people will say “well, I’m really interested in giving my obligate carnivore a meat diet, but can’t I just use chicken?”. No, not precisely because chicken doesn’t have that many vitamins for ferrets – especially chicken breast! If you fed a ferret nothing but chicken breast, they would get very sick. There’s little to no nutrients in chicken breasts, so make sure that you’re alternating those meats, and if your ferret won’t take them, just introduce it very slowly, maybe starting off with some chicken thighs. Also, be very careful to remove any small bones, because those can pierce their gums.
My ferrets are doing really well on the regular Wysong Epigen 90 dry food. It’s super high in protein – it’s freeze-dried raw diet, so it’s looking perfect. It says crude protein a minimum of 44 percent. Typically, if you’re going to be feeding dry food, the minimum requirement for protein is at least 36%, so I’m delighted with 44 percent.
Nutritional Information. Taurine
Crude fat – 36 percent; crude fiber – 0.5; moisturizing is 4 percent – that’s great! It contains chicken, chicken organs, ground chicken, bone, and natural flavor. It also contains taurine, which is fantastic. Ferrets can’t produce their own taurine, so it’s excellent that Wysong foods already have taurine.
If you are not on a food which has added taurine, something else that you can add to their diet to boost their taurine is a vitamin paste for ferrets. One of them is the Marshall one, but my ferrets don’t like this one. The way that looks on the inside is sort of like gooey. My ferrets have enjoyed another ferret paste in the past, which I bought in the UK. That one was more multi and had added taurine. Anyway, if your ferrets will take some kind of vitamin paste with added taurine, that’s always a bonus.
Back to the Wysong food, looking inside the package, you can see what diet looks like. Remember, it is freeze-dried, so you have to rehydrate it first. This is not what it should look like going into your ferret’s food. You don’t just take this food and put it in a bowl; you actually have to add 1/5 cup of water to it. Then you mix it with the regular diet, and it should slowly switch them over to more raw nutrition. Eventually, my goal is to have them on a completely raw diet, but this is an excellent first step.
First, you add just a bit when you feed them the raw food diet mix. Chopping the pieces, you can see some blood or some organ in there. That’s good because that means it’s actually coming from a real animal. For anyone who gets upset by this, just remember that ferrets are obligate carnivores. You can’t put them on any kind of plant-based diet because they will literally die – that’s not an exaggeration. It’s not me saying that they just prefer meats. They absolutely require meat in their diet, so this is an excellent first step towards getting the ferrets used to having a bit more.
You do have to let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes before it’s ready to go into their regular food, and that’s also because you don’t want to serve it cold either. You should actually break the pieces down a little bit so that they can get used to having the flavor mixing in with their regular food, rather than encountering a new texture, which they might not like.
So that’s been done. The formula sunk to the bottom of their bowl, but that’s not an issue; Dobby And Niffler will make their way through this, and they’ll get the taste of the flavor. Then, as the days go on, I will be adding more of the meat to their diets.
In summary, ferrets can make for a fantastic pet for the right family. Just make sure you do your research. And, if you’re interested, try considering two or more ferrets, because they’re always going to be more fun and a lot happier if they’re kept in pairs or more. Take your time in choosing the right ferrets for you because they all have their own distinct personality, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I really hope this post helped you learn the basic care a ferret requires!