Owning a Ferret

three ferretsFerrets come in several different colour schemes: the sable ferret is the most popular. Sable ferrets have a buff coloured coat with black markings on the face, feet, and tails. Albino ferrets are white with pink eyes. Some ferrets have a buff coat with light markings.

The female ferret is called a jill, the male is a hob, and the infants are called kits. A neutered male is called a hoblet.

The gestation period, or length of pregnancy, is about 42 days (compared to 60 days for dogs and cats and 270 days for people). Like puppies and kittens, kits are born deaf and with their eyes closed. They begin walking by about 3 weeks of age, which is also when their eyes and ears open. By about 6 weeks of age, they are weaned onto ferret food. The average life span is 7-9 years; ferrets are considered geriatric pets at 4-6 years of age (compared to 8 years of age for dogs and cats).

Ferrets can make good pets. A commercial ferret food is normally recommended, and they easily learn to use a litterbox. 

They can bite; check with your veterinarian prior to purchasing a ferret if you have small children. Bizarrely they are rarely vicious - bites are a means of exploring and, although painful, are rarely meant in an aggressive sense.

Ferrets are excellent escape artists and are easily able to squeeze through the tiniest openings and cracks. Homes must be "ferret-proofed" to prevent escape and injury. Naturally inquisitive, they will chew on and swallow many things. Never let your ferret out of your sight when it's out of its cage. If you leave the room even for a minute, take the ferret with you or put it back in its cage or carrier.

"Ferrets are excellent escape artists and are easily able to squeeze through the tiniest openings and cracks. Homes must be "ferret-proofed" to prevent escape and injury."

As stated above, ferrets love to chew. Rubber toys are not safe for ferrets, as they often chew off and swallow small pieces! Diagnosis of an obstruction is often difficult in a ferret; usually the problem is diagnosed during exploratory surgery and is often fatal if not treated early. Hard toys or dog chews are safe, as are rawhide treats in small amounts. Other safe toys include small cans, cardboard tubes, and very hard plastic toys. Cloth toys are all right IF the ferret is not chewing off pieces of it!

Ferrets may be spayed or castrated. However, the issue of sterilisation is less clear in this species, especially with the increasing risk of adrenal gland disease. Therefore you should always discuss these issues with your vet before electing for surgical neutering. Chemical means of reproductive control are currently available for jills and are likely to be available soon for hobs. 

Descenting of ferrets is an unethical procedure in Australia and New Zealand! Only sterilisation (surgical or chemical) will control the scent from the body glands, which is the major source of smell – NOT the anal sacs.

a ferretVaccinations

Ferrets that go outside in public areas should be vaccinated against canine distemper. Veterinary advice should be taken on timing of these injections.

Selecting your pet

Some people are concerned about owning a pet ferret, due to potential attacks on people (specifically children, as ferrets can be aggressive and bite). Ferrets can often be purchased at pet stores or through breeders or ferret club members. Look for a young ferret (ideally). The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection (or distemper). The ferret should be curious and inquisitive; it should not be thin and emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhoea. Check for the presence of external parasites such as fleas. If possible, examine the ferret's mouth for broken teeth, discoloured gums (they should be light pink), or any obvious sores, any of which could suggest disease. 

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