Fun With Ferrets

By Dr. Nelson Bricker, Veterinarian

Let me start by saying I LOVE ferrets. They’re energetic, mischievous, playful animals that never cease to put smiles on people’s faces. They obviously aren’t for everyone, but for those owners that can’t seem to get enough of these “cat snakes”, here are five tips for keeping a ferret:

  1. Choose one that’s right for you. Anyone looking for a ferret should seek out a breeder that has worked to improve longevity in their animals. Over the years, most vets have noted that ferrets are predisposed to certain diseases that likely come from intensive inbreeding at large facilities that have focused on making the friendliest ferrets in a variety of coat types. These ferrets are easier to obtain, come pre-neutered and with their main scent glands removed, but the downside is that invariably, we are seeing shorter life-spans and old-age diseases earlier on. In either case, look for a ferret that is bright, active and alert, but understand that they may be sleepy in the middle of the day.
  2. Get them a home to fit their needs. Many styles of ferret cages are available, and most people like ones with multiple levels, often finding the ferrets sleep most of the day piled together in a fleece hammock. As nighttime comes, they will get a boost of energy and come out to play. While having enough room in the cage is important, ferrets should have daily access to a room or house to run around, be active, and explore. Keeping them in a cage all the time would be the same as never letting a dog out of the kennel.
  3. Give them some playtime. Many ferrets are social and do well in groups, but a single ferret can do well with an interactive owner and will often play with other pets that get along. But be warned, ferrets explore with their mouths, and seem to love eating things that just won’t pass all the way through. Keep any rubber (remote control buttons), foam (sandals), or other stray items picked up and clear from them while they’re out of the cage.
  4. Keep up with preventative care. In terms of general care, most ferrets aren’t much different than keeping a cat or dog. Preventative care will include discussions on diet and housing, vaccinations against distemper virus, screening for intestinal parasites, and a thorough physical exam and history. As ferrets get older, annual blood work is often helpful in assessing early onset of many problems.
  5. Be aware of their health risks. While many of the problems we face in ferrets are very treatable now, we are just beginning to understand how to best manage them. Unfortunately most ferrets will develop some form of cancer as they get older. The three types of cancer most likely to affect a ferret have become more and more treatable or manageable as time has progressed – we have been able to keep many ferrets happy for a long time, even with one or more tumors. Common signs of these can include sudden weakness, hair loss, weight loss, dissension of the abdomen, itching, swelling of the genitals, skin swellings, or even seizures. While they can present with a wide array of signs, identifying them early always gives the best possible outcome to treating them effectively.

Ferrets can be great pets for the right people, and I love getting to work with them, trying to make them as healthy as they can be.  If you have a ferret or are thinking of getting one and have any questions, feel free to contact me at Rocky Gorge. I am always happy to help answer anything you may need.

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