Latin name: Mustela Putorius Furp
Vasectomised males: Hobbles or Vassies
Life span: 5 – 11 years (domesticated)
Litter size: 5 – 13 kits
Birth weight: 8 – 10 grams
Eyes open: From four weeks
Gestation period: 38 – 44 days
Average weight: male 700-2000 gms, female 600-900 gms.
Sexual maturity: male 5-9 months, female – spring after birth
Weaning age: 6 – 8 weeks
Vaccinations: Canine Distemper
Ferrets are true carnivores with a keen hunting ability and predator mentality. They are inquisitive, playful and constantly on the move when awake. They need devoted and educated owners.
History of Ferrets
*Ferrets are related to mink and weasels, and are from the family called ‘Mustelids’.
*Domesticated ferrets have a wonderful latin name ‘Mustela Putorius Furo’ (bad smelling weasel).
*In 3000BC ferrets were first domesticated by the Ancient Egyptians. Most ferrets are derived from the European polecat approximately 2000 years ago. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that ferrets became popular as pets. They were introduced in the 10th century to Europe as working ferrets.
*There are now no wild ferrets left in the world.
*Ferrets were domesticated for hunting rabbits and are still used widely for this purpose. Ferreting is known as ‘the business’ in poaching speech.
*It is only relatively recently that they have also become a non-working companion animal. Ferret racing through drainpipes is also a popular betting sport.
*In the UK there are under 1 million ferrets.
*The 2 main types of ferret are the dark-coated or sable ‘fitch’ or ‘polecat’ ferret and the pink-eyed white.
*They have the typical weasel-like long body shape with small rounded-ears and short legs.
*They have a very flexible spine and stand with an arched back which is more pronounced when running. This flexibility means that they can turn around in a very narrow space.
The eight most common colours are:
Albino (White coat with red eyes)
Sable (Dark brown body, black feet, masked face)
Dark Eyed White (All white with dark eyes)
Black (Black coat, no pattern)
Topaz (Light taupe colour)
Champagne (Golden in colour)
Siamese/Chocolate (Lighter colour of sable with brown feet)
Red (Mahogany coloured)
*The different combinations of colours, patterns and markings produce an infinite number of variations.
*Some examples of patterns may be Roan, which is a mixture of coloured and white hair, or Dalmatian where spots and blotches are present on a white coat.
*The markings can be a mask of colour found across the face, mitts and feet, or a blaze (white on forehead and chest).
Feeding your Ferret
*Ferrets are carnivores and require regular and high levels of dietary protein and fat to develop strong muscles, healthy bones and to prevent illness.
*They have little need for carbohydrate and fibre as they produce most of their own glucose and therefore do not need to eat much carbohydrate.
*Ferrets feed throughout the day eating small frequent meals, this is due to the fact that they have an extremely short digestive tract and food passes through within 3 – 4 hours. In order to fulfil their nutritional needs and energy levels, they must feed regularly.
*The average ferret will eat 5 – 7% of its body weight on a daily basis. This is about 50-75 grams for a ferret weighing 1kg.
*These are approximate levels and will differ from animal to animal and according to lifestage.
*Ferrets will require larger amounts during growth, gestation and reproduction.
*Reproducing females require a minimum of 30% protein from their diet, and kittens require high levels of protein and fat throughout their growth phase.
*Feed levels may drop during later life and should be adjusted based on intake, demand and physiological changes, such as weight gain. Some people choose to feed dried cat food which is adequate for a ferret, but choose a good quality food such as Hills or Iams.
*Do not feed your ferret dog food as its protein levels are not high enough.
*Feeding a complete dried food provides all the nutritional requirements your ferret needs.
*Feeding fresh food requires supplementation of vitamins and minerals and may result in deficiency or more commonly, poisoning, resulting in a range of avoidable illnesses and conditions.
*Snacks that can be given include cooked chicken pieces, raisins, grapes, broccoli or other fresh fruits.
*Never give dairy products or chocolate. Chocolate and caffeine are poisonous and cereals or sugary treats affect the pancreas so must be avoided.
*A fatty acid supplement should be given if not feeding a balanced ferret food.
*Always ensure that fresh water is available at all times, as eating dried food will often lead to higher demands of water on a daily basis.
Keeping your ferret happy
*In addition to choosing the right food for your ferret, they also need to be kept in the correct living environment.
*Choose a large cage for your pet as ferrets left with free run of the house will cause a lot of damage.
*There are also potential dangers in your home such as fridges, dryer vents and drains as ferrets are able to fit into very small spaces.
*You need to place a good quality water bottle and ceramic food bowl in an easily accessible place or use wire cages with catch pans at the bottom and secure hinges.
*Expect your mischievious ferret to rearrange his furniture on a regular basis. A litter tray is also needed to keep the cage clean and odour free if emptied on a daily basis.
*Use woodshavings in the litter tray for a high degree of absorption and in the hutch or enclosure use dust extracted bedding material to prevent respiratory or skin problems.
*Place some droppings in the tray to encourage your ferret to use it and place him in it if you notice any signs of him pacing or circling or even just as he awakens to get him used to it. Be patient. Ferrets do not take to litter trays as easily as cats do. Do not use clumping litter (which is purchased from pet shops). Use normal odour free cat litter.
*Ferrets enjoy sleeping above ground level so an ideal accessory to keep them happy is a hammock. A simple square of material hung from the top of the cage will serve this purpose.
*They are extremely active and very playful. Always find time to socialise with your ferret on a daily basis, this will add variety and stimulation to your pet’s day.
* Ferrets will play with small balls and enjoy a variety of tunnels to play in. A good accessory is a feeding ball to make your ferret work for its food and increase their exercise period and stimulation.
*Your ferret must exercise and be handled as much as possible or he will become nervous. Playing with a toy that he cannot chew and swallow attached to a small stick will keep him very happy.
*If you have small mammals such as rabbits or hamsters, you must exercise extreme caution with regards to ferrets.
*They are natural enemies, and your ferret may kill them. In general, ferrets usually get along with cats and dogs.
*It is not recommended to leave hunting breeds like terriers and hounds alone with ferrets as their instincts may take over and your ferret could be hurt.
*Jills (females) are induced or reflex ovulators ie they will ovulate if mated. If they are unmated, they remain in oestrus for a prolonged period, resulting in oestrogen-induced bone marrow suppression and they therefore become anaemic. In the UK, the breeding season is from spring to autumn.
*Oestrus is shown externally by a greatly enlarged reddish vulva. In the hob (male), the testes descend into the scrotum only in the breeding season. Mating is a rough, noisy and prolonged affair with much biting of the scruff of the female by the male.
Handling ferrets correctly
*Allow your ferret to come to you before picking him up. This prevents frightening him and reduces the risk of being bitten.
*If he is prone to nipping, train him by scruffing him every time he nips and saying NO.
*Handle kits (young) as much as possible to prevent biting or purchase your ferret only from a reputable breeder who has handled him as a youngster.
*Ferrets have a natural instinct to bite and hang on with their exceptionally strong jaws.
*Ferrets should be grasped around the shoulders, with your thumb under their mouth and supporting the hind legs with your other hand, then gently bring the ferret against your chest.
*They can be trained to sit quietly in a pouch or pocket with patience and perseverence.
*The ferret has 2 small musk glands at the anus. Their removal for descenting purposes is prohibited in the UK and anyway it does not completely remove the normal musky, ‘ferrety’ odour which is also produced from generalised skin glands.
*You are able to bath your ferret at least twice a month with a mild shampoo.
*To clip your ferrets’ nails, allow him to lick a vitamin treat whilst clipping them to distract him otherwise they move too much.
*Stress such as weaning, separation, overcrowding and poor husbandry can encourage illness. Symptoms will include sneezing, coughing, fever, nasal discharge and lethargy. Your ferret will usually require a course of antibiotics from us and will need to be seen for this.
*Ferrets are also able to catch kennel cough which can lead to pneumonia. Avoid boarding ferrets in kennels near dogs or consider vaccination prior to boarding.
*Some human cold and flu viruses can be infectious to ferrets, so take care if you are unwell.
*This can be due to a sudden change in diet. Avoid any sudden change in diet, new diets should be introduced gradually over a minimum of two weeks.
*Diarrhoea should correct itself within a couple of days, if not take your ferret to your vet as it may dehydrate.
*This can be associated with parasites, bacteria or viruses and can affect ferrets of any age, although kits are most susceptible. In all cases it is important to find the cause as ferrets can dehydrate quickly.
*Take in a stool sample when you take your ferret to us for a persistent diarrhoea to find the cause.
*Unlike rabbits, ferrets are able to vomit. This may often be associated with foreign bodies present in their digestive tract such as hairballs and partially eaten toys.
*Do not give your ferret rubber toys to play with or he may chew them and they can get stuck.
*Groom your ferret regularly (especially during a moult) to reduce the loose hair which can heighten the risk of hairballs. A cat laxative such as Katalax can be given in small amounts to aid the passage of hairballs if they become a problem.
*If your ferret is vomiting continuously, it is wise to take him to the vet to make sure that there is not a more severe underlying problem.
Ferrets are very susceptible to Canine Distemper which often lead to fatality. Signs of the virus include:
discharge around the eyes, nose and chin (eyes may be closed)
loss of appetite
It is highly infectious and can be picked up from dog or rat urine on the soles of your shoes. To prevent infection, have your ferret vaccinated by us at 12 weeks. It is a single vaccination and needs to be given yearly.
*Ear mites are common and will be apparent if your ferret shakes his head and scratches his ears often. It can lead to inflammation of the area and a secondary infection with discomfort to your pet.
*Regularly check your ferret for fleas and flea dirt. If fleas are found, you will need to treat your ferret with a product specific for ferrets..
*Do not forget to treat their cage and environment too if you notice fleas.
*Apply Vitamin E cream to your ferrets’ pads to prevent dry cracked pads in centrally heated homes.
*If your ferret appears very lethargic and is panting, he could be suffering from heat stroke. Treatment involves wrapping a towel around an ice pack and placing it in the carrier next to your ferret to slowly decrease the temperature.
Adrenal Gland Tumours
*Adrenal tumours are very common in ferrets.
*These tumours occur twice as frequently in females as males.
*Signs include symmetric hair loss, usually starting at the tail base and progressing up the body.
*There may be a history of hair loss. Itching is often reported as well as dryness of the skin. An enlarged vulva may be present in females, loss of muscle tone and weakness may be present.
*Treatment involves surgically removing the tumour.
*Abscesses usually occur as the result of a puncture wound or bite wound.
*Cardiomyopathy is an enlargement of the heart and most frequently affects ferrets over two years old.
*It results in the heart not being able to pump blood as it should. Ferrets can be treated with heart drugs that we use in dogs and cats such as Fortekor and Frusemide.
*Signs include a murmur (that we hear), weight loss, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing.
Urinary Tract Stones
*The most common cause is due to feeding commercial dog food, low quality cat food or low quality ferret food.
*Signs include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, or inability to urinate.