Ferret Facts, the Do's and Don'ts of Owning a Ferret

I've had a Ferret ever since I was a boy – I've also had cats and dogs, but the Ferret was always smarter by far!

With a dog, you buy a bed, bowl and lead, feed it, play with it and walk it regularly and it is a friend for life.

Similarly with a cat. Buy a bowl, cat food and litter, put a cat flap in your back door thus giving access to the outside world where it likes to roam and hunt and you have a very contented pet but a Ferret … whoa!

You know, the Ferret has been around for at least 2,500 years, although what appear to be ferret remains have been dated to back to 1500 BC.

It is thought that they were usually bred for hunting rabbits and the like and in some places still are, but in this modern world it is more popular as a domesticated pet.

A male Ferret is a is a Hob (although if he has been castrated he is now known a Gib), a female is a Jill (although when she has had a litter she becomes a Dam) but if she is then spayed, she becomes a Sprite, a young or baby ferret is a Kit and a group of Ferrets are known as a Business.

The male is a lot larger than the female, which should be remembered when buying your first one. They can grow up to 20 inches in length and have a 5 inch tail which can get in the way occasionally. They come in a selection of colours; black, white, brown or mixed fur and although quite light in weight, can grow to be as heavy as 4 pounds (or even heavier if it is not on a proper diet) which can make your pocket baggy if you carry it around with you a lot.

So what can you expect from your Ferret?

Well, they spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping, normally divided into two shifts, but during the 6 Hours that they are awake, watch out! They are very active and inquisitive when awake and should be released from their cage during these periods in order to get exercise.

They will be interested in their surroundings and actively encourage inter-action with humans to the extent, that they like to play 'hide and seek; see I told you they were fun pets.

They also like to go for walks, so once they have received all of their inoculations, buy a harness and take it for a walk down the street; they really enjoy being the centre of attention.

Although they can become a real nuisance by marking their foraging territory on a regular basis with urine and excrement, training a Ferret to use a litter tray is not only achievable but now, common practice; it just takes a bit of work and a lot of patience.

Their natural instincts are still very strong and as said above, are very, very inquisitive. They will be seen nesting and hoarding, especially food.

They will also carry objects that they have become attached to, off to secluded locations however, they do not have strong homing instincts.

So if your Ferret gets out into the wild, the chances of it finding its way back to your home is pretty remote and its chances of survival even less.

Ferrets can be very amusing pets, no more so that when they do a sort of war dance. When excited, Ferrets jump and down and when really excited will perform a succession of sideways hops which is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise (sometimes known as Dooking). Upon seeing the Ferret leaping frantically from side to side whilst singing the 'dooking song' can alarm new owners who may think that their new pet is either having a fit or has gone completely mad – but that is not the case.

These actions show that the Ferret is very happy and you should look to join in with it as this can be a precursor to a game of chase, wrestle and pounce. But a word of warning, during these times the Ferret can be very accident prone and whilst performing the war dance, it has been known for them to throw themselves from side to side quite violently – I remember my Ferret, Bertie, throwing himself into the television screen and then disappear rapidly as my dad shouted at him, luckily nothing was broken and my Dad was still able to watch the News without having to rebuild the set.

Ferrets have a sweet tooth, which is not exactly good for them. The high sugar content of foods such as Bananas, Raisins and sweet fruit in general, has been linked to Insulinoma (cancer) and other diseases, so although you may 'love' to give your pet some little treats, you could be doing more harm than good.

Ferrets are Carnivores which means they like meat. There are a good number of commercial food products that can be bought or even created, but they must be at least 32% meat based. This will provide the protein and fats required by a ferret's metabolism – do not feed it adult cat or dog food, that's a definite no-no!

Providing edible ferret chew toys to young ferrets usually reduces the risk of them chewing on inappropriate objects.

Domestic Ferrets are susceptible to distinct illnesses. These include cancers that impact on the adrenal glands, pancreas and other internal organs and most importantly, the lymphatic system.

As the saying goes, a Ferret is for life, not just for Christmas and normally has a lifespan of 7 to 10 years. So remember, if you are going to have a Ferret as a pet, it will be around for a while.