This information sheet is to give an overview of the NSW Ferret Welfare Society and ferrets. The information that you are about to read is just a very brief insight into the world of ferrets. If you would like to further your knowledge, contact Macarthur Veterinary Group.
Mustela putorius furo – The Ferret Information Sheet
Interested in joining the NSW Ferret Welfare Society Inc? For just $25.00 a year, you will receive six (6) newsletters, each one full of information and stories. All are welcome to come along to our social outings (ferrets are welcome too), held every two (2) months, and talk to other people who also have pet ferrets. For membership enquiries please email email@example.com.
The NSW Ferret Welfare Society Inc (NSWFWS) does not breed ferrets for sale nor recommends breeders. If you have received this information sheet from a breeder claiming to be selling ferrets as an authorised member/breeder please contact our President or Vice President.
Our Society sells ferrets that we rescue or are surrendered.
Ferrets as pets
Ferrets are domesticated animals, cousins of the weasels, skunks and otters. (Other relatives are minks, ermines, badgers, black-footed ferrets, polecats and fishers). They are NOT rodents. It is believed that ferrets were first domesticated in central Europe several thousand years ago. Their behaviour and personality is somewhere between cats and dogs (although they are much smaller in size). Some are cuddly and others are more independent. They vary a lot, just like other pets. Average size for a male is around 45cm in length and weigh between 1.2-2.3kg compared to 35cm in length and 500gms-1.2kg for females. FERRETS WILL NOT SURVIVE IN THE WILD. They are likely to die from dehydration or starvation within a few days.
Positive Aspects Of Ferrets
Extremely playful with both humans and other ferrets; inquisitive; remarkably determined; able to be trained, eg to use kitty litter; very social; sleep for great lengths of time. Most love to go places with you on a harness and can be kept in a decent-sized cage (refer to Housing).
Negative Aspects Of Ferrets
Ferrets are higher maintenance than dogs or cats. They need a great deal of your time and attention; can also be quite mischievous and get underfoot. They also love to dig up plants and scratch at carpet and whilst being a common trait, this can vary from one ferret to another. Young ferrets are accident-prone and older ones may suffer from one of many illnesses. Like all animals, they sometimes need expensive vet treatment!
Ferrets must be taught not to nip! A well handled pet should not be vicious, however, bites can be expected in rough play, over excitement or if frightened. To discipline your ferret, a light tap on the nose and an angry “NO” usually works. (Scruffing and “time out” also helps) Remember, immediate discipline is essential and needs to be reinforced.
NOTE: Young children and ferrets can be very excitable and need to be supervised while playing together. Ferrets usually get along with cats and dogs, however, supervision is recommended. Beware of terriers and aggressive dogs, especially when walking your ferret. Always gradually introduce new pets to existing family pets. (Birds, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats etc. should always be kept securely away from ferrets.)
Ferrets are happiest in pairs or in small groups, especially young ferrets as they are very demanding. Adults tend to be calmer and can be more suitable for first time ferret owners. Most desexed ferrets will get on with others; new ferrets will require time to settle into the household. When buying a ferret, look for bright, clear eyes, healthy skin, unbroken whiskers, soft coat and a curious, alert attitude. Inspect the conditions of the ferret’s environment for good hygiene and don’t buy a ferret if the seller is not prepared to take the ferret back after a reasonable period, if you change your mind.
IMPORTANT: HEAT STRESS: ferrets must be kept in a cool area or they can quickly die of heatstroke in summer. Water must be available at all times.
Ferrets can be happily housed in a cage either outside under the verandah or balcony, or they can have the run of the house or a spare room. However, they need socialising every day for a couple of hours. Remember: ferrets that are left in cages can become unsocial, nippy and hard to handle or they can become depressed.
CAGE: A simple metal frame with a minimum size of 2m2 or larger with 1.75cm2 (1/2 inch) wire mesh (depending on size of smallest ferret) and a solid weatherproof overhanging roof. This will comfortably accommodate 2 ferrets. A door will be required to access the sleeping box and litter tray. The cage can be divided into levels using wire mesh or shade cloth and flexible pipes to link levels provides more space and activities. Bird aviaries with a solid floor also make excellent homes for groups of ferrets. Levels, ramps, piping, hammocks….. the possibilities are endless in accessorising the aviaries.
SLEEPING BOX: Plastic or wood (weatherproof) with easily accessible entrance hole. Bedding can be old towels, clothes, blankets etc as long as they are clean. Wood shavings and sawdust are not recommended.
FEEDING AREA: A section of cage away from the litter tray with a solid floor that prevents food dropping through the wire. Solid heavy bowls for food and water or a water bottle.
LITTER TRAY: Basic cat litter tray situated in a corner filled with cat litter, sand or garden dirt. Most ferrets can learn to use the tray, however, there can be times when frightened or excited ferrets have occasional accidents. To reinforce the use of the tray, make a fuss over the ferret when used properly and correct the ferret when it backs into the wrong corner. This should be cleaned at least once a day.
Ferret Proofing your home
“Ferret Proofing” involves blocking off all holes in the house, making cupboards inaccessible, blocking access under and at the back of fridges and other appliances. Watch out for heaters and air conditioning ducts. Openings of 4cmx4cm and larger can be blocked/covered with wood or wire mesh. Fragile objects should be out of reach, pot plants need to be raised or protected with mesh and big pebbles. Ferrets can get into lounge chairs, kitchen bins, baths, toilet bowls, drawers from underneath etc. You name it, they can get into it! Ferrets generally do not have much sense of direction, so if one escapes outside you may not get it back.
Cat toys work very well, though you need to be sure they don’t have any small, removable parts or foam stuffing which might cause blockages if swallowed. Plastic balls, with or without bells, work well. Soft vinyl or rubber is okay, but NOT the spongy kind – it is too easily shredded and swallowed. Cat or dog squeaky toys are good if they are tough enough to stand up to the chewing and it helps if they are easily “squeaked”. Lengths of flexible pipe (air conditioning or agricultural pipe – available from hardware stores) are especially popular as tunnels. It is a good idea to train your ferret to come to the sound of a squeaky toy, by giving them a treat e.g. Nutripet, when they respond. This is so if ever you cannot find a ferret (inside or outside) you have a chance of getting them back.
Basic Health Care
Most ferrets enjoy having a bath. Use baby shampoo or herbal pet products and wash your ferret about every two months if needed. Frequent bathing can cause dry skin. Flea products that are kitten and puppy formulated are safe (e.g. Advantage, Revolution and Frontline). Do not use formulas made for adult cats or dogs.
Ferret nails grow rapidly and need regular clipping. Beware of the vein running inside the nail which is easily visible and clip carefully using cat or human nail clippers. To help with nail clipping, try some Nutripet on the ferrets stomach. Ears need regular cleaning – using moist cotton buds. Ear cleaning products for cats and dogs eg Ilium Ear Drops help prevent ear mites.
Importance of Desexing
Desexing is a must, especially for females. We recommend desexing from around six (6) months of age. A female (Jill) will come into season about September and will remain in season until she is desexed, mated or receives an injection from a vet to bring her out of season. Unless she is brought out of season there is a real danger of the ferret dying from anaemia! A male (hob) also comes into season around the same time and can lose up to 40% of his body weight. This is normal for a male and there is no need for concern. There will be a colour change (yellowing) as well. You will also notice that his odour becomes very strong, unpleasant and overpowering and no amount of bathing will eradicate it. He may also become quite aggressive and try very hard to escape his cage in search of a mate.
Descenting: The NSWFWS inc. does not recommend descenting of ferrets. This is an unnecessary operation and serves no useful purpose.
All ferrets need to be vaccinated against canine distemper once a year.
Ferrets are susceptible to the same worm parasites as cats and dogs eg roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm. Worming every six months with a cat all wormer product such as Popantel Cat Allwormer Tablets or Milbemax is recommended. To prevent heartworm, use Heartgard – 68µg tablet per ferret per month. Oral Ivomec (ivermectin) works the same way and protects against intestinal worms (except tapeworm). It can also prevent sarcoptic mange (skin mites) and ear mites. Consult your vet for dosage.
WARNING: Human Flu Virus can be caught by your ferrets and vice versa. If caught, keep animal warm and monitor food and water intake. If ferret has nasal discharge, seek veterinary advice as antibiotics might be needed.
Feeding your Ferret
The food needs to have at least 32% animal protein (animal products should be listed first in the ingredients list). Ferrets have a short digestive system preventing them from absorbing vegetable proteins. IAMS, Hill’s Science Diet and Whiskas are recommended by our society and are sold by the society and also through most pet stores and vets. Ferrets under 3-4 years, should be fed kitten or growth formulated biscuits but older ferrets may develop kidney problems from too much protein and should be switched to an adult cat version.
Soft/canned pet foods are not hard enough to rub plaque off teeth and can lead to tooth decay.
DAILY – fresh water at all times! Fresh raw chopped meat (fatty is better than lean), lamb, beef, chicken etc especially chicken or rabbit. High-quality cat biscuits (as recommended above).
WEEKLY – Raw chicken wings or necks to clean teeth. An egg yolk (no egg white) with a few drops of Omega 3 oil or vegetable/nut oil, fruit and vegetables if your ferrets like them.
TREATS – Lactose reduced cow’s milk (Pets Own Milk or Whiskas Milk Plus) can be given as a treat. Ordinary cow’s milk causes diarrhoea and soy milk can interfere with the absorption of calcium from food. Nutripet, a caramel flavoured supplement, available from your veterinary clinic or pet shop, can be used to keep your ferret calm if they are upset or keep them still at the vet. DO NOT give it regularly as it is high in sugars.
NEVER – dairy products, chocolate, fish-based biscuits, cooked bones, salt, dried coconut, dog’s leather hide chews, sausage mince.
We hope this information is of some help to you. If you require further help, then please contact us via our website or directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to adopt a ferret, then please contact our Welfare Co-ordinator. All ferrets sold by our Society are desexed and vaccinated, or we will advise you where to get your ferret desexed when the ferret matures if it is too young for desexing when adopted.
Ten things a ferret asks of its Keepers
- My life is likely to last 6-9 years. Any separation from you will be painful for me. Remember that before you buy me.
- Give me time to understand what you want from me.
- Place your trust in me. It is crucial for my well being.
- Don’t be angry at me for long, and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your entertainment and your friends. I have only you and your toes.
- Talk to me sometimes. Even if I do not understand the words, I understand your voice when you are speaking to me.
- Be aware that however you trust me, I will never forget.
- Remember before you punish me that I have jaws that could easily crush the bones of your hand, but I have chosen not to bite you that hard.
- Before you scold me for being “uncooperative”, “obstinate” or “sad”, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I am not getting the right attention or I am sick.
- Take care of me when I get old; you too will grow old.
- Go with me on difficult journeys. never say, “I can’t bear to watch it” or “Let it happen in my absence“. Please never say, “Let the vet do it“. Everything is easier for me if you are there.
Hi, I’m your ferret.
I’m (not really) sorry about the poop in the corners.
I’m (not really) sorry about making holes in the sofa.
I’m (not really) sorry I nipped you.
I’m (not really) sorry about the vet bill.
I’m (not really) sorry you were late to work because you could not find me.
Thank you for making me a part of your life.
Thank you for accepting me for what I am.
Thank you for your love and understanding.
Please remember – I’m a ferret.
By Macarthur Veterinary Group