A Quick Guide to Ferrets

I mention my ferrets quite often in my posts.     Ferrets have increased in popularity as companion animals in the United States in the past two decades.  However, many people have never seen a ferret and do not know much about the charm of the little critters.  This “quick guide” is by no means a complete information source about ferrets and keeping them as companions.  I wrote this as an introduction for people to use to better understand the references in my blog.  I also included a few websites for more information about them.  As time passes, I will add more information to this section.

FerLady Tosca on an Adventure

Scientific Classification:  Mustela furo or Mustela putorious furo.   Ferrets are part of the same family as weasels, stoats, minks, ermine, black footed ferret, polecats, and fishers.  They are not rodents.

Domestication:  Ferrets are domesticated animals.   It is a matter of debate when the ferret was first domesticated; between 2000-3000 years ago.  Ferrets, like cats, were used to hunt vermin.   Ferrets are fully domesticated.  They cannot live in the wild successfully.

Life Span: 7-9 years on average

Ferrets as Pets:  Ferrets are awesome pets.   They are intelligent, inquistive animals.   Their personalities are similiar to a cross between a cat and a dog.  They bond with their humans but are still somewhat independent in play.   Most ferrets enjoy being petted and brief sessions of cuddling.  But, for the most part, when a ferret is about it wants to be active, exploring, or or playing.   Ferrets can learn tricks.   Koda Bear knows how to sit up, roll over, turn a circle, and come when called.   He and Tosca also know how to open zippers on backpacks.   Merlynn (RIP) also knew the zipper trick.  She also enjoyed riding in the hood of my sweat shirt.  Ferrets are playful throughout their lives.

Koda Begging on Command

Ferrets take more care than some pets.  I keep mine caged when I am not home to supervise for their own safety.   Lady Tosca and Kaliyah can both open cabinents.  Often, the climb the drawers and unto the countertops.  Keeping a ferret safe is much like childproofing for a toddler.  Only the toddler can climb and fit into holes less than 2 inches in diameter.  They can be taught to use litter boxes but are rarely 100% accurate outside the cage environment.   There are a variety of bedding options on the market.  My ferrets enjoy hammocks, sleep sacks, old t-shirts and sweats, and fleece blankets.  Do not use paper bedding or pine shavings.  They are not good for ferrets.

Lady Tosca and Koda in Their Cage

Health:  Ferrets require veterinary care.  They can aquire Canine Distemper and rabies.  Both are fatal.   Currently, the recommendation is yearly innoculations.  Due to the high number of allergic reactions to the distemper vaccine, there is a study on the effectiveness.   Hopefully, the number of required vaccines for distemper will be reduced.   Ferrets are also highly susceptible to several forms of cancer.  The three most common forms are adrenal tumors, lymphoma, and insulinoma.  All three can be treated and extend the ferret’s life.  Lymphoma is the most deadly cancer with the worst prognosis.

Routine Care:  Ferrets’ toenails grow quickly and require trimming every 2 weeks.  Fortunately, it is an easy procedure with most ferrets.  Place the ferret on her back on your lap.  Put a little FerreTone or FerreVite on their stomachs.  While they are cleaning off the treat, clip their toenails above the pink quick.  Ferrets also need their ears cleaned and teeth brushed.  I brush them with a gentle brush.  They can also be bathed.  Do not bathe the ferret too often.  It will increase the amount of oils their coats produce and increase their scent.  Keeping their cage and litter boxes clean and feeding a good diet is essential to their health.

Ferret Diet:  Ferrets are obligate carnivores.  They require food high in protein and low in carbohydrates.  No fruits or vegetables.  There are many good commercial diets on the market.  Three of the first five ingredients should be meat.  The protein content should be from meat and no less than 35%.  They also require a fairly high fat content.  Many owners are now feeding raw.  I have done some research into ferret raw diet but am not an expert.  If you have a ferret and choose to feed a raw diet, please do the research.   An unbalanced raw diet is bad for a ferret’s health.

Ferrets at Play:  This is the best part of having ferrets.  They are fascinating, playful, happy critters.  Ferrets enjoy games of their own devising and yours.  Anything can be a toy to a ferret.   Some of their favorite activities are wrestling, playing with teasers, chase, running through their tubes, exploring everything, and stealing and stashing anything small (or not so small).     This is where having more than one ferret is great.  At times, watching the ferrets playing and creating mayhem is more entertaining than anything on television.

Ferret Language:  Like all hobbies, people who love their ferrets have their own language they use when talking about them.  This is not an all-inclusive list but I have included the majority of the terms you’re likely to encounter.

Adrenal: This refers to adrenal gland tumors.  They are generally not cancerous.   However, the tumors cause health and behavioral problems, including: hair loss, loss of muscle mass, decreased energy, prostrate swelling (male), vulvular swelling (female), mating behavior, aggression.

Business:  A group of three or more ferrets.

 Butt Aresnal:   A rather crude description of the ferret with anal glands expressing them when upset, excited, or scared.  Also called “poofing.”  Most pet ferrets in the United States come from pet stores.  The ferrets in the stores are bred in large farms.  They are spayed/neutered and “descented” before shipping at about 8 weeks of age.

Bottle Brush Tail:  When the fur on the ferret’s tail stands up (piloerection).  This indicates the ferret is either excited, scared, or angry.

Descenting:  Removing the ferret’s anal glands.  Ferrets will always have their musky scent.   Ferrets will smell like ferrets, just as dogs smell like dogs.

Dook:  The adorable sound a happy ferret makes while playing, exploring, or otherwise excited.  It sounds rather like a chuckle.  Too cute.

Duck Soup:  A special food made when ferrets are ill or as a special treat.  It is usually high calorie, high protein, and liquid in form.   Most owners have their own recipe but are more than happy to share.

Fert:  Short hand for ferret.

Ferrant:  A ferret “owner.”  Ferret+ parent= ferrant.  It’s debatable who “owns” who.

Flat ferret:  When a ferret lies flat on his or her stomach on the ground.  Also called: pancake ferret or speedbumping

Furchild or Furkid:  A much loved ferret.

Gib:  An altered male ferret.

Hiss:  A sound made by an angry or frustrated ferret.  It sounds like “shoe- eet.”

Hobb:  An intact (breeding) male ferret.

Insulinoma:  Tumors in the pancreas that results in the overproduction of insulin.  This results in low blood sugar in ferrets.  This is treatable with medications combined with diet and/or surgery.

Jill: An intact (breeding) female ferret.

Kit: A baby ferret (male or female).

Lymphoma:  A serious form of cancer in the lymph nodes.   Treatment is not usually effective.

Mask:  The darker color of fur over the ferret’s eyes.  It may also continue up the head.

Poof:  1. Expressing the anal gland.    2. Piloerection of the fur on a ferret’s tail when excited or scared.  (see bottle brush tail).

Sprite:  A spayed female ferret.

Weasel War Dance:  An excited, happy ferret bouncing around in wild abandon.  The ferret’s back is arched and mouth open.  The ferret will often bounce off walls, into (or off) furniture.   The ferret may also be dooking.   Also called “Dance of Joy.”

Zipper:  A line of dark fur down the belly of a ferret.


Ferret Central:  http://www.ferretcentral.org/     This site is basic visually.  It does not have bells and whistles.  It is a good resource site for accurate information about a variety of ferret topics.

American Ferret Association:  http://www.ferret.org/    The AFA is a national organization of ferret enthusiasts.  The goals of the organization is to Promote responsible ferret ownership through education, information, and shows; Protect the ferrets from antiferret legislation, unsafe breeding practices, needless scientific research, and: Provide: accurate information about veterinary practices, legislation, research data, and other information intresting to ferret enthusiasts.

5 responses to “A Quick Guide to Ferrets

  1. Ferrets are awsome, a bit smelly but awsome. My brother bread them when we were little and we had so much fun with them. He is still mad about them and spoils them lots.


    • True. Ferrets smell like ferrets like dogs smell like dogs. A lot of people say “they stink,” which isn’t necessarily true. =) I rarely bathe my kids, unless they get into something or we’re going to a show. They end up bathed maybe every other month. I do wipe them down with a damp cloth for dander.


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