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Ferrets are great pets if you understand what it's like to own one

Mark R. Finkler, D.V.M. President of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA) and small animal practitioner Roanoke Animal Hospital
Ferrets are great pets if you understand what it's like to own one

Cats and dogs have long been the most traditional and popular choices for family pets. What if you want a different furry friend, though? Ferrets, with their sleek fur and vivacious personalities, are becoming more and more common choices for pet owners. These small animals are great for apartment living, and are quite low-maintenance.

When thinking about purchasing a ferret, however, there are a few important items that should be taken into consideration. After all, ferrets are a great fit for some people, but they also come with unique needs and require great responsibility and care from pet owners.


Do

Do your homework

Do your research on ferrets before acquiring one. First, find out if they are legal in your locale, as several states, including Hawaii and California, ban ferret ownership. They have special physical, environmental and dietary needs that differ from many other common pets. Consult with your veterinarian on the following questions if you are considering adopting or purchasing a ferret, keeping your lifestyle and preferences in mind as well:

  • What kind of housing requirements do they need?
  • What is the best diet to feed a ferret?
  • How much exercise and play time do they need?
  • How expensive are they to maintain?
  • How long do they live?

As with any pet, keep an emergency veterinarian number, including one for after-hours care, on hand in case anything happens.

Do educate yourself

It is highly important that you educate yourself on all facets of ferret care. Your best resource is a ferret-savvy veterinarian, who can provide specific knowledge, advice and services to help ensure your ferret lives a long and happy life. Ferrets need special vaccines to protect them from certain diseases, heartworm preventive (in certain areas of the country) and flea medication, which your veterinarian can provide. Your ferret veterinarian can inform you of the signs of certain medical conditions which might arise in an older ferret.

In addition, consider joining the American Ferret Association (AFA), a wonderful resource on the care and keeping of pet ferrets. You can also take a trip to your local library and check out the book Ferrets by Vickie McKimmey.

Do ferret proof your house

Ferrets are lots of fun, but can also get you in trouble if you don’t take the time to ferret proof your house or apartment. Get down on your hands and knees and look at your surroundings from a ferret’s point of view. Do you see anything they can crawl into and get stuck? Do you have any nice upholstered furniture they may like to use as a scratching post? Remove or move and secure any items that may be harmful to your ferret’s wellbeing. Also, remember that ferrets like to eat and swallow foam and rubber, so make sure any items with these materials are kept well out of reach of your furry friends.

Do provide environmental enrichment

In order to keep your ferret happy and entertained, provide some type of environmental enrichment. Ferrets love to crawl through tunnels (you can make an inexpensive one from PVC pipe), sleep in hammocks and play with hard rubber balls (that they can’t chew through). You can even train your ferret to come to the sound of a squeaky toy, which will help you locate them when they are hiding in your house. You may also hide food nuggets around the house or the ferret room - this is as close to "hunting" as it gets.

Of course, ferrets are going to have the most fun with other ferrets. If you decide to get one ferret, then you should really think about getting two ferrets. They are social creatures and enjoy the companionship of a buddy. When looking for ferret friends, you should consider adoption, as there are many ferrets at shelters in need of a good home. Private breeders and pet stores are other sources of ferrets.

Do feed them a ferret-friendly diet

Feed your ferret a ferret-labeled diet, preferably high in protein and low in carbohydrates. A mixture of ferret-friendly food is best so they don’t get “imprinted” or attached to one flavor, in case your pet store runs out of their regular food choice.


Don't

Do not buy a ferret on a whim

Buying a pet on a whim is never a good idea. You need to take the time to research whether a ferret is right for you, and whether you will be able to provide it with adequate attention and care once you bring it home.

Do not leave ferrets unsupervised

Don’t let ferrets run loose or remain unsupervised. As active as they are, ferrets can easily get lost, stuck or injured if left alone, or could eat something harmful to their health. Ferrets should not be left alone with dogs, which may hurt them, or with smaller mammals such as guinea pigs or hamsters, which they may treat as prey (ferrets are carnivores, after all). Also, do not leave them unattended around babies or small children, who may be curious and unintentionally hurt the ferret, or vice versa.

Do not leave ferrets in a vehicle

Never leave your ferret in a vehicle, regardless of the weather. Especially do not leave them out in the sun or in a car on a hot day, as they are very susceptible to heat stroke.

Do not feed ferrets certain items

Do not feed ferrets raisins or any sugary treats. They are carnivores and need to be fed a diet that will provide them with adequate nutritional value.

Do not use human medication

Don’t self-medicate your ferrets – some human medicines, like Tylenol, are highly toxic to ferrets. If your ferret is sick or needs any sort of medication, call your veterinarian and take them in for a visit.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

There are many upsides to ferret ownership, as ferrets provide companionship and entertainment for their owners. If you are considering caring for a ferret (preferably two), consider adoption first, and do your homework to make sure that they are the right choice for you. Be careful to protect your furry friend and provide a healthful environment for them, and they will become a valued member of your family.


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Mark R. Finkler, D.V.M.President of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA) and small animal practitioner

Mark R. Finkler, D.V.M., serves as the president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), a professional organization of veterinarians dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of human and animal life through veterinary me...

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