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Ferret FAQs



What does my ferret need for veterinary care?

Bandit GirlFerrets are susceptible to colds, flu, canine distemper, rabies and heartworm. Shots that need to be given annually are for canine distemper and rabies.

Canine Distemper: The reason for vaccinating against canine distemper is very important – You can expose your ferret to this disease without knowing it. Distemper is an airborne disease – that means it could be on your clothes, your shoes, your hands and all it takes is one exposure for your ferret, if not protected. And distemper is 99% fatal. Vaccinating with the feline version gives your ferret no protection at all – it must be the canine variety. Ferrets can be treated using a dog version – called Galaxy-D or their own version – Purevax-D .

Rabies: The reason for vaccinating against rabies is that every animal which has hair or fur can transmit the rabies virus. It can only be spread through direct contact, but should your ferret bite or scratch someone, they can demand that your ferret be tested. In order to test for rabies, the vet has to kill the animal. Ferrets have better protection under the law now, but it's better to have a current vaccination history. Ferrets have their own Rabies vaccine – Imrab – 3 .

Heartworm: If you live in an area with mosquitoes, your ferret should be protected against heartworm disease. The product used is usually the feline version of heartworm preventative, and is mostly in a palatable form. Heartworm also can be fatal if untreated. Heartgard for cats is usual prescription.

DristerColds/Flu: There is no preventative currently for the common cold and flu. If you are sick, then take the proper precautions to prevent spreading to your ferret. They are very susceptible to these viruses and can trade them back and forth with you.

Regular Veterinary visits: A ferret-friendly vet should be located before an emergency occurs. Regular yearly visits for at least shots helps a vet know your ferret and can help catch disease in the early stages. Blood panels and tests for a ferret can also be early indicators of problems and help in treatment and diagnosis of illness.

Changes in weight, loss of hair, lack of energy, loss of appetite or drinking, strange colored feces or diarrhea, bumps that appear on the body, or just the feeling "he is just not acting right" are warning signs that should not be ignored and indications that a vet visit is needed. A small fee to exam the ferret to tell you that everything is okay is very small compared to the guilt you would feel if something is really wrong and treatment was not sought.

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What should I feed my ferret? How available should food and water be?

A good diet for a ferret is one that consists of high protein, high fat, and low fiber diet. Just as important as the percentages of protein and fat, are what is used to obtain them. Ferrets are in the genus of Carnivora – carnivores. This means that their diet should consist of primarily meat or meat-based protein, not vegetable or fiber.

Ferrets have a very high metabolism (this is how quickly your body processes food). Average time for complete digestion is 3 – 4 hours, so food should be available at all times, unless otherwise recommended by a vet.

SnaggletoothMost folks tend to feed pre-packaged kibble. A good diet of kibble will show at least 32% protein, 20% fat. The first 2 or 3 ingredients on the bag or box should be meat. Acceptable meats are: poultry, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish. The first ingredients should not be: corn, meal, rice, vegetable fiber. These are often cheap substitutes for meat protein. A general rule of thumb is: cat/kitten foods sold in a grocery store will not provide the proper nutrition for a ferret. The more fiber and vegetable matter that is in a diet means that the ferret will produce more waste – i.e. fecal matter in the litter box. A quality diet will have less waste and less volume.

Why? Back to the carnivore. Humans are omnivorous – we eat plant and animal matter. Our bodies are equipped with something called a caecum. This is what the body uses to digest fiber. Ferrets, as strict carnivores, lack the caecum and this lack makes it very difficult to process vegetable matter – that's why they produce more waste.

Some examples of ferret friendly diet: Totally Ferret, Iams Kitten Food, Pro Plan Kitten Food, 8in1 Ultra blend diet, Shepard & Greene ferret food, Science Diet Kitten, Innova cat food, Mazuri Ferret food.

Some not-so-ferret-friendly diets: Kaytee Ferret Fiesta, Chef's blend, Meow Mix, Cozy Kat, Purina Cat chow, Deli Cat, Friskies, Whiskas.

Food bowls: Food bowls that attach to the sides of cages are preferred over heavy ceramic bowls that bored ferrets will push around the cage. Stainless steel bird bowls, Croc-lock bowls, and other small animal bowls that can be securely fastened to the cage will result in less wasted food.

Water: Water should be available for your ferret at all times – again, based on metabolism. Bottles are preferred over bowls, as ferrets tend to think of bowls in their cages as play toys and revel in pushing them around with their noses. Changing the water daily keeps the water fresh.

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Will my ferret use a litter box? What can I use? Litter box training:

Ferrets will use a litter box, though they may not be as accurate as a cat. Young ferrets (called kits) will often consider a clean litter box a place to play. Ferrets are latrine animals, and with a little work, will become trained to use a box while in a cage.

If your ferret is using a corner other than where the litter box is located, then its time to fool your ferret. They will usually not go to the bathroom where they eat, sleep or drink – so placing a food bowl, water bottle or bedding in the "bad" spot will often stop that.

Rewarding a ferret by giving a treat when you see them using the litter box helps. As does leaving the ferret in its cage until they use the box before coming out to play. That helps reduce the amount of "accidents" you may have to clean up.

DozerWhen training your ferret, never completely clean the box – once the fresh litter is in place, put a little "used" wet litter and one or two dried feces on the top to give them the hint of where to go to the bathroom.

Fastening the litter box to your cage will also help. Drilling holes and attaching the litter box to the wire is one way of keeping the box in place. Cage clips and other attaching devices are also available.

Appropriate litter: There are many products on the market and its up to you and your ferret – if the ferret does not like your choice of litter, they may not use it! Types of litter to use are: Clay, Clumping, Rabbit feed(alfalfa pellets), Woodstove pellets, recycled newspaper, corncob and pine pellets. Each has its own drawbacks. Clumping litter should never be used with a ferret that "snorkles" in the box. (Snorkeling is what we refer to when the ferret buries their head to the ears in box filler and runs their head through the litter). Clay litter shouldn't be used if the ferret is allergic. Woodstove pellets, pine pellets, newspaper and rabbit food should not be used if the ferret starts to eat it. Corncob can be susceptible to bacteria and fungal growth. Some are more costly than others – and some may also be seasonal.

Inappropriate litter: Cedar, pine or any kind of wood chips should not be used in a ferrets' cage or litter box. Tests on wood chips have proven that they cause respiratory problems and infections in ferrets with long-term use.

Changing the box: In order to control odor, the litter box should be scooped out daily and dumped weekly. Multiple ferrets in a cage may result in more frequent dumping.

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How can I stop my ferret from nipping?

Ferrets are similar to puppies and kittens – some behavior, like nipping, is just not appropriate. It's your job to train them on what is acceptable and what is not.

Teething: From age 5 weeks to 16 weeks, a ferret is in the process of losing their baby teeth and gaining their permanent teeth. While this is happening, they become very "mouthy" chewing on everything and nibbling everyone. This is normal, but sometimes they bite too hard.

HoneyPart of normal ferrets' play involves biting each other – so unlike when a dog or cat bites you, they don't mean any harm – they want you to play with them!

Training methods: There are a number of methods for training a ferret not to bite. Some may work on your ferret; others may not. The important thing to remember is not lose your temper and to be consistent.

Time out. This method involves putting the ferret back into the cage when he/she has been bad. When the ferret nips, "NO, NO BAD FERRET". If it happens again, put into their cage for about 5 minutes. Let back out. Go through the same steps until the ferret does not bite. Reward with praise or a treat.

Scruffing. This can be incorporated into the time out method. To scruff a ferret, grasp the fold of skin on the back of the neck between the shoulder and head and pick the ferret up. This is where the jill would pick up the kit when he/she was bad. When the ferret bites, Scruff, "NO, NO BAD FERRET". Then put the ferret down. Reward and praise when the ferret doesn't bite.

Training aids. Bitter apple or lime, in both a paste and spray, can be used as an effective training aid. Apply the spray to whichever area of the body the ferret is nipping (usually hands or feet). This is an alcohol-based spray, so never spray directly at the ferret! The paste works well on objects that the ferret may be chewing (electrical cords, cage bars etc) since it does not evaporate. Bitter apple spray applied to a Q-tip can also help in biting. When the ferret begins to nip, put the bitter apple or lime moistened Q-tip in their mouth. The foul taste will usually deter them from biting after a couple of attempts. Reward and praise when the ferret doesn't bite.

Corporal punishment. This technique is somewhat controversial and may or may not be effective. This technique involves gently plucking or flicking on the nose. Extreme care must be used, as a ferret's nose is very sensitive. This is not recommended to be used by children.

BearDirect approach. This technique works best on finger nippers. When the ferret bites your finger, gently push the finger back into the mouth. It's uncomfortable for their mouth to be in that position, and they can't bite down. Again, care must be used to not harm the ferret. The goal is to change their behavior, not hurt them.

Bribery. This technique works with some ferrets – especially toe/ankle nippers. Instead of placing bitter apple or lime on your skin, apply ferretone instead! When they come over to nibble, they instead start to lick – Praise the ferret and pet them when they do.

Water torture. This technique involves a spray water bottle. Fill the bottle with cool water. When the ferret comes over to bite, squirt them with water and tell them, "NO, NO BAD FERRET".Reward and praise when the ferret doesn't bite.

Finally – consistency. This is the true key to training. Once you have begun disciplining a ferret for biting, you must be consistent in the rewarding of good behavior and the "punishment" for bad. Never make a game of it – if the ferret begins to dance and chuckle (a ferret sound) then they did not understand that you are applying disciplinary action – they think that you are playing with them. Time out and scruffing usually works in this situation to make them understand that this is not a new game you are playing. They may hiss at you – normal behavior. Always when disciplining use a calm but firm tone of voice.

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What kind of treats can I feed my ferret?

The important thing to remember about treats is – they ARE treats. They should be limited in the amount and the frequency of giving. Treats can be used to reward good behavior or when they are being especially cute.

You can feed them some of the commercially packaged treats, like Pounce , Ferret Bites, Ferretone , Ferretvite , etc. Other well liked ferret treats can include banana, raisins, cut grapes, shredded chicken, tuna, cheap cat food, dehydrated chicken or beef dog treats, unsweetened cereal (Cheerios ) etc. All of these things should be given in moderation – for example, no more than 4 or 5 raisins per week.

Shorty & SlinkyFerretone and Linatone are basically the same product. A good way to make this oily treat more cost effective is to mix it with safflower or extra virgin olive oil. This does not affect the taste and dilutes down the product to make it last longer!

Things that you shouldn't use as treats: Not all dog or cat treats are appropriate for a ferret – any of the rawhide type treats can cause a blockage. Cat treats with catnip are usually ignored by a ferret. Raw vegetables should be given sparingly and carefully, as they can also cause digestive problems. Candy, milk products and chocolate in general should also be avoided.

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What is a good cage to use?

A good cage is one that has enough room for the ferret to move around, contain a separate sleeping, eating/drinking, and latrine areas.

Aquariums are not recommended – It does not allow for air circulation (ferrets can be prone to heat exhaustion or stroke), the bottom will absorb urine and feces and be a haven for bacterial/fungal growths which can harm your ferret, and magnify sunlight, so they can get hot inside.

Wooden cages are not the best – wood can also absorb oils, urine and feces and will rot and smell. Treating the wood with polyurethane helps, but must be reapplied regularly.

Wire cages are most often used – they are airy, and come in all sizes and shapes. Minimum recommended size for a single ferret is a two-story cage, measuring 30"h x 30"w x 18"d. Setting up a cage:

BraunSetting up a cage is easy – litter pan, food bowl, water bottle and bedding. Lining the wire bottom of the cage and ramps with carpet, linoleum or vinyl flooring will help protect the ferrets feet and pads while making cleanups easy. Carpet samples or remnants can be purchased for a minimal cost at any carpet/furniture store. Linoleum self-stick squares and vinyl flooring pieces are also inexpensive, although I don't recommend these on the ramp. Outdoor carpeting will also work. Attaching the carpet (once cut to fit) is quick – puncture holes in the carpet and run cable or twist ties through to attach to the wire of the cage.

Food bowls that attach to the sides of cages are preferred over heavy ceramic bowls that bored ferrets will push around the cage. Stainless steel bird bowls, Crock-Lock bowls, and other small animal bowls that can be securely fastened to the cage will result in less wasted food.

Water bottles that hang or attach to the side of the cage come in all shapes, sizes, colors and designs. Easy to use, inexpensive to buy and easy to clean.

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What kind of bedding can I use?

Ferrets enjoy being in a dark, enclosed place, so the more bedding in their cage, the better.

Commercially available: You can buy at most pets stores hammocks, Flying cubbies, Sleep sacks, or any other type or design you can think of. Usually priced between $13.00 and $35.00. Some are fleece lined and some are not. Fleece can be bad on the nails, as they may get caught if the nails are not trimmed regularly.

Ruger & PanchoHomegrown: You can easily make or create your own bedding. Old towels, sweat pants/shirts, T-shirts, baby receiving blankets all make great bedding for a ferret at a reasonable cost. Old pillowcases or old baby jumpers (watch the rubber backed feet!) can become hanging hammocks with a crawl in area, so your imagination is the only limit.

Design and create your own based on one in the pet store – its not too hard to make them – all it takes is a little material and some sewing skills.

Bedding should be changed on a weekly basis to help control odor and maintain a clean cage.

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How can I stop my ferret from digging and destroying my carpet or plants?

Ferrets have a natural instinct for digging – this usually means that your carpet in front of a door or your houseplants within their reach are often problems for you and your ferret.

Digging in the plants: Easiest thing to do is place them out of a ferrets' reach. This may not always be the best solution, but it's the place to start. Always check with your horticulturist about which plants are toxic to pets before purchasing. Never use systemic poisons on plants that may be reached by your ferret.

Diamond mesh, ¼" in diameter, cut to fit the potted plant and trunk is usually enough to deter even the most determined of ferrets. This mesh can be purchased at most hardware stores.

Decorative rocks, placed in the pot at least 2" in depth will help deter the ferret and make the pot heavy enough to keep the ferret from moving them around.

Digging in the carpet: Ferrets will usually do this in front of a doorway, determined to dig through the carpet to get to the other side.

Cutting a carpet sample or remnant to fit around the threshold of a door is usually the corrective action taken. Clear plastic runners are also used when concerned about appearance. Bitter apple sprayed on the carpet is usually ineffective. A commercial product is available, called a Diplo-Mat , can be purchased based on the width of the doorway. It's almost impossible to break a ferret of digging at the carpet.

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What is ferret proofing? How do I make my house ferret-friendly?

Ferret proofing is what you do to keep your ferret out of trouble and danger in your home. It may be as simple as preventing access to a room by always keeping the door closed. Installing child-safety locks on your cabinets where poisons or harmful chemicals are kept. Limiting access to such dangerous equipment as the stove, washer/dryer, refrigerator and dishwasher. Removing harmful plants. Removing or preventing access to recliners and sleeper sofas. Ensuring that your ferrets can't escape through a window, door or any access to the outdoors (like a dryer vent).

CaseyTo start ferret proofing or making your home ferret friendly, take a couple minutes in each room. Lay down on the floor and look around – are there holes in the walls big enough? (ferrets can fit into openings as small as 1" square) Are there any tempting wires or hiding places? Is their access to the wall interiors? What about underneath cabinets? Are their openings under the cabinet that a ferret can squeeze into and be stuck or hidden? Is your box spring on your bed protected? Furniture? Is there someplace that the ferret can climb and possibly harm themselves? Anyplace the ferret may get stuck and hurt themselves? Are your door stoppers rubber? Are they out of the ferrets' reach?

Understand that ferret-proofing your home is always a "work in progress" – just when you think things are safe and they could never get into any trouble – they prove you wrong. Start slowly, with one room and work your way through the house.

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What kind of maintenance care does my ferret need?

Ears: Ears should be cleaned regularly, about once a month. Some commercially available drops to clean them are located at most pet stores. Care to not purchase over-the-counter dog treatments or ear mite treatments should be used. Any notice of dark, smelly wax in the ear of a ferret is usually a sign of ear mites – and you should seek treatment by a vet to prevent them. Nolvasan and Oti-Clens are among many ear wash solutions. Apply the solution to a Q-tip and gently swab the ear – don't go too far into the ear canal as you can damage the ear. Once you are done, put a drop or two in each ear and let the ferret shake their head – this will help remove debris deep in the canal.

Teeth: Teeth should be professionally cleaned by a vet yearly or as needed. Tartar build up on the teeth can lead to infections and tooth loss. A warning sign of disease is any swelling or redness at the gum line; dark or discolored teeth; loss of appetite or tenderness around the mouth. Home care is possible for cleaning/scraping tartar and toothbrushes and paste are available. Most often used are the finger brushes and malt flavored toothpaste.

Cleo & CheyanneNails: Nails should be trimmed about every 2-3 weeks. Locate the "quick" or vein that runs through the nail and take care not to trim too close – toenails can bleed profusely. A styptic pencil, cornstarch or flour will help stop any bleeding. Cat nail clippers or small animal trimmers are most commonly used.

Two methods for trimming – the 2-person and bribery technique.

2-person: One person scruffs and holds the ferret, while the second quickly trims the nail. Works great, but requires two people!

Bribery: Turn the ferret on its back. Place some ferretone on the ferrets' belly and let them find it. While they are licking the ferretone, clip the nails. Only requires one person and is usually distracting enough that the ferret never cares what you are doing!

Bathing: Bathing a ferret is not truly necessary to control odor. Changing the bedding and the litter box frequently do more than bathing. In fact, the more often you bathe a ferret, the stinkier they will become. Why? Because a ferret's fur contains oils, and bathing strips the oils from the coat. So the ferret's body produces more oils. More bathing, more oils.

You can spray your ferret with a conditioning spray to make them smell "prettier" but is really not necessary. Baths should be no more than once a month, with a ferret shampoo. Usually, baths are only given when a ferret has been bad and gotten into something! I bathe no more than 3 times a year.

FelixFleas: Ferrets can get fleas. Uncontrolled infestations of fleas can be harmful to your ferret – a condition known as "flea anemia", which could kill your ferret. If you have a problem with fleas you need to treat the house, the cage and the ferret at the same time. Do not use any kind of flea dips on a ferret!

Flea products that can be used are anything that is appropriate for ferrets, kittens and cats. Not dogs and puppies. Pyrethrins is the active ingredient usually found in a good flea deterrent. Any lethargy, panting or frothing at the mouth could mean an allergic reaction to that medication and should be discontinued immediately. A vet visit may also be appropriate.

Shampoo the ferret with either a ferret or kitten flea shampoo and then follow up with the spray. Take care not to get the shampoo or spray in the eyes.

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What kind of toys can I use to play with my ferret?

Toys – The joy of a ferret. Many cat and dog toys are appropriate as well as some that you can make yourself. Any hard rubber or vinyl toys, especially those with fake sheepskin attached make wonderful toys for ferrets. Round ball cat toys with bells or rattles inside keep ferrets interested. Some ping pong balls will entertain as a ferret plays "nose soccer". Soft furred toys with squeakers inside also are favorites. Hemp or twine wrapped rattles or bell toys also keep their interest. Some of the cat "fishing rod" toys.

KayaHomegrown toys include: boxes of any sort – soda, paper, tissue. Empty gallon containers with holes cut in them. Plastic or paper bags. Plastic drainage tubing (4" wide) that can be found at most hardware stores. Remote controlled cars (watch the rubber and small parts). Battery powered pig, dog, cow, etc. stuffed toys that move and make sounds. Mazes and places to explore. Your imagination (and the ferrets) are the only limits. A sand box. A bathtub with a couple inches of water and a couple of ping pong balls.

Toys that are not ferret friendly: Latex tops the list – these are the soft, squeaking toys – pieces are easily chewed off and swallowed – possibly causing a blockage. Avoid these types and any other toys that seem to have small parts that a ferret might chew on. Any tubing with an opening of less than 4 inches.

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