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Caring for Your Feisty and Friendly Ferret
Small PetsExotic

Caring for Your Feisty and Friendly Ferret

Rachel, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 10, 2020

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Ferrets are one of the most popular pets in America, and with good reason: they are curious, intelligent, playful, and offer hours of love and entertainment to their owners. However, even though they are small and look easy to care for, there are a few things to keep in mind before getting your own furry little ferret friend.

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1

Ferrets need friends and playtime

Two ferrets sleeping. bozhdb / Getty Images

Ferrets are intelligent, social, and sleepy. On average, they sleep between 18 and 20 hours a day. When they are awake, though, they love to play. Ferrets are social animals, so it's best to spend at least an hour or two every day playing with them and giving them supervised time outside their cage. Ferrets are similar to dogs in that they can play games and even learn tricks. If feasible, get two ferrets or so they always have a playmate.

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2

Ferrets are strict carnivores

Ferret in front of food bowl. JuergenBosse / Getty Images

Ferrets require a diet high in fat and protein from meat. Avoid giving your ferret dairy, vegetables, fruits, or bread. They don't digest these foods well and can become sick if not fed appropriately. Ferrets can be choosy eaters, so expose your ferret to different meat-based foods early on. Good choices include specially designed ferret food or kitten food. For treats, ferrets can eat pieces of chicken or turkey.

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3

Avoid giving your ferret too many baths

A glamour picture of a pet sable ferret. ijimenez / Getty Images

Even though ferrets have a distinctive smell, they do not need to be bathed often. Frequent bathing will make their skin and hair overproduce oil, leading to itchiness, skin problems, and a worse smell. A bath once or twice a month is perfect.

For hair care, you can brush a ferret once a week. Combing can get rid of extra hair when they shed, which happens twice a year. Trim their nails every two weeks.

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4

Ferrets require a spacious, clean cage

Three ferrets on wood shavings in an enclosure. Artsiom Petrushenka / Getty Images

The minimum sized cage for a single ferret is 18 by 30 inches. For two or more, the enclosure needs to be bigger. A cage with ventilation, like a wired cage, is best; avoid glass tanks. For bedding, washable carpet, towels, and old clothes are good options. Make sure to clean the bedding once a week. Ferrets should also have a litter box in their cage.

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5

Caring for your ferret

An adorable ferret patiently endures being held up by an unrecognizable smiling veterinary nurse as she listens to his heart and lungs. SDI Productions / Getty Images

Ferrets live between five and seven years. Until the age of five, take your ferret to the vet for a check-up once a year. After five, take them to the vet twice a year. Some common illnesses of ferrets include gastrointestinal obstruction, adrenal gland problems, cancer, and dental disease.

Check your ferret's hair, ears, and teeth. Ferrets are at risk for fleas and should be treated once a month for them. Their ears get waxy and should be cleaned regularly. Ferret teeth can also be brushed and checked for breaks.

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6

Be sure to ferret-proof your home

Ferret standing next to open window sill. FaST_9 / Getty Images

Ferrets are escape artists. Their play area needs to be ferret-proofed. Seal any wall openings and cover spaces they could squeeze through, such as behind cabinets. An entire room they can play in is perfect. If not possible, buy ferret gates to keep them out of kitchens and bathrooms, as those rooms are harder to keep safe for ferrets.

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7

Provide your ferret with plenty of toys

A ferret is playing with cork stopper in water at home Mocagrande / Getty Images

Ferrets love to play and need plenty of toys to keep them entertained. In addition to toys like plush balls and teething rings, toys that ferrets can tunnel through, roll around with, or make nests out of are perfect. Handmade toys, such as boxes, tunnels, and old clothes, are great options.

Something you can dangle in front of your ferret is also fun for them, such cat toys and hanging parrot toys. Backpacks also turn into great nesting areas for ferrets.

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8

Ferrets are prone to nipping

cute and defenseless ferret tries to escape from the hands of a person, a wild animal shows aggression and anger, social advertising in a shelter for pets, advice on the health of exotic animals. Kharchenko_irina7 / Getty Images

One of the most common behavior problems in ferrets is nipping, especially when they're young. Although it's not necessarily aggressive, it can be painful. Luckily, they can be taught to not nip. If they nip when you play with them, put them in a smaller time out cage for a few minutes. Over time they unlearn the behavior. Negative reinforcement like holding their nose or tapping them back is not suggested.

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9

Litter training your ferret

Ferret on it's back by a persons hand. OKrasyuk / Getty Images

For toilet training, litter boxes should be accessible in your ferret's cage and play area. Ferrets have tiny GI tracts, so they go to the bathroom often, usually in corners. If they have an accident, spray lemon juice or apple bitter in the spot they went and they will avoid it going there again. It may take time for your ferret to be completely litter trained, but with some patience and positive reinforcement they will eventually get the hang of it.

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10

How to hold a ferret

Woman holding a ferret. ianmcdonnell / Getty Images

Ferrets bite when they get scared. It's important to know how to hold them right so they, and you, don't get hurt. It's better to get them used to being held from when they are young. To pick up a ferret, put your hand under its chest. Support it's lower half with your other hand, then hold the ferret close to your body. In general, ferrets are more willing to be held when they are less active. Play with them a bit before going in for a hug.

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