The domestic ferret or Mustela putorius furo is a pet that descended from the European polecat. They were domesticated for use as working pets as early as 4 BC. Ferrets are not wild animals, and have become very popular pets over the last decade.
A variety of color variations exist. The most popular is the fitch (also called sable) ferret. They are buff in color with black guard hairs, feet and tail and have black masks on their face. Ferrets may also be albino, silver, cinnamon or Siamese. Over 30 color variations are recognized in the US.
The female ferret is called a “jill”, the male a “hob”, and the babies are called “kits.” Sexual maturity is reached at 4-8 months of age. (Usually the first spring after birth.) The average life span of ferrets in the United States is three to eight years. Males are often two to three times the size of the female ferret.
Ferrets are wonderful pets because of their captivating and comical personalities and playful behavior. They make chuckles, hisses and giggles during play. They occasionally whine or cry if they want something or if they are uncomfortable or ill. Ferrets will normally walk or run with their back in a hunched position. They will also run and jump backwards with their front legs outstretched when excited or when enticing someone to play. They play intensely for short periods of time, and then sleep for several hours until their next time of play. It seems ferrets are active for 20-30 percent of the day, and sleeping the rest of the day.
Ferrets depend strongly on their sense of smell. They spend a lot of time with their noses to the floor investigating their surroundings. This behavior often results in the inhalation of dust and debris and a loud sneeze. Unless the sneezing is frequent, or is associated with other signs of illness, you need not be alarmed.
Due to their inquisitive nature, ferrets are notorious for getting into things. They love to tunnel and hide and can squeeze through very small places. If their head can fit, the rest of their body can fit. It is important to ferret proof your house before bringing your pet home. All openings to dangerous areas should be sealed. Check closely, and seal the openings around the pipes and ducts in your home. Unfortunately, their desire for tunneling and their curiosity may put them in dangerous situations. They will crawl under refrigerators, behind stoves or into the bottom broiler, and into the components of recliner chairs and sofa beds to name a few.
Ferrets are not destructive to most household items, but do love to chew on hard and soft rubber. This behavior is dangerous because pieces of tennis shoes, slippers, and rubber squeak toys, dolls, crayons, and doorstoppers can become impacted in your ferret’s intestines and lead to serious illness.
Avoid any accidents or injury by becoming familiar with your ferret’s habits and be constantly vigilant. To protect your ferret when it is out of the cage, apply a lightweight adjustable ferret or cat collar and add a small bell. The bell will signal that your ferret is under foot or going somewhere he/she shouldn’t be!
All ferrets have a fondness for people. The older the ferret, the more laid back it becomes. As young kits, ferrets may nip playfully and with lots of enthusiasm. This behavior is no different than that of a young puppy or kitten and early discipline and training will eliminate biting and nipping when they get older. The nip may seem harder than that by a kitten or puppy because their teeth are razor sharp and their skin is naturally tough. The roughhousing a kit may do with its littermates may not feel appropriate to an owner’s hand. Don’t mistake this behavior for viciousness…this is the same playful, acceptable behavior a puppy or kitten will often show.
Since ferrets are so inquisitive and always getting into things, they MUST be confined to a cage when their activities cannot be adequately supervised. They can be maintained in a wire cage measuring 24 X 24 X 18 inches or larger. The floor may be either solid or wire. Glass tanks are not suitable because they do not allow for adequate ventilation. Custom built cages can be constructed, but the corners and lower third of the wall must be protected from urine and fecal absorption. Many owners line their home-built cages with self-adhesive floor tile or linoleum and plastic molding. It is imperative that your ferret does not chew on any of this material.