The domestic ferret is a descendant of the European polecat. There are numerous glands throughout the ferret’s skin that produce their characteristic odour. These glands are primarily under hormonal control. Castration and spaying of your ferret will remove much of the obnoxious odour of your ferret. Ferrets are very gentle and playful pets. They are extremely curious and often get into mischief if left unattended. The average lifespan of the domestic ferret is 5-8 years.
Ferrets have a very high metabolic rate and should have food and fresh water constantly available, as they require multiple meals throughout the day to sustain themselves. Water bottles are less messy and more sanitary and therefore preferred to water dishes. Ferrets are true carnivores. Their diet must consist mainly of meat and animal products. They cannot handle diet rich in fibres and carbohydrates. Commercial ferret diets, formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of ferrets are slowing becoming available in Australia. The only alternative to ferret diet is premium quality dry kitten food. Consider the use of Hill’s Science Diet Kitten dry food as a starting point. It is thought that Hill’s m/d dry food is a more appropriate diet for ferrets. We suggest you add this to the diet. Ferrets enjoy certain fruits, vegetables and treats. These should be fed in moderation as excess consumption may result in diarrhoea and create finicky eaters. Occasional pieces of boneless meat make excellent treats. Avoid overfeeding sugary treats such as Nutrigel or sultanas. Offer a small raw meaty bone weekly to help prevent dental disease, which is commonly seen in older ferrets. Alternatively, speak to your veterinarian regarding the use of dental hygiene products.
Provide the largest cage that will fit in the space available. Ferrets especially like climbing in multilevel cages. When you are home, provide frequent supervised play outside the cage, as ferrets are very fond of chewing on plastic or soft rubber items which if swallowed can result in potential lethal intestinal obstruction. As ferrets especially like to eliminate in corners it is ideal to keep a litter box in every room that the ferret can access. Acceptable substrates for the litter include paper products and recycled newspaper cat litter. Cedar or pine shaving should not be used for litter material as they may contain resins that may cause respiratory irritation.
If you have a ferret that has not been surgically altered it is best to do so for health reasons. Neutered males will be less aggressive. Entire female ferrets may stay in heat for prolonged periods and develop a fatal anaemia as a result of oestrogen toxicity.
All ferrets should have a yearly physical examination by a veterinarian. After the age of three, annual blood work can help identify problems of the pancreas, kidneys and other organs. After the age of five, more regular veterinary examinations are advised. In addition to the yearly examinations and work-ups, your ferret should be seen for any sign of illness such as: vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing or excessive lethargy, lack of defecation or urination, pawing at the mouth, drooling, seizuring, excessive drinking and urination.
All ferrets needs to be vaccinated against canine distemper at approximately 8-10, and 12-14 weeks of age and then annually. Distemper is fatal if your ferret becomes infected.
Intestinal parasites (worms) are uncommon in ferrets. However, all ferrets should have a faecal exam performed at their initial check up or if showing signs of diarrhoea. Also, all new ferrets should be quarantined for a least 4 weeks before being introduced to other ferrets. A quarantine period may help prevent the spread of epizootic catarrhal enteritis (green slime disease) a contagious virus that causes mucoid, green diarrhoea and overall debilitation.
Just like dogs and cats, ferrets are susceptible to heartworm disease. Heartworm disease in the ferret may result in laboured breathing and sudden death. We therefore recommend your ferret to be place on monthly heartworm preventative. Revolution is a spot-on product that is well suited for ferrets. It also covers your ferret for flea infestations. Another excellent choice is Heartgard. It is made from beef and is readily consumed by most ferrets.
Part of your ferret’s physical examination will include an examination of its teeth to ensure that dental problems have not developed. Plaque and tartar may develop over time and your veterinarian can perform a dental cleaning. It is not unusual for ferrets to break their canine teeth while biting on hard objects or by jumping onto hard surfaces.