Ferret FAQ (Single File)
This page has been accessed more than times since May 29, 1996.
The Ferret FAQ is available as a set of HTML documents, a single HTML file [259 kB] or plain text (by FTP).
0. About this FAQ
1. Where to get more information
2. Revision history of these files
3. Introduction to ferrets
4. Getting a pet ferret
5. Getting ready for your ferret
6. Ferret supplies
7. Basic ferret care and training
8. Things ferrets say and do
9. Basic health care
10. Problems to watch for and related information
11. Common health problems
12. General medical information
13. Medical reference material
This FAQ is available as an indexed, cross-linked set of HTML documents, as a single HTML document [260 kB] which can be easily downloaded and browsed locally, or as a set of five fully-indexed, text-only files (by FTP).
The text files are posted around the 20th of each month to the rec.pets,
alt.pets.ferrets, alt.answers, rec.answers, and news.answers
newsgroups. It's stored on various internet access systems and BBS's,
including Compuserve and (I think) AOL, and it can be found in either
English or Japanese (possibly a slightly older version) in library3
of the FPETS forum in Japan's NiftyServe system. For information about
translations of the FAQ, email me or see the list at Ferret Central
It can be found, along with hundreds of other FAQs on a wide variety
of topics, at any of the news.answers archives or mirrors; for
instance, by FTP or on the Web.
If you don't have access to FTP, or if the server is busy (as it often
is), you can also request them by mail. You can receive all five
parts in separate email messages by sending a message to
with the single line (in the body of the message)
GET ANSWERS PACKAGE FERRET
To receive only a single part, instead send a command like
GET ANSWERS PART1 FERRET
If all else fails, send me <firstname.lastname@example.org> email
and I'll be glad to send you a copy.
A number of books exist which were written by experts and are intended
to be comprehensive discussions of all sorts of ferret behavior and
medical problems. This FAQ is not intended to replace any of those.
However, there seemed to be a need for a document which covers many of
the basic questions in a fairly light way. Originally, this was
intended to be a FAQ in the purest sense of the term: a document to
answer questions which keep coming up in the newsgroups and Ferret
However, over the months -- and years -- the FAQ grew, and its purpose
broadened. More general questions, and especially more medical
information, were included. Although I can't claim that this is now a
comprehensive guide to ferret ownership, it is a good source of
information and collective opinion about a wide range of subjects.
Whether you're new to ferrets or a long-time owner, chances are this
FAQ will have something interesting for you.
Contributions of individual respondents are marked as such and
indented. Other sections were either written by me (Pamela Greene,
<email@example.com>) or compiled from a number of
Special thanks to Chris Lewis and Bill Gruber, moderators of the
Ferrte Mailing List; and to veterinarians Bruce Williams, Charles
Weiss, Susan Brown, and Mike Dutton, for all their efforts on behalf
of the members of the Ferret Mailing List and all "ferret friends".
Thanks also to the dedicated ferret enthusiasts who have helped to
translate the FAQ and Medical FAQs into other languages, inlcuding
Japanese and French, with others in progress.
Thanks also to the many people from the Ferret Mailing List who
contributed (perhaps unwittingly!) responses, comments, and
corrections, too many to list here (at last count, the list included
97 different people).
This compilation, which includes five main files and several "auxiliary" pages as described
on and "pointed to" (directly or indirectly) by its main Index page, is copyright © 1994-1998
by Pamela L. Greene. It may be freely distributed by electronic,
paper, or other means, provided that it is distributed in its entirety
(all 5 files), including this notice, and that no fee is charged apart
from the actual costs of distribution. It may not be used or included
in any commercial or for-profit work without prior written permission.
(For-profit service providers such as Compuserve and America Online
are granted permission to distribute the files provided that no
additional fee beyond standard connection-time charges is levied.)
Anyone who wishes to is encouraged to include a link to the main Index page of this document set wherever it might be appropriate.
There are five parts to the main Ferret FAQ. The contents of those
parts are listed in the index.
If you're looking for something to hand out at pet stores, vets'
offices, club meetings, and so forth, you might want the Ferret
mini-FAQ, a much shorter document which covers all the basics and is
formatted to be printed out. There's also a single-page tri-fold
brochure with the most important information, ideal for vets' offices
and pet stores. They're each available as a Postscript or PDF file
(which can be read using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader) by FTP, or you can email your postal address to me at
<firstname.lastname@example.org> to get copies on paper.
There are also FAQs dedicated to several common diseases:
These FAQs are not posted to any newsgroup, but you can FTP them. You can also receive them
from a mailserver. To get a copy of all the files, each in a separate
email message, send email to <email@example.com> with the single
line (in the body of the message):
GET DISEASE PACKAGE FERRET
To receive only a single part, instead send one of these commands:
GET ADRENAL DISEASE FERRET
GET INSULIN DISEASE FERRET
GET LYMPH DISEASE FERRET
GET SKIN TUMORS FERRET
GET CARDIO DISEASE FERRET
GET ENLARGED SPLEEN FERRET
GET GREEN VIRUS FERRET
GET GASTRIC ULCERS FERRET
Finally, there is a single-part Ferret Natural History FAQ, which
contains information on ferret biology, history, domestication,
taxonomy, and so forth. It's available from Ferret Central
, or from
the CUNY listserver using the command
GET NATURAL HISTORY FERRET
You can also send me <firstname.lastname@example.org> email and I'll be
glad to send you whichever files you'd like.
An extensive list of ferret clubs, breeders, organizations, vets and catalogs is maintained by STAR*Ferrets.
It is also available from a list server. Send email to
with the line
SEND FERRET DATABASE
in the body. Note that the file is rather long, which may give some
The American Ferret Association (AFA) also maintains a list of shelters, and a local ferret
club may know about one not on either of the lists.
The Ferret Mailing List (FML) is strongly recommended. To subscribe
to the FML, send email to its moderator, Bill Gruber, at
<email@example.com> and ask to be added. You can
also try subscribing automatically by sending email to
<firstname.lastname@example.org> with the command
SUBSCRIBE FERRET <first-name> <last-name>
in the body of the email.
You'll get a note back detailing policies and such and explaining how
to send letters to the list. Back issues of the FML are available by
sending the command INDEX FERRET in the body of email to
<email@example.com>, and an unofficial WWW archive is also available, though not quite as complete.
The Ferret Forum mailing list tends to be shorter and perhaps more
international in flavor than the FML. To subscribe, send email to
<firstname.lastname@example.org> with a blank Subject
"subscribe ferret-forum" (for the regular version) or
"subscribe ferret-forum-digest" (for the daily digest)
in the body of the message (no quotes in either command).
The "Ferret Tails" mailing list is a digest of ferret stories,
adventures, poems, and other entertainment. Email
"subscribe ferret-tails <your email address>" in the body of your
There are other mailing lists, too, including several regional lists.
A list is available,
or email Christine Code for information.
There are several interactive WWW chat/talk servers; for a list, see
Various IRC chats exist, on servers such as undernet.org,
irc.mcgill.ca, irc.quarterdeck.com, or irc.eskimo.com. Specific
server/channel combinations include
For more information about IRC, consult the IRC FAQ.
A weekly online chat also happens on AOL, Saturdays 10 pm - midnight
Eastern time. Sometimes there are guest speakers. This chat is only
accessible to AOL users: go to keyword "Petcare", then select "Animal
Talk Room 1".
- irc.dal.net #ferret_chat or #Ferrets
- irc.prospero.com #GCFA or #FERRETS (Thurs. and Sun. from 8 pm Central)
- irc.prospero.com #ferret (nightly from 8 pm Eastern)
- undernet.org #Ferret
The Ferret Photo Gallery has a large
collection of JPEGs and GIFs much like this one.
There are also the Equipment How-To Photos, which show and describe examples of cages, shoulder bags, collars, and
The Oregon Ferret Association has a clipart archive,
and Bob Nixon maintains an archive with many ferret pictures, too.
Files there which start with "clip-" are clip-art.
Most of the pictures at one site are also at the other.
Discussions of ferrets sometimes come up in the Usenet newsgroups
alt.pets.ferrets and rec.pets. The FAQ "Fleas, Ticks and Your Pet"
is distributed there as well, and is also available by FTP. Several bulletin board systems keep pet FAQs and discussions, as does
the Compuserve Small Mammals forum (GO PETSTWO).
An index of ferret information is available from Ferret Central .
Various ferret-related information is available from the file server
at CUNY; send the command
to <email@example.com> for a complete list, with descriptions.
Lots of books have been written about ferrets, ranging from brief
treatments to extensive discussions of behavior and medical issues.
Introductory books, all most owners will ever need, are usually
available in pet stores. A few of the more popular are
For somewhat more in-depth medical and natural history information, Bob
- Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, by James G. Fox. Lea and Febiger,
Philadelphia (1988). ISBN 0-8121-1139-7
- The Pet Ferret Owner's Manual, by Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD.
ISBN 0-9646477-2-9 PB, 0-9646477-1-0 LB.
Clear, well-written and comprehensive, with lots of color
photographs. Dr. Bell is an internationally known expert on
ferret medicine and care.
- A Practical Guide to Ferrets, by Deborah Jeans. Contact the author at
Ferrets Inc., P. O. Box 450099, Miami, FL 33245-0099; fax
- "Excellent, easy to read, very thorough and up to date, and
written with a lot of love and care," says Dr. Susan Brown, DVM.
- Ferrets: a Complete Owner's Manual, by Chuck and Fox Morton. Barron's
Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY, 1985. ISBN 0-8120-2976-3
- A relatively short, but well-written guide. Not as in-depth as
some, but a very good, friendly introduction to ferrets as pets.
- Ferrets in Your Home, by Wendy Winsted. T.F.H. Publications,
Inc., Neptune City, NJ, 1990. ISBN 0-86622-988-4
- Longer and more in-depth, but still very readable. Includes, for
instance, more information on reproduction and breeding, but also
- Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by Elizabeth
Hillyer and Katherine Quesenberry (1997)
- Wild Mammals of North America, by Chapman and Feldhammer (1989)
- Use the section about mink, perhaps tempered somewhat with the
black-footed ferret. Together, they are very similar to the
polecat, which is the driving force behind our ferrets.
- Ethology: the Mechanisms and Evolution of Behavior, by James Gould (1982)
Extensive advice on starting a ferret club, shelter, or other service,
including sample forms and other materials, is available from
STAR*Ferrets for a nominal fee. Contact Pamela Troutman of STAR* at
P. O. Box 1714, Springfield, VA 22151-0714 or email
For links to sections with significant changes, see What's New in the Ferret FAQ.
The most accurate description of the version of this FAQ is the date
at the bottom. For really minor changes, I won't necessarily change the
version number, but I'll always change the date.
- Version 4.0 - 19 Jan 1998
- Added sections 1.8, 3.5, 4.2, 7.3, 9.6, 9.7, 9.10, 10.2, 10.3, 10.5,
10.12, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4, 13.1
- Significant changes to sections 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.6,
3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11, 4.1, 4.4, 4.7, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.6, 6.1,
6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.4, 7.5, 8.1, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.9,
10.1, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 11.1, 12.8, 12.9, 13.2, 13.3
- Smaller changes to nearly every other section (it has been 15 months
since the last update, after all)
- Version 3.1 - 25 Oct 1996
This really ought to be a major revision too, but I don't like
"inflating" the revision number that much, especially since the plain
text FAQ hasn't yet had a version 3.0. Many sections were moved,
sometimes between parts, and nearly all of them had at least minor
formatting fixes. The numbers below use this new version's numbering.
- Added sections 1.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.10, 5.2, 7.3, 8.9, 9.5, 10.3, 12.2, 12.5
- Significant changes to sections 1.1, 1.5, 4.4, 4.5, 5.1, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6,
6.1, 6.3, 8.1, 8.4, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 10.6, 10.8, 12.1, 12.6
- Smaller changes to sections 0.2, 0.4, 1.3, 1.7, 2.1, 3.1, 3.3, 7.1, 7.2,
7.4, 9.7, 10.1, 11.1, 11.2
- Version 3.0 - 3 May 1996
This is a "major" revision because I've changed the format of the HTML
files for the WWW version. The changes don't make any difference in the
plain text version.
- Significant changes to sections 5.2, 6.5, 7.7, 9.5, 11.3
- Small changes to sections 0.4, 0.5, 3.3, 4.6, 5.6, 6.2, 6.9, 8.2, 11.1
- Version 2.8.1 - 22 Jan 96; 2.8 - 16 Jan 96; 2.7 - 11 August 95;
2.6 - 5 June 95; 2.5 - 16 Mar 95; 2.4 - 7 Feb 95; 2.3 - 26 Dec 94
- Version 2.2 - 1 Nov 94
- Reformatted all files. First version released on World Wide Web
- Version 2.1 - 28 Sept 94; 2.0 - 2 June 94; 1.2 - 3 May 94;
1.1.1 - 15 Mar 94; 1.1 - 28 Jan 94; 1.0 - 15 Dec 93; 0.3 - 7 Dec 93;
0.2 - 29 Nov 93; 0.1 - 23 Nov 93
Ferrets are domestic animals, cousins of weasels, skunks and otters.
(Other relatives include minks, ermines, stoats, badgers, black-footed
ferrets, polecats, and fishers.) They are not rodents; taxonomically
they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They are
friendly and make excellent pets. If you've never met one before, the
easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in
personality, but rather smaller. They can only see reasonably well,
but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Some are cuddly,
others more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets.
What's good about ferrets as pets?
Ferrets are a lot of fun. They are very playful, with each other and
with you, and they don't lose much of that playfulness as they get
older. A ferret -- or better, two or more -- can be a very
entertaining companion. They are smarter than cats and dogs, or at
least they act it. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably
determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a
bother. They are friendly, and they do know and love you, though for
some of them it can take a year or so to fully bond.
They can be trained to use a litter box and to do tricks,
and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or
in a bag. They sleep a lot, and they don't particularly mind
staying in small places (a cage, for instance, or a shoulder
bag) temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at
least a couple of hours a day. A "single" ferret won't be terribly
lonely, although the fun of watching two or three playing together is
easily worth the small extra trouble. Barring accidents,
ferrets typically live 6-10 years.
Okay, what's the catch?
Ferrets have lots of good points as pets, but there are some negatives
as well. Like kittens and puppies, they require a lot of care and
training at first. They're "higher maintenance" than cats; they'll
take more of your time and attention. Ferrets have their own distinct
scent, which bothers some people, and many of them aren't quite
as good about litter pans as cats are. Although most ferrets get along reasonably well with cats and dogs , it's not guaranteed, so
if you have large, aggressive pets (particularly dogs of breeds
commonly used for hunting), keep that in mind. Likewise, small
children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination
might be too much.
Finally, the importance of ferretproofing must be emphasized. Ferrets
are less destructive than cats, but they love to get into EVERYTHING,
so if you keep them loose you'll need to make sure they can't hurt
themselves or your possessions. They love to steal small (and
not so small!) objects and stash them under chairs and behind
furniture. They like to chew on spongy, springy things, which must be
kept out of reach or they'll swallow bits. Accessible boxes, bags,
and trash cans will be crawled in, and houseplants within reach are
liable to lose all their dirt to joyful digging. Finally, many
ferrets tend to scratch and dig at the carpet. Naturally, these
traits vary from one ferret to another, but they're all pretty common.
If you're not willing to take the necessary time to protect your
property and your pet, a ferret may not be for you.
Domestic pet ferrets, Mustela furo (sometimes called Mustela putorius
furo), are not wild animals.
They have been domesticated for a very long time, perhaps two or
three thousand years. They're not equipped to survive for very long
on their own; escaped pets suffer from dehydration, starvation and
exposure, and usually don't survive more than a few days unless
someone takes them in. Unlike cats and dogs, ferrets aren't even
large enough to push over garbage cans and scavenge.
Domestic ferrets are generally believed to be descended from the
European polecat; they were originally used as hunting animals to
catch rabbits and rodents. They weren't supposed to kill the prey,
they just chased them out of their holes and the farmers (hunters)
killed them. This practice is now illegal in the U.S. and Canada, but
it's still fairly popular in the U.K. and some other places.
What's an FFZ, and why do they exist?
A "ferret-free zone," or FFZ, is a place where ferrets are banned or
illegal. In some other places, ferret owners are required to
have licenses or permits. States, counties, and municipalities outlaw
or restrict ferrets for a variety of reasons, pretty much all invalid,
but I'd say that the fundamental problem is that many people don't
understand what a pet ferret is.
What are some of those invalid reasons, you ask? Well, a common one
is that ferrets are seen as wild animals like raccoons or skunks,
rather than a domestic species like housecats. Of course, ferrets
have been domesticated for at least 2500 years.
Another popular misconception is that ferrets pose a serious rabies
danger; in fact, studies have indicated that it's very hard for a
ferret to catch rabies, and when one does, it dies very quickly, so
the danger is very small indeed. Besides, there's a ferret rabies
vaccine which has been shown to be effective.
A third common reason for banning ferrets is the idea that escaped
pets (nearly all of which are spayed or neutered) will form feral
packs and threaten livestock or native wildlife. There are no
confirmed cases of feral ferrets (as opposed to polecats or
polecat-ferret crosses, for instance) in the U.S., and a few
deliberate attempts to introduce domestic ferrets to the wild have
failed miserably, so this, too, is an unfounded fear -- even if one
could picture a ferret harming a cow or breaking into a commercial
The only states which now ban ferrets are California and Hawaii. In
the face of overwhelming evidence, many areas are being persuaded to
change their outdated regulations.
Why so much confusion?
Most of the misconceptions regarding domestic ferrets probably come
from mistaking them for their wild cousins. It's very difficult to
tell a polecat or a mink from a domestic ferret when all you've seen
is a flash of fur disappearing into a burrow, and polecats and minks
are quite common in the less-developed areas of Europe and North
Because of the similar names, domestic ferrets have also been confused
with their cousins the North American Black-Footed Ferrets, Mustela
nigripes. Black-footed ferrets (BFFs) are wild remote relatives of
the domestic ferret. They are an endangered species: the only BFFs
known to exist are in zoos or in a breeding program in Wyoming.
However, despite similar appearances, the BFF is not very closely
related to the domestic ferret.
Depending on where you live, ferrets may be completely unregulated,
require a license to breed but not to own, require a permit to own, or
be entirely illegal. This varies by state or province, county, and
You can find out about your town by calling the local Wildlife
Department or Fish and Game Department, the humane society, or
veterinarians (recommended in that order). Note that some pet stores
in FFZs sell ferrets anyway, so the presence of one in your corner
store may not be any indication of their legality, and I wouldn't
necessarily trust the pet store to be honest about local laws.
Katie Fritz has compiled an extensive, though not complete, list of
FFZs. If you have or want more information, contact her at
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or on CompuServe at 71257,3153.
Here's a list of some of the larger places where ferrets are illegal,
as of April 1997. A more extensive list is also available.
These lists are by no means complete, so check locally before you buy
Washington, DC; Dallas, Ft. Worth, Beaumont, and various other
cities in TX; Bloomington and Burnsville, MN; Tulsa, OK; Columbus,
OH; London, York, and East York, Ontario, Canada; Puerto Rico
Although ferrets aren't actually illegal in New York City or
Minneapolis, MN, they are not welcomed and may be confiscated or
ticketed. Similarly, although it's legal to own ferrets in South
Carolina, it's not legal to sell them there, and the state is
known to be pretty ferret-unfriendly.
Many military bases ban ferrets. It seems to be at the discretion
of the base commander.
Permits or licenses are required in order to own ferrets in the
following places: New Jersey ($10/year), Rhode Island ($10/year),
Illinois (free). Permits are also required in St. Paul, MN, and
may be difficult to obtain.
There's really no way to tell. You could be highly allergic to some
other animal and have no problems at all with ferrets. If you think
you might be allergic, visit a pet store, breeder or friend who has
one and check. Allergies might make you sneeze, or you might have a
skin reaction from touching or being scratched by a ferret. One
person wrote me to say he was allergic only to intact males, so you
may want to try contact with females or neutered males as well. Also
note that some people are allergic to the perfumes pet stores often
put on animals, but not to the animals themselves.
Ferrets typically live 6 to 10 years, with 6 apparently more common
than 10. The oldest ferret I know of is 15.
Prices for ferrets vary widely from place to place, and depending on
where you get the ferret. Prices for stores and breeders are
usually in the US $75-$250 range, typically around $100. Plan on
another $100-$250 for a cage and supplies, plus around $75
for the first batch of vaccinations.
Of course, there are also regular costs of caring for the ferret.
They don't eat much, so food and litter aren't a huge expense, but
there are also treats and hairball remedies, plus the annual
checkups and vaccinations. In addition, though it might
not happen, you should be prepared to pay for at least one $300 vet
visit in each ferret's 6- to 10-year lifetime, from his getting sick,
being in an accident, or eating something he shouldn't.
Ferrets have an odor all their own, just like any pet. Some people
like the musky scent, a few can't stand it, and most are in between.
(Personally, I think it's much better than wet doggy smell or cat box
stench.) If the ferret isn't yet altered, having that done will
cut down on the odor a lot; whole (un-neutered) males, particularly,
have a very strong smell. Young kits also have a peculiar, sharp
scent which they lose as they get a bit older.
Descenting a ferret doesn't change the day-to-day smell. Only
the scent glands near the tail are removed, which prevents the ferret
from releasing bad-smelling musk if it's frightened, but doesn't stop
the normal musky oils which come from glands throughout the skin.
The two big things you can do to cut down on your ferret's odor are to
bathe him less -- yes, less -- often and to clean his bedding more
often. Most of the musk stays in the cloth, on the litter or paper,
and on your floors and furniture, not on the ferret himself. Cleaning
them can be a big help. Also, right after a bath the ferret's skin
glands go into overdrive to replenish the oils you just washed away,
so for a few days the ferret will actually smell worse. Foods
containing fish may make your ferret, or his litter pan, smell worse
than those with chicken, lamb, etc.. You may also find that your
ferret smells more during shedding season in the spring and fall.
Some people have had good luck with Ferret Sheen powder and various
air filter systems.
Many people have both children and ferrets without problems, but
there's a difference between having both children and pets, and
getting a pet for your child. It's important to remember that a
ferret is a lot like a cat or dog, and will require the same kind of
attention and care. It's not at all like keeping a pet hamster or
guinea pig. If your child is responsible, careful, and not too young,
and you're willing to supervise and help out with the care, a ferret
will be a great pet. Otherwise, consider getting a low-maintenance
pet you can keep in a cage instead.
Supervise children with any pets
It is definitely necessary to monitor interactions between young
children and ANY pets closely, and to make sure children know the
proper way to handle pets. A living creature needs, and deserves, to
be treated with more care than a toy. Ferrets in particular love to
pounce and wrestle when they play, which may frighten children, and
children tend to play rather roughly, which may prompt a more vigorous
response from an active ferret than from a typical cat.
Just as some very friendly dogs become nervous around children because
they don't look, smell, or act like adults, some ferrets who aren't
used to kids don't quite know how to behave around them. Make sure
both your child and your ferret understand what's expected of them,
and what to expect from the other one. At least one person suggests
that ferrets brought up around other animals, including other ferrets,
will adjust to a child better than ones only used to adult humans.
What about ferrets attacking babies?
There are several stories floating around about ferrets attacking
babies, some more true than others. Ferrets are unfamiliar to most
people, so it's easier for them to make sweeping statements on the
basis of a tiny amount of information. Some of the reports are simply
rumor, or the result of confusing another animal with a ferret.
Others are based in fact, but omit important information (for
instance, that the child and pets had clearly been neglected or abused
prior to the attack). A small number are unfortunately true.
However, plenty of children have been attacked and even killed by dogs
and cats. The number of people injured by ferrets each year is a tiny
fraction of the number wounded or killed by dogs. People don't claim
that all dogs and cats are too dangerous for pets, but rather that
more responsible parenting and pet ownership is needed.
According to Chris Lewis, former moderator of the Ferret Mailing List:
The FML has carried confirmed reports of two, possibly three,
cases where an animal identified as a "ferret" has seriously
injured, and in one case, I believe, killed, infants. One in the
UK, and one or two in the US. In none of these cases has it been
proven that the animal was a ferret - particularly in the UK, it
is quite possible that the animal was actually an European polecat
which are raised for fur and sometimes for hunting (in the UK).
And in each case gross child and animal abuse is well documented.
But it's important to remember, that even the most pessimistic
statistics on ferrets show that a ferret is about a thousand times
*less* likely to cause injury than a dog. Indeed, every year
there are hundreds of very serious or fatal dog attacks in the US
alone. Worst case statistics show approximately 12 ferret attacks
ever recorded in the US.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:
I can say from personal experience that there are many, many more
bite incidents with the household dog or cat, and that either of
these species tend to do a lot more damage. I have seen children
require over a hundred facial stitches from getting between the
dog and its food, but never anything like this with a ferret. But
I've also been nailed by my share of ferrets too.
Personally, I don't recommend ferrets for people with children
under 6 or 7 - either the child or the ferret ends up getting
Ferrets often change colors with the seasons, lighter in the winter
than in the summer, and many of them lighten as they age, too.
Different ferret organizations recognize different colors and
patterns, but unless you're planning to enter your ferret in a show,
the exact label isn't particularly important. Some of the more
commonly accepted colors are described in general terms below, adapted
from summaries written by William and Diane Killian of Zen and the Art
of Ferrets and Pam Troutman of STAR*Ferrets.
The albino is white with red eyes and a pink nose. A dark-eyed
white can have very light eyes and can possibly be confused with
an albino. These can actually range from white to cream colored
with the whiter the color the better. A dark-eyed white (often
called a black-eyed white) is a ferret with white guard hairs but
eyes darker than the red of an albino.
The sable has rich dark brown guard hairs with golden highlights,
with a white to golden undercoat. A black sable has blue-black
guard hairs with no golden or brownish cast, with a white to cream
The chocolate is described as warm dark to milk chocolate brown
with a white to golden or amber undercoat and highlights.
A cinnamon is a rich light reddish brown with a golden to white
undercoat. This can also be used to describe a ferret with light,
tan guard hairs with pinkish or reddish highlights. Straight tan
is a champagne.
A silver starts out grey, or white with a few black hairs.
The ferret may or may not have a mask. There is a tendency for
the guard hair to lighten to white evenly over the body. As a
ferret ages each progressive coat change has a higher percentage
of white rather than dark guard hairs. Eventually the ferret
could be all white.
White patches on the throat might be called throat stars, throat
stripes, or bibs; white toes, mitts (sometimes called silver
mitts), or stockings go progressively further up the legs. A
blaze or badger has a white stripe on the top of the head, and a
panda has a fully white head. A siamese has an even darker color
on the legs and tail than usual and a V-shaped mask; and a self is
nearly solid in color.
A male is called a hob, and a female is a jill. To some people,
neutered males (first picture, on the right) are gibs and neutered females are sprites (on the left), but these
are new terms and aren't as commonly used. A baby ferret of either
sex (second picture) is a kit.
The most commonly accepted phrase for a group is "a business of
ferrets". Some people spell it "busyness" instead. Another
possibility, "fastening" or "fesnyng," is thought to be due to a
misreading of "bysnys" long ago.
There are lots of ways you can help the ferret community at large. If
your ferrets are very trustworthy and have had their vaccinations,
take them with you to the park or pet store and show people what
wonderful pets they are, to counteract all the false rumors. (Be very
careful, though: if your ferret should nip or scratch someone, even by
accident, some states will kill him for rabies testing, even if he's
been vaccinated. You may want to only let people pet his back.) Give
good ferret information, perhaps a copy of this general FAQ and the
Medical FAQs, to your vet.
Adopt, foster, or sponsor a ferret from a local shelter, or donate old
towels, shirts, food, litter, cages, money, or time. Many shelters
could use help with construction projects, computer setup and use,
recordkeeping, etc., as well as day-to-day ferret care, cage cleaning,
and trips to the vet. (However, shelter directors are very busy
people, and may have established routines they'd rather not have
disrupted, so don't be offended if your offer of help is refused. Ask
if there's something else you could do instead.) To find a shelter
near you, see the STAR*Ferrets list of clubs, shelters, etc.
or contact a local ferret club.
Participate in the "Support Our Shelters" coupon book program, in
which you send $25 and receive a book of grocery store coupons of YOUR
choice worth at least $200. More information is also available by sending
SEND COUPON ORDER FERRET
in the body of email to <email@example.com>.
As with people, a ferret's inherent personality is more important than
color or gender. Choose whatever color you like best.
There's no consistent personality difference between a (neutered) male
and a female. Males are generally considerably larger, around 18" and
2-5 pounds (that's 45 cm and 0.9 to 2.3 kg, in the US; European-bred
ferrets differ a bit) compared to 15" and 0.75-3 pounds (40 cm and 0.4 to
1.3 kg) for females. Males' heads are usually wider, which can give
them a more cat-like appearance. If you're getting an unneutered
ferret, bear in mind that the cost to spay a female can be higher than
the cost to neuter a male. (Unless you're specifically planning to
breed them, you will NEED to "alter" your pets.)
There are two contradictory opinions regarding what age ferret is best
for a new owner. Adults tend to be a bit calmer and may already be
litter- and nip-trained, but they are larger and may have
acquired bad habits, too. Kits are very cute, and their small size
and (for a young kit) sleepiness can be less intimidating for a new
owner, but they require more care and a lot more training and will
become very active before too long. Ferrets under 7 or 8 weeks
probably shouldn't be away from their mothers yet, and many breeders
prefer to keep their kits for 10 weeks or more.
If you can't tell whether you have a male or female, it's probably a
female. :) Look on the belly of the ferret, about halfway between the
tail and the bottom of the rib cage. If you see what looks like an
"outie" belly button, it's a male -- and it's not a belly button.
Otherwise, look just in front of the anus for a second opening,
perhaps with a tiny flap of skin. If you see that, it's a female.
To double-check, look at a once-used litter pan. Ferrets usually
urinate and defecate in one "sitting," and because of the anatomy
described above, males leave puddles a few inches in front of their
piles, females right on top.
Ferrets don't need other ferrets to be happy, but if you won't be
around much, two or more will keep each other company. They'll also
be more fun, but more responsibility. Many people have three, five or
more ferrets, which may be more fun than you can take. :-)
I'd recommend getting one at first, so you can get to know it, and it
you. There's some advantage to only having to train one at a time,
too. I'd suggest at least a month between them, if you're going
to get several, although it's certainly not necessary. If you decide
you want more later, you can always get another; they usually get along just fine. There's no problem mixing (neutered) ferrets of
either gender in any combination.
Where to go
Many pet stores have ferrets, and there are often ads in the newspaper
placed by small breeders with kits to sell or people who want to
sell older ferrets.
A ferret from a ferret shelter is also an excellent choice.
They're often a little older than kits from a pet store, but they've
probably already been litter- and nip-trained, and the shelter
director will know more about their individual habits and
personalities. It's also less expensive to adopt from a shelter, and
of course you're giving a home to a ferret in need. A local ferret
club or a veterinarian who treats a lot of ferrets may be able to help
you find a nearby shelter.
What to look for
In any case, look for bright, clear eyes, healthy skin and whiskers,
soft coat, and a curious, alert attitude. You can't tell just how a
kit's colorings will turn out, but if you watch and handle a group for
a while you can tell a surprising amount about their personalities.
Young kits will generally be pretty sleepy and uncoordinated, but
they'll grow out of that soon enough.
Blue dots on the ear
If your ferret has two blue dots tattooed in his right ear, chances
are he's from Marshall Farms, a large breeder located in Western New
York. They tattoo one dot when the ferret is spayed or neutered and
the other when it's descented. Several other breeders also mark dots
in their kits' ears, so a tattooed ferret may not be from MF. Hagen,
a Canadian breeder, uses a red X (for females) or Y (for males).
Marshall Farms (MF) has been the subject of some controversy
because they sell ferrets to laboratories as well as for pets. Some
people feel that MF's efforts to produce ferrets for lab use might
have resulted in their pets being genetically less healthy, but
there's no evidence to support that. In fact, for many types of
research, genetically diverse animals are needed.
About Marshall Farms
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
There have been a lot of rumors going around recently concerning
Marshall Farms ferrets. I'm not sure where they got started, but
let's try to put this subject to bed.
Jeff Johnston, an epidemiologist (though not a ferret vet), adds:
Sure, Marshall Farms ferrets develop tumors. So do ALL ferrets
. We don't know why ferrets develop most tumors - we know
that they are most likely to develop them between the ages of 4
and 6, but not why. But it is certainly not Marshall Farms'
responsibility when a ferret that they sold two years ago develops
a tumor... To my knowledge - there are no inherent "defects" with
Marshall Farms ferrets. Don't get me wrong - I know that Marshall
Farms is the biggest breeder of laboratory as well as pet ferrets.
I don't condone laboratory research on ferrets, or other animals
for that matter and I don't do any. But I have never seen any
problems with Marshall Farms ferrets that I could relate to
The bigger risk for so-called "congenic" animals is not cancer,
which seems to be the alleged association with MF ferrets, but
infectious disease since a microbe that is seriously infectious to
one animal, will be equally infectious to all. And I haven't
heard anyone report that MF ferrets are more susceptible to
infectious disease than other ferrets.
I don't believe that the evidence exists to convict Marshall Farms
of breeding ferrets with defects. And now that so many
allegations have been lobbed against them, the information
gathered about MF ferrets is almost certainly biased. This
happens all the time in the epidemiology of genetic diseases. A
particular defect occurs twice in a family--perhaps
coincidentally--and the family and their doctors go out of their
way to look for it.
[This section was written by Kelleen Andrews, with contributions from
me and others.]
Dominance fighting is normal in ferret introductions. The severity can
range from nearly nonexistent to all-out war. Prepare for the worst,
and then anything less than that will seem like a piece of cake!
Patience is the most important virtue. Often all is well in 3-14 days
but sometimes peace is not achieved for 3, 5, or even 7 months.
Ferrets that have been away from other ferrets for two years or more
tend to take longer to adapt. Keep in mind that your final goal is
well worth the work and that having two or more ferrets that have each
other to love and play with is the greatest joy you -- and they -- may
It's often easier to introduce a new ferret when the others are still
fairly new themselves. A ferret who's used to being an "only ferret"
or a group which has been together for several years may resist the
newcomer more strongly. It's also sometimes easier to introduce two
at once, to divide everyone's attention.
Many techniques can be used to ease the transition. No one technique
works on all ferrets; a combination of them has the best chance of
success. Reassure all ferrets often that everything is OK and they
Unfortunately in very rare instances peace is never achieved and a new
home may need to be found for the newcomer. Of course you'll want to
be sure the new home will be understanding and loving, but also make
sure the prospective new owner is aware of the problems the ferret has
had getting along with yours, since even if he wasn't the aggressive
one it will affect his relations with other ferrets. You don't want
him to end up being passed from house to house, never able to fit in.
- Most important, make sure the newcomer is disease-free and current
on vaccinations before any interaction. You may choose to
quarantine the newcomer for one or more weeks.
- If you can, and if you know that all the ferrets at the breeder or
shelter are healthy and haven't been exposed to ECE, take your
current ferret along with you when you pick out a new ferret so he
can choose his own new friend. Also, a pair often blends into the
existing group where a single may have more problems. A kit
newcomer can be a plus but requires more precautions. Since a kit is
tiny, if the established ferret is too rough you may need to cage
it separately until it grows larger. A kit that is constantly
attacked and dragged around by an aggressive ferret may be seriously
injured or become so traumatized as to want nothing to do with other
- Make sure the first introduction takes place in a completely
neutral area -- not just an unused room in your home, but
preferably in someone else's home or someplace else neither ferret
has ever been near. It also helps if other ferrets and distractions
are there. One other ferret may be seen as an enemy whereas a group
is seen as a party!
- If an immediate introduction feels uncomfortable to you, keep the
newcomer in a separate cage near your current ferret's cage. Have
supervised visits often, and let one ferret out at a time for
playtime. The new guy can then get used to the new surroundings and
the established ferret will not feel he's being punished. Switch
their bedding back and forth so they become accustomed to each
- Give the ferrets baths immediately so they smell the same. Bathing
them together may help since misery loves company. You might also
put vanilla extract on their noses to confuse their smelling and
bitter apple on their necks to discourage biting. Smearing
Ferretone or Nutri-Cal on their faces will encourage licking rather
- Start out by holding the ferrets and letting them sniff each other.
Gradually, as you feel comfortable with it, give them more freedom
to interact with each other. Expect fighting, but always supervise
in case it becomes violent. When you pull wrestling ferrets apart,
if the loser goes back for more they are probably just playing
rough. A ferret that bites with a darting motion and shakes his
opponent roughly or tears at his skin is being more aggressive than
normal dominance struggles. If you leave them alone, one ferret
can end up with a neck covered in scabs, infected or worse.
Usually when a ferret is being hurt he'll get very loud vocally [150 kB sound],
often screaming, but this is not always the case, so constant
supervision is a must. (Some ferrets scream when they're not being
hurt, or even when they're the ones attacking, so don't assume the
loud one is the one being picked on.)
When undue aggression occurs, immediately scruff the attacker with
your hand, or better yet with your mouth, and gently shake
him. Scold him loudly, right up close. Afterward put the attacker
in his cage for a time-out. Don't hit him, even tapping his nose,
since that will only make him afraid of you, and he's already under
stress. If scruffing, scolding, and cage time don't work, he
probably needs a little more time to adjust. Also be sure to find
the newcomer and reassure him he is safe and loved.
If the ferrets groom each other, often around the ears or neck, it's
a sign of acceptance, but do not leave them unsupervised until
you're positive there is peaceful integration.
Sometimes, even after an established ferret and a newcomer have
stopped fighting, the first ferret may start to act depressed,
especially if he's used to being an "only ferret". Ferret psychology
is still an undeveloped field, but most people interpret this glumness
as jealousy or resentment of the new ferret. Be sure to pay plenty of
attention to all your pets, and give the depressed ferret a couple of
months to adapt. Chances are he'll come to see the new ferret as a
playmate instead of an interloper. In extreme cases, you may need to
resign yourself to only having one ferret, and find a good home for
Most ferrets don't get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents,
lizards, and the like, though there are some exceptions. For a dog or
cat, patience is the most important part of the introduction. Give
the new animal a chance to get used to you and your home before
introducing it to the other pets one at a time, very slowly.
Cats are generally less dangerous than dogs, simply because of their
size. For the first week or so, hold both the cat and the ferret (two
humans is handy here) and just let them smell each other a few times a
day. Over the next week or two, gradually give each animal a bit more
freedom, watching them closely, until they're used to each other.
Once you're convinced that they're used to each other and get along
all right, let them interact freely, but supervise them for a while to
be sure. Make sure the ferret has an escape route, a barrier the cat
can't get through or a safe hiding place.
It's generally believed that ferrets get along with cats better if
they're introduced when the cat is still a kitten and is more willing
to play, but there are plenty of exceptions. The same is probably
true of dogs.
[The following information on dogs and ferrets comes from Marie I. Schatz.]
(1) First, do some work training the dog. Buy a dog training book, go
to beginning obedience school (this should be something you do
anyway). You want the dog to listen to your commands without fail.
(2) Try putting the dog in a carrier or crate (modified so the ferrets
can't slip through) and let them run around the room while he watches.
Interact with the ferrets so he knows they're part of the "pack".
(3) Hold the dog very firmly, with your hand right under his muzzle,
while you let the ferrets run around and sniff him. Give LOTS and
LOTS of encouragement to the dog and make loving noises over the
ferrets. The ferrets are going to want to nibble his feet and jump at
his face - try not to let this happen (two people will help). If the
dog snaps at the ferrets, even with your hand right there, you won't
have enough time to react. (Swift, loud assertive NO!'s right away if
this happens.) So you may want to invest in an inexpensive cloth
muzzle. You can't keep a muzzle on the dog long since he won't be
able to pant, and it will tend to stress out the dog. I used one for
the first couple of 10 minute intro's - still holding the dog.
(4) If the dog seems to be doing well, i.e. fairly low prey and chase
drive with good bite inhibition - put a leash on the dog when you
finally get to the point where they are loose together. Stay close.
You may want to use the muzzle again for the first time. The leash
will allow a faster grab if the dog starts to chase the ferrets.
(5) Do the "advanced" stage introductions in a room where there are
lots of places for the ferret to get under or hide, or create some in
the room temporarily.
(6) If things work out reinforce by giving treats to the ferrets
first, then the dog - reinforce that the dog is lower in the pecking
(7) No matter how good things get, NEVER leave the dog's toys, rawhide
chews, etc. lying around. The ferret will naturally want to
investigate and hide them, and no matter how good the dog is it's just
asking for trouble.
(8) You should also try feeding the dog separately, when the ferrets
All any of this does is allow you to ascertain what kind of prey drive
your dog has, without risking the ferrets too much. If the dog has a
low prey drive and good bite inhibition and is just playful it should
be apparent, and all this may be unnecessary or go relatively fast.
If the dog does seem to have a very high prey drive, try a different
older dog. Sometimes rescue groups can help with this as the foster
homes may know a little about the dog's personality.
As every ferret owner knows, our little friends love to get into
trouble. Whether your ferrets live in a cage when you're not around
or are free all the time, whether they live in a single room or have
the run of the house, the first line of defense, both for your ferrets
and for your possessions, is a well-ferretproofed home.
Ferrets love to worm their way into any little hole (as small as 2 X 2
inches, or smaller for kits and some adults), which can be very bad if
the hole in question is under or behind a refrigerator or other
appliance (with exposed wires, fans, insulation, and other dangers),
into a wall, or outside. Crawl around on your stomach to look for
holes near the floor and under cabinets, especially in the kitchen and
laundry area. Even holes inside cabinets (which are particularly
common in apartments, where plumbers are often rather sloppy) should
be blocked, just in case.
Ferrets can open cabinets and drawers, which can be dangerous or just
annoying depending on what's inside them. Also watch out for
heaters or furnace ducts. You can block openings with wood or wire
mesh; be sure to leave ventilation around appliances. For doorways,
try a smooth piece of plywood or Plexiglas slid into slots attached to
the sides of the doorway. Recliners and sofa-beds are very dangerous;
many ferrets have gotten crushed in the levers and springs underneath.
They're difficult to ferretproof, except by putting them in a
forbidden room. Even regular couches and beds can be dangerous
if the ferret digs or crawls his way into the springs or stuffing.
Next, look around the area your ferret will be playing. Remove
anything spongy from reach, and put fragile items out of the way.
Keep in mind that many ferrets are good climbers and jumpers, and they
excel at finding complicated routes to places you never thought they
could reach. They can get onto a sofa, into a trash can, onto the
third shelf of a set of bookcases, into a bathtub or toilet (from
which they might not be able to jump out), and into the opening on the
back of a stereo speaker. They can also open cabinets and drawers,
unzip backpacks, and climb up drawers from underneath or behind to get
onto the desk or kitchen counter.
Apart from obvious dangers such as bottles of household cleaners,
which ferrets do sometimes like to drink, be particularly careful
with sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty,
foam rubber (even inside a cushion or mattress), styrofoam,
insulation, rubber door stoppers, and anything else spongy or springy.
Ferrets love to chew on that kind of thing, and swallowed bits can
cause intestinal blockages. For some reason, many ferrets
like to eat soap, so you'll have to keep that away from them.
(A little lick won't hurt your ferret, just give her a bit of
diarrhea, but large amounts can be a problem.) Human foods should
also be kept out of reach, since even the ones which aren't dangerous
to ferrets aren't good for them in large quantities.
Be careful about full bathtubs, where your ferret might possibly
drown, and consider keeping your toilet lid closed for the same
reason. Buckets of water, paint, etc. can also be drowning or
poisoning hazards, or might just be tipped over. Toilet paper and
paper towel rolls are a problem because ferrets get their heads stuck
in them and can choke or suffocate, and if you let your ferret play
with plastic bags, you may want to cut off the handles and cut a slit
in the bottom.
Certain ferrets may also have special ferretproofing needs; for
example, some like to eat paper, cloth, or plastic bags, which can
easily cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage. A few ferrets
like to chew on electrical cords or plants, and some common plants
are quite poisonous. Liberal application of Bitter Apple paste
to the cord or plant can help persuade your pet to stop gnawing on it.
What's that about cats and curiosity?
Finally, once your home is done, it's important to keep it safe.
Watch your ferret's toys to make sure they're not beginning to crack
or break apart, and keep in mind that you can be dangerous to your
ferret, too. Always double-check your dishwasher, refrigerator,
clothes washer and dryer (even top-loading models) before closing them
or turning them on, and watch where you sit and walk: that chair,
throw rug, or pile of laundry might be hiding a napping ferret.
Many ferrets dig at the carpet, especially near doors that are
closed. It's very difficult to teach them not to do it. You're
better off protecting your carpet by putting down a piece of plastic
carpet protector from an office-supply store. Chances are your ferret
will get bored with digging when she sees she's not getting anywhere,
though it might take a while for that to happen. A carpet scrap or
sample from a carpet store might work, too, although your pet will be
able to shred it, so she might not give up as quickly. For
out-of-the-way places, wire mesh can be nailed to the floor through
the carpet; be sure to protect any sharp corners or points.
Also be aware that ferrets like to dig in and possibly chew on
houseplants, and some common ones are quite poisonous. Plants can be
protected from digging (but not chewing) by putting large rocks or
metal mesh over the tops of their pots.
Many ferrets like to rip the cloth on the bottom of a box spring and
climb into it, where they can easily get crushed or caught. To
prevent that, try putting a fitted sheet on the bottom of the bed,
anchored in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a
thin piece of wood to the underside of the box spring. You may need
to drill air holes in the wood so the box spring can still compress.
Cabinets and drawers
Depending on how your cabinets and drawers are constructed and how
determined your ferrets are, you might be able to keep them closed
using strong tape, rubber bands around a pair of handles, a nail or
wooden dowel through the handles, or a strip of strong Velcro-type
tape on the door and frame. Attaching eye hooks (screws with a ring
shape at the top) to the door and cabinet and putting a nail through
them both has worked for some people, and the latches with a pair of
rollers on one piece and a mushroom-shaped catch are said to be strong
enough for most ferrets.
Some kinds of child-proof locks also work very well, though others are
too weak or open wide enough to let a ferret through. The magnetic
latch-and-key system works best for many people; they're available at
many hardware or childrens' stores, or from the Woodworker's Store
catalog (1-800-279-4441) or the Safety Zone catalog (1-800-999-3030).
The kind that lock around two handles at once, available from baby
stores, have also gotten a good report.
If your ferret scratches at the underside of your couch to get through
the fabric into the bottom, try taking off the couch's legs, if it has
them. Heavy cloth or plywood stapled or nailed to the bottom can
work, too, though ferrets can often rip cloth loose. Sometimes
ferrets try to get into the bottom or arms of the couch by burrowing
between the cushions and the back or sides. This is much harder to
prevent, but some people have had good luck blocking the area with
cloth or wood, stapled, nailed, taped or sewn to the couch. You can
also give in and remove the bottom fabric and lower stuffing from your
couch, putting a piece of plywood on the springs and the cushions on
that. Then it doesn't matter as much if your ferrets get into the
bottom, as long as they don't get caught between the cushions and the
Many ferret owners find it simpler to give up and get a futon or a
"suspended" couch that doesn't have an inside in the first place.
You will need:
Ferretone and Linatone are similar vitamin supplements that
nearly every ferret considers a wonderful treat. Bitter Apple
is a bad-tasting liquid or paste intended to stop pets from chewing
things. The paste will probably be much more effective. You may want
an H-type harness and a leash for walks. Ferrets love to play
in, and empty, water bowls, so you might want to give them a
rabbit-type water bottle instead, or at least provide one in case
their bowl gets tipped over.
You will almost certainly need more than one litter pan, particularly
if you have a large home. Small-size cat litter pans work fine, as do
plastic dishpans, storage boxes, or large school supply boxes. Many
ferrets don't seem to like the special triangular corner boxes,
probably since they can't climb all the way in, but yours might.
(Before buying one, ask ferret-owning friends. Chances are somebody
has one sitting around that his ferrets never use.) For a travel cage
or shoulder bag you can use a Rubbermaid-type plastic container
intended for bread or ice cream (about 6 X 9 X 5 inches). Make sure
the sides of the pan are at least 4 inches high, since ferrets
habitually back into corners to deposit their wastes and you don't
want messes over the sides of the pan. However, one side of the pan
should be no more than an inch or two high, so your ferret can get in
and out easily. This is especially true for a young kit.
If you're particularly sensitive to cleaning pans or to litter pan
odor, one novel suggestion was to use empty milk jugs, standing
upright, with the circular indentation on the side cut out. Use only
a small amount of litter, and the whole jug can then be thrown away
when it gets dirty.
Many people keep their ferrets in a cage or very well-ferretproofed
room whenever they can't be supervised. This drastically
reduces the risks of digestive-tract blockages from swallowing
indigestible objects, injury, and escape. However, even if
you plan to let your ferrets have the run of the house at all times,
you'll want a cage at first for litter-training and other kinds of training as well as for temporary use.
A metal mesh cage is probably the best choice. Many pet stores keep
ferrets in aquarium-like enclosures, but they are not recommended as
cages. They don't provide enough ventilation at the bottom, and your
ferret will feel isolated from whatever's going on in the room. Most
aquaria also aren't nearly big enough. Plain wood cages aren't
recommended because the wood soaks up urine and other liquids, so
getting the smell out and getting the cage really clean are nearly
impossible. If you use wood, cover the floors with linoleum squares
or coat the whole thing with polyurethane.
What size cage will I need?
If you plan to keep your ferret caged whenever you're not home, and
you'll be gone most of the day, a generous cage size is about 2 X 3
feet and 2 feet high (60 X 100 X 60 cm). A second or third ferret
could share that size cage. Of course, a nice, big "condo" is even
better, especially with lots of levels and hammocks to prevent falls
from the top shelf. If you'll only be using the cage temporarily,
such as when you're vacuuming or taking your pet on a vacation,
1 X 2 X 1 feet (30 X 60 X 30 cm) is sufficient for one or two ferrets,
perhaps three. For trips around town, a shoulder or duffel bag
equipped with a litter pan and mesh window works well.
One option is to make the cage yourself. It may be cheaper than a
store-bought cage, and you can get exactly the size and configuration
you want. Photos and descriptions of various types of homemade cages, as well as instructions for building one of them, are available. Of course, pet stores and catalogs have lots of cages, too.
Multiple-level "cat condos" are probably the most popular store-bought
cages. Some people like the easily cleaned medium or large size
plastic dog kennels, modified to make multiple levels, although others
think that they don't provide enough ventilation or contact with the
Many of the condos for sale in pet stores are made by Midwest and are
available for less from Dog Outfitters (cheaper than Ferret
Outfitters). Call 1-800-FOR-DOGS. Safeguard will make custom cages
to your design, and also sells several standard cages. You can call
them at 1-800-433-1819. Sorry, I don't have numbers for international
callers. (This is not intended as an advertisement. Specific
products are mentioned here only because people keep asking about
In the cage, you'll want some sort of "bedroom" for your pet. A
ferret won't be very happy sleeping on the open floor of a cage, even
on (or, more likely, under) a towel or shirt, but any small cardboard
box or basket works well as a bedroom. Old T-shirts and sweatshirts
make excellent bedding, as long as they aren't too easily chewed to
bits. Old towels usually work well too, though some ferrets tend to
get their nails caught in the loops. Don't use wood shavings.
The bottom of the cage can be covered with linoleum squares, carpet
samples, or cloth cage pads.
Other than food, water, a litter pan, bedding, and a bedroom, what you
put in your ferret's cage is largely up to you. Enough room to
stretch and move around is important, and different levels, ramps,
tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, and so on will
probably be appreciated. Hammocks made from old jeans or shirts and a
set of metal eyelets are very popular for both napping and playing.
Most ferrets get bored easily when caged and sleep much of the time,
so they probably won't get a whole lot of use out of toys; they'd
really rather be out playing. Just be sure nothing you put in your
ferret's cage could hurt him, whether by catching a toe, being
swallowed, or some other way.
Also be sure your cage door fastens securely, perhaps even with a
small lock, because ferrets can be very determined and rather
intelligent escape artists. Twist ties, cable ties, or bits of wire
often work well for fastening down litter pans or some bowls; and
clothespins and small bungee cords can be enormously handy for holding
all kinds of things down, up, or closed.
Cat toys work well for ferrets, though you need to be sure they don't
have any small, removable parts or foam stuffing which might cause
digestive-tract blockages. Most ferrets are rather harder on
toys than a cat would be, so choose accordingly. Plastic balls, with
or without bells, work well if they are not easily broken or swallowed
(the little "webbed" ones break too easily). Soft vinyl rubber is
okay, but not the spongy kind -- it's too easily shredded and swallowed.
For hard rubber toys, be sure they can't get stuck in your ferret's
mouth, and take them away when they start to crack. Avoid superballs:
ferrets love to chew them to bits and eat the pieces. Cat or dog
squeaky toys are good if they're tough enough to stand up to chewing
and easily squeaked. Catnip won't hurt ferrets, but it doesn't affect
them like it does cats. Remote-control cars are also popular, if
somewhat expensive, ferret toys, though they may prefer chewing on the
Most ferrets enjoy playing in a hammock made from a piece of cloth and
some metal eyelets, and the leg from an old pair of jeans will be fun
to crawl through or nap in. For other toys, try umbrellas, bathrobe
belts, tennis balls, golf balls, ping-pong balls, film canisters
(rinsed to wash out any chemicals), or old socks with bells rolled up
in them. Plastic shopping bags are popular, but watch to be sure your
pets don't suffocate or eat the plastic. Cardboard boxes are also
fun, especially several nested together with ferret-sized holes cut at
various places. Plastic bottles can be turned into clear ferret
play-tubes by cutting off their tops and taping them together.
Carpet-roll tubes and tunnels made of plastic pipe, dryer hose, or
black drainage tubing are popular too. Avoid tubes from toilet paper
or paper towels, though; they're small enough that ferrets can get
their heads stuck in them and choke or suffocate.
An excellent, inexpensive toy is a piece of plastic dryer hose about
4" (10 cm) in diameter. Wrap any loose wire ends. Be sure that your
real dryer hose is out of reach (or get a metal one), since you're
showing your pets that dryer hoses are great fun to crawl through.
Clear dryer hose is even more fun, though less sturdy. One brand is
Clear Duct by Dryer Mate, Model No. P48-C, a product of Nemco,
Inc.. Several ferret clubs and shelters have begun selling clear hose
as a fundraiser. If you can't find any locally, you should be able to
order the original hose in 8-foot lengths or by the foot, or new
heavy-duty hose in 20-foot pieces or also by the foot. Contact
Crissey Fowler Lumber, 117 W. Vermijo Ave., Colorado Springs, CO
80903, 719-473-2411, fax 719-473-0653. Talk to Stan in Plumbing.
No matter what you decide your ferret's toys are, he or she will
almost undoubtedly choose some household items you never expected, as
well. Keep anything that would be damaged with a little chewing, or
that might hurt your pet, well out of reach. Unfortunately, digging
up houseplants is also enormous fun to a ferret, but there are some
things you can do to protect your plants.
Depending on your ferret, either a nylon kitten collar, a thin, flat
leather puppy collar, or a piece of ball chain will work well. A
leather boot lace can also make a fine collar; just knot it at the
right size. The problem you may run into with a nylon collar is that
some ferrets will scratch at it, which pulls the nylon threads and can
tighten the collar dangerously. Also, be aware that both nylon and
leather can shrink if they get wet, so never leave a wet collar on
your pet; it may shrink and choke him as it dries.
Sizing the collar
For either of the collars, you may need to make an extra hole, then
trim off the extra length and (for nylon) melt the end together. Be
sure to leave enough to go through the little ring after it's buckled.
For the ball chain (the kind made for light-pulls or to lift the
stopper in a toilet), just snip it to the proper length. The collar
should be loose enough to go over your ferret's head easily; if it
gets stuck on something, better a lost collar than a choked ferret.
We've never had any problems with either of our ferrets getting hurt
by catching their collars in anything, but we make sure to leave them
loose enough that the furry snakes can slip out if they happen to get
caught. In fact, the easiest way we've found to get the collars on is
to fasten them, then shove them over the ferrets' heads while
occupying them with Ferretone.
The cord-like figure-8 leash with a screw for adjustments, sold
wrapped around a cardboard cutout of a ferret, isn't the best choice
for a leash. It's too easy to get out of and too hard to adjust, the
adjustment nut can break, and the cord can chafe the ferret. A flat
nylon H-type harness with a leash clipped to the back will work much
better. Several people have recommended the harnesses made by the
WarmFuzzy Rescue (610-926-9087 or <firstname.lastname@example.org>), andMarshall Pet Products (1-800-292-3424) also
makes a popular one.
Bells and tags
A small cat bell and small-size plastic tag have worked well for us on
a kit as young as 9 weeks. The slot on some of the smallest bells
is easy to get a nail stuck in, though, so you may need to widen it a
little with a nail file.
I recommend getting an S-shaped hook for the tag rather than a
split ring, since the rings have a tendency to loosen. Twice one of
our ferrets got hers caught in a sweater or blanket -- which both
frightened her and unraveled the item she was frantically rolling in
before she pulled out of the collar. You can also attach the collar
and tag using a neatly trimmed piece of stiff wire. For a nylon or
leather collar, you'll probably want to poke the S-hook directly
through the collar and put the bell and tag on the same hook, though,
since attaching them to the ring on the collar makes them hang down
far enough to drag on the ground.
Do the ferrets mind?
Neither of our slinkies seems to mind wearing a collar or bell,
although the first time we put them on our older pet she spent 15
minutes trying to convince us she was dying and then the next hour
playing with the jingly toy that followed her wherever she went.
In short, tags and collars are handy for nearly all ferrets. Ours
have never gotten out, but even just around the house it gives
enormous peace of mind to be able to tell where they are!
The key ingredients in any food for ferrets are fat and protein,
specifically animal protein, since ferrets' short digestive cycles
prevent them from getting enough nutrition from vegetable proteins.
Chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb are all fine; most ferrets don't like
fish, and it may make their litter pan smell worse. The food needs to
have 30-35% protein and 15-20% fat, and animal protein should be the
first ingredient and at least two or three of the next few.
Unless your ferret is overweight, you should just keep her bowl full
and let her eat as much as she wants.
The food debate
Cat foods seem to have done okay for many years, but there's a fair
bit of debate about which food is best for ferrets, whether
high-quality cat/kitten foods are good enough, and so on. The usual
conclusion is that while foods designed for cats probably aren't the
best we could do, most of the foods with ferret pictures on the bags
weren't designed for ferrets either -- they were designed for mink or
cats and maybe modified slightly, and priced twice as high. If you
choose a food packaged for ferrets, check its label just as you would
a cat food.
There is only one food I know of which was designed and feed-tested
exclusively for ferrets, and that's Totally Ferret, from Performance
Foods. It's very expensive and not available everywhere. (Call
Performance Foods at 1-800-843-1738 or write them at 38251 Industrial
Park Blvd., Lisbon, OH 44432 to find out the nearest distributor.)
Many people feel that it's the best food, at least for ferrets who
aren't overweight (it's pretty rich), but most people also agree that
cat/kitten foods are entirely sufficient, and that there's not
that much difference between them.
Kitten or cat food
Most people feed their ferrets high-quality cat food, such as Iams,
Science Diet, or ProPlan. High-quality food may cost a bit more than
grocery store brands, but your pet will eat a lot less and be much
healthier. We've found that an 8-pound bag of dry food (usually
$10-$15) lasts two ferrets a couple of months, so the cost of feeding
them even high-quality food is not very great.
Because of their high protein requirement, ferrets up to three or four
years old should get kitten or "growth" foods. Older ferrets can have
kidney problems from too much protein, though, so they should be
switched to the cat versions.
Soft cat food is not good for ferrets, partly because it generally
contains much less protein than the dry kind and partly because it
isn't hard enough to rub plaque off their teeth and can lead to tooth
decay. However, very young kits and those recovering from illness or
surgery may need their food moistened with water for a week or two.
Note that moistened food spoils much more quickly than the same food
left dry, so dump out leftovers every day.
Dog food is NOT acceptable, as it lacks some nutrients ferrets (and
cats) need. Among other things, ferrets and cats both need taurine,
which is found naturally in poultry; many cat and ferret foods
supplement it as well.
Variety and change
In general, feeding your pet a variety of foods, rather than just one
brand, is probably a good idea. Ferrets are known to be finicky
eaters, and if the brand you've been using changes or is suddenly
unavailable, you may run into problems if it's all your pets will
recognize as edible. To switch from brand A to brand B, start mixing
them before you run out of A. Add B a little at a time until they're
getting half each, then phase out A. (Also see information on
supplements, as well as fruits, vegetables, and treats.)
Every so often, a discussion starts up about ethoxyquin, which is used
in many pet foods to preserve the unsaturated fats. In short, it's
very unlikely that there's any problem. The amount of ethoxyquin used
in cat food is far below the maximum concentration allowed by the FDA.
No adverse effects have been shown in any studies, including some done
by researchers not affiliated with any pet food company. In fact,
ethoxyquin has been shown to have an anticancer effect in cats. Foods
which don't contain ethoxyquin use high levels of vitamin E instead,
at greatly increased cost and generally reduced shelf life.
Laura L'Heureux Kupkee, a veterinary student, says:
The original reports about ethoxyquin were started by one single
dog breeder whose bitch lost pups. They did not know why, so they
thought they'd send a [food] sample to a chemist friend. The
friend analyzed it, and said it contained ethoxyquin, a component
in car-tire manufacturing [but then, so are a lot of things,
including many compounds remarkably similar to Petromalt and
probably water]. The breeder was shocked and immediately blamed
the ethoxyquin, the newspapers grabbed it, and now here we are.
There was never any mention of the fact that the bitch in question
may also have had some autoimmune problems. Nor was there *any*
proof that the chemical caused the abortion of the pups.
Ferretone and Linatone
Ferretone and Linatone are two popular vitamin supplements. They are
also one of the most common treats, since nearly every ferret loves
them. They're very similar and can be used interchangeably, although
their exact composition is a bit different. Both of these contain
vitamin A, which can be very harmful or even fatal in excess, though
it probably takes a whole lot more than you'd ever give your ferret.
Still, some people prefer to dilute them 50/50 with olive oil or
vegetable oil (not mineral oil), which shouldn't hurt. Also, as with
hairball remedies, too much Ferretone or Linatone can give your
ferrets loose stools. No more than a few drops to one pump a day is
recommended, and it's not thought to be necessary to give them any at
all if you're using a good food.
Similarly, many people give their ferrets a small amount of a cat
hairball remedy such as Laxatone or Petromalt on a regular basis.
This can help them pass the styrofoam, rubber bands, and such that
they seem to love to eat, as well as helping to prevent hairballs from
fur swallowed during grooming. Even better, most ferrets seem to
think of this as a wonderful treat, too. As with all treats and
supplements, give them only in moderation; you can estimate how much
by taking the recommended cat dosage and adjusting for a ferret's
Lorraine Tremblay has compiled a WWW page with advice and suggestions
about ferret treats.
Most ferrets enjoy some fruits and vegetables. Although they're
not necessary for good nutrition if you're feeding your pets a
high-quality cat food, small amounts of these won't hurt. Just be
sure you don't fill your ferret up on fruit, since he'll need to eat
his regular food to get the required protein. Too much of nearly
anything can be harmful, so try to vary your treats.
Some popular suggestions: a slice of banana (mashed, so it's more
digestible), raisins, peanut butter, bits of pear, peppermint (small
licks), freeze-dried liver (sold as cat treats), Pounce cat treats,
puffed rice cakes, green beans, wheat crackers, Ferretone, Petromalt
... Try feeding your ferret pretty much anything, in small
pieces. You never know what yours will consider a fabulous treat.
I've heard of ferrets going wild for everything from spaghetti to
Things to avoid
Although most ferrets love milk and ice cream, they shouldn't be
allowed to have much. This is especially true for young kits, since
the lactose in cow's milk gives ferrets diarrhea, which can easily
cause them to become dehydrated. Goat's milk, available in some pet
stores, is okay. Likewise, I've heard that soy milk is good for them
and generally liked, but I haven't seen any verification.
Too much fiber can also give ferrets diarrhea, so limit raisins,
bananas, prunes, oatmeal, apples, and anything with bran in it.
Sugary treats aren't good for them either, since they can cause
dental problems. (Despite the rumors, there is no evidence that sugar
causes diabetes or other metabolic problems in mammals.)
Be careful with chocolate. Most ferrets like it, but the
xanthines/theobromine found in it may be toxic to them in large enough
quantities; nobody's sure. It's not recommended as a treat.
(However, many people give their ferrets an occasional chocolate chip
with no problems.) Likewise licorice -- the real thing, not the
plastic, fruity, red stuff that goes by the same name -- is
surprisingly strong. It's been used for medicinal purposes in the
past; it might not be a good treat. Both chocolate and licorice are
more likely to be dangerous to ferrets with heart problems.
Onions, garlic, and other members of that family can cause Heinz body
anemia in dogs and cats; nobody's sure about ferrets, or what the
dangerous dose might be (the tiny bit in some meat baby foods is
probably fine), but caution is advised.
Some people have had problems with the clumping varieties of litter,
due to some ferrets' habits of sniffing at their litter corners or
dragging their rumps across the litter when done using it. The litter
can get into their noses or rectums, where it clumps and causes
problems. You may not want to take the chance.
Likewise, cedar shavings are not recommended, for the same reasons
that they don't make good bedding.
Other than that, any kind of litter meant for cats is okay for
ferrets. You and your ferret may prefer one to another, since they
all control or cover odors differently, track more or less dust, cost
more or less, and so forth. Many people favor pelleted wood litters
(or wood stove pellets, available inexpensively at many large hardware
stores). Others even use alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), which are
often cheaper than cat litter but generally don't cover odor as well.
If your pet is used to one and you switch, it may take a while for him
to connect the scent of the new litter with where he's supposed to go.
(Also see the information on litter training.)
In short, no. Many pet stores and some breeders use cedar or pine
shavings as bedding/cage lining for their ferrets, but it is not
recommended. Cedar in particular has been associated with allergies
and respiratory problems in various animals, including, for example,
humans and rabbits, but pine and other woods also produce a fair
amount of dust and such which isn't very good to breathe. Why take
Furthermore, wood shavings are completely unnecessary. Ferrets are
more like cats than hamsters: they'll be quite happy with a clean
towel or old T-shirt placed in a small "bedroom box" or basket for
sleeping. Sure, some pet stores and breeders use shavings, but they
don't really have the option of using towels.
Dr. Williams' article
Of course, it would be better if pet stores didn't use wood shavings
either. Corn cob bedding is just as convenient for them and is
dust-free and safe. If you need some authoritative information to
convince your pet store to stop using wood shavings, here's an article
by Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM:
(The following short article may be reprinted by anyone desiring
to disseminate this information in a newsletter or non-commercial
publication. This material may not be altered or changed in any
way. Under Title 17 of the U.S. Code, Section 105, copyright
protection is not available for any work of the United States
WHY NOT CEDAR SHAVINGS?
For years, cedar shavings have been used as bedding for many
species of small mammals including ferrets. Over the last ten
years, increasing evidence is cropping up that this may not be a
Cedar shavings, as well as other aromatic soft woods, such as
white and yellow pines, release volatile hydrocarbons which affect
those animals living in them. Plicatic acid, a volatile
hydrocarbon, results in asthma in humans and rabbits. Other
hydrocarbons result in changes in the liver, which may impair its
ability to detoxify certain drugs, including various anesthetic
agents. Cedar shavings have also been incriminated in increased
mortality in rat pups, and various scientists over the years have
alluded to possible carcinogenicity. In chicken litter, cedar
shavings harbored more bacteria than other types of litter.
On the more practical side, a 1986 article in Lab Animal evaluated
many of the common bedding materials, also including hardwood
chips, sawdust, paper chips, newspaper, ground corncob, rabbit
pellets, straw, and hay (along with several others) for the
following: absorbency, dust, endogenous effects on the animal,
cost, use in nesting, and disposability. In all categories, cedar
shavings was not recommended. Interestingly enough, paper
products and heat-treated softwood chips scored highest overall.
In my experience, ferrets are happiest in old sweatshirt or
towels, which rarely cause problems. Beware, however, the bored
caged ferret, who may ingest parts of these items for lack of
other stimulation, and obtain a gastrointestinal foreign body in
1. Weichbrod RH et al. Selecting bedding material. Lab Anim.
Sept 1986, pp.25-29.
2. Kraft LM. The manufacture, shipping, receiving, and quality
control of rodent bedding materials. Lab Animal Sci. 1980
3. Weichbrod RH et. al. Effects of Cage Beddings on Microsomal
Oxidative Enzymes in Rat Liver. Lab Animal Sci. 38(3):
4. Hessler, JR. Design and Management of Animal Facilities.
In Laboratory Animal Medicine, JG Fox, ed. Academic Press Inc,
5. Chan H. et al. A rabbit model of hypersensitivity to plicatic
acid, the agent responsible for red cedar asthma. J Allergy Clin
Immunol 79(5) : 762-767.
Like kittens and puppies, ferret kits must be taught not to nip. A
ferret which has been bred to be a pet shouldn't be vicious or bite,
but ferret play does include mock combat, and young ones won't know
how hard they can put their teeth on you without hurting you. A
playing ferret may run at you with his mouth open or even put his
teeth on your hand, but if he presses down hard enough to hurt, you
need to discipline him. Just remember, ferrets aren't malicious, they
just need to learn what behavior is acceptable.
A very few otherwise calm, gentle ferrets will react in an extreme way
to a high-pitched noise such as a squeaky toy (perhaps only one
particular toy) or the sound of rubbing fingers on a window or a
balloon. Nobody's quite sure why that sets them off, though it seems
to be a protective instinct of some sort. If your ferret is one of
those few who bites wildly at the source of such a sound, my best
advice is, don't make that sound around them.
Sometimes a ferret which has been mistreated will bite out of fear, or
an older ferret might bite because of pain, either in the mouth or
elsewhere. In either of these cases, strict discipline isn't going to
do any good. For an animal in pain, of course, take it to the vet.
For an abused ferret, try one of the alternatives mentioned below, and
have a lot of patience: the ferret has to learn to trust someone when
all it has known before is abuse. Regina Harrison has created a Web
page about caring for and rehabilitating such "problem" ferrets.
In all cases, positive reinforcement (giving treats and lots of
praise when the ferret does well) works much better than punishment,
but if you need one, use a "time out" for a few minutes in a cage or
carrier. Similarly, don't set the ferret down when he struggles and
nips -- you'll be teaching him that that's the way to get what he
wants. Finally, whichever method you use, consistency and immediacy
are very important.
Alternatives to nose-flicking
Flicking the ferret's nose while his teeth are on you is a pretty
common form of discipline, but it might not be the best. Your ferret
might end up associating you with bad things rather than good ones.
Also, it's a very bad idea to use nose-tapping or other physical
discipline on a ferret who has been mistreated or who acts unusually
aggressive or frightened. There are several alternatives, which you
might want to try in combination:
- If the ferret is biting too hard in play, try using a signal he
already understands: a high-pitched "Yip!" (or "Hey!" or whatever),
like the noise one kit makes when another is playing too roughly.
On the other hand, if the ferret seems to interpret that as a sign
of weakness, switch to a deep, commanding voice and act as stern as
- Stopping the game by gently pinning the ferret down until he gets
bored can work well, too.
- Confining the misbehaving ferret to a cage and ignoring him
for a few minutes can be very effective, especially if there's
another ferret wandering around conspicuously having fun.
- You can cover your hands with Bitter Apple, either the spray or the
paste, so nipping tastes bad.
- Some people have had good luck with either pushing a finger into
the ferret's mouth (sideways, behind the back teeth) or holding the
mouth open from behind (being careful not to choke the ferret)
immediately after a bite. Most ferrets find either of these
uncomfortable, and it associates the unpleasant feeling with the
taste of finger.
- If you need the ferret to let go, try covering both his nostrils
with your fingers. If he still hangs on, don't keep them there long,
- If the ferret isn't one of those who absolutely hate to be
scruffed, that can help. You might also shake the ferret gently by
the scruff, or drag him along the floor while you hiss. Both these
mimic the way mother ferrets reprimand their kits. Obviously,
don't be so rough that you hurt him. You can also cover his face
with your hand, which he probably won't like.
Ferrets can be trained to use a litter pan, but unlike cats, they
don't take to it automatically. To litter-train your ferret, start
him out in a small area, perhaps his cage, and expand his space
gradually as he becomes better trained. If it's a big cage, you might
need to block off part of it at first.
Fasten the litter pan down so it can't be tipped over. Keep a little
dirty litter in it at first, to mark it as a bathroom and to deter him
from digging in it. Don't let it get too dirty, though; some
ferrets can be pretty finicky about their pans. Likewise, ferrets and
cats often don't like to share pans with each other. Most ferrets
won't mess up their beds or food, so put towels or food bowls in all
the non-litter corners until your ferret is used to making the effort
to find a pan. Bedding that has been slept in a few times and smells
like sleeping ferret will be even better than clean bedding for
convincing a ferret that a corner is a bedroom instead of a bathroom.
Ferrets generally use their pans within fifteen minutes of waking up,
so make sure yours uses the pan before you let him out, or put him
back in the cage five or ten minutes after you wake him up to come
play. When he's out running around for playtime, keep a close eye on
him, and put him in his litter pan every half hour or so, or whenever
you see him "pick up a magazine and start to back into a corner" (as
one FML subscriber put it).
Whenever your ferret uses a litterpan, whether you had to carry him to
it or not, give him lots of praise and a little treat right away.
Ferrets will do almost anything for treats, and they're fast learners.
Within a few days, your ferret will probably be faking using the pan,
just to get out of the cage or get a treat. That's okay; at least it
reinforces the right idea.
Positive reinforcement (treats and praise) are usually much more
effective than any punishment, but if you need one, use a firm "No!"
and cage time. Rubbing the ferret's nose in his mess won't do any
good. He can't connect it to it being in the wrong place, and ferrets
sniff their litter pans anyway. As with all training, consistency and
immediacy are crucial. Scolding a ferret for a mistake that's hours
or even a few minutes old probably won't help a bit.
If he picks the wrong corner
If your ferret's favorite corner isn't yours, you have a few choices.
could put a pan (or newspaper, if it's a tight spot) in it; ferrets
have short legs and attention spans, so you'll probably need several
pans around your home anyway. Otherwise, try putting a crumpled towel
or a food bowl in the well-cleaned corner, making it look more like a
bedroom or kitchen than a latrine.
"Accident" corners should be cleaned very well with vinegar, diluted
bleach, or another bad-smelling disinfectant (don't let your ferret
onto it 'till it dries!), specifically so they don't continue to smell
like ferret bathrooms but also as a general deterrent. For the same
reason, you probably shouldn't clean litter pans with bleach,
certainly not the same one you're using as a deterrent elsewhere.
Urine which has soaked into wood will still smell like a bathroom to a
ferret even when you can't tell, so be sure to clean it very well,
perhaps with Simple Green or a pet odor remover, and consider covering
wooden cage floors with linoleum or polyurethane.
Although almost every ferret can be trained to use a litter pan, there
is individual variation. Ferrets just aren't as diligent about their
pans as most cats, so there will be an occasional accident. Even
well-trained ferrets tend to lose track of their litter pans when
they're particularly frightened or excited, or if they're in a new
house or room. In general you can expect at least a 90% "hit" rate,
though some ferrets just don't catch on as well and some do
considerably better. At least ferrets are small, so their accidents
are pretty easy to clean up.
Finally, if your ferret seems to have completely forgotten all about
litter pans, you might need to retrain him by confining him to a
smaller area or even a cage for a week or so and gradually expanding
his space as he catches on again.
Many ferrets love to dig. They'll dig in their litter pans, under the cushions of the couch, and at the carpet near closed doors.
To get your ferret to stop tossing litter all over, start out by
putting less in the pan, and keep it just clean enough that there's a
dry layer on top. Litter digging tends to be a kit behavior, perhaps
because kits have so much energy and are often cooped up in cages, so
with time and luck your ferret will grow out of it.
It's nearly impossible to train a ferret not to dig at all, so you're
better off protecting your property and removing the temptation.
Some digging, especially in the litter pan, can be out of boredom, so
playing with the ferret more can help, too. You can also help control
your ferret's digging by giving her somewhere approved to dig. A box
filled with dirt, sand and gravel, then set into a larger box to
contain the mess, can be great fun to a ferret. Your ferret may also
enjoy digging outside, closely supervised of course.
A lot of ferrets like to dig in their food or water bowls. If the
bowls are in contained areas and the ferrets are willing to eat off
the floor, the easiest solution is to provide a back-up water bottle
and ignore the digging. You can also put the bowls in larger pans to
contain the mess; use separate pans for the food and water, so the
spilled food doesn't get soggy and spoil.
Heavy bowls that angle inward can help, or for more diligent
water-bowl diggers, you can switch to a bottle. Likewise, some people
find that a J-type rabbit feeder works well for food, though others
find that just gives their ferrets a lot more food to joyfully spread
around the room. At least one person used a PVC p-trap with a smaller
opening instead. Another nearly dig-proof design is to put the food
in a covered plastic Tupperware-type container and cut a hole in the
top just big enough for the ferret's head.
First of all, unless your ferret goes snorkeling in butterscotch
pudding or has a bad case of fleas, you really don't need to bathe her
very often at all. It doesn't affect the odor much; in fact, many
ferrets smell worse for a few days following a bath. The best
thing you can do to control your ferret's scent is to change her
bedding every few days and keep the litter pans clean.
The problem with frequent bathing is that it can cause dry skin,
especially in winter. There's nothing wrong with bathing your ferret
only once a year. Once a month should be okay, but switch to less
often if you have problems with dry skin. Most ferrets don't seem to
mind baths much. Some ferrets enjoy a bath quite a bit, swimming
around in the tub and diving for the drain plug.
The first step in bathing a ferret (well, after catching her) is to
check her nails and trim them if necessary.
Jim Lapeyre describes the recommended procedure like this:
Thus saith the Wise:
If you have trouble even with this method, and you have a helper, have
the helper hold the ferret by the scruff of the neck and put Ferretone
on one of his fingers. Scruffing a ferret will generally make her
calm down and possibly even go limp, and if not, the Ferretone should
keep her distracted.
"When Haz-Abuminal saw that clipping the claws of the domestic
ferret was grievous, he pondered day and night for a year and a
day. After the year and the day had passed, he rose, and, taking
the ferret in his lap, dropped three drops of Linatone upon
the belly [of the ferret], which, perceiving that its navel had
Linatone, turned to lick. Thus distracted, the ferret heeded not
that the claws were being trimmed, and there was much rejoicing.
And when the claws were all neatly trimmed, the people were amazed
and astonished, saying, Who is this who, alone among mankind, has
tricked a ferret?"
Cut the nail just longer than the pink line inside it. Place the cut
parallel to where the floor will be when the ferret stands, to prevent
the tip from breaking later. (A drawing is available.) Be
careful not to nick the line or the toe, since in either case it'll
bleed a lot and your ferret will decide nail clipping is not a good
thing. Kwik-Stop or some other styptic powder is good to have around
in case this happens, to stop the bleeding quickly, or you can hold a
piece of tissue or paper towel over the nail and elevate the foot for
a few minutes until it stops.
Next you should check your pet's ears. They shouldn't need cleaning
more than once a month at most, but if they seem unduly dirty, dampen
a cotton swab with sweet oil (made for cleaning babies' ears) or an
alcohol-based ear cleaner (only if dry skin is not a problem) and
gently clean them. Peroxide, water, and ointments are not
recommended, because wet ears are much more prone to infections.
Hold the swab along the animal's head rather than poking it into the ear,
to avoid injuring the ear. Yellowish or brownish-red ear wax is
normal, but if you see any black substance your pet probably has
ear mites, which should be taken care of [10.10].
There are also several excellent products made for cleaning cats'
ears, which you just squirt in and they shake out. They're just fine
for ferrets, and your vet should be able to tell you about them.
Now fill a tub or kitchen sink partway with warm water. Many people
have found that ferrets prefer their baths warmer than you'd expect,
probably because their body temperatures are pretty high. You
don't want to scald your ferret, but if you can put your hand or foot into
the water and feel comfortable right away, it should be okay.
If you want to let your pet play in the water, fill a tub just deeper
than the ferret is tall, and provide some sort of support (a box in
the tub) in case she gets tired of swimming. You can also take her
into the shower with you; many ferrets who don't like baths are
perfectly happy being held in a shower.
Finally, bathe the ferret. Ferret shampoos are available, or no-tears
baby shampoo works fine too. Some people like Pert for Kids if the
ferret has dry skin. Wet the ferret completely, either in one half of
a double sink or in a tub. Lather her from head to tail. Our ferrets
both start to struggle at this point, so we let them put their hind
legs on the side of the tub while they're being washed. Rinse the
ferret thoroughly in clear, warm running water. For dry skin, some
people then dip the ferret in a dilute solution of moisturizer in
water, being careful to keep her head out.
Older, sick, or weak ferrets can be gently cleaned using baby oil,
which can also help get gooey things out of fur.
Drying a wiggly, dripping ferret can be a lot of fun. Some people put
a couple of towels and the ferrets together in a cardboard box or
small, clean garbage can and let them dry themselves. I find it's
easiest to keep the ferret in a towel at chest-level, holding her head
and torso in one hand while drying her with the other. Wearing a
terry bathrobe is helpful here too. You could also put your ferret on
the floor in a towel and rub her dry, but she'll probably think you're
playing a rowdy game of tousle and try to run away. Once you've got
her mostly dry, put her somewhere warm with a dry towel to roll in and
she'll finish the job, although it's been mentioned that a damp ferret
seems to lose all sense of judgment, suddenly thinking that walls,
cage floors, milk cartons, and everything except the towel must be
remarkably water-absorbent. You can also try using a hair dryer on
its coolest setting, but many ferrets won't stand for that.
Immediately after a bath, many ferrets pretty much go nuts, thrashing
and bouncing from side to side and rolling against everything in
sight. Mainly they're trying to dry themselves, with a good bit of
general excitement from the bath and drying process too.
Most ferrets enjoy mock combat, chase, tug-o'-war, hide-and-seek, and
so forth, with each other or with you. Ours love to bounce around on
our fluffy comforter, swat at us from behind the bookcases, and attack
each other through the throw rugs. They like to explore new things
and places, sniff new smells, dig and roll in the dirt. Most of them
love human interaction and will gladly include you in their play if
you make the time for them. It may take you a little while to learn
what each ferret's favorite games are, but soon you'll be one of their
Ferrets also love to swipe things and drag them into
the most inaccessible location possible. Protect your keys and
If your ferret jumps back and forth in front of you or tugs on your
pants leg, he wants to play. An appropriate response would be to get
down on your hands and knees and chase him around, or to dangle a
washcloth in front of him and start a tugging game, for instance. If
he dances around, chuckling and dooking and bouncing off the walls,
he's having fun.
Here are a few more specific game suggestions, from the fertile
imagination of "Mo' Bob" Church. Note that many of these games need
you to supervise (or join in!), to make sure the ferrets don't get
hurt or stuck or swallow anything they shouldn't.
Melissa Litwicki adds these suggestions:
- Bowl Me Over Game: Buy one of those $2 plastic bouncing balls
(like at K-mart) and cut a couple of ferret-sized holes in
it. [Use more than one hole, so there's no chance the ball could
roll onto its hole and trap a ferret inside to suffocate.] Fill
the ball with plastic bags or gift-wrapping cellophane, and watch
the fun. Watch for chewing the materials, otherwise quite safe.
- Suction-cup Chase: Use two large suction cups (about $1 each), and
stick one to each side of a room. Thread a washer or ring on a
string, then tie the string from one suction cup to the other.
Tie a string to the washer and the other end to a toy or
waffle-type practice golf ball. They will go nuts trying to get
the ball in a hidey-hole.
- Maze: Use a large cardboard box. Fold scrap cardboard into
triangular shapes, tape, and fill the box with as many as
possible. Put one treat in each triangular tube. Cut several
holes in the side, and allow the ferts access. Hours-0-fun!
- Slip Sliding Away: Cut a 1 ft wide by 3-4 ft long piece of Masonite
($5), and prop it smooth-side up on a bench or sofa. Place a
drop of Ferretone in the middle. A drop of ice cream is also
- Smokey the Bear: This is Bear's favorite game. Fill a file-
storage box about 1/3 with sand mixed with potting soil about 4
to 1. Pour in 1/4 bottle of liquid smoke, and mix well. They
might be dirty afterwards, but they actually smile! I have
watched Bear roll in the dirt for hours, snorting and snorkeling,
and anything else you can imagine. It's one of the few things he
will run across the floor for. I place it in the kitchen for
ease of cleanup later. Keeps them from digging in the litter
- The Weasel Wonder Tube: Cut a piece of 2inch PVC pipe ($2) about 8
inches long. Place into the hole treats so they have to figure
out how to get the treat out. Make sure the ferret's heads don't
- Carpet Fishing: Use a ice-fishing pole with 20 lb test line. Tie
3-4 red/white bobbers and cast across the room. Reel the babies
in at about the speed a mouse would run if it was stupid enough
to be in the room at the time. If you don't have the pole, use
the string only; the pole makes it much easier, but is not
- Crinkle: Fold an old sheet in half and lay slightly crinkled
newspaper or cellophane in the middle. Makes cool sounds. Mine
love to wardance on the pile.
- Chase the old man: I chase them on my hands and knees, then let them
chase me back. You will tire before they do. Watch for
carpet-mines [those things which should have gone into the litter
- Snake!: Old pant legs are cut from the old pants and just thrown on
the floor. They will know what to do. Sometimes I stick one end
of a dryer tube into the pant leg.
- Box-O-Balls: I fill a cardboard box about 1/3 up with plastic whiffle
balls (golf-size) or crumpled paper balls.
- Fingers: Cut mucho finger-sized holes in a cardboard sheet. Dip
your fingers in Ferretone or liquid smoke. Stick you finger
through the hole, and as they try to sniff, move it to another
hole. Stay fast or risk nips. All of mine love this game.
- Webmaster: Take your hanging plant off the hook, and hang a basket so
it is about 2 feet from the floor. Staple cheesecloth or other
open weave fabric to the edges of the basket so the free end
drags on the floor. Watching them climb up and swing back and
forth is a hoot. [A basket hanging a bit lower down, without the
fabric, can also be great fun.]
- Submarine: Fill the bathtub with 3 or 4 inches of water. Float a
dozen or so ping-pong balls; each lightly wiped with Ferretone.
(Those tiny plastic footballs work well also.) I put a homemade
pine and Masonite ladder over the tub so the beasts can easily
climb in and out.
- Pickle Race: Dampen crushed chow, mix in a little peanut butter
(or some other treat), and mold tiny pickles about 1 inch long.
After oven drying, I spray on some Ferretone for that wonderful
odor. I call the beasties, let them sniff the "pickles" until
they are frothing at the mouth, then toss the treats one at a
time across the room At first they will wonder where it
evaporated to, but time and odor will teach them to do what my
fuzzballs do--run, en masse, after the pickle. Clue: Always use
the same sound to call them, and as soon as they get across the
floor, use the sound and all but the one with the pickle will
return. Throw another pickle. I do this until everyone has a
pickle; usually Bear gets the first one, and then crawls all over
me until I throw him a second one.
- Turtle: I cut up cardboard boxes and assemble new boxes that are
about 6in by 8 in, no tops, and a U-shaped cut-out at one end. I
put one over each fuzzy, and they run around like turtles.
- Sliders: Buy a 5 ft section of while PVC pipe, 4-5 inches in
diameter ($2-3). Prop one end up on the sofa, and watch them
slide down the tube.
- Freak-Out: Fill a paper bag with all the crumpled paper balls it
will hold, and then dump them on a playful ferret.
Other ideas, from various sources:
- The towel game: Ferrets love towels. Take one corner of a towel,
sit on the floor, and swirl it around and over your ferret - they
usually go nuts. This can be low-impact or raucous tumbling fun
for ferrets of all sensibilities. [Try dragging the towel around
on the floor, too, and letting your ferrets take rides on it.]
- Dryer hose under a bean bag: one of our all-time favorites. Better
than just dryer hose - stretch the hose out so both ends are
sticking out either side of the bag. Keeps up to five ferrets
busy at once! They go over, under, to either side of the hose
under the bag, around, and through. Killer amusement to watch,
- The ping-pong ball: take strong thread and fasten a ping-pong ball
to the end. Tie the thread to the ceiling, leaving the ball
about two inches above the floor. For most amusing results, if
you can spare the room, hang it in a doorway - it bounces off the
door to hilarious effect.
- The ping-pong ball in a stewpot: Fill pot halfway with water, drop
the ball in. Hint: put a towel under the pot. Ferrets get
frustrated fast trying to get the ball out, but have fun getting
wet. [Various other toys also work well, and ice cubes in a pot
or shallow dish are very popular, too.]
- Tunneling to Alaska: Fill the bathtub or a big bowl or pot full
of snow, put it somewhere that can get wet, and let your ferrets
dig in it. Warmer than standing outside watching them tunnel in
the drifts there. Try burying a few toys or raisins as you fill
- Making the bed: Put the ferrets on the bed and watch them dance
and tunnel as you shake out the sheets, toss on a few blankets,
and fluff the pillows. A good game for busy mornings.
- Unpacking game: Whenever coming back from a trip, put your
luggage on the bed and the fuzzies next it it as you unpack.
They monsters will be of great assistance in helping open up all
the zippers, pockets, etc. and dragging out the neat stuff.
- Hidden in the Pillow: Pick up fuzzie and stick him/her in the
bottom of your pillowcase and watch them explore, turn the pillow
over or around in circles periodically to confuse them.
- Bag O' Ferrets: Put several ferrets in a large bag: a trash
bag, canvas tote bag, duffel bag, whatever. Play peek-a-boo,
opening and closing the top. Rattle the plastic, gently poke the
outsides, drag the bag around on the floor... just watch out for
nips through the bag from overexcited woozles.
- Semi-truck: With ferret's back on carpet, drive him around like
a toy truck, making truck noises if you are not too proud. Note:
some ferrets love this, some don't like it a bit. On hardwood
floors, you can slide ferrets on their backs, or spin them around
with a finger on the chest. Some like this more than others.
- Knit a Sweater: Take a ball of yarn. Keeping one end near you,
toss it toward a group of ferrets. Many of them will have a
great time rolling in it and trying to unwind it all. When
finished, simply roll it back up; don't worry about the knots.
Yes, ferrets are plenty smart enough to learn to sit up, turn around,
roll over, stay on your shoulders or in a hood, and perhaps even walk
on a leash. To train your ferret to stay on your shoulders, for
instance, stand over a pile or basket of crumpled newspaper, and when
she falls into it, shout, "No!" The combination of the fall, the
noise, and your shout should persuade her to pay more attention to
staying on. Give her a treat when she does, and she should learn
The trick to all of these is getting your pet's attention while you
teach her. Don't try teaching tricks, or even trying to get a ferret
to perform, in an unexplored area -- it's nearly futile.
Unlike dogs, ferrets generally won't do a trick for the sheer joy of
it, or simply to please you. Usually there must be some kind of
reward expected, though that could be anything from a lick of
Ferretone to a bite of apple to a good head-scratching.
One very good trick to teach your ferret is to come when you make a
particular noise (for instance, whistle loudly) or squeak a particular
toy. Just make the noise each time you give the ferret a treat for a
while, then make it when your ferret isn't nearby and give the treat
as a reward when he comes to you. Ferrets often won't respond to their
names, and it's enormously helpful to have a way to call your pet when
he has escaped or is lost somewhere.
Generally, yes. Ferrets normally tremble for two reasons. First,
they often shiver right after waking up, in order to raise their body
temperatures. Second, they shake or quiver when excited or
frightened. For a young kit, this could well be all the time, since
everything is new and interesting. For older ferrets, a bath or even
a good scolding could prompt trembling.
If your ferret's trembling persists with no apparent cause, first make
sure there's no cold draft around. (Ferrets can live fine outdoors,
with blankets and shade, but indoor lighting can cause their winter
coats not to come in until long after it's gotten cold enough outside
to need one.) If that's not the problem, check with a vet.
Ferrets shed their coats twice a year, in the fall and spring. The
times for these changes vary somewhat for ferrets kept in indoor
lighting conditions. Fur will come out by the handful, all over the
ferret, and his coat may look a bit sparse before the new one grows
If it's obviously not just normal shedding, see the information about
bald tails and other kinds of hair loss, some of which
can be very serious.
In general, ferrets sleep quite a bit, even adults. A two- to four-
hour playtime followed by a several-hour nap is typical. Ferrets
sometimes appear to be sleeping with their eyes partly open, and they
sleep very heavily, often not waking even when picked up. You can
take advantage of this and try to cut their nails while they're
asleep. It means you have to be especially careful where you walk and
- Most ferrets don't make much noise. This doesn't mean they're
unhappy, it just means, well, they're quiet.
- Clucking, "dooking," or chuckling
- Indicates happiness or excitement. Often uttered while playing or
exploring a new area.
- Kits, especially, do this as a general excitement noise. It can
also be uttered by the loser in a wrestling match.
- Frustration or anger. Ferrets often hiss while they're fighting [150 kB sound],
even if it's just in play.
- Screeching/loud chittering
- Extreme fright or pain. This is your cue that it's time to go
rescue your pet from whatever it's gotten itself into. It can also
be a sign of anger.
A happy ferret will "dance," flinging himself about on all fours
with an arched back. Clucking is common too. Dancing or just
careening into walls or bookcases is not at all uncommon, but
ferrets seem to just bounce off of such obstacles. Unless they
actually injure themselves, don't worry about them; they're having
If you crawled under bookcases and couches, you'd sneeze too. Also,
ferrets have a pair of scent glands near their chins, and sneezing
can be a way of forcing some of the scent out so it can be rubbed on
These sound almost like asthma, about the same duration as a sneeze,
and often occur several in a row, maybe after the poked her nose
somewhere dusty. They don't look or sound like a cough. You might
see the ferret's rib cage or body move once or twice a second with
the force of the inhalation.
Sniffing/wiping/licking the rear
This is a normal thing to do, especially after a bath. It helps
spread the ferret's scent around.
It's not uncommon for a ferret to take a few laps of urine, its
own or another ferret's. Nobody's really sure why they do it, but
it won't hurt them.
Hiccups are not uncommon, especially in young kits, who sometimes
seem alarmed by them. A comforting scritch, a drink of water, or a
small treat can help.
For some reason, many ferrets wag their tails quickly when they have
their front ends in a tube or under a rug and they see something
interesting (a toy, a sock, another ferret) at the other end. It's
a normal sign of excitement.
A ferret's tail will bottle-brush when he's excited or upset.
He's not necessarily frightened. He'd have to be really
worked up for the hair on the rest of his body to stand up, though.
Often ferrets will suck on each others' ears, and sometimes even
cats' or dogs' ears, especially when they're sleeping. It's
probably a lot like thumb-sucking in humans, and nothing to worry
about as long as the one doing the sucking is eating well and the
other one's ears aren't getting sore.
For some reason, many ferrets love to eat soap, stealing it from
the bathroom or even licking the tub. A little bit of soap won't
hurt your ferret, though it may give her diarrhea. Don't give it to
her as a treat, of course, and try to keep it out of her reach, but
it's nothing to panic about unless she manages to eat a lot.
Summer weight loss, in males
Normally, weight loss is something to be concerned about, but
many males lose a fair bit of weight, even as much as 40% of their
bulk, in the summer and gain it back in the fall. It's mainly
preparation for breeding, but it's common in neutered males, too.
If your ferret seems otherwise healthy and happy, don't worry.
In general, yes.
- Ferrets love going places. You can fix up a shoulder bag with a
litter pan and space for a water bottle and food dish and carry them
with you wherever they're welcome. Be careful not to let them get
too hot or cold, though.
- Car trips don't seem to bother ferrets, although being closed up in
a travel cage may irritate them -- and you, if they scratch to get
out. Keeping them loose in the car is not recommended, since they
could get under the driver's feet or through some undetected hole
into the engine compartment or onto the road. You can use a water
bottle in a car, but fasten a deep dish or cup underneath it, since
it will drip, and put down a towel to soak up the inevitable spills.
- Airplane travel
- Only a few airlines allow ferrets on board their planes, in
under-seat carriers, for an additional charge. (America West, Air
Canada, and Delta do, and I once got a special exception from
Continental after talking with their customer service folks for a
while. Any others?) Sending your ferret in the cargo area is not
generally recommended, largely due to problems people have had with
temperature, pressure and general handling of pets who travel this
way. If you make any travel arrangements for your ferrets, whether
it's in the cabin, as baggage, or as freight, get them in writing.
Several people have reported experiences in which one person at an
airline said ferrets would be fine only to have another person
prohibit them, sometimes on very short notice.
Tranquilizing the ferret isn't recommended -- it'll disorient him
and may affect his ability to keep his body temperature regulated.
Medications can also be affected by altitude, leading to a risk of
Several people have been able to sneak their ferrets aboard aircraft
by carrying them through security, then transferring them to a
duffel bag in a restroom, but I have no experience with that.
If you have to fly your ferrets somewhere and no airline will take
them, a courier service such as Airborne Express or FedEx might be
able to help. This might be the only way to fly your ferrets to
some international destinations.
- Many hotels allow pets in cages, although it's a good idea to
call ahead and make sure. Also leave a note to reassure the maids.
- Canada/U.S. border crossings
- As of January 22, 1997, an import permit is no longer needed to
bring a ferret into Canada, whether it's a Canadian or U.S. ferret.
Ferrets are now treated like dogs and cats, and only require proof
of rabies and distemper vaccinations. However, if you do not have a
residential address in Canada, a quarantine period may be imposed,
apparently at the discretion of the agent at the border.
Bringing ferrets from Canada into the U.S. is much the same. All I've
ever needed was a rabies certificate. Proof that the ferrets came
from the U.S. in the first place might also be helpful (a NY state
license, in my case; if you don't have one, register your pets with
U.S. Customs before you enter Canada). I don't know much about
Canadian residents bringing ferrets into the U.S., but I wouldn't
expect it to be any different.
- Legal issues
- You should also check with the Wildlife Departments of any areas
you'll be passing through or staying in to make sure that ferrets
are allowed, and carry documentation of the vaccines your pets have
had, just in case.
[This section was written by Bev Fox, with additions by Carla Smith,
and has been edited slightly.]
The most important things to do only work if you do them before one of
your ferrets makes a break for the big outdoors.
Teach your ferrets to come to a sound (a word, squeaky toy, whistle,
etc.) and reward them with their favorite treat when they do. Deaf
ferrets can be trained to come by using a flashlight and blinking it
off and on rapidly for a strobing effect. (Hearing ones too, for that
matter.) Introduce your ferret to your neighbors so they will be
familiar with what a ferret is and what it looks like. Put a collar or
harness with a bell and name tag on your ferret whenever it is out of
the cage. This way if somebody sees it they will know that it is a pet
and not a wild animal.
Check through your house carefully, including places where your ferret
"couldn't possibly go." Look inside drawers, under dressers, in
hampers, under and inside refrigerators, etc. Check your backyard,
bushes and garage. Most ferrets when exploring a new area will cling
to the side of a building or structure before venturing out into an
open area. Put food and water out, preferably in a familiar cage or
carrier with a blanket or shirt that has your scent on it. Place food
on the front and back porch. You may also want to sprinkle the area
with flour to make it easier to identify tracks left by any animal
coming up to eat and drink.
Use your word processor or graphics program and design a missing
ferret poster now before you need it and have it on file so specific
information can be added and copies can be printed up in a short
period of time. The poster should include your phone number, the
ferret's name and picture, a description of any collar or harness he
was wearing, date missing, last known location, and mention of a
reward. (Never place how much money offered on the poster as some
people may not think the amount offered is worth their effort.) Some
people suggest that you say that the ferret is ill and needs
medication (even if it's healthy). (This little white lie might make
someone who finds your ferret and is thinking of keeping it for
themselves have second thoughts and call you to come get it.)
Call your local police, animal control authorities, ferret club,
ferret shelter, pet stores, veterinarians and radio stations. Get the
word out. Canvass your neighborhood door to door and let your
neighbors know to watch for a missing ferret in the area, perhaps in
their garages or dryer vents. If you have another ferret, take it
along to show them what one looks like. Ask your neighbors,
especially children, if they will help you look around. Hand
volunteers a noise maker that you use to call your ferret or tell them
your call sign. Also hand out treats so if the ferret is spotted by
someone they can keep it in sight until it can be retrieved. Alert
your mailman, newspaper boy, and anyone else who passes through your
area often. Post signs everywhere and place ads in your local
newspapers. Don't limit it to your immediate neighborhood. Ferrets
have been found many miles from home after crossing major highways and
If you own more than one ferret, take one with you. It can show you
small openings that you may otherwise overlook and may also draw the
missing ferret out into the open to see its friend.
Remember, look low. Ferrets love dark places so check under porches,
shrubs, dumpsters and cars. Ferrets also like small places so check
behind trashcans and any little nook and cranny you find. Look for
the telltale " a ferret has been here" signs. (Leaves, dirt and grass
that have been dug at and little piles of poop that we all know so
Don't give up hope. Missing ferrets have been found days, weeks and
occasionally even months after their great escape.
Spaying or neutering: yes
Ferrets intended as pets must be neutered or spayed. Neutering
drastically reduces the odor of a male, prevents him from marking his
territory with smelly slime, and makes him less aggressive (males in
season may kill other ferrets, even females). Spaying saves a
female's life, since once she goes into heat she will need to be bred
or she will almost certainly die of anemia. However, many people
disagree with the common practice of performing the surgery at a very
early age, and prefer to wait until the ferret is at least six months
old and has reached nearly full size. It should be done before the
first time the ferret would go into heat, but apart from that there's
A female can be spayed even after she goes into heat, but if she's
been in heat for a month or more, your vet should do a blood test
before the surgery. Females can be brought out of heat without
becoming pregnant with a hormone injection or by breeding with a
vasectomized male, either of which will lead to a false pregnancy
which will last long enough to let her be spayed. Neither one is a
good long-term solution, though.
Breeding ferrets is difficult and time-consuming. Before even
thinking about breeding, you should have owned ferrets for some years,
be a member of a ferret organization, and find out as much about it as
you can. The actual mating is rather violent, and jills tend to have
problems giving birth, producing milk, and so forth. If you're
serious about breeding, talk to someone who has first. You'll need to
have more than one whole male available (in case your female goes into
heat when your male isn't) and more than one breeding female available
(in case you need a foster mom because your jill has milk problems) --
and be prepared to lose some or all of the kits and perhaps the mom
too. Grim, but true. To learn more about breeding or where to find a
good breeder, get a sample copy of the Breeder's Digest by sending
$2.75 to P.O. Box 2371, Leesburg, VA 22075.
There's debate about whether descenting ferrets is necessary or
useful, and some belief that it's harmful. It's bad for a ferret's
health to descent it before 6 or 7 weeks of age, and it may be
somewhat harmful when done at any age. Many people feel that the
procedure accomplishes no purpose; that is, that neutered ferrets who
aren't spraying smell the same whether or not they've been descented.
Note that, like a skunk, a ferret will use its scent if it's greatly
distressed or feeling amorous, but ferrets can't spray their scent as
effectively as a skunk, it doesn't smell as bad, and it dissipates in
just a few seconds. How often a ferret sprays and how bad it smells
depend on the individual ferret, and different people have different
tolerances for the scent, so if given the option you may want to wait
and see if you think descenting is necessary in your particular case.
Most pet stores sell neutered and descented kits. Many breeders sell
kits which have been neutered but not descented.
Declawing: probably not
Ferrets have nails like dogs, not retractable claws like cats, and
declawing them is more difficult that it is for a cat. I have only
ever heard of a handful of declawed ferrets; most of them are doing
well, but a few had long-term problems from the surgery. Many people
feel very strongly that ferrets should never be declawed, and nearly
everyone agrees that declawing should be done only as a last resort,
when non-surgical solutions to the problems have failed. Still,
a few people support declawing, and in the end, it's a decision you
and your vet will have to make for yourselves.
Fervac-D or Fromm-D canine distemper vaccine
The manufacturer recommends shots (1 ml subcutaneously) at 8, 11,
and 14 weeks. (Some vets recommend four shots, three weeks apart,
instead. Two is not enough.) Then a yearly booster shot.
Although rabies gets more press, the canine distemper vaccine is
much more important for your ferret's health.
Adults who have never been vaccinated, or whose vaccination status
is unknown, should get two canine distemper shots, three weeks
apart, then yearly boosters. If you know they've been vaccinated
within the last year, then one shot is enough.
If you can't get Fervac-D or Fromm-D, or if your ferret has
reacted to them in the past, Galaxy-D is an acceptable third
choice. If you can't get either of these, you're taking the risk
that your ferret won't be protected, or worse, that he'll become
sick from the vaccine. At least be sure that it's a vaccine for
canine distemper which is a MODIFIED LIVE virus and was NOT
cultured in ferret tissue. Chick embryo culture is best.
Imrab-3 rabies vaccine
One subcutaneous vaccination at 14-16 weeks, separated from the
distemper vaccines by 2-3 weeks, then boosters yearly. This is
the same rabies vaccine that's used for dogs and cats, so your vet
should have it around. It's good for three years in cats, but
only one year in ferrets, mainly because the company hasn't done
tests to see how long it lasts in ferrets. This is the only
rabies vaccine approved for ferrets.
Ferrets do not need to be vaccinated for feline distemper or
parvo. They don't need a 5-way dog vaccine.
They can contract Bordatella (a common cause of kennel cough in
dogs), but it's very rare, and the effectiveness of the vaccine is
unknown in ferrets. Don't vaccinate for it unless you'll be
boarding your ferrets at a kennel, and possibly not even then.
The intranasal Bordatella vaccine has been known to give ferrets
It's best to give the distemper and rabies vaccines be spaced a
couple of weeks apart, since giving them at the same time seems to
increase the chances of an adverse reaction (see below).
If you want to change a ferret's vaccination schedule, for
instance to move all your pets to the same schedule, you can
safely give another vaccination as long as it's been at least a
month since the last one.
Most states don't recognize the rabies vaccine for ferrets,
because official studies of virus shedding time in ferrets are yet
to be done. This means that even if your ferret is vaccinated, it
may be destroyed if someone reports to the authorities that they
were bitten. However, having the vaccination may keep the person
from reporting a bite in the first place, and of course it will
protect your ferrets from getting rabies. (Even closely watched
ferrets do occasionally escape.)
Like any other animals, ferrets occasionally have adverse reactions to
vaccinations, typically on the second or third exposure to a
particular vaccine. Reactions are rare, and giving the rabies and
distemper vaccinations two weeks apart is thought to reduce the
chance, but they can be life-threatening.
There are several kinds of vaccine reactions. The most dangerous,
anaphylactic reactions, usually occur within an hour after the
vaccination. You may want to stay at your vet's for 30-60 minutes
after a vaccination, just in case. Watch for vomiting, diarrhea or
loss of bladder/bowel control; signs of nausea or dizziness; dark
bluish-purple blotches spreading under the skin; difficulty breathing;
pale or bright pink gums, ears, feet or nose; seizures, convulsions,
or passing out; or anything else that's alarming -- bad reactions are
hard to miss. Get the ferret back to the vet right away, probably for
a shot of antihistamine (Benadryl) and perhaps a corticosteroid or
epinephrine. Ferrets who have had mild to moderate anaphylactic
reactions to a particular vaccine can be pre-treated with an
antihistamine the next time, or you might consider switching to a
different vaccine (from Fervac to Galaxy or the other way, for
instance). If your ferret had a severe reaction, you and your vet can
discuss the relative dangers of leaving that ferret unvaccinated.
Most delayed reactions aren't dangerous. You might notice the ferret
acting tired, showing flu-like symptoms, or possibly even vomiting a
little within a day or two after the vaccination. As long as the
symptoms don't last longer than a day and don't seem too extreme,
there's no need to worry. If the ferret has trouble breathing, is
more than a little lethargic, or shows other worrisome symptoms, call
or visit your vet. Antihistamines don't help much with delayed
reactions, but your vet might suggest pre-treating the ferret next
time anyway, in case it helps.
Jeff Johnston, an epidemiologist (though not specifically for
One thing that isn't proven but is worth a try is to give your
ferret the contents of a small-dose vitamin E capsule (say, 100
IU) a few days before the injection. Vitamin E in large doses
suppresses inflammatory responses (also suppresses vitamin K and
clotting, so, warn your vet if blood is taken for any reason). It
may help blunt any reaction. Vitamin E is also fairly non-toxic,
too, so 100 IU once every few months shouldn't hurt. [Don't use
more than that, though; anything can be toxic in large enough
It's not recommended. Giving an injection to a squirming or nippy
animal is not easy. Even experienced veterinarians with good
technicians sometimes get bitten. Also, an injection in the wrong
place can injure the sciatic nerve and permanently paralyze the
ferret's leg; and in case of a bad reaction to the vaccine, a vet has
the experience and equipment on hand which may be needed to save the
In addition, a licensed veterinarian's signature is required for a
rabies certificate to be legal. The annual trip to the vet (or semi-annual,
for older ferrets) is also the best time to have your
ferrets checked for other health problems.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:
Unfortunately, vaccination are what supports the vets - sick
animals don't. The extra few dollars is what pays the help, and
the electricity, what feeds the strays that are dropped off weekly
to your vets, or the dogs that nobody bothers to pick up. Or the
ones that are hit by cars and dropped off by Good Samaritans.
However, if you have a lot of ferrets to be vaccinated, you may be
able to save yourself some money by purchasing the vaccines themselves
directly from the manufacturer and taking them to your vet to be used.
You save on the materials, but you still get your vet's expertise.
Check with your vet to see if he or she will work with you like this.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
I know that some practicing vets consider a 3-year animal to be
"geriatric" and to require a CBC [complete blood cell count] and a
fasting blood glucose yearly, but as one who stands to make no
money on this deal anyway, I don't recommend it until age 5.
Three years is just too young to consider a ferret geriatric.
Now, remember, all ferrets are different. If you have one that is
sort of "puny", never eats well, sluggish, etc. a yearly CBC and
glucose is a good idea every year. But if your three or 4 year
olds are healthy, well, then it's just not required. I start mine
at 5 years.
Considering dental work - have your vet check the teeth and then
recommend who needs it. Not every ferret will need to have it
done, and if your 4 year olds have been on hard food all of their
lives, chances are good that they may not need any work yet.
Remember - a healthy 3- or 4-year old doesn't necessarily require
any annual bloodwork, but a sickly 2 year old should get it on at
least an annual basis.
It's a good idea to give your ferrets a general check-over from time
to time. This should not substitute for the annual vet visit,
but you might notice something before it gets bad. Anytime you notice
anything unusual, take the ferret to the vet.
Start by checking your ferret's ears, which should look clean and
pink. If you see wax, clean them. If the wax is black or has dark
flecks, the ferret might have ear mites [10.10]. Check the cartilage
for swelling or distortion. Check the ferret's eyes, which should
look clear and alert, with no films or discharge. (Ferrets do have a
"second eyelid" which might appear as a bluish-white rim around the
edge of the eye.) Feel carefully all around the neck, throat and chin
area, looking for lumps or swelling. Check the gums, which should be
pink and healthy-looking, and the teeth, looking for excessive tartar
or discoloration. Whiskers should be long and strong, not brittle or
Now hold the ferret under the front legs, with the back legs on your
lap or a table. Run your hands lightly along the ferret's body,
checking for lumps. You can also check muscle tone and weight this
way: you should be able to feel ribs, but not see them, and the ferret
should feel firm and supple, not loose, flabby or skinny. Pull gently
on the ferret's legs to check for lumps or swelling on the legs,
knees, or feet; the ferret should pull the legs back in. The pads
should be pink and soft, with maybe a bit of callus, not irritated or
Your ferret's behavior is also a good indicator of its general health.
Sleeping a lot is normal, and older ferrets will slow down a bit, but
they should always be curious, alert, and playful. Any change in
normal habits might be a sign of a problem.
Ferrets do get plaque and tartar buildup on their teeth. You can see
it as dark patches on the cheek teeth if you gently lift the ferret's
upper lip. You can help control it by brushing their teeth with a pet
enzymatic toothpaste and a small cat toothbrush at least twice weekly,
especially after sticky or sugary treats. The dry food most ferrets
eat also helps to keep the teeth clean; ferrets eating soft food on a
long-term basis will need their teeth cleaned more often.
However, most tartar and plaque starts out under the gumline, and it
takes a proper cleaning by a vet to get it off. The job will be
easiest and most thorough if the ferret is under anesthesia
during the cleaning; ferrets tolerate isoflurane very well, and the
risk from anesthesia is very slight. A professional cleaning should
be done every one to three years, depending on how dirty the teeth
Ferrets come in all different sizes and body shapes. A healthy adult
male is normally anywhere from 2 to more than 5 pounds (900 g to 2.25
kg), and a female from 0.75 to 2.5 lb (340 g to 1.1 kg). Ferrets,
especially males, normally gain up to 40% of their weight in the
winter and lose it again in the spring. Some ferrets are naturally
"chunkier" than others, too. When you run your hand down your
ferret's flank, you should feel his muscles ripple a bit and be able
to feel the ribs, but they shouldn't stick out or feel too bony.
Small "love handles" are common in the winter. If he feels soft and
"mushy" or looks pear-shaped, he might be overweight, or just have
poor muscle tone from insufficient exercise.
If you think your ferret might be overweight, make sure he doesn't
have some other health condition that makes him appear overweight. If
the weight isn't evenly distributed, especially if you feel a large
mass or a number of smaller masses in his abdomen, he may have an
enlarged spleen. He might also have heart disease which is causing
him to retain fluid in his abdomen. Unless you are absolutely
certain that he is simply overweight and does not have another
condition, please take a trip to the vet just to be sure.
If your ferret is indeed overweight, he needs to eat a "leaner" food
and get more exercise. To reduce his calorie intake, mix his regular
food with a high quality food for cats (as opposed to kittens) or
Totally Ferret for Older Ferrets. You still want to keep the protein
and fat content relatively high, but not quite at the top of the
recommended range. Mix the new food in gradually so he accepts
it better. Of course, also reduce the number of high-calorie treats,
especially sugary ones and those designed for weight gain (NutriCal,
FerretVite, etc.). To give him more exercise, make sure he's not
spending too much time in his cage, especially since many ferrets will
eat when they're bored. Play with him as much as possible,
particularly games like chase; if he enjoys going outside, consider
taking him on a short walk each day.
If your ferret is underweight, there's probably some underlying
medical condition. In addition to the obvious diarrhea and vomiting,
many diseases can cause loss of muscle mass, especially in the hind
end. If your ferret seems to be eating and he's still underweight,
take him to a vet to find out what's wrong.
On the other hand, perhaps he hasn't been eating because he's been
nauseated, congested from a cold or allergies, or stressed from some
change in the environment. He might not like a new food, or the bag
he's been eating from might have spoiled. If he isn't eating and
you've recently changed something, try changing it back; if that
doesn't work, get him to a vet right away.
"Duck Soup" and other things have been suggested as
good ways to put weight back on a recovering ferret or to help
persuade a ferret to eat.
No, in fact they're pretty hardy animals. It's always worth knowing
what signs of disease to look for, and every species has common
problems that tend to crop up in elderly individuals, but most ferrets
go for years without even catching a cold.
A lot of the discussion about ferrets on alt.pets.ferrets, rec.pets
and the Ferret Mailing List (FML) deals with health problems,
and it's easy to get the incorrect impression that ferrets are
As Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, puts it:
Ferrets are no more prone to disease than other animals. However,
they do have a much shorter lifespan, so these problems come up an
a more frequent basis. Plus, most of us own anywhere between two
and fifteen animals, and many own more than this, or run shelters.
When you are dealing with such large numbers of animals, you will
have proportionately more health problems.
Also, the FML also has several vets that give health advice. We
are well known as a place where you can get a prompt response to a
question about the health of your animal, and several of us also
are involved with the health care of many of the animals which you
Another thing to consider is that many of the FMLers live in areas
where vets are not very familiar with ferrets and their diseases,
so the FML is a good place to get a second opinion or advice for
their vets. I field anywhere from 3-8 phone calls daily on
ferret matters from veterinarians around the country.
Any type of animal that you may obtain as a pet will have
predisposition to disease. Ferrets should be expected to get
diseases of their own, too. But as most people on the FML will
tell you, the benefits are far more than the risks.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, is a ferret expert who works at the Armed
Forces Institute of Pathology. He also operates a pathology lab,
AccuPath, on his own time. He can be contacted at
<AccuPath@primenet.com> (new address as of 9 Sept 1997) or
<email@example.com>. Please include your phone number in your email,
since complex questions are often easier to answer by phone. There is
no consultation fee, but he says, "Due to the number of calls that I
receive, I must reverse [phone] charges when contacting ferret owners
and their veterinarians."
Tissues of all kinds can be sent to Dr. Williams at AccuPath for
low-cost, expert examination with a short turnaround time. Email
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or call (301) 299-8041 for more information.
[This information was provided by Sukie Crandall.]
The age at which a ferret should be considered "senior" varies from
one ferret to the next. Some 5-year-olds are as active as they were
at three, while others are settling into ferret retirement. Pretty
much every ferret is an oldster by 7, though many do very well for
several more years.
There are three big things you need to take into consideration for
older ferrets: physical health, diet, and mental health. First, get a
full medical checkup for your ferret, including full blood work.
Depending on the results, you might want to start getting checkups
every six months.
Although older ferrets sometimes have trouble eating dry food, you
might not want to eliminate crunchy food, since that will keep your
ferret's gums and teeth healthy. Some people swear by Totally Ferret
for Older Ferrets. There's no reason you can't supplement the dry
food with something like one of the "Duck
Be sure that your ferret has a lot to do, plenty of of old knotted-up
socks to stash (at which point you must, of course, move them to
continue the game), tubes and so on. Play with him as much as you can
each day, and provide him with things to keep him interested and
alert. These can be anything from culinary herbs in a box to dig up
and roll in, to tricks, to some easy barriers to defeat. Exercise is
good! Mental exercise is, too. Older ferrets often seem to need a bit
more direct attention than young ones so try to set aside some time
just for your ferret every day.
Even if your ferret is ill, give him a bit of self-sovereignty, too.
Having someone else control all your choices makes life a drag for
An outline of noninfectious, parasitic, infectious, and cancerous
health problems in the pet ferret is also available, as are
brief explanations of some of the more common ones.
NOTE: I am not a veterinarian. I haven't even owned ferrets very
long. (Dr. Bruce Williams, on the other hand, -is- a vet and ferret
expert.) The following is by no means a comprehensive list of
symptoms of disease in ferrets. However, some of the more common
problems are often accompanied by these symptoms. If you notice one
of these, or any other unusual behavior, see your vet.
ALSO: Ferrets are small. While they generally enjoy good health, any
kind of disease or disorder can be fatal in a surprisingly short time,
so if you suspect a problem, see your vet immediately.
- Lethargy, lack of playfulness, loss of appetite, dull/glassy eyes, etc.
- Symptomatic of a number of problems.
- Lack of bowel movement
- If your ferret has gone longer than usual without using the litter
pan (or some other corner) productively, he may have an intestinal
blockage. Certainly by the time it's been 24 hours you should go to
the vet immediately. Note that a ferret can continue to defecate
for as much as a day even with a blockage, since there's still waste
in the intestines to be eliminated.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:
More often than not, [the cause of a lack of bowel movement] is a
lack of food intake for some other reason.
Ferrets generally go to the litter three or four times a day.
Owners should look for adequate stools, although some may be a
little loose. Also look for string-like stools. Ferrets with
intestinal blockages can continue to pass stool which is very
thin- like a pencil lead. But adequate ferret-proofing is
much more important than stool-watching.
- Swollen or painful abdomen
- Bloating may come from many problems such as heart disease, splenic
enlargement, or even just fat animals. Pain could be from any of
several disorders, but the most common is an intestinal blockage,
caused by eating something indigestible such as a sponge or an
eraser. Not all blockages cause abdominal pain, though.
- Change in "bathroom" habits
- Suddenly refusing to use a litter pan or missing a lot more than
usual, signs of discomfort or distress while using a pan, or any
funny color or texture in the feces or urine could be a sign
of any of a number of problems. Stress, perhaps from a change in
environment, can also cause this.
- Lumps on the body or feet
- These may be cysts or infections, or they might be associated with a
tumor, usually benign but sometimes malignant. They can also be a
sign of dietary problems or a vaccine reaction. Have any swelling
or lump checked out and probably removed by your vet, and have
anything that's removed sent to a pathologist. For more
information, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on Skin Tumors.
- Difficulty using the hind feet, awkward gait, lack of movement
- Most often a sign of an adrenal or islet cell tumor (insulinoma), or
arthritis, in older ferrets. Could also be an injured back, the
result of having been stepped or sat upon, closed in a door, or the
like. Ferrets have very flexible spines, but they're easily
Says Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, about hind-end awkwardness:
This is a common finding in older animals of many species - the
most common cause is a mild degeneration of the nerves in the
spinal cord or those innervating the legs. In most of these
cases, there is nothing to be done, but it also rarely results in
paralysis, just variable amounts of weakness.
- Ferrets do not tolerate high temperatures well at all. They (like
any pet) should NEVER be left in a hot car, and if you're keeping
them outdoors be sure to provide some shade and plenty of water in
summer. Allowing them to sleep under hot radiators is probably also
a bit risky. Temperatures as low as the 80's can be life-threatening
to ferrets without shade and cool water.
- Loose skin and dull eyes
- Generally caused by dehydration, which is quite serious in such
a small animal. Get your ferret to drink more, take him to a vet for
subcutaneous fluids, and look for the underlying cause.
- Unexplained hair loss
- Not the usual seasonal shedding, which should happen twice a year
(but the times may vary due to indoor lighting conditions), but a
severe loss, especially if more than the tail is affected.
- It's pretty obvious that these indicate some kind of problem. Most
often the result of insulinomas in the pancreas causing
extremely low blood sugar, but there are many other causes too.
- This can be serious, since ferrets are easily dehydrated. Diarrhea
may be caused by milk products, which contain lactose that ferrets
do not tolerate well, or by a number of diseases. A green or orange
color or a bit of mucus just means the food didn't spend the usual
amount of time in the digestive system, not that it's necessarily ECE
(Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis, or the "Green Diarrhea Virus"),
but for more information on that, see the Ferret Medical FAQ on ECE
One thing you can try for mild cases, especially after consulting
your veterinarian, is Pepto Bismol. Most ferrets don't like the
taste of the liquid, but you can give them 1/15th of a tablet
crushed up in food instead. A compounding pharmacist can also
prepare the medication in Pepto Bismol in a different suspension to
minimize or mask the taste. Call 1-800-331-2498 to locate the
nearest compounding pharmacist. Dr. Mike Dutton suggests the
prescription anti-diarrheal medication Amforol for cases that Pepto
Bismol doesn't help.
- Ferrets do sometimes vomit from excitement, stress, a change of
diet, or overeating, but if it's repetitive or if there are any
signs of blood, get to a vet. During shedding season ferrets may
"spit up" a bit due to hair in the throat. This can be helped with
- Sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, lethargy
- Yes, ferrets catch human flu. They'll generally rest and drink a
lot. A visit to the vet would probably be a good idea, particularly
if the flu looks bad or lasts more than a few days. According to
Dr. Susan Brown, "The antihistamine product Chlor-Trimeton may be
used at 1/4 tablet 2 times daily for sneezing that may interfere
with sleeping or eating."
- Broken tooth
- If only the tip is broken, the tooth may discolor slightly, but it's
nothing to worry about. A more extensive break will cause pain, a
definite unhealthy look to the tooth, and possibly gum problems, and
should be treated (probably root canal or removal) by a vet or a
- Persistent hacking or coughing
- An occasional cough might be caused by dust or swallowed fur, and
can be treated with a bit of cat hairball preventative. A cough
from a cold can be treated with children's cough medicine; ask your
vet for a recommendation and dosage. A persistent cough is most
likely a respiratory infection, probably viral. A fever, yellow or
green discharge from the eyes or nose, or congestion indicate a
bacterial infection. In either case, see a vet. Another
possibility is cardiomyopathy.
- Swollen vulva
- In an unspayed female, she's probably going into heat, especially if
it's springtime. For young spayed ferrets, under 18 months or so,
the most common problem is pieces of the ovary that were missed in
the spaying and have begun to produce hormones. These pieces might
be scattered around the abdomen. For older ferrets, however, by far
the most common cause of a swollen vulva is adrenal disease, usually
- Return to whole male behavior (in a neutered male)
- The most common reason for a neutered male to try to mate, dribble
urine or mark his areas, become aggressive, or have erections is
unusual hormone production caused by adrenal disease. Other possibilities include cryptorchidism (a testicle which never
descended into the scrotum and so wasn't removed) or bladder stones.
The treatment for any of these is surgery.
Ferrets just seem to be itchy little critters, and a certain amount of
scratching is normal. Even waking up from deep sleep for a
"scratching emergency" is normal. However, itching can also be a sign
of several problems.
If it's fleas, you'll probably see fleas or "flea dust" (bits of dried
blood) if you look closely. Other possibilities include mites,
bacterial or fungal infections, dry skin, allergies to food or
cleaning supplies, or poor nutrition. Excessive itching can be a sign
of serious illness, including adrenal disease, so see a vet if
you're at all concerned. In some cases, an appropriate dose of
children's Benadryl can help an itchy ferret, but please use this only
under the supervision of a qualified vet.
Diarrhea, constipation, irritation from surgery (especially
descenting), and other things can cause a ferret to strain more when
defecating, which in turn can push a portion of the rectum out the
ferret's anus. It's similar to hemorrhoids, but the particular tissue
that leads to hemorrhoids in humans doesn't exist in ferrets.
If only a small portion of tissue (1-3 mm) is protruding, a softened
diet and creams such as Preparation H can help. If there are any
other symptoms (constipation, pain, diarrhea, redness or swelling), or
if more than 3 mm (about 1/8 inch) is showing, have a vet look at it.
Maybe nothing. If there are no stools at all, though, he may have
an intestinal blockage.
According to Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM:
Ferrets occasionally have dietary "indiscretions" and may get hold
of something that is not particularly to the GI tract's liking.
They may get loose or discolored stools, and if no groceries are
going in for a day or so, their stools will lose volume and may
become somewhat thin. As long as they are playing and acting
okay, they can usually tolerate this for 48-72 hours. If it goes
on any longer than this, or their play/sleep cycles become
affected, then it's off to the vet for a check. Most problems
resolve within 72 hours on their own. If it doesn't, then there
may be a problem. (However watch for dark tarry stools - they are
more than just discolored and indicate GI bleeding. If you ever
see these - go see your vet. Likewise for profuse green
diarrhea.) A one- to two-week course of Laxatone is also a good
idea following changes in stools. If there is some foreign matter
in the intestine, it will help it move along, and, at any rate, it
Dr. Charles Weiss, DVM, adds that GI parasites such as giardia and
coccidia can sometimes be the cause, though it's not common; and even
lymphosarcoma may cause funny-looking stools. Both of those will
generally present other symptoms, too, though.
I caution everyone - don't throw out those abnormal stools without
going through them (pick them apart in a bowl of water) and seeing
if there is any foreign material in them. It may sound "gross",
but it can tell you if your ferret is eating something it
If your ferret was recently shaved for some reason or just finished
shedding, it's probably the tips of the new fur growing in.
Dark-colored ferrets look bluish-black, and albinos and other
light-colored ferrets often look orange. Wait a day or two, and you
should see the stubble start to poke through the skin.
Hair loss on just the tail is generally nothing to worry about. It
can be caused by stress, such as a change of environment or the
arrival of a new animal in the household. Even the normal seasonal coat change can be enough stress to make your ferret's tail go
completely bald, and sometimes it will take several months for the fur
to grow back. Often this seasonal "rat tail" shows up with tiny black spots.
If your ferret is losing hair other places, there's something wrong.
Apart from shedding, by far the most common cause of hair loss in
ferrets of any age is adrenal-associated endocrinopathy, a serious,
but treatable, disease of the adrenal glands. Even if the hair comes
back at the next coat change, it's probably still an adrenal problem.
There's a separate Ferret Medical FAQ for adrenal disease, which you
should take a look at if you even think your ferret might have this
Other possibilities include poor nutrition, fleas, a severe mite
infestation, a bacterial or fungal infection, dry skin, or allergies
to food, detergents, or cleaning products.
Reddish-brown wax or black spots on the tail
Ferrets sometimes get tiny black spots on their tails, often
accompanied by a reddish-brown waxy deposit and hair loss. They look
a lot like blackheads, and in fact that's probably pretty much what
they are. Gentle cleaning, perhaps with a medicated cleanser (a
dilute benzoyl peroxide shampoo or cream will work better than ones
with coal tar or sulfur) that your vet can recommend, should help,
though it may take many weeks. Often this is a seasonal problem that
clears up on its own in a few months.
Orange-speckled, crusty patches
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
An orange, flaky discoloration of the skin is a very non-specific
finding in the ferret. The crustiness of the skin means that the
skin is not coming off in small microscopic flakes (1 to several
cells at a time) like normally happens. When you see a crust - it
means that the normal way that a ferret sheds devitalized
epidermis [dead skin] has been impaired.
Allergies are another possibility; and the area around bites, whether
caused by fleas or another animal, may take on a pink or orangish
color from dried blood.
As far as the cause - there is not just one cause. Many things
can cause this change - skin parasites, fleas, ear mites,
bacterial infections of hair follicles, fungus, endocrine disease,
Minor skin disorders such as these are more common with age. They
may be exacerbated by poor husbandry, or excessive bathing (more
than once per week to ten days.)
Most cases are due to a very superficial bacterial infection which
will respond well to a weekly application of a gentle bactericidal
shampoo. Other tests that can be done at the time of diagnosis by
your vet would include a skin scraping and fungal culture. Should
all tests turn up negative, and a four-week course of topical
therapy not help, then the next step would be biopsy and
submission to a pathology lab for microscopic examination.
Ferrets don't tolerate heat well at all. Even temperatures in the 80s
(say, above 27 C or so) can cause problems, and older ferrets can be
even more sensitive. The first thing to do, of course, is to prevent
heat exposure in the first place, by providing shade and plenty of
cool water. If you live in a hot climate, you must realize that your
ferret will need special care in mid-summer. Never leave a ferret or
any pet in a car in hot weather, even with the windows partly open.
It just doesn't do enough good.
There are a couple of ways to keep your ferrets cooler if you don't
have air conditioning. Fans are an obvious idea, but unless you can
blow in some cooler air, they don't do very much good for ferrets, who
can't sweat. A plastic bottle of ice wrapped in a towel is helpful.
Finally, you can drape a damp towel over your ferrets' cage, set a
bucket of water on top, and drape another wet rag over the side of the
bucket so one end is at the bottom of the bucket and the other is on
the cage towel. The rag acts as a wick to keep the towel wet, and the
cage stays cooler from evaporation.
Ferrets in distress from heat will first pant, then go limp, then lose
touch with their surroundings. The first thing to do is to get the
ferret out of the hot place and start cooling him down slowly. Cool
water is best, but not too cold, since the ferret's body temperature
will drop way too far, with him unable to stop it. Anything you can
get him to drink is good, but never force liquids into an unconscious
After these emergency measures, get your pet to the vet immediately.
Even ferrets that seem to have recovered may die within 48 hours due
to the massive shock they've undergone. Things to watch for include
tarry stools and vomiting.
On the other hand, ferrets handle cold pretty well. If they have full
winter coats, they'll be perfectly happy living in a chilly room, say
60 F (15 C). They can easily handle going outdoors in cold weather,
and many of them love to play in the snow. Use common sense, though.
Don't take your ferrets out in really frigid (much below freezing) or
wet weather, and bring them inside if they shiver too much, paw at the
door, or try to climb up into your coat.
Even if your ferrets are never outdoors, you can bring in fleas or
their eggs on your shoes or clothing.
There's a whole FAQ dedicated to ridding your pet and your home of
fleas and ticks. It's distributed in the usenet newsgroup rec.pets.
You can also get it by FTP or by sending email to
with the line
in the body of the message (with an empty subject line).
In general, most products which are safe for use on kittens are safe
for ferrets. Products containing pyrethins are okay, but don't use
anything containing organophosphates, carbamates, or petroleum
distillates. Be especially careful with dips and sprays; shampoos are
much safer. Follow the directions on the bottle carefully.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:
You can use a premise spray around the cage, but often, the house
requires bombing, too. Get a bomb from your vet which contains
methoprene (a flea growth regulator). This will allow you to
complete the job in just two applications - one to kill the adults
and larva, the second two weeks later to get the ones that have
hatched out since the first spray. (Make sure of course to remove
your ferrets from the house at the time of the bombing...) Fleas
can be a real nuisance - before you bomb, make sure to wash all of
their bedding and vacuum carefully so you only have to do it
Most insect foggers don't have a strong enough residual effect to
hurt your ferrets. We routinely bomb our house for fleas and two
hours later, the ferrets and dogs are romping through the house.
(But I know that Siphotrol has a weak residual.)
Signs of trouble - lack of appetitie, rumbling stomachs, diarrhea,
vomiting, salivation, dilated pupils, stumbling. You probably
won't see them, but it's nice to know what to look for...
Long-term flea treatments
None of the three common long-term flea treatments -- Program,
Advantage, and Frontline -- have been tested on ferrets, so use them
at your own risk. However, many people have been using them in
ferrets successfully for some time. At least one vet prefers
Advantage because it's entirely external and never makes its way into
the ferret's bloodstream.
Program is used at the cat dosage per pound, administered monthly.
The medicine circulates in the blood and prevents fleas which have
bitten the ferret from laying viable eggs. Therefore, every pet in
the house should be on Program to completely break the cycle; and you
may need to use this in combination with another product temporarily,
to kill most of the adults. The pills can be crushed and mixed
with a treat or food, or the suspension can be put directly on the food.
Be sure that the right ferret gets the whole dose. It should be taken
with a meal; in fact, the more food it's taken with, the more
effective it will be. Have your vet call Ciba-Geigy at 800-637-0281
Advantage comes in a tube. It's applied once a month to the shoulder
blades, where the ferret can't easily lick it off (but other pets
could). Ferret owners report that it works very well. It's water
soluble, so you shouldn't bathe your pet except right before another
application, and the ferret must be completely dry before the next
dose. The idea is to kill the fleas before they can lay their eggs,
and hopefully before they bite.
Frontline is also applied externally, and is also said to work very
well. It's alcohol-based and smells a bit until it dries, but it's
also water resistant. This means it may last longer than Advantage,
but if your ferret should happen to have a reaction to it (which I've
never heard of), getting it off could be more difficult.
Check when you clean your ferret's ears, perhaps once a month.
Reddish-brown ear wax is normal, but if you see any thick, black
discharge then you probably have mites. It's also a good idea to have
your vet check the ears whenever you visit. You can't catch ear mites
from your pet, but your cats, dogs, and other ferrets certainly can.
Dr. Williams, DVM says:
Ferrets very commonly get ear mites, so you don't need to get
upset. Check with your vet and get two products: a ceruminolytic
(such as "Oti-Clens"), which will dissolve the wax that the mites
live in. This is far preferable to trying to dig the wax out with
Q-tips. Then get a good ear miticide from your vet (I use
Put a little of the ear cleaner (which dissolves the wax) in the
ear and massage. Let it sit for about a minute. Your ferret will
probably shakes its head, sending wax all over you and the floor.
Use a Q-tip and gently collect the rest of the wax from the ear
canal. You won't hit the ear drum, as the ferrets ear canal is
roughly L-shaped - you will just be cleaning the vertical part of
the canal. After you have cleaned the wax, put the ear drops
[miticide] in. Make sure that the fluids that you are using are
body temperature - put them in your shirt or pocket for a few
minutes before using. No one likes cold water in their ears!!!!
Dr. Susan Brown, DVM says:
Clean every day for a week to 10 days, stop for a week, and go
again for another week to take care of mites. If your problem is
just dirty ears (some ferrets have a lot of wax) - just use the
ear wax remover once a week.
Ivermectin can be used in bad cases, either orally, injected, or
directly in the ear. Today I ran across an article (Bell, JA.
Parasites of Domesticated Pet Ferrets, Comp. Clin. Educ. Pract.
Vet. 16(5): 617-620), which gives a dosage for topical
administration of ivermectin:
Injectable ivermectin is mixed with propylene glycol at a ration
of approximately 1:20 - then 0.2 to 0.3 ml (4-6 drops) into each
ear canal daily. Ferrets on ivermectin for heartworm prevention
should not have problems with ear mites.
Do not depend on the oil [used for cleaning] to completely rid
your pet of mites either although it will help to suffocate them.
Mites are easily taken care of by using Ivermectin directly in the
ears at 0.5mg/kg divided into two doses to be used in each ear and
then repeated in two weeks. You need to have a positive diagnosis
of mites made by your vet and get the medication from him or her.
Oterna causes problems
On at least two occasions, Oterna ear mite drops from Pitman-Moore Ltd
England (containing betamethasone BP, neomycin BP and monosulifiram)
have caused damage to the (outer) ears of ferrets, necessitating the
surgical removal of a portion of the ear. It is recommended to avoid
using this medication for ear mites in ferrets, and to check other
medications for those ingredients.
If you live in a heartworm-endemic area, yes. Heartworm is
transmitted by mosquito, so generally areas with lots of mosquitos
have a lot of heartworm too.
Dr. Deborah W. Kemmerer, DVM, writes:
My practice has been "ferret-intensive" for about nine years. I've
diagnosed and treated about thirty ferrets for heartworms. Many
who were not on preventive have been found to be heartworm-
positive on necropsy when presented for "sudden death
syndrome". In my opinion, any ferret in a heartworm-endemic area
should be on preventive even if he never goes outside.
Dr. Kemmerer reports that in her experience, all heartworm-positive
ferrets die without treatment. If your ferret tests positive for
heartworm, contact Dr. Kemmerer at 352-332-4357 for information about
the regimen she recommends, which she has found to give about a 75%
The American Heartworm Society recommends Heartgard for use in
ferrets. In theory this is great, but sometimes less than
practical. Most ferret owners are not comfortable with giving
tablets and most ferrets will not consume the entire "brick" of
the canine chewable monthly tablet. The new Feline Heartgard is
promising, however. In a taste test using ferret patients
conducted at this hospital, we observed about 60% acceptance of
the small feline chewable tablet. This will be a relief to many
owners who do not enjoy administering the liquid mixture described
If a ferret will not eat the chewable feline tablet, this is what
I use as an alternative: Mix 0.3 cc's of Ivermectin 1% Injection
in one ounce of propylene glycol (Ivermectin is not
water-soluble). this makes a 100 microgram/ml
suspension. Administer 0.1 cc per pound of body weight once
monthly by mouth. We dispense the mixture in amber bottles with
appropriate warnings about sunlight, and we put a two- year
expiration date on it. The injection itself has a longer
expiration date, so this should be adequate.
I have been using this mixture since 1988. Owner compliance is
very good, complications and side effects are virtually nil, and
no ferret who is taking it has been diagnosed with heartworms. I
do see heartworm-positive ferrets who are not taking preventive. I
don't worry too much about the lack of USDA approval for ferrets,
because there is virtually nothing approved for any use in ferrets
with the exception of two vaccines anyway.
Diagnosis and treatment
The CITE Snap test for occult heartworms has proven to be very
accurate and dependable for use in ferrets. It has shown positive
results even in the face of only one or two very stunted adult
worms. I cannot attest to personal experience with accuracy in any
other antigen test.
If your pets are on heartworm preventative, consider giving it to them
all year. That removes the possibility that a worm might sneak in
before you start it up again, so your pet will be safer, and won't
have to have another heartworm test every spring.
Just so you know, the signs of a heartworm infestation include chronic
cough, lethargy, labored breathing, fluid accumulation in the abdomen,
fainting, and a bluish color to the tongue, gums and lips.
The National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) can be reached one
of two ways: either call 1-900-680-0000 ($20 for the first 5 minutes,
$2.95 for each additional minute) or 1-800-548-2423 ($30 flat fee on
your credit card). Give them as much information as you can: what
your ferret got into, what the ingredients are, how much he
ate or contacted, and how long ago it was.
The NAPCC Web site offers advice on preventing animal poisoning, what to do if your pet is poisoned, and so on.
Once again, I'm not a vet or even a ferret expert, but here's a list
of several of the most common medical problems in ferrets.
- Intestinal blockages
- Caused by eating something indigestible, such as an eraser, a
rubber band, some fabrics, or even a good-sized hairball
(accumulated from grooming), which gets stuck. Symptoms may
include (one or more of) lack of bowel movement, constipation,
bloating, vomiting or heaving, drooling, and others. Blockages may
occur at any point in the digestive tract, from the throat through
the lower intestine, even in the stomach where the object may move
around and produce only intermittent symptoms. Blockages are
serious and occasionally fatal; the most important immediate
concern is to keep your ferret hydrated, which you can do by giving
him 5 cc of water every 4 hours from a baby feeding syringe. You
can try giving your ferret large doses of hairball remedy every 30
minutes for an hour or two to see if the blockage passes, but if
not, take him to a vet right away for an X-ray, barium study,
and/or surgery to remove it. Laxatone or a similar hairball remedy/laxative can help prevent this.
- Tumors or lesions of the adrenal glands
- Symptoms vary, including hair loss spreading from the base of the
tail forward, lethargy, loss of appetite, and loss of
coordination in the hindquarters. In females, often the most
prominent sign is an enlarged vulva as in heat. Often, however, a
tumor will be present without showing any signs at all, so if your
ferret is going in for any surgery, the vet should take a look at
the adrenal glands as well (if time permits -- ferrets lose body
heat very quickly in surgery). The left gland seems to be affected
more often than the right. More information is available in the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Adrenal Disease.
- Islet cell tumors (insulinoma)
- These are tumors of insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Their
main effect is a drop in the blood sugar level, and they are also
common enough in older ferrets, even without symptoms, that if your
pet is having surgery for something else, a quick check is
worthwhile. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, wobbly
gait, and pawing at the mouth; in more severe cases attention
lapses (staring into space) or seizures may also occur. If you're
more than a minute from your vet and your ferret has a low enough
blood sugar level to be having seizures, call the vet and ask if
you should rub Karo (corn sugar) syrup or honey on your pet's gums
to raise it just enough to bring him out of the seizure. More
information is available in the Ferret Medical FAQ on Insulinoma
- Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma
This is a cancer of the lymphatic system. There are two main
types, "classic" and juvenile. Classic lymphoma occurs in older
ferrets and causes enlarged lymph nodes and irregularities in the
blood cell count, but often the ferret doesn't show any outward
signs until the disease has progressed pretty far, at which point
the ferret suddenly gets very sick. Conclusive diagnosis is by
aspiration or biopsy of a lymph node, and treatment is
chemotherapy. Juvenile lymphoma is completely different. It
affects ferrets under 14 months, doesn't generally cause
enlarged lymph nodes, and hits very hard and fast. Also see
the Ferret Medical FAQ on Lymphosarcoma.
- Splenomegaly [enlarged spleen, usually a swelling in the upper abdomen]
- In situations where a neoplasm is not present [this is a common
symptom of lymphosarcoma], the pros and cons of splenectomy should
be discussed with your veterinarian. If an animal simply has a
large spleen, but shows no signs of illness or discomfort, it is
safer for the animal to leave it in. However, if the animal shows
signs of discomfort, such as lethargy and a poor appetite, or a
decrease in activity, the spleen should probably be removed. These
animals also need good nursing care care to get them back on
their food. Often caused by H. mustelae infection (see below).
With proper care - recovery rates are over 90%. Also see the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Splenomegaly.
- Helicobacter mustelae infection
- A bacterial infection of the stomach lining, Helicobacter
mustelae is extremely common in ferrets. Animals with
long-standing infections (generally older animals), may develop
gastric problems due to the bacteria's ability to decrease acid
production in the stomach. Signs of a problem include repetitive
vomiting, lack of appetite, and signs of gastric ulcers (see
above). Helicobacter infection and gastric ulcers often go hand in
hand - the relationship between infection and gastric ulcer
formation has not been totally worked out, although there is
currently a lot of research in this area. Also see the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Gastric Ulcers / Helicobacter mustelae.
- Cutaneous vaccine reactions
- Subcutaneous vaccination with rabies or other vaccines may, over
a period of weeks, cause a hard lump at the site of
vaccination. The lump simply consists of a large area of
inflammation and most commonly are seen around the neck. The lumps
can be removed, and generally do not cause a major problem for your
pet. Similar lesions may be seen in vaccinated dogs and cats.
- Urinary tract infections and prostate trouble
- Signs include frequent urination, straining to urinate, and
possibly funny-looking or smelly urine. Un-spayed females in heat,
and spayed females with swollen vulvas due to adrenal disease
, are particularly prone to UTIs. Treatment generally
consists of a course of antibiotic (usually Amoxicillin); if the
ferret doesn't respond to that, the possibility of bladder stones
should be considered.
In males, what looks like a UTI may be (or be aggravated by) an
inflamed prostate, also generally caused by adrenal disease. In
this case the prostate, which is normally tiny, can be palpated,
and a greenish goo can often be expressed from it. Taking care of
the adrenal problem should clear up the prostate trouble too.
by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM
- GI Foreign Bodies
- This is the MOST COMMON cause of wasting and acute abdominal
disease in the ferret under 1 year of age. It occurs with less
frequency in older ferrets.
- Ferrets love to chew and eat rubber and "sweaty" objects. The
most common foreign bodies we remove are latex rubber pet toys,
foam rubber, insoles and soles of shoes, pipe insulation, chair
foot protectors, along with towels, cotton balls, plastic, metal,
- Hair balls are VERY COMMON particularly in the ferret 2 years
of age and older.
- Most foreign bodies remain in the stomach if they are too large
to pass and cause a slow wasting disease that may last for months.
(This is the way that most hairballs present.) However, if the
foreign material passes out of the stomach and lodges in the small
intestine, then the pet becomes acutely ill, severely depressed,
dehydrated, in extreme abdominal pain and finally coma and death
within 24 to 48 hours if surgery is not performed.
- Other signs that your pet may have a foreign body are pawing at
the mouth frequently, vomiting (although remember that many pets
with foreign bodies do not vomit), appetite that goes on and off,
black tarry stools that come and go.
- Prevention is by use of a cat hairball laxative either every
day or every other day (about 1") and ferret proofing your
house on hands and knees for potential foreign body items.
- Treatment is generally surgery, because if it is too large to
leave the stomach, it has to come out somehow!
- Aplastic Anemia
- A common cause of death of unspayed breeding females.
- The cause is a condition caused by high levels of the hormone
estrogen that is produced during the heat period which in turn
suppresses the production of vital red and white blood cells in the
bone marrow. This suppression is irreversible as the disease
advances and death occurs from severe anemia, bleeding (because the
blood can't clot properly), and secondary bacterial infections
because there aren't enough white blood cells to fight.
- Signs are seen in animals in heat 1 month or longer (they can
stay in heat up to 180 days if unbred), and include general
depression and hind limb weakness that seems to occur suddenly and
sudden loss of appetite. Additionally there may be marked hair
loss and baldness on the body.
- Upon closer exam the gums appear light pink or white, and there
may be small hemorrhages under the skin. A complete blood count
should be done to determine the severity of the damage to the bone
- If the condition is advanced, there is no treatment as it is
irreversible, and euthanasia is recommended. If the disease is
caught early, treatment may include a spay, multiple transfusions
and other supportive care.
- Prevention is by having animals not designated for breeding
spayed by 6 months of age. Those to be used for breeding should
use the hormone HCG for taking them out of heat during cycles when
they will not be bred. The use of vasectomized males can sometimes
be unreliable, and we do not recommend it.
- Anal Gland Impaction
- Caused when the animal has a blockage to the outflow of anal
gland secretion or abnormally thick anal gland material.
- Signs are few, doesn't seem to cause them much pain. If the
gland ruptures, a draining hole will be seen near the anus, and the
pet may lick at the area frequently.
- Treatment is by surgical removal of the anal glands. Even if
only one is affected now, remove both as the other may become
- There is no prevention, and this disease does not occur with
sufficient frequency to warrant routine anal gland removal in all
- Caused when the lens of the eye becomes opaque. Light can no
longer reach the retina and the animal becomes blind. In ferrets
it is primarily seen in animals under one year of age and is
considered to be hereditary. In other cases it may be caused by
aging of the eye in very old animals or as a result of injury to
- Signs are almost nonexistent. Ferrets have very poor eyesight
and do not depend on it for much. Many people are surprised to
find that their ferrets are blind. They eyes will have a whitish
blue cast to the area of the pupil.
- Treatment is unnecessary.
- Prevention of hereditary cataracts is by not repeating the
There is a separate FAQ devoted to cardiomyopathy.
- Seen generally in animals over 3 years of age, rare in young.
Caused by an abnormal thinning or thickening of the heart muscle
which interferes with blood flow through the heart.
- Signs include a marked decrease in activity, the need to rest
in the middle of the play periods, great difficulty in awakening
from sleep, and as the disease progresses one may see coughing,
difficulty breathing, fluid build-up in the abdomen and a general
loss of condition.
- Diagnosis is by x-ray and EKG.
- Treatment is dependent on which type of heart muscle
abnormality is present. There is no cure for this disease,
treatment helps to alleviate symptoms and reduce he work load on
the heart and attempt to prolong life.
- Urolithiasis (Bladder Stones)
- The cause is not completely understood. A high ash content of
the diet and possible underlying bacterial or viral infections, and
even some genetic predisposition may all play a part. This
condition is rarely seen in animals on a low ash cat food.
- Signs include blood in the urine, difficulty in urinating (may
be accompanied by crying when urinating), "sandy" material being
passed in the urine, and in the most severe cases there may be a
complete blockage leading to no urine being passed and eventual
depression, coma and death.
- Treatment depends on the size of the stones. Surgery may be
indicated or a change to a special diet may solve the problem.
- Prevention is by feeding a low ash diet.
by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM
- Ear Mites [10.10]
- Caused by a small mite that lives in the ear and sucks blood
and is picked up from other animals with mites (including dogs and
- Signs are very minimal to none. Ferrets seem to tolerate mites
very well. Occasionally there may be an excessive amount of ear
wax produced, extensive scratching of the ears, and small black
pigmented areas that appear on the ear.
- Treatment is with Ivermectin at 1 mg/kg divided into two doses
with each dose dropped into each ear. This is repeated in two
weeks. All the animals in the house should be treated. Wash
bedding the same day as treatment and a bath for the pet wouldn't
hurt, either. They also may be treated with Tresaderm daily for 14
- Caused by an insect that spends a small portion of its life on
the animal and lives in the surrounding environment laying eggs the
rest of the time.
- Prevented by spraying or powdering your animals 2 times a week
with a pyrethrin product if they go outside. If you already have
them, the house must be treated also.
by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM
- Influenza virus
- Caused by the same complex of viruses that cause disease in
humans. They can catch it from humans or other ferrets.
- Signs include a runny nose (clear discharge), runny eyes,
sneezing, coughing, decrease but not total loss in appetite,
lethargy and occasionally diarrhea. In newborns it may be fatal.
- Treatments is generally nothing specific except rest and loving
care. They generally get over it in 3 to 7 days (recall how long
your flu lasted, and they will generally be the same), The
antihistamine product Chlor Trimeton may be used at 1/4 tablet 2
times daily for sneezing that may interfere with sleeping or
eating. If the appetite is totally lost or if any green or yellow
discharges appear or if there is extreme lethargy, these animals
should be seen by a veterinarian.
- Prevention is washing hands and no kissing when you are dealing
with a cold. Also remember, they can give the flu right back to
- Canine Distemper
- A 100% fatal disease that is still very much out there! It is
caused by a virus that attacks many organs in the body. The virus
can stay alive for a long time on shoes and clothes that have come
in contact with infected material. (Such as from walks in parks or
other areas where animals roam).
- Signs range from acute [quick] death to a slow progressive
disease which usually starts as an eye infection and progresses to
a rash on the chin and lips and abdomen, and thickened hard pads on
the feet. Diarrhea, vomiting, severe lethargy are other possible
signs. The disease may be very drawn out with seizures and coma at
- There is no treatment for distemper. Euthanasia is the kindest
solution as it is a long and painful way to go.
- Prevention is by vaccination with the Fromm-D [or Fervac-D]
distemper vaccine. Use of [some] other vaccines have
occasionally caused cases of distemper in ferrets. The schedule
would be the first shot at 6 weeks of age then 8 weeks, 11 weeks,
14 weeks and annually thereafter. The vaccine WILL NOT last for 3
years in the face of an outbreak. Ferrets do not need vaccines
containing leptospirosis, hepatitis, parainfluenza or any other dog
by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM
- This is a disease of the lymphatic system of the body which is
an important part of the immune system. The cause is unknown but
investigation is being done to determine if there is a virus
involved. It can occur in ferrets of any age.
- Signs are very variable, and many animals show no outward signs
until they are very ill, or changes are picked up on a routine
veterinary exam. Changes may include enlarged lymph nodes anywhere
in or on the body, a greatly enlarged spleen, wasting, difficulty
breathing, and extreme lethargy. A complete blood cell count may
indicate abnormal (cancerous) cells present, although this occurs
in a very small percentage of cases.
- Diagnosis is generally by biopsy of a lymph node, spleen or
fluid from the chest.
- Treatment is by chemotherapy of the animal fulfills certain
criteria that would make it a good candidate, Chemotherapy has been
successful in about 75% of our cases, allowing life to be prolonged
in a quality way for 6 months to 2 years.
- This is a tumor of the pancreas leading to a high insulin
production and a low blood sugar.
- Adrenal Adenoma or Adenocarcinoma
- This is a tumor of the adrenal gland.
- Skin tumors
- There are a variety of skin tumors occurring in the pet ferret.
The most common are sebaceous gland adenomas, and mast cell tumors.
Most of these should be removed particularly if they are ulcerated,
bleeding, or have a rough surface.
- Chondromas occur with some frequency on the tip of the tail as
a hard round lump. They are generally benign, but may become large
and bothersome and can easily be removed.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease which is sometimes spread through animal
feces, especially cats'. It's nothing to worry about, unless you're
pregnant, have a very young child, or have a weakened immune system --
it's very dangerous to a human fetus in the first stages of
development, it may be dangerous to infants and toddlers, and it's a
concern for those who are HIV+. Ask your doctor if you think you
might be susceptible.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
Toxoplasmosis has been reported twice in ferrets. Ferrets will
not shed the toxoplasma organism to the extent that cats do, but
if they are exposed to cat feces, they may contract the disease
and shed very low amounts of oocysts.
Here's the bottom line. Because of the devastating effects that
Toxoplasma can have on a developing human fetus in the first
trimester - you don't want to take ANY chance at all on exposing
[a pregnant woman] to Toxo. So [someone in the household who
isn't pregnant] inherits all litterbox duties for the next
nine months. Actually, she probably stands a higher chance of
getting Toxo from poorly cooked beef. The doctor says - if she's
a carnivore - better get used to well-done steaks....
If your ferret is just starting long-term medications and you're not
looking forward to an hour-long struggle twice a day forever, take
heart. Most of them resign themselves to the routine after a couple
of weeks. If you only have to give your ferret medication for a week
or two, at least there's an end in sight!
Also see Rick Beveridge's description, with pictures.
If you're really lucky, your ferret will like the taste of the
medication. In that case, either hold the dropper in front of the
ferret or empty it into a spoon and let him lick it. If you squeeze
the medication into his mouth, be sure not to squirt it down his
throat, since he may inhale some and get pneumonia. Putting the
dropper behind his back teeth and aiming in from the side helps.
If he doesn't like the medication, you'll want to mix it with
something that tastes better, such as Ferretone, Petromalt, Pedialyte,
or apple juice. Check with your vet to find out what won't interfere
with the medication or its absorption. Some can't be given with oils,
others with sugary foods, others with dairy products, and so on. You
might be able to just mix the medication and the bribe on a spoon and
get your ferret to lick it that way.
If not, suck the medication into a small feeding syringe, the kind
without a needle, draw in a few cc's of the bribe, and shake it to mix
them. Put a big old towel on a table or the floor, put the ferret on
it, and see if he'll lick the mixture willingly. Be warned, ferrets
can spit several feet. Don't wear your nice clothes.
If you have to force the mixture in, hold the ferret's head and
shoulders with one hand so he can't back away. Put the syringe tip in
on the side of his mouth and slowly squirt the stuff in, being careful
not to aim it down his throat (or he might inhale some) and making
sure to give the ferret enough time to swallow. You may need to hold
the ferret's head up and his mouth closed, and rub his throat so he
swallows. Once the medication is gone, give the ferret another small
treat and tell him what a good ferret he was.
Some people have good luck with crushing a pill or pill piece and
mixing it with a liquid treat, after checking with a vet to see which
ones are all right. Otherwise, try completely covering it with
something gooey such as Petromalt or peanut butter, then holding it on
the tip of one finger. Gently pry the ferret's mouth open with a
finger on one side, and scrape the goo and treat onto the ferret's
tongue. Get it pretty far back if you can, but don't gag him. Hold
his mouth closed so he can't push the pill out with his tongue, and
rub his throat to get him to swallow. If he manages to spit out the
pill, just keep trying.
A fairly new company called PetMed Express offers common veterinary
medications at a discount. Flea treatments, prednisone, and so on are
available. The require a faxed prescription or the phone number of
your vet's office so they can call for the prescription information.
Call 1-888-233-PETS for information.
Yes. Ferrets have no apparent blood types, so if your ferret needs a
transfusion any other ferret can be a donor -- the bigger, the better.
Dr. Susan Brown writes, "Approximately 20 ml of whole blood can be
removed by cardiac puncture from a healthy male ferret weighing 1 kg
[2.2 lb] with no side effects; it can then be used immediately for
transfusing. 12 cc may be removed from a female weighing .75 kg [1.6
If your ferret is going in for extensive surgery, ask your vet whether
it might be a good idea to also bring along a big, healthy ferret as a
potential blood donor, just in case it's needed.
Isoflurane, an inhalant. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:
The only acceptable type of anesthetic agent for general
anesthesia in the ferret is gas, and preferably a gas anesthetic
called isoflurane. Most vets use it, but other types of gas
anesthetics, such as halothane are still in use. Isoflurane
currently is the safest, with the least chance of generating a
life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia or causing liver disease, both
of which may be seen (rarely) with halothane. Most
ferrets, even with severe disease, will go down quickly with
isoflurane, and come up within 5-10 minutes. No other
premedications are necessary [unlike for the injectable ketamine].
I would not use a vet who used injectable anesthetic for surgery -
chances are much higher for overdosing. The effects of injectable
anesthetics are extremely unpredictable in the ferret, and older
ferrets are at risk for arrhythmia and cardiovascular shock.
The following information comes from Sukie Crandall, who generously
sent an account of her experiences with Meltdown and Ruffle, two of
her ferrets with heart disease.
At first, your sick or recovering ferret will be a big drain on your
time, energy, and humor. It's amazing how stubborn a sick ferret can
be. If you're unfortunate enough to have a chronically ill ferret,
you may find that she becomes easier to deal with after a while, as
you both get used to her new routine and limitations.
You may have an assortment of medications for your ferret, whose
schedule and doses might change according to her health. It's very
important to keep a complete and accurate chart. Note how and when
medicines must be given, and whenever you give medicines write them
down and note the time. Keep information on side effects, when to
skip doses, how to deal with missed doses or accidently doubled doses,
which medicines should not be given close together, which must be
shielded form light, and all other related information. Do not keep
medications in a room which gets too hot, too cold, or too humid.
Never give a laxative close to when you give a medicine. Be aware of
side-effects and interactions; for instance, some medicines increase
the chance of sunburn.
Pill cutters work much better than scalpels or other things, and a
tweezers will also be handy. Keep in mind how different medicines
must be given, and find the best way for each to minimize the stress
to you and your ferret. Some must be given in ways which minimize the
exposure to water or saliva. They are most easily given with a narrow
pill gun such as your vet will probably carry, or mixed with a fatty
gel like Nutrical. Liquids are pretty straight forward, but some
ferrets get good at bring those up or spitting them out. If your vet
or the manufacturer's research pharmacists say they may be given with
fats try putting some Linatone or Nutrical on the ferret's nose and
while she is licking that off squirting in the dose at the posterior
side of the mouth. (Do not use a laxative such as Petromalt for
You may need to cut down the sides of a litter pan for easy access,
and folded towels can be used to make gentle ramps. For recovering
ferret who is ready for play but isn't quite up to speed yet, put
extra ramps, pillows, and climbing boxes around the room she'll be
playing in, to make it easier for her to get into and out of boxes and
jump down from furniture. (Be careful not to let her be more active
than is safe, and always supervise her in play.)
Weak ferrets can't play normally, but they still enjoy encountering
new things. Ruffle loved being carried for walks, being given herbs
to smell (especially mints and basil), having the sun on her belly
for short periods, listening to music (especially songs with her
name), hugs and kisses, and other peaceful entertainments.
If your ferret has a reduction in smell try moistening a cotton puff
or swab with a bit of perfume and putting it on the lower back above
the tail, and behind the ears. That will keep it from sensitive areas
but let the ferret enjoy the comforting status of having a
ferret-proper level of smell.
If at all possible cancel your trips away. If not possible have a
familiar, friendly, knowledgeable pet sitter such as a vet tech. Have
a schedule, with some minor variations for interest, so that your pet
knows what to expect. When your ferret has to be at the vet's office
bring along a favorite toy or blanket which smells like home.
If your ferret gets sick, chances are your vet will tell you to feed
him softened food for a time while he recovers. Even so, sometimes an
upset or recovering ferret will simply refuse to eat on his own. If
that happens, a good thing to try is Gerber's Second Meals chicken baby
food. It's full of nutrients and water (though it's not a good
full-time food) and most ferrets love it. Put a little on your
finger and let your ferret lick it; if he won't try it, carefully
smear a little on his nose. He should lick it off and eat the rest
from your fingers eagerly. In general, ferrets like attention, and
they love to be hand-fed. For a stubborn case, try letting another
ferret "raid" the sick one's food bowl in front of him. Sometimes
there's nothing like competition to get a ferret to eat.
You can add Nutri-Cal, Pedialyte, medications, and so forth to the
baby food if your vet recommends them, and as your ferret's recovery
progresses, you can mix in portions of his regular food, moistened
somewhat, to gradually work him back to eating dry food on his own.
Sustacal and Ensure are sometimes recommended as short-term diets for
very sick ferrets, possibly in a mixture such as "Duck Soup"
but they aren't nutritionally complete and should never be used as the
only long-term food for a non-terminal ferret. According to one
report, Ensure has the preferred flavors, but is also more likely to
cause diarrhea. The best solution seemed to be combinations of the
Duck Soup, also called Ferret Soup and similar things, is a
high-calorie, high-protein concoction meant to be fed to old or sick
ferrets in order to fatten them up and help them regain their health.
To really get the weight back on a sick ferret, some people have
suggested giving him whipping cream. It doesn't have much nutrition,
but it is full of calories and can help an underweight ferret gain
The following comes from Ann Davis:
ACME Ferret Company --- The Original DUCK SOUP
For years, we have been trying to find a super formula to fatten up
sick ferrets, oldsters and ferrets with ulcers. We have been looking
for something high in calories and protein, with added vitamins. After
trying just about everything on the market for pets, we had just about
given up, and were making do with some things that were not quite
perfect for the little guys, because everything made for cats that we
could find had a condensed milk base.
[If your ferret is really sick, you may have to work your way through]
all the steps, from full Sustacal to Duck Soup in caring for a sick
We have heard of many miraculous recoveries attributed to Duck Soup.
It has helped old ferrets, ferrets with insulinoma, ferrets with hair
loss, and ferrets who are just plain too sick to eat.
1 can Sustacal (8 oz., or about 230 ml; it comes in a larger size too)
1 can water (8 oz., or about 230 ml)
2 scoops puppy or kitten weaning formula -- OPTIONAL
4 oz. (110 g? or ml?) dry kitten or ferret food, soaked in enough water to
cover and soften it completely
[Sustacal is meant for humans; look for it by baby formulas or in the
pharmacy section of your supermarket. Debbie Riccio says you can also
use Ensure, Discover 2.0, or Just Born (puppy/kitten milk replacer).]
Mix thoroughly. We always nuke it for them to the temperature of baby
formula. We serve about 4 fluid ounces at a time twice a day for
maintenance; if your little guys eat too much and you feel they are
getting fat, you can increase the amount of water. We have tried
increasing the amount of dry food, but if it gets too thick some of
them won't eat it. This formula also freezes well -- the Sustacal must
be used within 48 hours if left only in the fridge.
Rectal temperature 100-103 F (37.8 - 39.4 C), 101.9 average
The following information comes from "Normal Parameters and Laboratory
Interpretation of Disease States in the Domestic Ferret," an article
written by Dr. Tom Kawasaki around 1994. Your veterinarian might find
this information helpful.
Heart rate 216-250/min (225 average)
Urine pH 6.5-7.5; mild to moderate proteinura is common and normal
Blood volume 60-80 ml/kg
mean acceptable range
sodium (mmol/L) 153 143-163
potassium (mmol/L) 4.47 3.2-5.77
chloride (mmol/L) 116 105-127
calcium (mg/dl) 8.8 7.5-10.1
inorganic phosphorus (mg/dl) 5.5 3.7-7.4
glucose (fasted) (mg/dl) 110 65-164
BUN (mg/dl) 21 8-37
creatinine (mg/dl) 0.5 0.16-0.84
total protein (g/dl) 5.8 4.4-7.3
albumin (g/dl) 3.3 2.5-4.1
globulin (g/dl) 2.2 1.8-2.9
total bilirubin (mg/dl) 0.2 0.1-0.5
cholesterol (mg/dl) 174 76-272
alkaline phosphatase (IU/L) 37 15-75
ALT (IU/L) 95 13-176
AST (IU/L) 61 23-99
CO2 22 14-30
A/G (g/dl) 1.3 1.0-2.3
LDH 274 101-498
triglycerides 98 31-101
GGT 4.8 1-13
uric acid 2.2 1.4-3.3
PCV (%) 45.4 38-54
hemoglobin (g/dl) 13-18
RBC (X10^6/mm3) 9.0 7.0-11.0
platelets (X10^3) 400 350-600
reticulocytes (%) N/A
WBC (x10^3/mm3) 5.22 2.8-8.0
neutrophils 3017 2329-5700
lymphocytes 1157 525-3500
monocytes 119 52-177
eosinophils 133 29-432
basophils 0 0
MCV (um3) 51 46-65
MCH (pg) 17.7 15.5-19.0
MCHC 33 29-36 *
Dr. Susan Brown also notes that the normal insulin level is 0-20, but
that insulin may appear normal even in animals with insulinoma.
There are, of course, dozens of components in your ferret's blood
which can help your vet determine what's wrong. Here are some of the
ones people ask about most often, and normal ranges. If you want to
know more about what your ferret's tests mean, don't hesitate to ask
The following information is extracted from an article in
The FAIR [Ferret Adoption, Information & Rescue Society] Report,
Vol. II, No. 2, by Mary Van Dahm, with a few additions.
- Blood glucose
- Glucose is a sugar, the main energy source for the body. Its level
varies through the day, higher just after a meal, lower when the
ferret is hungry, but the body keeps it fairly constant mainly by
controlling the amount of insulin in the blood. A non-fasted blood
glucose test might give values up to 207 mg/dl, depending on when
the ferret last ate. Testing the blood glucose after withholding
food from the ferret for 6 hours (fasting blood glucose) eliminates
the variation and gives you a more definite number to judge it by.
A low reading (hypoglycemia) may be a sign of insulinoma . A high reading (hyperglycemia) is
rare, but might be a sign of diabetes. However, insulinoma can
also cause a high glucose reading, and since diabetes is extremely
rare in ferrets, you should double-check any diabetes diagnosis by
looking for sugar in the urine as well.
- Pack cell volume/hematocrit (PCV/HCT)
- This is the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. Low
readings indicate anemia; high readings are usually a sign of
- Red blood cells (RBC)
- Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body's tissues and carbon
dioxide back to the lungs. Low readings show anemia.
- White blood cells (WBC)
- Part of the immune system. Readings over about 7000 may mean
the ferret is fighting off an infection, cold or flu. Readings over
10,000 may be early signs of lymphoma or another cancer. Unusually low readings indicate anemia
and a bone marrow problem.
- Another type of white blood cell. High readings can indicate a
"smoldering" infection, possibly Helicobacter mustelae. Many, but not all,
cases of lymphosarcoma also show elevated lymphocyte levels.
- Another type of white blood cell. Often an indicator of intestinal
disorders, infection, or cancer. Other parts of the blood profile
must also be considered for a diagnosis.
- Protein, Albumin and Globulin
- Albumin is a kind of protein, and globulin is a general term for all
proteins that aren't albumin, so protein - albumin = globulin. The
numbers indicate the ferret's general health and nutrition, and
albumin also helps show how well the liver and kidneys are working.
- BUN and Creatinine
- The job of the kidneys is to filter out impurities, so if they
aren't working well, these levels will be high.
- Alkaline phosphatese
- This is an enzyme found in the liver and bone. When bones are
growing or the liver is damaged, lots of this is released into the
- Total bilirubin
- A by-product of the normal breakdown of hemoglobin in red blood
cells. Helps diagnose liver disease and bile duct obstruction.
- Sodium, Potassium and Chloride
- Controlled by the kidneys, these are commonly called blood
electrolytes. They are involved in water balance, acid/base balance,
and the transmission of nerve impulses, especially to the heart.
- Calcium and Phosphorus
- These minerals are controlled by the parathyroid glands and the
kidneys. The levels show possible problems with bones, blood
clotting, and nerve, muscle, and cell activity.
- Wellness, Inc. How to Read Your Report, 1993
- Finkler, M. Practical Ferret Medicine and Surgery for the Private
- Brown, S. Ferret Medicine and Surgery, 1992
- Fox, JG. Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, 1988 *
Dr. Michael Dutton, DVM, writes:
There is no one test for a general check-up. There are not even
tests that are specific for some certain diseases. The following
is a list of some example tests for common ferret diseases, but in
case of some multi-systemic diseases (such as heart disease), they
may not show all the abnormalities.
Tests that are specific for one disease
Tests that help determine a particular organ function
(may not be specific to cause, prognosis, etc.)
The problem with biopsies is that you need to biopsy the correct
tissue. That may not be possible such as some type of spinal cord
or brain lesion. Intestinal diseases are easy to biopsy by
surgical methods but that entails anesthesia (which may be risky
to an ill ferret) and major abdominal surgery. So... you have a
number of difficulties from the medical side to run a test for
general health. Even if you can target a specific area, there may
not be a definitive test and the owner needs to agree to costs,
The advice dispensed by myself is not meant to supplant the advice of veterinarians who are in charge of the patient. If the patient is not currently under the care of a veterinarian, the client is recommended to take their ferret to one.
(This list was provided by Dr. Susan Brown.)
Alkeran - Burroughs-Wellcome Co.
Cytoxan - Bristol Meyers
Fervac D vaccine - United Vaccines Madison, Wisc. 53713 (608) 277-3030
Fromm D vaccine - Solvay Animal Health, Inc. Mendota Heights,
Keflex Pediatric Suspension 100 mg/cc - Dista Products Co. Division of
Eli Lilly, Inc. Indianapolis, Ind.
Lasix - Taylor Pharmacal Co. Decatur, Illinois 62525
Lysodren - Bristol Meyers
Nutrical - EVSCO Pharmaceuticals Buena, N.J. 08310
PDS II - Ethicon, Inc. Somerville, N.J. 08876-0151
Proglycem - Baker Cummins 800-347-4774
One excellent medical reference is
Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by
Elizabeth Hillyer and Katherine Quesenberry (1997)
Another good reference work, a bit outdated but still worthwhile for
both vets and others, is
Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, by James G. Fox. Lea and Febiger,
Philadelphia (1988). ISBN 0-8121-1139-7.
There is also a series out by the
American Animal Hospital Association
12575 West Bayaud Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80228
for practitioners on exotic pets. There are five books in the series.
Dr. Jeff Jenkins and Dr. Susan Brown produced the one on Rabbits and
Ferrets (he did the rabbit part). Many people feel that it is
practical and useful; it has drug dosages, treatments, husbandry,
normal clinical pathology values, and diagnostic techniques that might
be useful for your vet.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, recommends these references on cancers:
Lawrence HJ et al. Unilateral adrenalectomy as a treatment for
adrenocortical tumors in ferrets: Five cases (1990-1992). JAVMA
203(2): pp 267-270, 15 July 1993.
Marini, RP et al. Functional islet cell tumor in six ferrets. JAVMA
202(3):430-434, 1 February 1993.
Rosenthal KL et al. Hyperadrenocorticism associated with
adrenocortical tumor or nodular hyperplasia of the adrenal gland
in ferrets: 50 cases (1987-1991). JAVMA 203(2):pp. 271-275, 15
Dr. Susan Brown recommends these, on a variety of subjects:
Blancou J, Aubert MFA, Artois M. Experimental rabies in the ferret
(Mustela [putorius furo] Susceptibility - Symptoms - Excretion of
the virus. Rev Med Vet 1982; 133(8-9): 553 557. (Translation by
Daoust PY, Hunter DB. Spontaneous aleutian disease in ferrets. Can Vet
J 1978; 19: 133-135.
Forester, U., The adaptability of two rabies virus strains isolated in
central Europe to one domesticated and two wild-living species. A
contribution to the Epidemiology of rabies. Part 4: Transmission
studies on ferrets with a rodent isolate. Zbl Vet Med B 1979;
26: 26-38. (Translation by NIH).
Fox JG, Murphy JC, Ackerman MS, Prostak KS, Gallagher CA, Rambow VJ.
Proliferative colitis in ferrets. 1982; 43: 858-864.
Garibaldi ME, Goad P, Fox JG, Sylvina TJ, Murray R. Serum cortisol
radioimmunoassay values in the normal ferret and response to ACTH
stimulation and dexamethasone suppression tests. Lab An Sci 1988;
38: 452- 454.
Hoover JP, Baldwin CA, Rupprecht CE. Serologic response of domestic
ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) to canine distemper and rabies
virus vaccines. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1989; 194: 234-238.
Johnson-Delaney C, Nelson W. A Rapid procedure for filling fractured
canine teeth of ferrets. J of Small Exotic Animal Medicine 1992;
Kawasaki, T. Retinal Atrophy in the ferret. J of Small Exotic Animal
Medicine 1992; 3: 137.
Kociba GJ, Caputo CA. Aplastic anemia associated with estrus in pet
ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1981; 178: 1293-1294.
Kreuger KL, Murphy J C Fox J G. Treatment of proliferative colitis in
ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1989; 194: 1435-1436.
Liberson AJ, Newcomer CE, Ackerman JI, Murphy JC, Fox JG. Mastitis
caused by hemolytic Escherichia coli in the ferret. J Am Vet Med
Assoc 1983; 183: 1179-1181.
Luttgen PJ, Storts RW, Rogers KS, Morton LD. Insulinoma in a ferret. J
Am VetMed Assoc 1986; 189: 920-921.
Mainka CH, Heber L, Schneider W. Studies on rabies of ferrets after a
singleantibodies vaccination, J Vet Med B 1988; 35: 24-28.
Manning D, Bell J. Lack of detectable blood groups in domestic
ferrets: Implications for transfusion. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990;
Nguyen HT, Moreland AF, Shields RP. Urolithasis in ferrets (Mustela
putorius). Lab An Sci 1979; 29: 243-245.
Rupprecht CE, Gilbert J, Pitts R, Marshall KR, Koprowski H. Evaluation
of an inactivated rabies vaccine in domestic ferrets. J Am Vet
Med Assoc 1990; 196: 1614-1616.
Stauber E, Robinette J, Basaraba R, Riggs M, Bishop C. Mast cell
tumors in three ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990; 196: 766-767.
Copyright © 1994-1998 by
I am not a ferret expert and cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information.
Last modified: 02 Mar 1998.