Looking after your Ferret

Ferret Facts

  • Ferrets are carnivores (meat eaters). They are not related to the rodent family. They have a life span of around 10-12 years, however, they are considered to be seniors after 5 years of age.
  • Male ferrets are called Hobs and females Jill’s
  • The males usually weigh around 1-2 kg and the females 500 to 900 grams.
  • They are sexually mature around 4-8 months of age and the gestation period is 41 to 43 days. Their litter size can be anywhere between 1 and 18.
  • NOTE: Ferrets are very susceptible to getting the human flu or cold virus, so do not handle them when you are unwell.

Young Ferrets

  • Young ferrets are called kits, and their ears and eyes open at 30-35 days. You should wean ferrets at 6-8 weeks.
  • It is important that you handle ferrets from 4 weeks to encourage docility and to train them out of biting . Ferrets can also be toilet trained.
  • They may require several trays throughout the household as they will go to the toilet often because ferrets have a very short digestive system and may not make it from one end of the house to the other.
  • Ferrets can grow up with other animals in the household.

Dietary requirements

  • Since ferrets are carnivores, they need 30-40% minimum protein in their diet.
  • You can feed them red and white meat but NOT FISH.
  • Their fat content needs to be at least 15- 20% as this is their major energy source.
  • Ferrets do NOT digest fibre from plant protein, carbohydrates or dairy products.
  • They do need to eat frequently as food passes from their stomach to rectum in only 4 hrs.
  • Ferrets also need to be exposed to all food types from an early age (by 4 months) as their dietary preferences set and they are extremely hard to change.
  • Feeding a natural diet is best like raw rabbits and chicken carcasses including the stomach contents for adequate nutrition.

Food Alternatives

  • Close to ideal products are: Hills Feline growth, Iams kitten and Waltham’s Royal Canin feline growth.

Housing

  • Ferrets cages or the area where they should be kept needs to be around 15- 20 degrees Celsius. Any temperature above 30 degrees can be fatal to a ferret as they cannot sweat.
  • Can be kept in cages, or access to roam in the house (must be ferret proof)
  • If kept in a cage, they must be allowed out to exercise at least 1 hr per day.
  • The cage must be large enough to allow a sleeping area, eating area, and a litter tray.
  • The litter tray should have 3 high sides and 1 low side, so the ferret can get in easily and back up to a corner to urinate or defecate.
  • Use rabbit/ guinea pig sipper bottles and food bowls must be heavy to prevent them from tipping over or attached so that the ferret cannot remove them.
  • Never use foam or rubber in their housing as it can cause obstructions in their gastrointestinal tract and prove fatal if swallowed.
  • Outside runs must have an underground bolt hole to escape from the summer heat.
  • Environmental enrichment is very important for ferrets well being. Place boxes, PVC pipes, bags, tunnels, tubing etc into their housing for them to play in.

Preventative Ferret Care

Vaccination Program
  • Vaccinate at 8 and12 weeks against Canine Distemper then annually. If the first dose is given later than 12 weeks of age they will need a booster around 4-6 weeks later.
Desexing
  • At 4-6 months of age
  • Must desex males and females
  • Desexing decreases the musky smell of ferrets, ( removal of the anal glands in ferrets does not reduce the smell)
  • In Australia the females come into season from August/ September through to April. Once in season, they usually stay in season and after 4 weeks they will begin to develop anemia as their bone marrow is suppressed and death will occur if in season for 8 weeks continually.
Worming
  • Tapeworm is a major problem. Use products like Felex paste 1ml/kg, revolution (kitten), or Advocate
Heartworm prevention
  • Ferrets are very susceptible to heartworm infestation and must go onto a preventative program. All heartworm preventions are “off label” (not registered for use on ferrets but do work) i.e. Heartgard blue, Heartgard FX for kittens, Revolution (puppy/kitten) and Advocate.
Fleas and mites
  • Ferrets are susceptible to fleas.Products to use are Frontline Spray, Advantage (cats/kittens), Revolution (kitten), Advocate, Program ampoules monthly in the food for egg control (these products are off label use)
  • It is also important that you not only treat your ferret for fleas, but you must treat their environment as well with flea foggers/bombs. If the ferrets are inside pets you will need to treat inside the house as floorboards and carpets are ideal for fleas and eggs to live in.
  • Flea eggs can survive months in the backyard and hatch when they feel vibrations from moving objects. Once the flea has had a blood meal from the ferret, they lay their eggs continuing the flea cycle.

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