More and more people are beginning to keep ferrets in the UK as they can make entertaining and affectionate pets. Here are a few pointers that ferret owners need to know.
Housing and handling – Ferrets are very active animals therefore require plenty of space to move around with lots of things to keep them entertained. Ferrets can be housed as indoor or outdoor pets, although outdoors is preferable for most people because of the “musky” odour they produce. When keeping them outdoors they will need to be on a hard surface as if put on grass they can burrow out of their enclosure.
Within their housing area they will require a warm dry place to sleep lined with material. Ideal items include old sweatshirts and tracksuit bottoms as they love to crawl through and sleep in the sleeves and trouser legs. As ferrets are keen climbers, shelves, hammocks and ladders are great additions to their play areas to keep these hyperactive animals amused. Other toys such as balls and tubing are good for both interactive play with their owners and sole play.
Ferrets need to be handled from a young age to prevent them from “nipping” when they are older. To teach them not to nip you, a light tap on the nose when they do is a suitable method. Handling your ferret most days will keep them tame. The correct way to pick up a ferret is by grasping it under its fore-legs and bringing it in close to your body, then they will proceed to climb over you to explore.
As ferrets are very sociable animals they should not be kept on their own, needing the company of at least one other ferret. Same sex animals live happily together as well as opposite sexes. (Please see section on neutering).
Feeding – Ferrets are carnivores, eating a similar diet to cats. There are few animal food companies that produce specific ferret food. James Wellbeloved produce a very good complete ferret food that is suitable for all ages once they are weaned from their mothers. Other brands are Burgess and Supreme Science Selective. All of these ferret foods are dry kibble as this seems to be the best at keeping their teeth in good condition. It is suggested not to change to different kibble once you have started feeding your ferret one type as they will commonly turn their noses up at unfamiliar kibble. As a treat, or if you are trying to train your ferret; cat treats and small dog treats are suitable.
Neutering – Female ferrets (Jills) are induced ovulators, which means they will stay in season until they are mated. It is recommended that Jills are neutered after they are sexually mature at 6 months. Males are often castrated to reduce aggression and odour. Contrary to populat belief the ferret's characteristic odour is produced by the sebacious glands of the skin not the anal glands. An alternative to neutering is to implant a hormone pellet but this is only temporary and surgical neutering is generally preferable.
Vaccination and Diseases – Ferrets can suffer from Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and in theory it is possible to vaccinate them against this disease. However multi-valent dog vaccines are not suitable and a mono-valent CDV vaccine is currently unavailable in the UK. Fortunately, as pet ferrets are unlikely to come in contact with CDV, it is unnecessary to routinely vaccinate them. They can also suffer from Aleutian disease. This can cause multiple symptoms and is caused by a parvovirus which is unrelated to canine parvovirus. There is no vaccine available against Aleutian disease but again pet ferrets are unlikely to contract this.
Ferrets can contract and spread human influenza virus so care should be taken if someone in contact has 'flu but it is usually self-limiting and not serious.
Parasite Control – Ferrets are usually free of intestinal parasites so routine worming is not necessary. They can however suffer from fleas and ear mites. These should only be treated on advice from a veterinary surgeon as many shop bought products are unsuitable and ineffective.
Ferret Quick Stats: Life span 7 to 10 years; weaning 7 to 8 weeks; sexual maturity approx. 6 months; gestation period 6 weeks (42 days); average litter size can range anywhere from 1 to 18 kits but the average is around 8 kits.
An entire female is called a Jill and a spayed female is called a Sprite.
An entire male is called a Hob or Hobbles and a castrated male is called a Gib.
(prepared by Alice Bowen veterinary nurse).
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