About Ferrets : common questions

Q. What sort of animal is a ferret?

A. Ferrets are domestic animals which are related to weasels, skunks, polecats, otters, ermines, stoats, badgers, martins and black-footed ferrets. They have been domesticated since about 300 years BC, so their ancestry is unclear. It is commonly believed that they are descended from the European polecat.

Q. Are they Australian natives?

A. No, they first came to Australia with the early settlers and were primarily used to catch rats and rabbits. Many were released into the wild but they failed to survive. Over the years they have continued to be used to help catch rabbits. More recently they have become popular as household pets and have begun to be treated more as a member of the family.

Q. Do ferrets make good pets?

A. Ferrets are intelligent, loving and playful and can make excellent pets for some people. They are not cage animals as such, and need to be part of the family to develop the trust needed to be a gentle pet. As with any pet, if a ferret is simply caged outside and does not have the opportunity to interact with its owners, it will become distrustful of being handled, may develop a habit of biting and will not be an interesting or rewarding pet. If a cage pet is desired, it is better to get a rabbit or guinea-pig. On the other hand, as a household pet, a ferret can be a delight and provide much enjoyment. Ferrets sleep for about 18 hours out of 24 and will be content to sleep during the day while the rest of the family are at work or school. They are usually most active during early morning and evening.

Q. Can ferrets be toilet trained?

A. Yes. Ferrets have an instinct to use corners as toilets and can be trained to use litter trays.

Q. Do ferrets bite?

A. Yes, ferrets can bite like any other animal with teeth, but they can be taught not to. Very young ferrets, like kittens or puppies, will enjoy mock fighting and while their teeth may not hurt fellow ferrets because of fur and tough skin, they can be quite painful for humans. Gentle, consistent training as the ferret grows up can soon break the habit. Similarly, an adult ferret who is not used to being handled may bite out of fear or anxiety and the same gentle training while you gain the ferret's trust can transform it into a gentle, trustworthy pet. A ferret which bites may not be the ideal pet for families with young children or for people who are hesitant about handling animals confidently. It is sometimes possible to adopt adult ferrets which are used to people and do not bite.

Q. Do Ferrets smell?

A. Yes, ferrets have a distinctive odour. This smell comes from glands in the skin and some people find it quite offensive while to others it is pleasant or hardly noticeable. A ferret can be bathed but this will not remove the smell. In fact, as the natural oils are secreted to replace those lost in the bath, the ferret will smell stronger than before. Therefore, the less you bath a ferret, the less it will smell! Male ferrets which have not been neutered have a very strong smell and will also mark their territory with pungent urine during the breeding season....a good reason to have male ferrets sterilised

Q. What do ferrets eat?

A. Ferrets are carnivores, so they eat animal-source products. Raw meat on its own is deficient in nutrients, so it needs to be supplemented. High quality dry cat food, purchased from a pet shop or veterinarian's is a good supplement. Organ meat (small quantities only), small prey and raw meaty bones are also excellent. Some ferrets also like a surprising array of treats including fruit, chocolate, icecream and peanut paste which may be given in very small quantities. Most ferrets also enjoy low-lactose milk.

Q. Can ferrets be left to roam like cats or dogs?

A. Not unless it is in a completely ferret-proof area. Ferrets have a yen to follow their nose wherever it leads them. They have an insatiable curiosity and love to explore new places. Unfortunately they can't always find their way home, or they may meet with an accident. Given that ferrets can squeeze through spaces just a few centimetres wide, climb netting, dig under fencing, push open doors and chew through flywire, you can see that ferret-proofing a house and yard can take some thought and effort. The house requires modification too if the ferret is to be allowed to roam free. Sealing off access to washers and refrigerators is important, as is moving furniture to prevent access to open windows or breakable treasured belongings. Ferrets often decide to sleep in unexpected places and this requires the need to carefully check the laundry before loading the washing-machine, the rubbish bag before taking out the trash, and so on. Rocker/recliner chairs are death traps for ferrets and there is no safe way to have this type of furniture and a ferret sharing the same space.

Door barriers, made from wood or perspex, can be used to keep ferrets in the house or out of certain rooms. Most ferrets cannot get over a barrier which is 75cm or higher, but make sure your ferrets cannot jump over before relying on the barrier.

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This is not meant to explain all there is to know about ferrets, but contains just a few of the most frequently asked questions and answers.