One of the most important factors to consider before getting a new pet is their suitability for your lifestyle and the level effort you will put forth to accommodate your new furry family member. While most people are familiar with the basic needs to care for a dog or cat, far fewer are properly educated on the needs of ferrets. Ferrets are without a doubt the most challenging pet I’ve cared for, but also one of the most rewarding. For this week’s blog post I’ve compiled some key ferret-friendly facts to consider before bringing one into your home.
First and foremost, ferrets are NOT really caged pets. While they’re routinely kept beside the small pets in pet stores, in single level rabbit style cages this could not be a more inaccurate representation of their housing requirements! Ferrets are incredibly active and intelligent animals, and require an absolute minimum of 4-5 hours play time every day. Play time should be dynamic, challenging them mentally and physically; if you don’t find ways to engage your ferret(s) they will find ways to entertain themselves, and I promise you will be less than impressed. A ferret caged too long, too often will “cage rage”, biting and scratching at the bars as well as other mischievous behavior (eg: not using the litterbox, rearranging the cage, and nipping) to send a message.
Ferrets are “obligate carnivores” which means they are physically incapable of digesting any kind of plant matter. Ferrets lack the anatomy and chemistry to break down and process carbohydrates, thus their pancreas is under constant stress to keep up with the carbohydrate intake. This stress causes dramatic fluctuations in the blood glucose of the ferret over short periods of time, and eventually culminates in a pancreatic cancer known as insulinoma. Considering this information, there is only one acceptable diet for ferrets – balanced raw meat diet. Fret not if a raw diet sounds complicated, disgusting, and daunting, for there is a group of fantastic volunteers who can walk you through from start to finish, no matter the age or health of your ferret(s). Visit http://holisticferret60.proboards.com/, to check out their top-notch mentoring program.
Unfortunately, ferrets in general are sickly animals. Years of human interference has created a companion with a devastatingly short life-span in North America (5 to 7 years on average). In addition to insulinoma, ferrets are also prone to adrenal disease, lymphoma, and cardiomyopathy, but unlike insulinoma these diseases are largely out of owners control. This makes ferrets one of the most expensive pets, its not a question of “if” they get sick, as much as it is a matter of “when” they will get sick. As sad as this ferret fact may be, most ferret owners will tell you it’s all worth it.
Finally, if you’re looking for a cuddly companion, or a fur ball to follow obediently at your feet keep looking. Ferrets are curious, mischievous, and wildly independent – they have places to go, things to stash, and little patience for your human needs. This does not mean your ferret doesn’t love you, they just have an odd way of showing it, such as nipping toes, and “lick, lick, nip” your hands for attention or invitation to play. As ferrets get older, some may settle into cuddle buddies but don’t be surprised if you’re 7-year-old ferret is more interested in killing cat toys then your hugs and kisses.
Ferrets are incredible pets, but they’re not for everyone. Being a ferret-parent requires a lot of patience, a dark sense of humor, and a great deal of education and time. If you’re not sure, connect with other ferret parents, I promise they’re dying to tell you all about their ferrets! Even if you decide a ferret might not be a good fit, there are lots of other pets out there suitable for busy lifestyles and lower commitment.
Holistic Ferret community is made up of three sites:
Scientific American – Ferrets: Mans Other Best Friend