Ferrets have been domesticated for 2,000 years and can make good pets for people who have an understanding of their needs. No pet should be adopted on a whim, but ferrets are more than typically difficult to manage. Ferrets are never recommended for households with young children (under 7) and must be closely supervised if near infants. Nonetheless, for owners who research ferrets thoroughly and train them carefully, these animals can make playful and loyal pets.
Although illegal in Australia, ferrets can be legally owned in most parts of the United States. At present, however, they are outlawed in California and New York City. In many parts of the country, owners of ferrets are required to meet certain criteria or obtain special permits in order to legally house a ferret. It is best to check local regulations before considering adopting a ferret.
Even though ferrets in Europe are frequently housed outdoors, this is not recommended in the United States. There are two basic reasons to keep a ferret indoors: their sensitivity to extremes of temperature and their susceptibility to a number of canine diseases.
Ferrets are intelligent, curious and active creatures. They need to be crated for their own protection and for the protections of their surroundings, but it is cruel to adopt a ferret if it won't be given plenty of time to play and expend energy. Besides, a ferret crated for long periods, is likely to be destructive of property if it becomes bored or frustrated. Several hours of daily exercise and human contact are recommended for pet ferrets.
Well-balanced commercial food is available for ferrets, but a ferret's diet must also contain natural raw and whole prey, such as frozen mice or chicks. The animal's fast metabolism and short digestive tract requires frequent nourishment so commercial food should be made available at all times. Whole prey, however, need not be constantly available. Since ferrets are carnivores, they should not be fed starches, sugars, fruits or vegetables as these can lead to intestinal difficulties. In general, human food is not good for ferrets, with the exception of baby food meats.
Would-be owners of ferrets should be aware that all ferrets have a natural musky odor. Neutering the animal diminishes, but does not eliminate, the ferret's scent. Feeding the ferret a healthy diet, keeping its bedding clean and cleaning out the animal's ears regularly all help to decrease the odor. It is also important to remove any uneaten portions of whole prey from the ferret's food bowl to keep the area sanitary and as odor-free as possible.
In addition to their natural musky odor, ferrets have anal scent glands to use as a defense when frightened. While they do not normally release scent in safe surroundings, some owners have these scent glands surgically removed. This is not advised because this does it can result in serious health problems. Ferrets should not be bathed more than once monthly because the baths interfere with normal oil production and may eventually result in an increase, rather than a decrease, in the animal's scent.
Ferrets are intelligent as cats and dogs and so can be trained in many of the same ways. They have a natural tendency to nip and bite in order to provoke play, or if irritated or frightened, as do kittens and puppies, so they must be taught that this is unacceptable to humans. Ferrets may also respond to pain, fear or loud noises by biting out of a natural desire to protect themselves. It is usually best to keep the pet from being frightened or interfered with to avoid this since ferrets are difficult to discipline..
While ferrets can be trained to use a litterbox, owners must be patient to accomplish this. Normally, after a supervised introduction, ferrets get along with cats and dogs in the household, but, as natural hunters, they will not normally be able to adapt an acceptable attitude to fish, birds, rodents, rabbits or lizards.
Male and female ferrets, hobs and jills, respectively, should be neutered by responsible owners not interested in breeding them. Unaltered, a jill will remain in heat for half of the year. This will not only make her uncomfortable, but increases her risk of developing leukemia and certain other diseases. A hob that hasn't been neutered is likely to become aggressive during mating season. In addition, as mentioned earlier, neutering will decrease either gender's musky scent.
For owners who have done their homework and are prepared to welcome a ferret into the home, ferrets can be delightful pets. They are bright, curious, affectionate and amusing.