Getting a Pet Ferret

Ferrets are fun, energetic members of the weasel family. They’re small, which means they don’t need a lot of room. Before you get a pet ferret, though, there are some things you should know.  

Before Getting a Pet Ferret

First, make sure you’re living somewhere where they’re legal to own. California, Hawaii, and New York City ban ferret ownership entirely, and many municipalities throughout the U.S. may have similar laws. 

Next, make sure you’re up to owning a ferret. They need more attention than cats or dogs, despite their small size. A ferret should be let out of their cage for several hours daily, but they need to be closely watched while they're out. Ferrets are also known for chewing things. They have sharp teeth and do sometimes bite, so they should be kept away from small children.

Ferrets can carry rabies and should be vaccinated. They need regular veterinary care and should be spayed or neutered. Not doing so can make them more likely to get sick.

Ferrets have a natural musk that makes them smell. If you still want one, you should get two. Ferrets are social, so it’s better for them if you have two at a time so they have companionship. 

Preparing your home for ferrets. You’ll need to prepare your home for your new family members. You should take some time to “ferret-proof” your house, or at least the room where your ferrets will live. 

This means closing your windows, blocking any gaps underneath doors, pushing your furniture firmly against the wall, removing any fragile objects that ferrets may knock over, and wrapping or unplugging any electrical cords in the room. 

If you have small children or other animals, they should also be kept out of the room whenever your ferrets are allowed out because ferrets may bite.

Before your ferrets come home, you’ll need to have some supplies ready to go, including:

  • An enclosure
  • Bedding
  • A litter box
  • Food
  • Treats
  • Toys for chewing

Ferret housing requirements. In general, the bigger your ferrets’ enclosure, the better. For one ferret, you need a cage that’s at least 6 cubic feet large. For every additional ferret, add the same amount of space (three ferrets need 18 cubic feet). 

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The cage can and should have multiple levels because ferrets enjoy climbing. Make sure the cage is made of metal because plastic and wood can be chewed through. Use old towels, T-shirts, or newspapers to cover the floor. 

Your ferret’s home should include a litter box. Ferrets are generally smart animals and can be trained to use pellet litter. They also need cozy and secluded places to sleep, like a hammock and a small den area. 

Ferret diet and treats. Ferrets are carnivores, so their diets should consist of meat or pet pellet food specifically designed for ferrets. These include all the vitamins and nutrients ferrets need.

You can supplement your ferrets’ diet with raw, meaty bones. These have the added benefit of enriching your pets' lives and helping them keep their teeth clean and healthy. Don’t give them cooked bones, though, because these can splinter and be dangerous. 

Training Ferrets

Ferrets have a mind of their own, and they will often use their intelligence to do exactly what you don’t want. There are a few ways to train your ferret to be a little easier to handle, including:

Toilet training. Young ferrets are not immediately toilet trained. To encourage your ferrets to use their litter box, you can place their feces in the box so it smells “right” to them. You can also place them in the litter box whenever you notice them about to do their business until they learn that this is where they should go. Giving your ferret a treat when they use the litter box is a good way to reinforce this behavior, too. 

Other training. You’ll likely need to train your ferret to only chew certain objects and to avoid certain places. You have two important tools to help you here: ferret treats and bitter-apple-scented sprays

Spray bitter apple scent on items or locations where your ferret shouldn’t go. Ferrets dislike this smell and will naturally avoid places and items that smell like it. Just don’t spray too much; you don’t want it wafting over to their enclosure. If your ferret ventures somewhere you don’t want them to go, you can make a hissing noise to discourage the behavior. Do this every time so they learn that it’s a permanent rule. 

Whenever your ferret does something you like, give them treats and praise. All animals respond to positive reinforcement. If your ferret always gets treats for getting back in their cage, they will be much more enthusiastic about the end of playtime. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 07, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Ethos Veterinary Health: “Are Ferrets Illegal in the US?”

Fitzroy Vet Hospital: “Training Your Ferret.”

The Humane Society of the United States: “Is a ferret right for you?”

Long Island Bird & Exotics Veterinary Clinic: “Ferret Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know.”

RSPCA NSW: “How to Care for Your Ferret.”

VCA Hospitals: “Ferrets - Housing.”

VetBabble: “How to Ferret Proof Your Home?”

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