Care and Feeding of Ferrets

When they are very young

Vaccinations 

Kits (young ferrets) should be vaccinated for distemper at 8,* 12 and 16 weeks of age then at one year of age. Reactions to the licenced distemper vaccine are common. Discuss the benefits and risks of vaccination and observe your ferret in the veterinarian’s office for at least 20 minutes follow distemper vaccines given to ferrets over one year of age. Rabies vaccination should be given at 16 weeks and then annually.

Spay / Castration

We recommend spaying or castration at 6 months of age. This allows kits to develop their normal sexually influenced size and body characteristics.*

Descenting

The purpose of “descenting,” or removing the anal sacs, from a ferret is to keep them from “spraying” or “skunking,” that is spraying the contents of their anal sacs when frightened or excited. This procedure is unnecessary for most ferrets and should be reserved for those ferret that have proven to be a problem.*

*The great majority of ferrets we see today are from large farm operations (such as Marshall Farms). These kits have been spayed, castrated, descented, and have had a single distemper vaccination at 5 ½ to 6 ½ weeks of age. Because they are so young at the time they are vaccinated these ferrets still require the same number of vaccinations as other ferrets.

Annual examination and vaccination

It is very important to have your ferret examined on an annual basis. The importance increases with age. The majority of ferret diseases are treatable when detected early. Rabies vaccinations are repeated annually. We are working with laboratories to provide a test for the level of protection a ferret may have for distemper. If and when this test is available we may recommend that your ferret be tested and vaccinated only if it’s level of immunity is low. If you chose not to vaccinate your ferret for distemper after it is one year of age, do not neglect the annual examination.

Diet

Ferrets are consummate carnivores and require a diet high in animal source proteins and high in fats. We recommend that one of the following diets be fed: Mazuri (Purina Mills) Ferret formula, Totally Ferret, Bandit Brand (Marshall Farms) Ferret food, Sheppard and Green ferret food, Science Diet Kitten formula, or Iams Kitten formula. Many of the lesser brands are inadequate or have a poor level of acceptance. Grocery store cat and kitten foods most often contain too little animal source proteins and or fats.

Supplements

Nutritional supplements such as Linatone, Ferritone, Fer-vite are well accepted and may be offered as occasional treats, rewards, or diversions from noxious experiences (such as nail trimming). No other dietary supplement is necessary or recommended. A variety of items may be used as treats or rewards for training, bribes or for good behavior. Many ferrets enjoy raisins. They may be fed as treats or rewards in limited numbers.

Caging

Most ferret owners chose to cage their friends during the hours that they are not home or awake to supervise their activities. A large all metal cage is recommended. They are easier to clean and deodorize than wooden cages. Multiple levels should be connected by long sloping ramps (steep ramps are dangerous, especially for older ferrets) or tubes. The cage should be easy to clean with easy access to all levels and removable shelves and floors. Food bowls should be heavy crocks or should be attached to the side of the cage. Water is most often supplied via a water bottle with a screw on lid (don’t use bottles with rubber stoppers as ferrets will chew and swallow the rubber).

Litter box / Litte

The litter box can be a source of medical problems as well as training frustrations. Clay kitty litter or clumping litter have proven to be a problem as they can cause upper respiratory irritation (dust), dry dirty coat (they roll in it), and airway obstructions (gets in nose and mouth). Corncob bedding is not recommended as it harbors mold, is not digestible and can be a source of intestinal impaction if swallowed. Pine and cedar shavings contain volatile pine oils and turpentines that cause upper respiratory irritation and have been shown to cause liver enzyme elevation and can cause respiratory tract and skin irritation in the human household members.

We recommend the use of paper bedding products. These products are absorbent, and inhibit bacterial growth. A few brand names are Care Fresh, Yesterday’s News and there are many more.

Care of the older ferret

Ferrets have an average life span of 5 to 7 years. Some “record breakers” may live as long as 10 years. Ferrets start to experience middle age problems as early as 3 years of age. With a good “geriatric program,” we have been able to prolong the quality and quantity of life in many pets.

More frequent checkups, every 6 months, are recommended for older ferrets. Ferrets develop disease rapidly, especially cancer, kidney and heart disease, and waiting an entire year between visits could prevent the early detection and management of these diseases. Starting at four years of age we recommend laboratory work be done. On a healthy animal a complete blood cell count and a fasting blood glucose as the minimum work-up. The pet should be fasted 2 to 3 hours prior to the blood tests being taken. This routine laboratory work should be done once a year. Additional laboratory work, a blood chemistry profile, and an x-ray, particularly if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, may be recommended. Anesthesia may be necessary for the x-ray. We use isoflurane gas anesthesia on our ferret patients which is very safe and eliminates the stress the pet may feel with these procedures.

After the age of 7, diagnostic testing may have to be done every 6 months along with the bi-annual examination. These laboratory work-ups have been invaluable in detecting many disease early and thus facilitating early treatment.

Article by By Jeffrey R. Jenkins, D.V.M

 

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Comments

  1. Are ferrets illegal in California? If they are, is it possible to own one with a license?

    • Ferrets are not legal in California. The law makes it possible to own one with a permit, however, to the best of my knowledge, there has not been a permit granted to a mortal citizen of California since the earlhy 1980s.
      That said there are thousands of ferrets here in California. In a Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) report 27% of all ferret products sold in the United States were sold in California.

    • I live in California with my 9 year old ferret, I moved here recently from NY. I wasnt about to abandon him. I order his food online and I live on the state line of Cali and Reno so if need be I can take him to a vet in Nevada where it is legal.

      • Enforcement may vary from region to region, but I don’t think anyone is looking for you or your ferret. We see 2-3 per week, do surgery on then every week and have done so for 25 years. There was a law passed several years that indemnifies veterinarians when ferrets are housed in their hospitals.
        In general, you want to follow “Dr. J’s Rule.” Your ferret(s) stay in your house unless they are going to the veterinarian and no one handles your ferrets that you are not related to.
        Enjoy your weasels and stop worrying.

  2. I just got an 11 month old ferret and she is a sweetie, but I got her out today and she does nothing but bite and scratch. I was going to give her a bath with ferretssheen shmpoo with aloe vera in it . The prior owners feed her dog and cat food. I think once she stars eatting her food she will stop doing all of this . I’m going to try that . If you can help

    • Tabitha
      I agree that your new ferret may be acting up because she is hungry. It s often difficult to get ferrets to accept a new diet and she may not be eating even if her new food is available to her. Other causes of misbehavior include social stress, gastritis or gastric ulcers (common when ferrets are in stressful situations like a new home) and ear mites. It would be best to take your new girl to see a good ferret veterinarian for her new pet exam!

  3. Me ferrit is 3.5 years old. She has lost a lot of weight and is not eating as she was in the previous 2 monthes, and is getting very slow walking running. Can you give advice please?

    • Lots of things could cause your friend to slow down. Three and a half years is a common age for insulinoma and adrenal disease to show up or it could be that she is just not a kid anymore. Best if you have a thorough physical done, including some blood tests, to see what is going on.

  4. Stephen says:

    I have always understood that raisins are toxic to ferrets and that even one could be detrimental.

    • Ferrets love raisins. They love them so much there are raisin flavored ferret treats in the pet shops.
      Raisins are not poisonous to ferrets but they are not good for them either. Too much simple sugar and indigestible fiber for a ferret. One won’t hurt.

  5. Dr. Jenkins, my Husband and I will be moving to San Diego next year and are wondering will you be able to see our ferret? We also have 2 cats and 2 guinea pigs. Will we have any problems getting our ferret into California coming from Colorado? Thank you.

  6. OK that’s fine, we will find someone else for the cats :) no comment on how we can get the little rascal into California safely?

  7. My ferret was just fine yesterday, playful and social. Today when I came from work he had no energy, drinks but does not seem to eat, he just want to sleep but not in his regular place and he looks pretty weak. I live pretty close your hospital but you were already closed when I noticed, now I am pretty scared, what can I do to keep him better until tomorrow??

    • Liliana
      It was nice to meet you today and I’m sorry I did not get to this earlier.
      In cases like this, the most important thing is to keep him eating and drinking. If there are significant changes in personality or other neurological changes, it is important to get your ferret to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if they are not experts in ferret medicine, they may be able to make a big difference.

  8. Marsha says:

    Just got a ferret that is a about a year old. He itches and I combed him for fleas and found nothing. He is on a good food and I don’t understand why he itches. What else can I do to help his itching

    • Lots of things will make ferrets itch. Some of the most common are: harsh shampoo (many of those sold as ferret shampoo), perfume, and fabric softener.
      Wash your new friend in a mild soap (I like Johnsons and Johnsons Baby Wash) and use a sent free conditioner. While he’s being bathed, whash any bedding in a no scent laundry soap.
      Let us know how things turn out.

  9. Lwalker says:

    I just got my 11 month old a day ago. He was so excited and extremely playful running around my house, when I brought him home. I got him a nice spacious ferret house. He went to the bathroom in his litter box fine before bed, didn’t eat or drink anything just zonked right out for the night and today hes been on edge about eating, drinking, using his litter box, and isn’t as playful. Could this be because he is new to his environment and hes stressed out? I understand ferrets sleep the majority of the day, but they should be waking up and doing all this in between naps. I bought the food he was being fed at the pet store he should already be used to it.

    • You are likely right. Lots f stress in his life going from one place to another. If he doesn’t eat by tomorrow, take him back to the pet shop for a couple of days and try again. Best of luck!

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