A ferret is a member of the mustelid family, which also includes weasels, polecats, minks, otters, and badgers. They are obligate carnivores, which means they can only eat and process meat. The modern ferret has been domesticated for thousands of years, and has no wild counterpart - not even the endangered Black-Footed Ferret.
Rather than being nocturnal or diurnal, ferrets are crepuscular; they are naturally most active during the evening and morning, and can sleep 18-20 hours a day. But ferrets will adjust easily to your schedule and wake when you're ready for them to play!
Most ferrets you buy from pet stores in the United States are bred and distributed by Marshall Farms.
Is a Ferret the Right Pet for You?
Ferrets are playful, curious, intelligent, sociable, and affectionate creatures. They are quiet, only occasionally making a soft "dooking" sound when very happy or excited. They need daily attention and lots of exercise, although this frequently occurs in brief, energetic bursts of activity followed by a snack and a nice, long nap. They have often been compared to kittens or puppies that don't fully grow up.
Most ferrets enjoy a lifespan of 7-10 years. As they enter middle age (3-4 years), their activity level slows and many begin to display symptoms of common illnesses such as adrenal disease, insulinoma, lymphoma and cardiomyopathy. But better nutrition and housing, easy access to ferret-savvy resources, and better veterinary and preventative care all contribute to longer lifespans and a higher quality of life.
- Ferrets are not rodents. Along with minks, otters, weasels, fishers, martens, and badgers, they are members of the mustelid family.
- Ferrets are not wild animals. Ferrets kept as companion animals have been domesticated for thousands of years. They absolutely cannot survive in the wild and, if released, will quickly perish. They are often confused with the endangered North American black-footed ferret, but they are a separate, distinct species. It's like comparing a pet dog to a coyote or wolf.
- Ferrets are not "cage critters" or "pocket pets." They need to be out of their cages at least 1 or 2 hours every day for exercise and enrichment. Many also crave daily quality time with their humans. Special harnesses allow you to take your ferret for walks - just be sure to avoid pesticide-treated areas and hazards like broken glass, drainage grates, etc. If properly ferret-proofing your home is neither desirable nor feasible, do provide a safe and reasonably spacious play area. (Several companies manufacture collapsible pens for this purpose.) If you don't want to commit to at least a half hour of loving interaction each day, please choose a less social and energetic pet.
- Like other mustelids, ferrets have a slight musky odor. But healthy ferrets fed a good diet and living in a clean, secure environment do not "stink." Bathing is rarely necessary and can actually stimulate the production of natural oils and musk. Odors are much more effectively controlled by laundering a ferret's bedding at least once a week and keeping cages and litter boxes clean. Fresh food and water should be available at all times.
- Ferrets are not party animals. They usually don't respond well to unnaturally bright lights, loud noises, rough handling or disrupted sleep and exercise routines. These are all stressors that render a ferret more susceptible to illness or behavioral problems. And don't leave alcohol within reach - it's lethal to ferrets.
- All ferrets are not created equal. Understanding your ferret's personality is important. Like most intelligent animals, ferrets have distinct characteristics and traits. Some are easygoing and quickly make friends; others are pickier. Occasionally a ferret will prefer the company of its human caregiver vs. interacting with other ferrets. Some get along just fine with other species; some do not.
- Ferrets are not mean or vicious. Just as puppies and kittens nip during play, so do many ferret kits. They quickly learn, however, that human skin is nowhere near as tough as their own. Gentle but firm training makes a happier ferret and strengthens the bonds of a loving relationship.