Below are some answers to more frequently asked questions. Please feel welcome to contact us or visit the shelter if your question is not answered here or on our videos or external resources pages. Ask about our education and outreach services. We're happy to help!
Ferrets do have a smell, but so do dogs, and so do you! Some people describe their smell as musky. But no, ferrets should not smell strongly. When there is a strong smell in the ferret's area, this is usually due to dirty laundry (their oils build up on the fabric even if they don't look dirty!) or insufficiently cleaned litterboxes.
If you purchase a private-bred ferret, and choose not to spay, neuter, or descent it, the ferret's odor will definitely be stronger. But a lot of ferret owners find their natural scent inoffensive, or even pleasant.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores with specific nutritional needs. Cat, kitten, and dog foods don't have the right balance for ferrets. They need high protein, high fat, low fiber diets. The shelter feeds a blend of Totally Ferret, Mazuri, Marshalls, and Oxbow.
Whatever food you choose, make sure to search the ingredients for pea protein, which has been shown to cause bladder stones in ferrets and should not be used.
There's a good reason for mixing multiple kibbles together! Sometimes manufacturing issues or recalls mean that there's a shortage of your ferret's preferred food. Most ferrets imprint on the food they're used to eating, and will refuse to eat other types. If they're already used to eating multiple foods, you won't have to worry about your ferret refusing to eat when you can't get one of their brands.
Always have fresh food and water available for your ferret. Their digestive system is very short and they need to snack regularly throughout the day.
Vitamin supplements such as salmon oil can both provide essential nutrients and taste great. Treats should contain primarily meat or meat products and very little fructose, corn or corn syrup and other fillers. Do not give ferrets anything with nuts, fruit or vegetables!
The best food and treats are not sold in stores, but online. Check out our external resources page to find many options for places to shop.
Some owners choose to feed their ferrets a diet of raw meat and supplements. This is a valid, if difficult, method of feeding. It can be messy and expensive, take a lot of time to prepare, and a lot of planning to properly balance your ferret's nutritional needs.
A raw diet isn't just packaged meat. It needs to include both organs and dietary supplements to ensure your ferret is getting everything they need.
Ferrets like a wide variety of toys, especially those that allow them to dig (boxes of dry rice or plastic balls do the trick nicely). They enjoy small jingly or rattle balls, and pull toys - but make sure the toys don't have eyes, feathers or tinfoil that can be chewed off and swallowed.
Anything with rubber or foam is a no-no! Ferrets love the texture of these toys, but will quickly chew pieces off, which they can swallow. Swallowed pieces of rubber or foam are extremely dangerous and require a vet visit - and sometimes, surgery.
Ferrets love tunnels, plastic and paper bags, cardboard boxes, pillowcases, old sweatshirts and pants. But mostly, they love to spend play time with you!
Ferrets do best when their food and water, litter and bedding are all in separate areas. Multistory cages are ideal; Ferret Nation by Midwest models are sturdy, offer sufficient room for up to 4-5 ferrets, and are easy to clean. They usually cost between $225-$275. Single-story cages, from $75 to $150 in most pet stores, are useful for elderly or ill ferrets, blind ferrets and those recovering from surgery.
The best cages are made of galvanized coated metal or wire. Ramps and cage walls should be evaluated for sturdiness; a comparison of different brands reveals a surprisingly wide range of quality, even at the same price point. Cage bottoms should not be wire because they can result in injury or inflammation. Plastic sheeting, laminate, vinyl and similar materials serve as easy and inexpensive liners.
Please see our videos page for suggestions in setting up a good ferret cage.
For high-quality bedding, be sure to check the Shopping section listed on our external resources page. Some of these stores contribute a portion of their sales to ferret shelters, and some regularly donate goods to shelter fundraisers.
Ferrets naturally like to burrow into tunnels and dark spaces, so this behavior is hard-wired into their brains. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent free-roaming ferrets from ruining your furniture and carpet.
Usually, ferrets scratch the carpet at the door of a room they want to enter - or get out of. Sometimes they'll scratch to try and get under a couch or other low piece of furniture. You can prevent damage to the carpet and discourage scratching by purchasing some inexpensive clear plastic runner, stocked by most home supply or hardware stores, or carpet remnants, cut to size. You can use carpet tacks or strong double-sided tape to secure the material. Some people remove the legs of a couch to rest it solidly on the floor, and staple mesh wire or some other safe barrier between the frame and seat cushions.
In ALL cases, please be sure to check the seat cushions on sofas and chairs before sitting down, and don't use recliners while ferrets are in the room. We strongly suggest not having reclining furniture in the house at all.
Think of baby-proofing a house, only the baby is much smaller and a very adept escape artist.
Ferrets can "pancake" their bodies to get under furniture and doorways, and through windows with just a 1.5" gap. Make sure they can't get behind or under appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, and washer-dryers. Vents and ducts, such as those coming from an AC or laundry machine, are other dangerous spots to block off or cover. Cabinets may need to be latched and stairwells blocked by plexiglass or a baby gate that ferrets can't climb.
House plants must be out of reach not only because many are toxic, but because ferrets love to dig in the soil.
Rubber and foam are especially attractive to ferrets, but bitten-off pieces can easily lodge in the stomach or intestines and cause a fatal blockage. Be aware of the buttons on your remote control and any rubber "feet" on the underside of appliances. Other easily-missed rubber and foam objects include earbuds, flipflops, shoe inserts, mattress toppers, and kids' play mats. Even Kong chew-resistant dog toys aren't strong enough to resist a determined ferret's teeth for long!
Do not allow ferrets access to the cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. These are just small enough for a ferret to crawl inside - and then get stuck inside, which can be extremely dangerous. However, they can be fun toys if you make sure to rip them open first!
An open toilet is a drowning danger. Some larger ferrets are even strong enough to lift the lid. It's safest to keep them out of the bathroom entirely.
Frrets are occasionally drawn to chew electric wires or cables. Exposed wires can be ferret-proofed with PVC pipe, and wall sockets can be protected with baby-proofing plastic inserts.
Please visit our Videos page for more tips on ferret-proofing a house or play area.
When you think you've ferret-proofed enough, set your ferret free and they'll show you what you've missed. Ferrets are clever and mischievous, and always searching for anything they shouldn't be playing with!
Medical & Veterinary
Look for a veterinarian with a certificate in exotic animal medicine or membership in the AEMV, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians. The American Ferret Association and Ferret Shelters Directory both list "ferret vets" on their websites, organized by state. The Seattle area is lucky to have several veterinarians who specialize in ferrets and whose work with ferrets has become nationally known. A few we suggest are:
Evergreen Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital
12930 NE 125th Way NE
Kirkland, WA 98034
7626 27th Street W
University Place, WA 98466
Pine Tree Veterinary Hospital
27539 Maple Valley Black Diamond Rd. SE Suite D102
Maple Valley, WA 98038
Bird and Exotic Clinic of Seattle
4019 Aurora Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
Browns Point Veterinary Clinic
6720 Eastside Dr NE
Tacoma, WA 98422
If you bought your ferret from a pet store in the US, they were probably bred and distributed by Marshalls Farms. All Marshall ferrets are fully vaccinated for distemper and need a rabies vaccine after 12 weeks of age.
Your ferret absolutely needs a rabies and canine distemper inoculation each year. Rabies is legally required in Washington state - check your local regulations if you live elsewhere.
When you adopt a ferret from us, they come fully vaccinated. We will provide you with their vaccination records and a date for when they will next need it done.
The most common illnesses in ferrets are adrenal disease, insulinoma, and lymphoma. Many ferrets also suffer from cardiomopathy, like congestive heart failure, which is believed to be caused by poor diet. A variety of gastrointestinal illnesses, from bacterial infections to hairballs or foreign body blockages, may become fatal if untreated.
Ferrets are also susceptible to the influenza virus and COVID-19.
If you can capture the ferret, it can be safely housed in a cat or small animal carrier (plastic crates are best) provided the airholes or metal bars are less than 1.5 inches wide. Even a box with very small airholes will do in a pinch. You can give the ferret water and small amounts of turkey or chicken baby food, or a high-quality kitten chow, but no dairy products, vegetables, fruit or nuts. Remember that overfeeding a starving animal does more harm than good.
Lost and abandoned ferrets rarely survive outdoors for more than 24 hours. Most county, municipal and independent shelters are not equipped to care for ferrets. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In an emergency, please text (206) 941-4114. If the ferret is injured, drooling, very lethargic or unresponsive, please let us know when leaving your message, and seek emergency veterinary care if at all possible.