In the small animal category, ferrets are a popular pet choice. Small enough to fit in nearly any type of home space, ferrets have a playful and curious side. While these pets can provide a lot of fun within a home, they require a great deal of attention.
Ferrets need a secure space to spend some alone time, but these animals are by no means solitary. They love to be out and about exploring, which means supervised playtimes and many opportunities for their pet parents—or other ferrets—to engage with them.
First and foremost, for ferrets to be healthy, they need to consume clean ingredients. Their digestive systems are simple and require only foods that are high in protein and concentrated on meat. As with many domesticated animals, supplements can be used to optimize ferret wellness.
“Just as with human health, supplements could be necessary for picky eaters or undernourished ferrets,” says Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator of Marshall Pet Products. “We have Furo-Vite, which is a paste with a high concentration of necessary vitamins and minerals, Ferret Pro Biotic for optimal gut health and Uncle Jim’s Original Duk Soup.”
These carnivores need to eat frequently, as their bodies will only run properly with a digestive system that is constantly fueled, according to Gina Sampson, owner of Priest River Pets, a 20-year-old single-door store that she’s owned for five years. While Sampson emphasizes the need for a high-quality, high-protein diet, she advises feeding different types of food to avoid raising finicky ferrets, which could cause challenges if the supply chain is interrupted.
“If they are only on one kind of food, and it won’t accept other types of food, it can be really difficult if you suddenly can’t get the food you need,” Sampson explains. “If it’s out of stock, especially with the shortages happening these days, it might be out of stock for a while.”
Sampson recommends that ferrets are exposed to a variety of different food and treat brands, especially while they’re young.
Furthermore, she notes the similarities between feline and ferret well being in terms of digestion. Ferrets require taurine, an essential amino acid that aids in digestion. These creatures are also susceptible to hairballs, which could cause severe damage to the digestive system.
After diet, the next aspect of ferret care to consider is their space. While ferrets are sociable and should spend a lot of quality time with their humans, these animals also require their own cozy space furnished with soft items, such as blankets, within a containment area. This cage should be dedicated to allowing ferrets to rest in a relaxing, calming environment that makes the animal feel secure.
“Any enclosure should be made of a durable wire frame with spaces tight enough to hold a sneaky ferret,” says Altman. “Multiple levels would be ideal as they love to climb and sleep-in hanging hammocks.”
According to Sandra Alexander, owner and president of Sandia Pet Products, Inc., a sleeping area that features a hammock should be the focus of the cage with the majority of toys reserved for outside the containment space.
“Most of our customers use a wire cage with enough room for the size of the ferret—smaller for a young ferret and larger as the ferret grows,” explains Alexander. “Ferrets really enjoy having a sleeping hammock inside their cage, so the cage should be large enough to accommodate the hammock. Also, a blanket or other cover to place over the cage helps the ferret feel secure.”
In their little home-like space, ferrets will also need a place dedicated to elimination, which means a litter box of an appropriate size should be included inside a cage. Of course, since ferrets sleep, eat and relieve themselves in their cages, it’s imperative for owners to regularly clean the contained space. Easily deconstructed cages are ideal for regular cleaning.
“Save a little space for a litter box, food and water and you’ll have a happy ferret,” Altman says.
As more pet parents took their pets on road trips in 2020, ferret owners were searching for solutions that would travel easily and also provide comfort for pets at their destinations. For traveling with ferrets, pet parents are seeking collapsible carriers, according to Jennifer Kor of T.S. International, Inc.
“They need water bottles and dishes, so they need cages that these things can be added to,” she adds.
Though ferrets are known to sleep often, they also love to play and look to pet parents for entertainment. Four hours minimum of daily activity is recommended to keep ferrets happy and healthy.
“They may not play all in one spurt of energy, but they do need to run, burrow, hide their treasures and play,” says Altman. “Playing with your ferret is an amazing bonding experience and will entertain you while exercising your ferret. Teaser toys will get your ferret to run and chase. “Get down on the floor with your ferret and play hide-and-seek,” she adds.
While ferrets should have toys, particularly those that allow them to interact with their owners, retailers should caution pet parents regarding the types of toys they provide. Due to a ferret’s potentially dangerous chewing tendency, toys should not be too soft nor small.
“Ferrets should have larger toys, because they will chew up the smaller toys,” Kor says.
Providing toys that can withstand a ferret’s chewing behavior is necessary, yet other methods of entertaining these animals can afford hours of fun. According to Sampson, tunnel systems are popular for ferret activity and, if pet parents are unable to find a product that fits their needs, they can create an entertainment structure from boxes, storage bins or PVC piping.
“I know people who have done some big boxes for them, which is great,” says Sampson. “You do the big Rubbermaid totes and fill it with rice, or something like that, and bury toys for them to find. You can do it where [the tunnel] goes outside the cage but back into the cage so they’re not running loose or you can have it where you’re opening it up so they can be in and out.”
Due to their curious nature, if ferrets are unsupervised for too long, they may also begin to feed on furniture, particularly cushioned items or foam, which could lead to intestinal blockages. Keeping track of ferret movement when they are outside of their containment spaces is crucial to pet safety.
“Ferrets are tremendously curious and love to go exploring,” Alexander explains. “Sometimes they are in places where they are difficult to find. At Sandia Pet Products, all our ferret harnesses and collars come with a bell attached so owners can track the sound to the latest hiding place. The retailer should strongly recommend bells on all ferret gear.”
Furthermore, Alexander recommends exercising ferrets by taking these animals on walks outside in the fresh air, but always maintaining control by using a collar with a bell and a leash. Having these products available is especially important as the demand for ferrets and their products increases, particularly among a population living in smaller apartment spaces, she says.
“Ferrets are ideal for city apartment dwellers,” says Alexander. “They are easy to care for and are a constant source of fun and companionship.” PB