In general, ferrets usually get along with cats and dogs. It is not recommended to leave hunting breeds like terriers and hounds alone with ferrets. Your ferret could be hurt.
If you have small mammals (rodents, rabbits, etc.), you must exercise extreme caution with regards to ferrets. They are natural enemies, and your ferret may kill them.
Diet: Ferrets that are well cared for usually live 7-9 years . Their diet consists of dry cat food or ferret food with a minimum of 32-35% protein. Ferrets can not survive on dog food. If you feed cat food, give your kit (baby ferret) kitten food. Always use a high quality cat food, never the grocery store brands, they are not as nutritious. Ferret food is always recommended over cat food. If ferret food isn’t available we like diets such as IAMS, Science Diet, and Purina Pro Plan.
The best food and water bowls are heavy ceramic crocks. There are also bowls made to attach through the cage for the ferrets who are mischievous and like to rearrange their furniture. Water must be available at all times.
Recommended snacks are cooked chicken, small amounts of fruits, raisins, cabbage, broccoli, grapes, or melon. Dairy products cause diarrhea. Chocolate and caffeine are poisonous. Cereals or sugary treats affect the pancreas. Ferratone or a liquid fatty acid supplement from your veterinarian are also needed in the diet. We also recommend applying some vitamin E to the foot pads of your ferret. Ferrets are prone to hair balls. We recommend use of a cat hairball preventative once or twice weekly.
Housing: If your ferret will be alone for extended periods, it is recommended to use a cage and a ferret-proofed room. If you allow your ferret to have its freedom, ferret-proof your entire house. They will ingest many objects causing intestinal obstruction and death. They love to climb and might fall. They can get into very small spaces. A proper cage is best for their safety. Use wire cages with catch pans at the bottom, secure hinges and closures. Dish pans with one side cut lower for easy access make good litter pans. Ferrets love hammocks to sleep in, or you can use old tee shirts or sweat shirts. Many ferrets are lost or die due to household accidents. Kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, vanities, dryer vents, dishwashers, should be blocked off.
Ferrets cannot tolerate temperatures over 85 degrees. If you are traveling in hot weather, wrap a towel around an ice pack and place it in the carrier with your ferret. Watch your ferret for panting, lethargy, or other signs of heat stroke.
Biting: Kits must be taught not to nip. Every time they nip, scruff your ferret and say NO. A product called Bitter Apple spray is a useful aid. Reputable breeders and pet stores handle their kits frequently, beware of kits that bite hard.
Litter Training: Ferrets naturally eliminate in corners. The best place for the litter pan is in a corner of the cage or room where your ferret will be exercising. Put a little feces into the pan, so your ferret will know what the pan is for. It is a good idea to secure the litter pan in the cage if your ferret wants to move it around. Unlike a cat, ferrets will not search for a litter pan. Be sure your ferrets uses the litter pan after awakening. If you see your ferret sniffing around, circling, or backing into a corner, put it in the litter pan. A little patience in training to use the litter pan outside the cage will pay off. DO NOT USE CLUMPING LITTER. Use litters such as CatWorks, CareFresh, Yesterday’s News or other unscented litter.
Exercise: Ferrets need exercise and your companionship. While you are away, your ferret will spend most of the time sleeping. When your are home, let your ferret out to play in a safe, ferret proofed room Ferrets love affection and attention. Ferrets can be trained to ride in a hood, or in a pouch or pocket. Ferrets that are constantly caged lose muscle tone, get stiff joints, and become very neurotic.
Toys: Ferrets love toys. Fun toys are plastic sewer pipe, dryer vent hoses, practice golf balls. Use caution if your ferrets play with ping pong balls. They can chew them up, and ingest small pieces causing a blockage of the intestine. Some ferrets like a toy attached to a string which is attached to a stick-like a fishing pole. Do not allow your ferret to play with rubber cat toys, rubber bands, latex cleaning gloves, shoe inserts, or sneakers. Any of the above could be ingested causing a blockage and require costly surgery.
Veterinary Care: Until your ferret is 3-4 years of age, your ferret will need to go the veterinarian once a year. After that, more frequent visits are recommended to check for diseases. If you notice your ferret pants, vomits, is lethargic, stops eating and drinking or if you notice a change in the coat or hair loss, take it in for an exam.
Vaccines: Ferrets can get canine distemper which is 100% fatal. Be sure to vaccinate your ferret even if your ferret never goes outside. When you purchase a ferret, ask for written proof of vaccines. Kits should be vaccinated at 8, 11,and 14 weeks of age and then yearly. Be sure your veterinarian uses Fervac, a chicken embryo origin vaccine.
Rabies vaccines are required in most states. The only Rabies vaccine approved for ferrets is IMRAB killed virus. This vaccine is given at three months of age and then annually.
It is recommended that all ferrets be placed on heartworm preventative year round.
Spaying and Neutering: Male ferrets are known as hobs and females are known as jills. If your ferret came from a pet store, it probably was spayed or neutered and descented. Unspayed jills who are allowed to go into heat will become anemic. They can die if they stay in heat for more than four weeks without being mated.
Baths: Twice a month bathing with ferret or baby shampoo is recommended. More frequent baths will cause dry skin.
Nails: Nails should be trimmed regularly. Use cat nail trimmers or human nail trimmers. Trimming nails is easy by either using some Laxatone, Linatone, or Nutrical as a treat -Your ferret will lick the product while you clip the nails.
Common Diseases of Ferrets: As with any disease -Veterinary consultation and exams are recommended.
Canine Distemper: Distemper is transmitted directly from infected animals . Clinical signs include mild conjunctivitis, fever, and purulent nasal discharge. Ferrets develop a pattern of thickening and crusting of the skin around the chin and lips and footpads. There is no treatment for this disease.
Influenza: Ferrets are susceptible to the same influenza viral strains that affect humans. Influenza generally causes only mild illness and discomfort in ferrets and is self-limiting. Signs include sneezing with a clear nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, coughing, and fever. Treatment is supportive . Fluids may be given subcutaneously if dehydration is present. Also, oral electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade or Pedialyte are helpful.
Aleutian Disease: Several strains of parvo virus affect both minks and ferrets. This is a progressive disease affecting various organs of the body. Clinical signs vary and the incubations period of the disease can be as long as 200 days. Signs include posterior weakness to paralysis, dark tarry stools, lethargy, urinary incontinence and a slow wasting deterioration of the body. Diagnosis is based upon a positive ADV test. There is no treatment.
Spleenomegaly: An enlarged spleen is a frequent finding and can be incidental or it may be associated with a wider variety of illnesses.
Anemia: Anemia may be due to several causes. Anemia in an intact female is due to estrogen toxicity.
Insulinoma: Insulinoma or pancreatic tumors are the most common tumors in ferrets. More than 30% of ferrets over 3 years of age are affected. This type tumor causes a low blood sugar. Signs include depression, “stargazing”, and posterior weakness and seizures. The most telling signs include profuse salivation and pawing at the mouth , which are indicative of nausea. Treatment includes surgery to debulk the tumor. This is only a temporary treatment. Medical treatment includes frequent feeding, administering prednisone and dizoxide as clinical signs necessitate.
Adrenal Gland Tumors: Adrenal tumors are very common in ferrets, occurring with the same frequency as insulinomas and often concurrently. These tumors occur twice as frequently in females as males. Signs include bilaterally symmetric hair loss, usually starting at the tail base and progressing up the body. There may be a history of hair loss and spontaneous regrowth. Itching is often reported as well as dryness of the skin. An enlarged vulva may be present in females, loss of muscle tone and weakness may be present. Treatment involves surgically removing the tumor. Adrenal tumors are rarely metastatic.
Lymnpho sarcoma: Cancer of the lymph nodes is common in ferrets. The most commonly affected organs are the spleen, liver, and, lymph nodes of the chest and extremities. Clinical signs are dependent upon the organs affected. Signs include weight loss, enlarged spleen, lethargy, difficulty breathing, enlarged lymphnodes, and skin tumors. Treatment may include surgery and /or chemotherapy.
Seasonal Changes in the Skin and Hair Coat: Ferrets have dramatic seasonal changes in the hair coat length, thickness, and color triggered by photoperiod changes. Coats generally get shorter and darker in the summer months and longer , thicker, and lighter in the winter.
Abscesses: Abscesses usually occur as the result of a puncture wound or bite wound.
Ulcerative Pyoderma: Ulcerative pyoderma is the second most commonly encountered form of bacterial dermatitis of the ferret. Signs include a localized hair loss with a thickened ulcerated skin lesion. We recommend a skin biopsy and treatment with antibiotics.
Fleas: Ferrets are prone to fleas. Use only a cat flea shampoo or Front-line as directed by your veterinarian.
Ear Mites: Ferrets naturally have a dark brown earwax. Their ears need cleaning regularly, before bathing. Soften a Q-tip with water, mineral oil, or ferret ear-cleaning solution to remove the earwax. Do not dig deeply into the inner ear, as damage can result. If you notice your ferret scratching it’s ears, it may have ear mites. Take your pet to your veterinarian for treatment. Also, if this is the case, the cage and bedding should be thoroughly cleaned.
Ringworm: This disease can manifest itself in varied ways causing skin lesions.
Sarcoptic Mange: This is a contagious disease between dogs and ferrets. Clinical signs include skin lesions to the feet, generalized hair loss, scaling and severe itching. Treatment includes a thorough cleansing of the house and treatment with ivermectin.
Endocrine Tail Alopecia: The cause is unknown. It is suspected to be due to hormonal fluctuations, because the disease responds to changes in the photoperiod. Hair loss occurs in the fall and then regrows.
Mast Cell Tumors: Mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumors in ferrets and usually are benign. These appear as individual tumors that are slightly raised, flat, button-like masses. Treatment involves surgical removal and biopsy.
Cardiomyopathy: This in an enlargement of the heart and most frequently affects ferrets over two years old. There are two forms of cardiomyopathy hypertrophic and dilated. Hypertrophic is a thickening of the heart muscle causing a deceased size of the chambers of the heart. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a loss of muscle tone decreasing the strength of the heart muscles. Therefore, the heart can not pump blood.
Signs include a murmur, weight loss, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing. Treatment depends upon the type of cardiomyopathy. Diagnosis is obtained by x-ray and ultrasound.
There is no means of preventing the disease and prognosis depends on the severity of disease and initial response to treatment.
Heartworm Disease: Prevention is imperative. The disease in ferrets resembles the canine form. However, because of the ferret’s size, the presence of only one adult worm may be fatal. Heartworm is transmitted by the mosquito. Both indoor and outdoor ferrets can become infected. Heartworm infection in ferrets is usually not detected until cardiac failure occurs. Signs include difficulty breathing, fluid build-up in the abdomen, heart murmur, and loss of appetite. Diagnosis is difficult. X-rays of the chest may be of some help in diagnosis as well as blood testing for heartworm. Treatment is difficult. Prevention is the key.
Dental Disease: Dental tartar and periodontal disease are common. Dental abscesses are common.
Coccidiosis: This parasite is found most frequently in immature animals and may cause severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Gastric and Duodenal Ulcers: Gastric and duodenal ulcers can occur. The underlying cause is not known, however environmental stress may be a predisposing factor. Helicobacter have been associated with ulcers. Signs include loss of appetite, vomiting, hypersalivation, tooth grinding , and blood in the stool. Diagnosis is by x-ray, endoscopy, and or exploratory surgery and biopsy . This disease is treatable pending the diagnosis.
GI Foreign Bodies: Foreign bodies are generally found in younger ferrets. Hair ball may cause obstruction in older animals. Until proven otherwise, suspect a foreign body in any young ferret presented for loss of appetite even if no vomiting is reported. Rubber objects are the most common foreign body. Diagnosis may be made by x-rays and endoscopy.
Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis: This is a syndrome of unknown cause. Clinical signs include intermittent vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Proliferative Bowel Disease: This disease is due to a Camphlobacter organism. Clinical signs include diarrhea with mucous and blood. Frequent and painful defecation and a partially prolapsed rectum. Other signs are similar to other digestive diseases. Diagnosis may be made if the colon or intestine appear thickened and by endoscopic biopsy.
Urinary tract stones: The most common cause is due to feeding commercial dog food, low quality cat food or low quality ferret food. Signs include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, or inability to urinate.
Urinary Tract Obstruction: Urethral obstruction in male ferrets may occur secondary to pressure from a cyst around the urinary tract occurring between the bladder and penis. Signs are compatible with urinary tract obstruction. The prognosis is guarded. Surgery is the treatment of choice.