WHAT IS A FERRET?
The domestic European ferret (Mustela putorius furo), is a member of
family which also includes otters,
mink, badgers, weasels, skunks, & numerous other musk-producing
mammals. The domestic ferret should not be confused with the
Black-Footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a close cousin, which is native
to North America & currently on the endangered species list. Ferrets
are not members of the rodent family, nor are they related to the
opossum, raccoon or mongoose.
AREN'T FERRETS WILD ANIMALS?
NO. It is assumed that ferrets have been domesticated for over 2,000
years, long before our common house cats. They have been captively bred for
temperament over the centuries. They were introduced into the U.S. for
control in the 1600's.
Domestic ferrets have no chance of survival without human intervention.
Ferrets lost outside the home or abandoned will surely die within 3-4
days. They are not capable of finding their own food - dry cat food doesn't
trees. And most ferrets have no fear & wouldn't hesitate to walk up
strange dog, cat or wild animal.
AREN'T FERRETS ILLEGAL IN GEORGIA?
"GEORGIA WILD ANIMAL LAW - April 19, 1994
27-5-5 Wild animals for which a license or permit is required.
(B) Except as provided in this Code section, a license or permit is
for all wild animals listed in this subsection or specified by
the Board. Wild animals listed in this subsection do not require
(1) Class Mammalia:
(K) Order Carnivora (weasels, ferrets, cats, bears, wolves, etc.) - All
species, except that a European ferret (Mustela putorius furo) may be
purchased, exhibited or held as a pet without a license or permit;
however, that the ferret owner can provide valid documentation that the
is sexually neutered prior to seven months of age and is vaccinated
rabies with a properly administered vaccine approved for use on ferrets
United States Department of Agriculture."
AREN'T FERRETS AGGRESSIVE AND DON'T THEY BITE A LOT?
Remember, animals have teeth, & any animal that has not been taught
manners will bite. Kits (baby ferrets) can be nippy. Grabbing things
their mouth is how they play when they're young, just like puppies and
With the correct handling & training, ferrets are no more likely to
a dog, cat, or child.
Always be in control of your ferret when it is in strange surroundings,
being introduced to new people. Special caution should be taken around
children & the elderly as their skin is more delicate & easily
Ferrets are still a unique animal in the eyes of many, and anybody
any parent whose child has been bitten by a ferret), could turn your
a nightmare, causing you to voluntarily give up your pet for rabies
order to avoid a long, messy lawsuit and extensive medical costs. And,
all animals, never leave your ferret unsupervised with a small child. A
is not a toy.
WHAT IF MY FERRET DOES BITE ME OR SOMEONE ELSE?
SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT RABIES?
There were a total of 85 ferrets tested for rabies between 1990 and 1995
none were positive for the disease. The following is from the Georgia
Control Manual and was taken directly from the Georgia Public Health web
"CONTROL METHODS IN ANIMALS
Ferrets: Ferrets may be vaccinated with RM IMRAB3 vaccine at three
age and revaccinated in accordance with Part II of the "Compendium
Rabies Control" [See Appendix A]."
"MANAGEMENT OF ANIMALS THAT SCRATCH OR BITE HUMANS
DOMESTIC ANIMALS (Dogs, Cats and Ferrets):
A healthy dog, cat or ferret that bites or scratches a person or another
animal should be confined and observed for ten (10) days. This
applies to dogs, cats and ferrets ONLY. Rabies vaccine should NOT be
administered during the observation period. Observation of dogs, cats
ferrets is of value because the length of time that virus is excreted in
saliva prior to onset of clinical signs can be predicted. Studies have
that virus is shed in the saliva of the vast majority of dogs and cats
five days prior to onset of clinical signs. The ten-day interval,
represents a doubling of the likely excretory period. If a dog, cat or
shows no clinical signs of rabies during the ten-day observation period,
can be assured that the animal was not shedding virus at the time of the
scratch or bite. While in confinement, any signs of illness should be
evaluated immediately by a veterinarian.
In Georgia, the location and method of confinement for this observation
is specified in regulations of the county health department. Generally,
place of confinement is an approved animal shelter, the Humane Society,
animal control agency. Other confinement options may be allowed under
regulations, depending on circumstances. If symptoms suggestive of
observed, the animal should be humanely killed, its head carefully
using appropriate precautions and shipped under refrigeration (on ice)
examination by the State Public Health Laboratory [refer to
Testing,"]. If the animal dies during the quarantine period, the
be submitted immediately for rabies testing.
Any stray or unwanted animal that bites or scratches a person or
animal may be humanely killed and the head submitted for testing [Note:
animal is killed by gunshot or trauma to the head, the laboratory may
able to perform the rabies diagnostic test.]. Animals other than dogs or
that bite or scratch a person and are suspected of being rabid should be
reported to the county health department or its agent which in some
is the animal control office or police department depending on county
regulations. Prior vaccination of these animals may not be a reason or
exclusion from euthanasia and testing if the period of viral shedding
species is not established or if the vaccine is not approved for that
Management of animals (other than dogs, cats and ferrets) is dependent
animal species, the circumstances of the bite, and the epidemiology of
in the area."
CONSULTATIONS REGARDING THE RISK OF RABIES EXPOSURE
DUE TO ANIMAL BITES ARE NOW AVAILABLE TO HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS AND
THE PUBLIC 24 HOURS A DAY, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK BY CALLING THE GEORGIA
POISON CENTER IN ATLANTA -
404-616-9000 OR 800-282-5846.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER VACCINATIONS A FERRET SHOULD HAVE?
It is strongly recommended that ferrets also be vaccinated against
distemper - they are extremely susceptible to this disease which is
fatal. A ferret does not have to have contact with an infected animal to
contract this disease. Fervac D and Galaxy D are the vaccines of choice.
initial "baby shot" is given at 6 to 8 weeks-of-age with
vaccinations every 3 weeks. The last of the "baby shots"
should be at 14 to 16
weeks to assure continuous protection for the next 12 months. Before the
week the kit may still be protected by the mother's natural immunity
reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. Yearly booster vaccinations
IS A FERRET A BETTER PET THAN A DOG, CAT, BIRD...?
Choosing any pet is a matter of individual preference & lifestyle.
is the key to the correct choice of any family pet. Speak to a ferret
visit with some ferrets before deciding whether or not this is the right
CAN A FERRET PLAY WITH A DOG, CAT, BIRD...?
While many ferret owners successfully allow their ferret(s) to play with
their dog(s) &/or cat(s), these interactions should always be supervised.
should not be allowed to come in contact with birds, snakes or other
& other caged animals. These encounters could end with disastrous
Fish tanks should be securely covered for the safety of the ferret.
WHAT ARE FERRETS LIKE AS PETS?
Ferrets are kitten-like in temperament, retaining their playful nature
into old age. They seek & enjoy the company of people & other
companion pets. While ferrets don't mind being confined to their cage when you're not
supervise, they need interaction & want to be with you. They are
tempered, adapting to change undaunted. They are not jealous or
territorial. They are not nocturnal & adjust to your schedule. They usually have
no fear of
anything including vacuum cleaners!
Adult females (jills), weigh from less that 1 lb. to 3 lbs. & adult
(hobs), weigh from 2 1/2 lbs. to 5 lbs. on average. Because of their
size, they are ideally suited to apartment living. Their life span is
5 and 10 years.
Ferrets are quiet & will not disturb the neighbors. If they make any
all it will be chittering, chattering, or giggling when they're happy or
hissing sound (like a cat, but much less threatening), when they're
you off. A ferret may scream (& it's unnerving), if it is severely
or hurt & should be allowed to settle down by itself.
Most ferrets do not claw furniture or curtains or chew furniture &
won't be constantly covered with fur because they only shed twice a
Ferrets have an unwritten rule that no drink - glass, cup, or can -
remain upright. And they do love to dig - plants cannot be left
Stereo speakers also cannot be within ferret range as they will get
destroy them. They can be described as perpetual 2-year-olds - they are
curious & get into everything. Their inquisitive nature is usually
them into trouble.
Ferrets are notorious little thieves, collecting anything they take an
interest in; wallets, sneakers, socks, keys, jewelry, children's toys,
about anything else that strikes their fancy. They are also packrats,
occasionally relocating their entire stash.
Ferrets can be taught to come when called, walk on a leash, beg, fetch,
a litter box. Using treats as rewards is the easiest way to train a
Although ferrets can be taught to use a litter box, they may never be as
reliable as a cat, but their mess is much smaller & far less
odor. They are predictable in that they usually go when they wake up
around corners when it's time to go again. Litter boxes must be very
accessible, if not, a ferret may not make the effort to get all the way
to it if it's all the way in the other room.
Ferrets are easily entertained. Some favorite playthings are paper cups,
& crinkly plastic bags, cardboard boxes, 4" PVC pipe, accordion
open drawers, closets, purses (there's lots of stuff in there!), balls,
boots & socks, just to name a few. They love cat & mouse games
They love to chase you or be chased around the room.
NOTE: TOYS MUST BE CHECKED REGULARLY & DISCARDED IF WORN OR CHEWED. INGESTED RUBBER, PLASTIC, OR CLOTH WILL NOT PASS THROUGH A FERRET'S TINY
TRACT CAUSING INTESTINAL OBSTRUCTIONS. THESE OBSTRUCTIONS REQUIRE
CORRECT & CAN CAUSE RAPID DEATH IF NOT TREATED PROMPTLY.
CAN I LET MY FERRET HAVE THE RUN OF THE HOUSE LIKE I DO WITH MY DOG OR
ONLY UNDER CONSTANT SUPERVISION. The intense curiosity of the ferret is
the cause of their injury & untimely death. Ferrets should always be
to their "room" (cage or pet carrier), when not being
supervised. Ferret-proofing your home is a very important consideration because of their
size. It is important to know the hazards. The following are some of the
- Love to sleep in dirty laundry and can be thrown in with the wash
- Can climb into an open refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, or dryer
- Can be mutilated in refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher and dryer
- Can drown in tubs, buckets and open toilets
- Can get into walls through openings around pipes & if you live
in an apartment that also means your neighbor's walls
- Can open cabinet doors, climb into & open the drawer, get onto
the counter & check out the garbage disposal or whatever's
cooking on the stove
- Can squeeze through openings around cabinets
- Can puncture plastic bottles containing harmful household cleaners
- Can get into unsecured vents & household ducts
- Can be crushed in reclining chairs, sofa beds, exercise equipment,
under rocking chairs & in closing doors
- Can also be sat or stepped on & crushed under chair pillows,
blankets and throw rugs
- Can break through window screens & plastic accordion-type
dryer hose & can slip right past your feet any time a door is
opened & escape outside
NOTE: IF YOUR FERRET ESCAPES OUTSIDE, YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER SEE
WELL, WHAT DO I KEEP MY FERRET IN?
Pet carriers and galvanized or coated-wire cages work best. Assuming a
will be out of it's cage everyday, minimum floor space should be
14" x 27" for
a single ferret. This provides enough space for a sleeping area & a
litter box if you elect to use one. Wire bottom cages should have most
floor area covered with rags, pet matting, or carpet that has been
washed so that the ferret isn't always walking directly on the wire
Upper levels & hammocks can be added. Fish tanks are a big NO-NO -
they do not
afford proper ventilation.
Clumping-type litters are not recommended. It can be irritating to the
nasal passages of a ferret that likes to play ostrich. Use clay cat
best results. Cedar shavings should also not be used - they can be toxic
ferret. Wood shavings, in general, should not be used.
IS IT CRUEL TO KEEP A FERRET CAGED UP?
No. Keeping a ferret caged when unsupervised will assure it's
they can, most ferrets will climb back into their cage on their own once
CAN FERRETS BE HOUSED OUTDOORS?
Under certain conditions. Ferrets should be acclimated to the outdoors
spring. They should not be introduced to extreme temperatures (above 85
degrees and below 45 degrees), without a transition period, as it would
shock to their system. Provide adequate shelter & bedding in extreme
sufficient shade & cool water in hot weather. Outdoor cages should
locked to prevent theft & should be sturdy enough to protect your
It is recommended that ferrets that go outdoors or are housed outdoors
given a heartworm preventive. The heartworm preventive of choice is
Ivomec (ivermectin) liquid, which is given monthly. Consult your veterinarian.
Ferrets enjoy the companionship of their owners. The GFA recommends that
keep your ferret indoors to share in your day-to-day routine &
ferret from being disturbed or harmed by those who might not understand
value your unique pet.
WHAT DO I FEED MY FERRET?
Any good premium dry cat food available in your local pet store, (Iams, Science Diet, Nutro Max, Purina, ProPlan), or any of the newly
ferret foods (Totally Ferret, Sheppard & Greene, Mazzuri) available
local pet store, are sufficient for the average ferret. Due to their
fast metabolism, food must be available at all times. Choose your
food carefully. Their food should contain approx. 30-32% protein &
fat, & be aware that foods containing fish, fish meal, & fish
contribute to a stronger odor in your ferret. Use dishes & feeders
that can be
securely fastened to prevent food dish football.
Fresh water must also be available at all times. Use of a guinea pig or
water bottle is recommended as ferrets also tend to knock over water
More often than not, your ferret will tell you what treats they prefer.
Goodies such as fresh fruits or vegetables, & dried fruits such as
dates, or banana chips can be offered.
Vitamin supplements are not necessary if a healthy ferret is maintained
good quality dry cat food or one of the newly developed ferret foods.
Supplements containing high levels of vitamins A, D3, E & K, which
soluble & can accumulate in the system to toxic levels, should be
sparingly. Nutri-Cal, which is a dietary supplement in a paste form is
preferred. Consult your veterinarian.
Don't give your ferret chocolate or alcohol, they could be fatal. Milk
cream can cause diarrhea & raw meat can transmit parasites. Hard to
foods such as peanuts & uncooked vegetables such as carrots could
intestinal obstructions (often requiring surgery), & should be
ferrets are not rodents & must not be given salt blocks or seeds.
BUT, FERRETS STINK!
A ferret's body odor is mainly hormonal & a whole ferret (unspayed/unneutered), will have a strong odor. A spayed/neutered ferret
is kept clean, fed a chicken-based food & also has a clean cage
will have minimal odor. Contrary to popular belief descenting (removing
scent glands), does not control a ferret's body odor - it is an
surgery & expense.
Use specially formulated ferret shampoos or shampoos which are safe for
kittens to bathe your ferret. Using a tearless shampoo makes it easy to
around the head & ears (it is OK to wash a ferret's ears out). One
easy way to
wash your ferret is to carry it into the shower with you, but the sink
also work just fine. After bathing, your ferret will go bonkers running
& flinging itself to dry off - this is normal behavior & lots of
fun to watch.
CAN FERRETS GET FLEAS?
Yes. And because of their small body mass, fleas can cause a very
problem for ferrets in a very short time. Handle flea problems in your
the same way you would for a dog or cat, but use only flea shampoos,
and powders that are labeled safe for cats & kittens on ferrets.
Never dip a
ferret - this can cause organophosphide toxicity or death.
Enemy - An article about flea control
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT'S A BOY OR A GIRL?
Sexing ferrets is very simple. If you find what looks like a very
belly-button (this is the male part), it's a boy! Girls don't have one.
mature unneutered males will have testicles.
DON'T FEMALE FERRETS DIE WHEN THEY GO INTO HEAT?
Jills do not come out of heat without being bred, or being chemically
using a hormone injection administered by a veterinarian. A prolonged
cycle will produce serious health problems in female ferrets, but since
currently the law in Georgia to have a jill spayed, (& hob neutered)
months of age, doing so will totally eliminate this threat to her life.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ABOUT FERRETS?
Contact the GEORGIA FERRET ASSOCIATION, INC. (GFA). We will be happy
to answer any questions you have. We can recommend veterinarians in your
who treat ferrets, ferret-sitting services, and provide
on training and care. The GFA, through the generosity of some of its
is able to provide foster homes for unwanted ferrets until they can be
in suitable homes with loving families.