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Do Ferrets Make Good Pets?

The answer to this common ferret question has more to do with people than with ferrets.

Ferrets require bedding like hammocks and sleep sacks. Via Selbe Lynn/Flickr

By L. Vanessa Gruden

Yes! No! Maybe? Seems like I’m waffling, doesn’t it? It’s because whether or not a ferret is a good pet doesn’t depend on the ferret — it depends on you and your family.

No pet is “perfect” for everyone. Each type of animal has good and not-so-good aspects. The parts that you like and enjoy have to be weighed against which downsides you find acceptable.

Mistaken Ideas About Ferrets

Because ferrets are small and often grouped with so-called “pocket pets” like hamsters or guinea pigs, people regularly imagine ferrets are great pets for children. Physically fragile, ferrets are unsuitable for homes with young children. Children under the age of 6 lack fine motor skills and tend to scream or cry loudly; they can easily hurt or frighten a ferret.

You may first encounter ferrets in a pet shop, housed in a large display tank. Piled together asleep, this might make them look like a great lap pet. However, the moment a ferret hits the floor in your home, he runs, jumps and gets into all sorts of trouble before collapsing into an exhausted heap under the couch. Your lap will just be a pit stop on the way to further adventures.

Retailers encourage potential owners to buy a cage first of all, so it’s easy to understand why people think ferrets live in cages. Cages are fine for containment when you need to keep the ferret safe — or away from your toes at 2 a.m. — but this is an intelligent, active little animal who needs space to exercise and time to explore new things for physical and emotional health. A cage or tank may be acceptable for a mouse, but a ferret constantly confined to one is miserable.

Most stores, because they lack laundry facilities, house ferrets in wood or paper shavings. So people often believe that’s what ferrets need for home; however, using substrate just fails to teach the ferret to eliminate in a particular spot. While ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, it’s a very rare ferret who will use only one, and they are prone to “mistakes.”

One of the most disturbing misconceptions is that a ferret doesn’t need regular veterinary care. Most stores sell them already altered, so they don’t need spaying or neutering. But ferrets need an annual rabies and canine distemper vaccination. Ferrets are subject to several cancers as they age — most treatable, but not inexpensively. Also, fewer vets treat ferrets and prices for their care can be higher than for more common pets.

Great Things About Ferrets

The best part of owning ferrets is their fun-loving outlook on life. They pack a lot of personality into a small package. Ferrets can be wonderfully eccentric, and no two are the same. Some love particular toys, some special games, and they have a cheerful and totally guilt-free predisposition for theft. “If I see it, I want it, and I can reach it, it’s mine” is a ferret’s motto.

A ferret’s antics can lighten even your worst mood. A silly little bundle of fur hopping up and down at nothing will invariably make you laugh. Even the saddest or abused ferret will perk up with love and care. They don’t hold grudges and are always willing to be friends with whatever and whomever crosses their path.

Ferrets are quiet. Unless frightened, the most noise a ferret makes is a little chuckle. However, that excludes the crash as your favorite planter hits the ground after they’ve dug all the dirt and plants out!

Their small size makes them great apartment pets. They don’t need to be walked and their litter boxes smell much better than a cat’s! While you shouldn’t lock them up all the time, you can contain them to a room or cage when necessary, so no worries about any territorial attack on the cable guy or other visitor.

Not overly needy, as long as they have an enriched environment and a friend for company, ferrets don’t need constant interaction. This makes them good pets for busy schedules. They don’t have extensive grooming requirements and don’t cost a fortune to feed.

ferret by paper towels
Courtesy of L. Vanessa Gruden
Ferrets can make messes throughout the house, so when you own one, paper towels are something you need a lot.

Who Is A Good Candidate For Ferret Ownership? Who Isn’t?

  1. Adults! Ferrets are great stress-busters. While fine among older children or teens, remember that once in high school, kid’s social lives become active and colleges rarely allow pets. Parents should be prepared to become fulltime caretakers. If you don’t think you will enjoy your child’s ferret, please don’t let them get one.
  2. Reliable, steady homes. Ferrets don’t live as long as a cat or most dogs, but they appreciate staying with their human. Too many people abandon pets because they move, get new jobs or lose jobs, start families or divorce. No one can foresee every situation, but try to determine if you can commit to a ferret’s 6 to 7 year life span.
  3. Financially secure. While not as expensive as a dog to care for, ferrets cost more to keep than the average cat. The initial purchase price will be your least outlay; annual care costs can range from $500 to well over $1,000 if the ferret becomes ill or has an accident. You don’t need to be rich, but if your income is very limited, you may not be able to afford quality food or necessary medical care.
  4. Tolerant of disorder. Ferrets can be kind of messy. They tip over soda glasses, empty trash cans, and are inclined to leave the kind of “presents” in corners you’d rather not receive. Your grocery list will ALWAYS include paper towels. Clean freaks won’t be happy with ferrets.
  5. Patient. Ferrets can be pesky. The curiosity that is so funny can also be really annoying. It’s not easy to unload groceries or perform other household chores with ferrets underfoot. Being patient and understanding that it’s a ferret’s nature to be into everything is vital; a hot-tempered person might really hurt these small animals.
  6. A good sense of humor really helps. If you can’t see a ferret diving head first into the soapy floor-washing bucket as funny — most of the time, anyway — a ferret may not be for you.
  7. Not too time-strapped. If you are so busy that you can’t let your ferret out of the cage for at least four to six hours daily, or spare a half-hour for playtime and grooming, you should look for a pet that requires less attention.
  8. Loving and willing to learn. A ferret won’t be very demonstrative, but he enjoys your company and will reward you with licks and snuggles, especially as he ages. They have their own little ways to show affection and appreciate gentle responses in return. Ferrets are different and not extremely common; you need to be open to learning and researching their care and needs.

People and pets do best if they are well matched temperamentally and the pet meets the owner’s expectations. Educating yourself on the realities of ferret caretaking is the best way to make sure both you and the ferret are happy for many years to come.

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Article Categories:
Critters · Ferrets