|Last update: 14 Dec 07|
Welcome to the wonderful world of ferrets! I have had pets all of my life. The usual cats and dogs, of course, as well as breeding and raising hamsters in my junior high school years. But no pet I've ever encountered is anything like a ferret.
Domestic ferrets are truly amazing creatures. Due to their diminutive size you can't roughhouse with them like a cat or dog. However, they are extremely loveable and incredibly amusing. Like any animal some are more taken to humans than others. Some are very cuddly and loveable while some are more stand-offish. But all are a joy to watch. Think of having a kitten that never grows up. This is the ferret. They are at least as playful as any kitten that I have had and never outgrow it. This is not to say that I would give up my German Shepherd or my cats. I'm still quite partial to them. But having a ferret in the house is a great source of enjoyment. They are really a combination of several animals. They will bond to you and follow you around like a dog. They are a kitten that never grows up. They are as inquisitive as any raccoon. They can climb like a monkey. In short they are a never-ending source of amusement and entertainment. To top it off they are positively adorable. If I were ever in a position to chose only one animal (God forbid!!!) it would be a ferret.
This might sound like an advertisement for ferret ownership. WRONG! I suppose that it is in a sense. However, it is actually intended more as a warning as ferrets are most certainly not for everyone. This fact is sadly obvious due to the number of ferrets in shelters. People find out that they are maintenance-intensive and dump them. And, they ARE maintenance-intensive. So before you run out to get yourself (spouse, child, whatever) the 'ultimate' pet there are some things to consider. For the sake of the animal I beg you to contemplate a few facts regarding ferret ownership.
There are certain aspects of ferret ownership that will come as a surprise. The following is a way to prepare for this adventure. It was written by Millie Sanders of The Ferret Lovers Club of Texas. While humorous in nature there is more truth to it than people might realize.
Pour cold apple juice on the carpet in the door ways and walk through it barefoot in the dark.
Wear a sock to work that has had the toe shredded by a blender.
Immediately upon rising in the morning, go to a cage in the corner and go through the motions of changing out the litter box.
Cover all your best suits with ferret hair. Dark suits must use white hair and light suits must use dark hair.
Float some hair in your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Play "attack" with a wet stuffed animal.
Tip over a trash basket and dump bag of potting soil on living room carpet.
Pull laundry all over the floor and check in washer 5 times before closing the lid to do a load.
Leave your underwear on the living room floor because that's where the ferret will drag it anyway, especially when you have company.
Jump out of your chair shortly before the end of your favorite TV program and hunt franticly in the lining to find the lump that is trying to bite you through the material - miss the last of the show.
In the morning go to each corner of the room and put dots of chocolate pudding on the carpet. Don't try to clean it up until you return from work that evening.
Gouge the vacuum cleaner hose several times with a screwdriver. It's going to get chewed on anyway.
Take a warm and cuddly blanket out of the dryer and immediately wrap it around yourself. This is the feeling you will get when your ferret cuddles on your chest and gives you kisses.
What, exactly, is a ferret? The ones we have as pets are domestic ferrets. The word 'ferret' is Latin for 'thief'. (I have been told that this true and that this is incorrect. I don't speak Latin so take your pick.) The scientific name is Mustela furo. While related to weasels, skunks and otters they are NOT wild animals. They have been bred as domestics for over 2,000 years and have never lived in the wild. It is generally believed that they originated from the European polecat. Nor are they rodents as some assume. In the general scheme of things they fall somewhere between cats and dogs, a bit closer to dogs. Initially they were used as working animals to rid grain storage of rodents and reptiles. Farmers used them for ridding their barns of the same pests. They were used to hunt rabbits at one time. Though this custom has long been illegal in the U.S. I've heard that it is still practiced in the U.K. Today they serve as pets and (I'm sorry to say) research animals. They are now, in point of fact, the number three companion animal. Dogs and cats still hold positions one and two.
The North American Black-Footed Ferrets, Mustela nigripes, are distant cousins. However, they can not interbreed. Well, technically you can cross the two but the offspring will be sterile. The genetics are too far apart. Plus the North American Black-Footed Ferret is an endangered species no longer living in the wild. There are breeding programs that are attempting to re-introduce them but as yet have met with little success.
First of all are they legal where you live? Due to some misguided politicians (a.k.a. IDIOTS) they might not be. Last I heard Hawaii and the Peoples Republik of Kalifornia are the only states with an outright ban on them. However it does vary by location within the different states. It may be legal to sell them but not own them in a particular location. So, be sure to check the local laws.
In fact, in Kalifornia the Fish and Game Department (Kalifornia's answer to the KGB) will come to your home (complete with a search warrant and cops!) and strip you of ownership of these "dangerous wild animals". All the while ignoring the crack house operating across the street. Yeah, well, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me either. I had the displeasure of living there for several years. I was finally able to escape! Lest you think my personal dislike is the sole basis for the preceding comments, I invite you to read an article written by Ilona Maggard . She is a Kalifornia resident who lost her fuzzies to the 'Ferret Fuzz'.
They are one of the more pricey pets you will encounter. By no stretch of the imagination are they cheap to own. The purchase price isn't all that bad. Depending upon the area in which you live they will run somewhere between $100 and $150. This will include the ferret already spayed/neutered, often with the scent gland removed (more about these later), and with their first distemper shot. All things considered this is really a bargain. However, this is only the beginning. Food, vet bills, cage, and accessories will add up in a hurry.
Good ferret food is expensive and the little fur balls eat like a horse. They poop like one too, for that matter. (This is said in relation to their size. I have four and they go through nine or ten pounds of food per month.) Although a few pounds of food per month doesn't sound like much it is pricey and adds up over a years time. And, for God's sake, stay away from that crap they sell at Wally World! I'm not sure for what it was intended but it sure as hell isn't ferrets! Even purchasing it from a legitimate pet store is no guarantee. There are some excellent sites on the 'net regarding a proper ferret diet. Check them out and read the ingredients on the package. You will be astounded I assure you. Everyone has their particular favorite brand but there are several good products available. Just do your homework and pick one that meets the dietary requirements of a ferret. Now is as good a time as any to delve into the culinary needs of our fuzzies. So, off we go.
You might get the impression that I don't much care for the commercial foods available for ferrets. I don't!!! Some are good, some are bad, and some should be banned! One might ask 'Why do the manufacturers make such things?' The answer is quite easy. As long as an item has a market someone will produce and sell it. People are either too lazy to find out or too stupid to care what they are feeding their pets! And, as usual, it will be the ferrets that suffer.
Does this sound a bit harsh? Good! Perhaps it will wake a few people up. I spend a good bit of time lurking on the various boards. Some of the things that I read leave me in a state of wide-eyed disbelief. People are quick to believe anything they hear but are painfully slow to do any research on their own. And, since we are blessed(?) with the Internet, there is no excuse for it. There are countless articles available authored by reputable people in regards to our furry little friends. No small number deal with nutrition. The next time someone tells you that this food is great or that food sucks, ask them why. I wager that 9 out of 10 can't give you a real answer. They are simply parroting what someone else has told them. By the way, I include my own article in this admonition! Don't take my word for it either. This is only intended to get you thinking along the right lines. Research it for yourself. And take note of who is doing the talking. The crap you get from the various boards will be wrong about 90% of the time. Again, it is simply someone parroting what they have heard.
Bear in mind that ferrets are obligate carnivores. This is a fancy way to say that they are strictly meat eaters. Their natural diet consists of small animals. Some people actually feed their ferrets a live diet. Sorry folks, this is something that I am unable to do. I simply cannot bring myself to feed pets to pets. Feeding a cute, fuzzy little mouse to my ferrets is something to which I'll not be a party. I know: nature is cruel. No doubt true but this does not mean that I have to watch it!
Another option is to prepare the food yourself. Many do but this it is time consuming. As much as I love my animals I draw the line at cooking for them! The exception to this is preparing treats. This aspect will be covered later.
This leaves me with the choice of pre-packaged foods. People talk endlessly about protein content and the ingredient list. However: they often over look two very important items. The percentage of animal fat and carbohydrates is a very important part as well. The natural diet of a ferret consists of the meat and fat of the animal that they are consuming along with the stomach contents of said animal. A disgusting thought but a fact none the less. The only vegetable matter they consume is from the stomachs of their prey. Therefore, the primary ingredients of prepared food should be meat and meat byproducts. There will be other items but these should be minimal. Animal fat content should run 15 to 20 percent. This contributes to their overall health as well as a rich, healthy coat.
Insulinoma cases are rising at an alarming rate. I firmly believe that much of this is due to diet. Many treats are primarily sugar and should be avoided like the plague! Especially raisins!!!! Much of the prepared food on the market today is loaded with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. Thus I say, check the carb level!
Commercial treats are an absolute travesty. While I'm sure that there are some good ones the vast majority are not! Ferrets love them with out doubt. I happen to have a particular penchant for chocolate malts. However I refrain from partaking of them on all but the rarest of occasions. You might as well face the fact that treats are given more for the enjoyment of the human than the ferret. Sadly, this practice can easily end up composing 25 percent of a ferret's diet. Considering that most treats are primarily sugar you are positively begging for insulin/pancreas related problems. Now, there is a way to have your fun and protect your ferret's health as well. This is the one time I will cook for my animals. Boil a large batch of chicken. Which part(s) of the chicken you choose is immaterial. Cook it until it is done but not to the point of falling apart. It is best if it remains chunky in nature. After it cools down break it into small pieces and separate the pieces into small piles then bag and freeze. The amount you bag will take some trial-and-error depending upon the number of ferrets and how much they eat. If there is a better treat for a ferret I've not heard of it. Plus they will love it! I will offer some cautionary advice at this point. Insure that they eat it as opposed to hiding it somewhere! I wait until mine have had a good, long playtime. Plus, I don't put food out during their playtime as a general rule. So, they are ready to chow down on the spot. Fun for you and good for them; a win-win situation at its best.
I came across a neat idea on the Ferret Chat Server the other day. One of the members suggested taking thin strips of beef and drying them in the oven to make your own jerky. Now there's a thought: ferret jerky. Hum, that didn't come out exactly right. Let's try 'jerky for ferrets' instead! I haven't tried it yet but it certainly sounds good. And, it will be considerably less messy than the boiled chicken treats. Plus, if the beady-eyed little monsters hide some of the jerky you don't have to worry about it going rancid.
There is an on-going disagreement regarding food. Some claim that hard food is the way to go because it helps keep their teeth clean. Others say that hard food causes damage to their teeth. I have no idea which group is correct. However, I personally would rather chew macaroni that has been cooked as opposed to the uncooked, rock-hard version. Therefore, I feed mine a softer food. You'll have to make your own decision.
Another thing to think about when it comes to food; poop! Better quality means that more will be absorbed by the ferret's body. They will, therefore, consume less food. This results in better nutrition for the ferret and less poop to clean out of the litter box. In other words, don't feed your ferret(s) on the cheap. Buy the best food available. It is far better for the ferret, you will buy less food, and scoop less poop. It's a winning combination all around.
Poop output is basically determined by how much is absorbed and how much is passed through. Ferrets have a very short digestive time. It runs around two hours. (This depends upon whom you ask. I've been told 2, 3, and 4 hours. Take your pick!) The food has to be made in such a manner that it will be utilized in this time frame. Everything that isn't comes out the back. This is one reason that I wouldn't recommend using cat food. Granted you can use high quality kitten food. Ferrets have lived long and happy lives eating it. However, they will eat more and poop a LOT more. The digestion time for cats runs around twelve hours. Therefore most of it will be wasted as the ferret can't absorb it fast enough. A good quality food designed for ferrets is a much better proposition.
When looking for food insure that the primary ingredients are meat and meat by-products. Stay away from anything that has fillers that can't be digested such as vegetable products. There is one exception to this. Just about any extruded food will have some corn in it. This is the binder (corn starch) that 'glues' it together. Extruded food is simply mashed together under high pressure, run through a die, and cut into short pieces. With out something to hold things in place it would be nothing but a powder. Kibble is baked into hard nuggets and doesn't need the same binding agents as the extruded variety does.
Sometimes you hear that a certain brand of food makes their poop smell worse. Personally, I've not found this to be the case. This is generally attributed to food containing fish products. I fed mine food with fish (Marshall's) for years. The cage is right beside our bed. Trust me if my wife smelled ferret poop I would have heard about it! In my experience some ferrets just seem to have worse smelling poop than others.
If you live in Hicksville (as do I) and must order food by mail be sure to keep an adequate supply on hand. Order in advance of running out! The food dish must be tied to the cage or heavy enough that it can't be turned over. Water can be served in a dish (same as food) or a lick-type water bottle.
One thing that certainly is true; changing the diet of a ferret can be pure hell sometimes. Once they have been eating a certain brand for a period of time they will virtually starve before eating something else. (Unless it's something that they shouldn't be eating, of course!) A large part of a ferret's world is their sense of smell and they depend heavily upon it. As time goes by they associate a certain smell with food. If it doesn't smell like food, they may well refuse to eat it. Varying their diets at an early age may help to prevent this. The 'varying their diet' idea is second hand information so if it's false you're getting it as cheaply as I did. Though I can't vouch for the validity it does sound reasonable.
This section was originally about my personal choice in ferret food. It was made by Mazuri and was, in my most humble opinion, the best food available. Notice, please, the use of the word 'was'. They gave us a 'new and improved formula'. Yeah, right……. New I'll agree with new but certainly not improved. The new version sucks!!! High, runny poop output and the poop stinks to high heaven. Why the hell can't companies leave well enough alone???!!! Now I'm on another food quest. I haven't decided what to try but it will have to be soon. I'm running low on Mazuri and have to have enough to mix with the new stuff. Weaning ferrets off of a long-time food can be a real joy.
Unfortunately this is a common practice among companies. Instead of raising the price they try to make it cheaper. All they really succeed in doing is ruining the product and running off their customer base. We have some real geniuses running corporate America these days!
Ever price a ferret cage? Sticker shock comes readily to mind. And the sad part is that some of them really suck. Again, I don't know what they were designed for but it most certainly wasn't a ferret. Walking on bare wire is NOT what you want for your ferret. It is bound to be uncomfortable, it is hard on their pads, and there have been many cases of dislocated toes and broken legs because of it. The various levels and ramps should be solid or covered. Some people like carpet while others prefer linoleum. Another option is fleece. Linoleum is a poor choice for ramps as it is too slippery. Which ever you choose make sure that it is securely attached. I prefer nylon wire ties. But, there are other methods that work quite well.
Ferrets have rather limited eyesight and will hurt themselves jumping/falling from high places. Any level above 18 inches should cover the entire area of the cage as opposed to having an open ledge. This is probably a bit conservative but better to err on the side of safety. Ferrets are fragile little things and break easily. If the upper levels fail to provide complete coverage place hammocks across the open areas. They will serve to safely catch him if he falls as well as provide places to sleep. Most ferrets absolutely love to sleep in a hammock.
Be sure that you use a wire cage. Things tend to get a bit ripe without plenty of airflow. Plus, they like to climb. Being stuck behind glass is terribly unfair to them. Such enclosures also present health hazards. Inadequate air flow will allow for the buildup of bacteria and other such nasties. Not the best road to take regarding ferret health and well being. Unless they spend virtually all of their time outside the cage give them a decent sized place to live, the bigger the better.
Don't use wood chips for their bedding as they tend to eat it and most will not be digested. Especially cedar as it tends to cause respiratory problems. I like a pad like the ones used in dog kennels. They are soft and padded and can be tossed into the washing machine when needed. I have two so I can always have a clean one on hand. Mine are large enough so that the cage rests on it. Between the hold-down springs and the weight of the cage it is held securely in place. Throw in a couple of towels for them to crawl around in and they will be quite happy. In addition there are hammocks and fleece sleep sacks for them. They like to sleep above the floor of the cage. They use the hammocks when the room is warm and the sleep sacks when it gets cool.
Ferrets are very meticulous about their surroundings. Keeping the cage and litter box clean is an absolute must. One good thing about ferrets; they will use a litter box. Some are more stubborn than others in this regard. If you have one that doesn't want to get with the program a little help may be needed. Get a small cage just large enough for a litter pan, food bowl, and a place to sleep. Place the litter pan on one end, the food bowl on the other with the bedding in the middle. One thing they won't do is poop on their bedding or around their food. This leaves the little bugger only one choice. After a short period of incarceration he should get the idea. If problems crop up a short refresher course may be needed. Once he starts using the litter box taking care of the cage is a snap. One thing you positively, absolutely must do every day is clean out the litter pan. Would like to use a filthy, smelly toilet? Do you honestly think your ferret does? No amount of training or coercion will make a ferret use a dirty litter box. Scoop it out at least once daily. The smaller it is the more often it will require attention. A good quality dust-free cat litter works well. Don't use the clumping type. It can cause some nasty problems up to and including killing your little fuzzy. I've had poor luck with triangle-shaped litter pans. There is only one place to go, as ferrets will nearly always poop in a corner if possible. The current pan is 12" x 24". It is large enough that they can get into it and decide which of four corners to use. This prevents build-up and allows for cleaning once daily. With 2" of litter in the pan there is plenty of absorbency for the urine. After scooping it out stir the litter thoroughly. This spreads out the wet area(s) and allows the litter to dry. Doing the 'scoop and stir' daily allows the litter to last for a week without odors or build-up. Changing the bedding and litter pan once a week keeps the cage fresh and clean.
Speaking of bedding, I found a great source. I prefer a pad over loose bedding. It makes changing the cage a much easier job. My cage has no bottom. It rests on the pan. With a pad you simply life off the cage, toss a pad in the pan, and replace the cage. The weight of the cage and the hold-down springs keep the pad in place. Pat Canipe makes and sells them. They are very nicely made and quite reasonable in cost. Pat will make them in custom sizes to fit your needs. You can check out her web site or contact her via e-mail for more details. The site is actually for dogs as these pads are intended for use as crate pads. They just happen to make great ferret cage pads as well.
Ever try to shove a marshmallow up a wildcat's rear? Second on the list has to be trimming the nails on a ferret. This is a definite requirement. As they grow they curve under the ferrets feet. Ultimately, they will break and splinter allowing them to catch on things. This can result in further damage to the nails or toes. As unpleasant as this task can be it simply must be done regularly.
Another thing that people don't often realize; ferrets are extremely heat sensitive. Above 80°F things start getting serious. Above 85° things start getting fatal. If you lack air conditioning or the funds to operate it forget about owning a ferret. For that matter if you are too poor to run an air conditioner you can't afford a ferret anyway. Is your system reliable? If it is some POS system that is constantly on the fritz you are going to end up with some very high vet bills and/or dead ferrets. Even good, reliable systems can and do break down. If someone isn't home to monitor the situation I suggest a thermostat connected to an auto dialer. If the temperature gets too high it will call pre-programmed numbers and announce the problem. This will alert the person(s) whose task it is to evacuate the ferret(s). It takes very little for a ferret to die of heat stroke. I STRONGLY suggest that you keep ice packs on stand-by in the freezer in case of emergencies. Break downs, power failures, what ever. Wrap them in towels and place them in the cage for the ferrets to lie on. And yes, Virginia, I have a stand-by generator. It is capable of powering the entire house including one of the two central air conditioners.
Cold isn't much of a problem. They tolerate it much better than heat. Toss in a few towels and they will snuggle up inside and remain quite comfortable.
Ferrets are not like hamsters or mice. They will not entertain themselves by running countless hours in a wheel. They require a good deal of time out of their cages. Some people give them the run of the house. I'm not quite that gutsy. They are too easy to kick or step on. I only let mine out when I'm there to supervise them directly. I am in the process of turning a spare bedroom into a 'ferret room'. They will have complete run of the room 24 hours a day. I won't have to worry about accidents or my other pets bothering them. However, they will still log a number of hours in the living room. They are quite sociable and require interaction with people. Plus they are a lot of fun with which to play and watch! If properly cared for they will take up a piece of your time.
One thing to keep in mind regarding ferrets; they are EXTREMELY intelligent. Because they are so intelligent they become bored very quickly. You will have to keep a variety of toys and change them out regularly. A ferret that is left in its cage will become 'cage-bound'. Basically it is a case of extreme boredom. All they will do is sleep all of the time. The same thing can happen even if they have an entire room in which to play. Acute boredom will result in them being lethargic and wanting to sleep all of the time. Keep their brains well stimulated through variety.
Speaking of environment, what about kids and other pets? Young children and ferrets is a bad mix. Ferrets are rather fragile and are not well suited to being handled by youngsters. Other pets can pose serious problems as well. Cats, as a rule, aren't too bad. Some will be afraid, some will be indifferent, and some will want to play. We have five cats. One is afraid, two are indifferent, and two love to play with them. They have a great time together. However, my cats have been de-clawed. (This makes me a cruel, heartless, ignorant bastard according to some people. Follow this link and decide for yourself.) A cat with claws can easily blind a ferret while playing. Personally I wouldn't allow a cat with claws to mix with a ferret. There is just too great a chance of having an accident. Dogs are a different story. They tend to grab and shake things. At best this is likely to cause serious injury. Even small dogs should be avoided. I NEVER leave my German Shepherd alone with the ferrets. She is the sweetest, most even-tempered dog you are likely to find and is very docile around them. Even when the ferrets make off with her toys she doesn't get upset. However, she still looks at them as if they were animated chew-toys. All it would take is one playful shake. Please note: this is a soft rubber toy with sharp points. There are few things more likely to cause a trip to the vet. It was removed to another room immediately following this picture. I only allowed Slinky to have it long enough to take the picture.
One major problem is finding a vet familiar with ferrets. Unless they have gone to the trouble of researching them on their own, ferrets will be completely foreign to them. And, ferrets require some very specialized knowledge on the part of the vet. Once you find one the prices tend to be rather steep. Yearly inoculations aren't any worse than any other pet. However about half of all ferrets require surgery by the age of six. Figure at least $300 for this. Not to mention the various medications required for other aliments. Eight cats and three German Shepherds over the last 25 years have only resulted in a broken leg, two surgeries, and one chronic illness. The chronic illness occurred in a cat at the ripe old age of 18 years. And all but one lived a full life span. Ferrets tend to be more dependent upon medical care. Make very sure that you are capable and willing to invest a sizable chunk of change.
There are various ailments that can befall a ferret. Just like any living creature there numbers are multitude. The three more common that you will encounter are adrenal, insulinoma, and ECE. You will hear a good deal about ADV as well.
One you will hear a great deal about is ADV. Personally, I think that it has been blown way out of proportion. For one thing they aren't even sure what it is. This makes me rather dubious of the various tests available. How does one test for something when one doesn't know for what one is looking? I believe that the only ones making out on this are the vets and testing labs. Ferret owners at large spend untold amounts of money for this and for what? But, everyone is entitled to their opinions. And at this stage of the game opinion is about all there is regarding this matter. While you will hear a great deal about ADV you will hear virtually nothing of it. While devastating in nature (no treatment and 100% fatal) it is rarely encountered. Far more scare than fact. While this may be of little solace to those having gone through it, they are in an extreme minority statistically speaking.
I would put the most common disease as ECE. Virtually every ferret on earth has gone through this. Sort of like the old days when kids got mumps, measles, and chicken pox. It's just one of those things that you expect to happen. ECE is commonly referred to as 'green slime disease' due to the way it presents. This is generally in the form of green, slimy poop. By slimy I mean that the stool is covered with mucus giving it a shiny, slick appearance. Then there is the 'bird seed' version. Following the 'green slime' the stool takes on a dark, granular appearance not unlike bird seed. Hence the name 'bird seed poop'. Sometimes it will present directly as the 'bird seed' version. And, on very rare occasion, it will present in the form of lemon jell-o. The poop is a bright, translucent yellow much resembling lemon jell-o. This is a very rare presentation and took a BUNCH of research to find out about it. Naturally one of mine presented in this manner! Considering that I would have had to drive to Dallas and pay exorbitant rates at the emergency clinic I decided to take a run at the 'net first. After a LOT of searching I finally found some references to it. If there is anything weird or unusual you can bet it will show up in my animals. I'm 'blessed' in this way.
Anyway, having once gone through this the ferret will remain 'ECE positive'. That is, the symptoms clear up but they can still pass the disease to others. Plus once they have it they very rarely have it again. It is pretty much a one time deal for the ferret involved. If it strikes one of yours there is really little to worry about provided the ferret is healthy and not in a state of advanced age. A young, healthy ferret will sail through it without even slowing down. If there are other health problems or it is getting on in years you need to take it to a vet just to be on the safe side. Otherwise just let it run its course. Adding Pedialite to the water will help keep the electrolytes where they belong. Keep a close eye out for dehydration. ANY sign of dehydration warrants an immediate trip to the vet!!! If it goes on for more than three days its time to see the vet even if there are no other warning signs.
This is a disorder of the adrenal glands. It is caused by an over growth of adrenal gland cells most often caused by tumors both benign and malignant. It generally presents with hair loss beginning at the base of the tail and spreading to the hips, aggressive behavior, and lethargy. In females an enlarged vulva will be fairly obvious as well. A ferret that is adrenal may show any of the above symptoms. It can be adrenal and show none of these symptoms. Sometimes they will go 'rat tail' (loss of hair on the tail) and nothing else. Sometimes they will go rat tail for no apparent reason. Go figure..............
The generally accepted method of treatment is surgery. I'm still not sure what to think regarding surgery. It is costly, hard on the ferret, and has a nasty habit of returning. This results in either another surgery or drug treatment. Lupron is the most common but there are others as well. The bad thing about not opting for the surgery is the very real possibility of malignancy. Plus surgery on the right adrenal is dangerous and tricky as it is wrapped around the vena cava. All things considered I still feel that drug therapy remains the best option.
Insulinoma is the opposite of diabetes. Diabetes (hyperglycemia) is due to lack of insulin resulting in an elevated level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulinoma (hypoglycemia) is too much insulin resulting in low blood sugar levels. Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin. Tumors of these cells cause an increase in production of insulin resulting in low blood sugar. The signs of insulinoma may include weakness and/or stumbling, pawing at the mouth, lethargy, drooling, vomiting, elevated heart rate, seizures, coma, and death. One thing to watch out for is stupor. Your ferret seems to 'space out' or 'blank out' for a short time then pops back to normal. Get that ferret to a vet immediately!
First aid for this involves rubbing the ferrets gums with a heavy syrup (Karo works well) to raise the blood sugar level. Treatment may be medical or surgical. Surgery is really iffy. Many that I have talked with say that the surgery is particularly difficult for the ferret. Plus it is usually only a matter of time before more tumors show up. Opossum became insulinomic a while back. Surgery was never considered. Although there have been many stories of success. A lot depends upon the location of the tumors. The pancreas is shaped like a banana with the 'plumbing' connected at the center. If the tumors are located beyond the center it can be removed. Both ends of the pancreas can be removed all the way to the center and the pancreas will still function properly. However, even if the tumors are located away from the center once removed they will most often return. Such is the case with malignancies.
Either way insulinoma is a death sentence. Generally they will live for a year to a year-and-a-half. (I know someone that has been treating one for over three years but this is very uncommon. I've been treating Opossum for several months and she is still at the beginning dose. Her glucose level is still running just under 90. Maybe I'll be lucky with her as well!) Medical treatment involves the use of Prednisone. Steroids are very hard on the system and the dosage will need to be increased as the tumors progress. Preds have to be administered twice per day following feeding. They have to have food in their stomachs to tolerate the preds. Surgery is hard on the ferret and the pocketbook. However it relieves the owner of daily meds. There doesn't seem to be any real advantage either way with one big exception: medical treatment does not require that the ferret endure a painful (and ultimately useless) surgery. Bear in mind that this is my opinion. My opinion and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. So it really comes down a decision based on your feelings and the advice of your vet.
Keep one thing in mind when considering ferret ownership: Time! One of the greatest problems facing ferret owners is caring for one when illness strikes. This does not simply take up your time; it consumes it. Voraciously! This is one area where you cannot 'wait until later'. To do so is tantamount to signing the ferrets' death warrant. Any small animal will deteriorate rapidly when sick. Ferrets are among the worst for this.
I offer the following as an example. Opossum was fine on Monday night when she was returned to her cage. Tuesday night when I picked her up she was grinding her teeth. I noticed that the little snot had defecated under my computer desk earlier. When I checked the stool it was black and tar-like indicating digested blood. This, along with the grinding of teeth, is a classic indication of a gastric ulcer. She was at the vets' office on Wednesday where Dr. Murry confirmed the ulcer. I spent Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday medicating and force-feeding her every four hours. Ferrets will stop eating for a variety of reasons, illness being one of the most common. Saturday afternoon she finally started to eat on her own. By Sunday she was back to normal. In addition to the dedication required it also cost me three days of annual leave. God bless the Federal government by which I am employed!
Are you willing to take on a responsibility such as this? Are you in a position to be absent from your place of employment to administer such care? If the answer is 'no' to either of the above questions I suggest that you get a goldfish instead. The above scenario is in no way atypical of a ferret illness. Now, consider having multiple ferrets and having more than one sick at a time. I suggest, in the strongest of terms, that you find out what you are getting into. Again, my only concern is for the ferret. If you cannot or will not make such a commitment do a ferret a favor. Don't get one!
A few days ago Opossum displayed the symptoms of anaphylactic shock. Unfortunately, poison and insulinoma present in exactly the same way. I had just treated the house for fleas and didn't know what I was facing. As it was 2:00 AM I wasn't exactly at my best. To be perfectly frank I totally freaked! Not knowing what had happened I proceeded to dose all four with Benedryle (can't hurt anything) and prepared to make a mad dash to the emergency ferret clinic. The nearest one is in Dallas 70 miles away. About 1/3 of the way there I noticed that all four were curled up and peacefully sleeping. Opossum appeared to be completely normal. So I gritted my teeth, uttered a short prayer, and headed back home. After speaking with the most knowledgeable ferret person I know Opossum went in for a glucose level test. It came back at 70. Not terrible but certainly not good. The normal range runs something like 90 to 125 or there about. A trip to Dr. Murry (my ferret vet in Dallas) confirmed the insulinoma. Opossum now has to be fed and given Prednisone twice a day for the rest of her life. She has to be fed as preds can't be given on an empty stomach. With careful and proper care she could well live for several more years.
Twice a day, EVERY DAY for the next three or four years. Sit down and think about it. Then ask yourself the question "Am I REALLY willing to commit to something like this?" In order to leave for even one day you will have to find someone who can administer the meds. Someone you can trust to care for your ferret. Someone with the knowledge and who is conscientious enough to take proper care of your ferret. You will be putting the life of your ferret into hands of that person! That, or you stay home and do it yourself. While you are mulling this over I'll give you another thing to think about. Insulinoma is rising at an alarming rate. At present 1/3 (or perhaps more) of all ferrets will develop insulinoma. ARE YOU WILLING TO TAKE ON THIS RESPONSIBILITY?
There are people(?) that do this. I sincerely hope that hell does exist and that there is a VERY special place there just for scumbags that do things like this. If you are going to own an animal then commit to it! This includes all medical care needed regardless of the cost. The only reason, AND I DO MEAN THE ONLY REASON, to put an animal down is to keep it from suffering. I'll never let an animal suffer but I'll hock everything I own to help one. If you can't or won't make a commitment to this degree then find another way to amuse yourself. Having spent over $700 to fix a broken leg on an alley cat I feel that I am in a position to make this rather harsh statement. Should I become unable to properly care for my animals I'll find them a new home.
To those having given up I say 'good riddance'. To those still reading I say 'welcome'! Now that you've had the sulfur it's time for the molasses. I can honestly say that having a pet ferret is worth any expenditure you have to make.There isn't much you can do regarding the medical aspect. There is a good chance that you will have to make a substantial investment in this regard. There are ways to trim some of the costs however.
Food costs can be reduced by buying in bulk. The price-per-pound drops substantially. Plus if you buy enough the shipping is free. You will be pleasantly surprised at the savings.
Cages, toys, and various other do-dads can represent a huge savings if you are willing to invest a little time. Just look around and use your imagination. And, it ain't rocket science to build a cage or cobble together some pipe for a maze.
You can spend a tidy fortune on 'ferret toys' and it is totally unnecessary. They will entertain themselves with just about anything. Socks are a real favorite. Mine will try to take them off of your feet! Things that squeak are quite popular as well. However, these items tend to be made of soft rubber. Such things are a VERY good way to wind up at the vets' office! The beady-eyed little monsters love to chew on things. Soft rubber will come apart and ferrets will swallow just about anything they can get into their mouths. Soft squeaky toys should be sewn into a sock. If you see holes developing change the sock. Hard plastic balls are another favorite. Childproof pill bottles and film canisters with snap on lids make great toys. Put in a couple of pebbles (shell corn, beans, anything small and hard) and lock the lid on it. It is just like a kid with a rattle.
They are true packrats and will drag things off to their 'hidey holes'. You will be amazed at what can disappear. I read where a woman's flute was hidden under the couch case and all! They are tenacious little devils. I glanced down the other day just in time to see the cell phone disappear under the sofa. TV remotes are another favorite as well. Nearly anything you can think of will entertain a ferret. Just stay away from soft rubber.
The other day I had to get some information about the power supply in my computer. It is a full tower that sits on the floor. I sat down, removed four screws, and laid the screw driver down. I removed the side, read the information, and replaced the side. All of this was done in less time than it takes to type this paragraph. I reached for the screw driver only to find it missing. I have YET to find the damned thing!!!
They love to tunnel. After all, they are burrowing animals by nature. Flexible hose will keep them entertained for hours at a time. Now you CAN buy these from a pet store. Three or four feet will run you about $20! Plastic dryer hose from the local hardware store will run under a buck a foot. It is thin and tends to wear out requiring replacement. Plus it's white so you can't see what is going on inside. But, it's cheap. Just make sure the wire ends are properly secured so they can't hurt the ferret. Gray duct tape works well but keep an eye on it. Anything with tape is viewed as a challenge by a ferret.
I found this while traipsing around the 'net the other day. The New Rainbow Bridge is offering clear, heavy weight PVC tubing at an excellent price. $20 for 20 feet of tubing (including shipping) is a good price indeed. I bought 40 feet the other day and it is really first rate. The ferrets are going completely ape over it. And it is clear so you can watch all of the action. The only time I've ever seen a ferret wag its tail is in a clear tube. Quite a sight to behold I must say.
Four-inch thin wall plastic drainpipe is great. It is cheap and flexible. The fittings (T's, el's, y's, etc.) are quite inexpensive as well. I made up a large maze for under $40 and they love it. To make something like this from a pet store would literally run into the hundreds of dollars. They make the pipe with holes in it. However I found the holes to be quite rough with a lot of flashing around the edges. Considering the time it would take to clean all of the holes I opted for the solid variety.
Take a pile of cardboard boxes, some duct tape, and some 4" tubing and you can make a great 'ferret castle'. Just attach, arrange, and connect to your hearts desire. They do love to explore and will spend countless hours in their 'castle'. You can see how I made mine by following this link.
Take a piece of tubing and a length of PVC pipe and make a slide. The tubing has the needed surface traction to allow them to climb up. The PVC is as slick as ice and will allow them to slide down. Just put a box with a pillow in it at the bottom of the slide. Some like to use an open trough as a slide. While this enables you to watch I'm a bit leery of the ferret climbing over the side and falling.
A large plastic storage box from Wally World or the local 'dollar' store makes a great dig box. Get one of the clear ones so you can watch the action. Cut a couple of 4 inch holes for entry/exit. Drill several holes in the top for air flow. That or just lay the top on upside-down. This will allow plenty of air while keeping the rice where it belongs. It is surprising how much they can kick out on the floor without the top in place. They love to dig and play in sand. However a problem with sand is the possibility of dust being inhaled. This is why I chose to use rice. Be sure to use long grain rice (the kind that you have to cook forever). 'Instant' rice will swell in their stomachs if eaten and could result in a blockage. Regular rice will pass through their systems without problems. Stay away from plastic packing material as they tend to eat it.
I ran across this the other day. It is a remote litter box made up by Matt Staroscik. It could really be a boon to those that have smaller cages or anyone that wished to contain the litter mess. It would also work well for a remote dig box. Cut a hole in each side and mount a blast gate. Attach one to the cage and leave the other open to the room. Simply close the gate when you wish to restrict the ferrets to the cage and open it when they are on the loose. Most ferrets are reluctant to go into their cage while out running about. This way they could have access either way.
You can really save a bundle it you are willing to make the cage yourself. It really isn't difficult and will only take a few hours. You will need to have a metal pan fabricated. Decide what you want and have a local sheet metal shop make it up for you. Granted, it won't look as fancy as the store-bought variety. But, since the ferret won't care, it is a matter of your personal taste as to which route you take. For the more intrepid souls I am including a "How-to" page on building a ferret cage. You can see a step-by-step procedure here. For less than $100 and a few hours of your time you can build a cage that would cost $200 to $300.
Another item I ran across the other day really made me laugh. It is a training aid to keep our furry little friends from pooping in the corners of the cage. It is a small spring that is stretched across the corner. The idea being since they back up to poop they will run into the spring, stop, and go somewhere else. I've never tried this approach myself so I don't know if it actually works. Regardless of the effectiveness the price tag was five bucks! I can buy the same spring at the local auto parts house for a quarter.
The point I'm trying to make here is don't be suckered by 'specialty items' that are on the market. Some are an out-and-out rip-off. Take a look at what you are buying before you part with your hard-earned cash. If anyone in the family is handy with a needle making your own sleeping accessories is a fast and cheap job. If not, check the ferret sites on the 'net. Many people make and sell these goodies for less than the 'big boys' are charging. And, in many cases, the proceeds go to financing a shelter. Spend a little time on the 'net and you will be surprised at what is available. This, and the use of a little common sense, will save you a bundle. Plus, it just might help a good cause.
First and foremost, do not allow yourself to be lured into a false sense of security. Always remember the First Rule of Ferret Ownership; there is no such thing as a house or room that is 'ferret proof'. Anyone who believes otherwise is living in a world of delusion. The best that you can hope to achieve is a high level of 'ferret resistant'. 'Ferret proof' belongs in the same realm as 'jumbo shrimp' and 'military intelligence'.
Any room(s) that the ferret has access to must be thoroughly inspected and cleaned. I'm not talking about 'spit and polish'. I mean thoroughly vacuumed and swept. They are known for swallowing just about anything that they can get into their mouths. Care to guess one of the leading causes for surgery in ferrets? Pencil erasers! No telling how many have been removed from the stomachs of ferrets over the years. Or how many have died from them for that matter. You simply cannot allow small items to come into contact with a ferret. If it can be swallowed, you can make book that it will be.
The furniture is something else to consider. Care to guess one of the leading causes of death among ferrets? Recliners. Please don't tell me how careful you will be. I'm sure that every owner that has killed a ferret in this manner has said the same thing. My wife has a recliner in the living room. Any time that the ferrets are out no one is allowed near it. Only when they are safely tucked away in their cage is the recliner used. This elicits an occasional frown from Leslie. But then, what the hell? After 28 years of marriage it isn't the first time. Any over-stuffed furniture presents a hazard. They can burrow down inside and get smushed when someone sits down. They are never left alone nor are they allowed on the furniture unless someone is sitting directly beside them. They spend most of their time on the floor playing with their toys. To date they have shown little interest in getting on the furniture other than to pester one of the cats.
One thing to keep in mind is how small a hole they can get through. Even a large hob can squeeze through a two-inch opening. Basically, if their head will go through the rest will follow. And, there are VERY few things or places that are 'out of reach' for a ferret. The box in the picture is used as a barrier between the living room and kitchen. The hole in the side is better than twelve inches off the ground. The opening is just big enough to get my fingers through. There is a canister set stored in it as well. Hearing noises from within I opened the box to investigate. Not only had Weasel managed to get into the box she pulled out a towel and made herself a bed! Never underestimate a ferret!
Unless you can spend a good deal of time with your fuzzy(s) you need to carefully consider time outside of the cage. I cannot allow the free roam approach. First, our house simply is not built for it. The thought of them getting stepped on sends cold chills down my back. I have several other animals not the least of which is a German Shepherd. The type of furniture we have is really not suitable as they could get down inside it (and, of course, the infamous recliner). For us the best way is a dedicated room. We have four bedrooms, two of which are not used. I plan to turn one of them over to Slinky, Weasel, Opossum, and Charlie. If we have guests they'll have to tough it out in the cage for a day or two. (The ferrets, not the guests. Well, depending upon the guests.....) As this is highly unlikely it should present no real problems. They will still spend time with the family but will have the rest of their time out of the cage. My original thought was to let them run in our bedroom when we weren't using it. But, due to my working a rotating shift, there would be days at a time when they would be confined. So, the guestroom gets the nod. As a precaution I'm going to cordon off a small area around the door. This will allow for safe entry without fear of harming them. A simple partition across the doorway would suffice were it not for our other pets. The door will have to remain closed for their protection.
While roaming there comes the question of litter pans. Ferrets are good about using them in a cage. However, once outside the cage things can change. From the ferrets viewpoint it amounts to "If I don't eat or sleep here what's the big deal?" So you will have to placate them just a bit. If there is a litter box close by they will use it but don't expect them to walk across the room. They might or might not accommodate you on this. And, if it's in another room, you can pretty well forget it. Rarely will they go back into their cage for this purpose. So be advised that multiple litter receptacles will be required.
(The following idea and pictures are the property of Ashia Priest and are used with her permission.) One problem that I've experienced is ferrets pooping right in front of the litter box. There is NEVER a mess inside the cage. Outside they display the most annoying tendency to poop right in front of the box! They will go to all of the trouble of walking to it only to poop in front of it. While perusing one of the ferret forums the other day I found an idea submitted by Ashia Priest. It is so simple that it is positively brilliant! My sincere thanks to Ashia for allowing me to share it here. She was even kind enough to send pictures!
All one need do is observe a ferret once to realize that they back up to poop. When their heinies bump against something they fire all weapons. My outside litter boxes have a higher opening than the one in the cage. This was based on the premise the litter would be better contained. Apparently the little beggars won't climb an extra inch to get inside. And along came Ashia with the answer. Instead of backing up against the box they go up the ramp and into the box where they belong. While she used towels anything will work as well. Plywood, rigid sheet plastic, what ever you can dig up to form a ramp.
This might explain why some ferrets won't use the triangle litter pans. With a ramp in front of it their front legs will be supported. They might be more inclined (no pun intended) to use a triangle pan with a ramp. As shown in the pictures this is the type that Ashia is using.
The more courageous owners take them outside. With all of the possible tragedies that lurk in the great outdoors I am loath to attempt this. There are too many animals on the loose in our area. One moment of inattention could result in the loss of my little friends. They are, therefore, destined to live their lives indoors. Although I couldn't resist seeing Slinky in the snow. We had one of our rare snowstorms just after I got him. So, with camera in hand, we boldly went where this ferret had never gone before. If you attempt this keep the time period short. Slinky's excursion lasted fewer than five minutes. I don't really know how they tolerate snow and freezing temperatures. I've read that five minutes is the limit but don't hold me to this. Enough time to take a few pictures had no adverse effects on Slinky but I wouldn't tempt fate too far. His 'snow pix' can be seen here. He seemed to enjoy his time in the snow. He tried to burrow into it a time or two. Apparently he didn't like having snow on his nose. Every time he touched it he would back off and shake his head. He clearly prefers warm sand to cold snow. But he didn't shy from running and jumping in it. Nixie is restrained with an overhead trolley cable. Had I thought of it I would have hooked his leash to this and given him wider reign. Maybe next time.
You will sometimes run across a ferret that bites. It could be a malicious act or they might be playing. Horsehide has nothing on ferret skin and they play rough! To the uninitiated it looks like they are trying to kill each other. This is just the way they play. However, to human skin this is rather painful so there comes the task of teaching them not to do this. I have actually read where it is recommended to "flick them on the nose" to break them of biting. What kind of a moron would actually advocate this abuse is beyond my comprehension. I'd like to 'flick' them in the nose a time or two! Just lightly blow in their faces or spritz then with a spray bottle filled with water. Another approach is to give time out in the cage or scruff them for a few seconds. Don't put them down when this happens. They will quickly learn that biting equals freedom.
One thing that will take some time is getting them accustomed to being handled. At first they will not like being held. Especially when they are young. Just remember, if he bites don't put him down. Even tough he resists hang on to him. After a while he will want to be held. This is often conveyed through the 'flat ferret' pose. Either he is trying to be invisible or he wants to be picked up. Either way, pick him up.
There is no other way to put it. They are a bit on the gamey side. I personally don't mind their musk odor. Which is a good thing because there is little that can be done about it. Shampooing actually makes it worse. Following the shampoo the glands in the skin go into overdrive to replace the lost oil. The odor returns with a vengeance. If the musk odor bothers you I afraid that you are S.O.L.
They have a gland that will emit a strong scent when scared or angry. I'm told that is isn't as pungent or as lasting as that of a skunk. It is generally removed when they are neutered. Some people get downright hostile over this procedure. Why they are so in favor of keeping this 'function' is beyond me. The last thing I want to do is air out the house in the middle of winter. The purpose of retaining the scent gland escapes me to be frank.
If you get your kit (baby ferret) from a private breeder the task of having it neutered may fall on you. Most of your large breeders take care of this prior to selling them. Neutering is a must. Hobs (males) will mark their territory (that is, pee on everything) and become very aggressive. Not exactly what I want in a pet! Jills (females) will die if not spayed. They do not have heat cycles like other animals. Once they go into heat they remain in that state until bred. If they are not bred they will die of aplastic anemia.
Here are a few thoughts that I would like for you to consider before rushing out to the pet store. Most pet stores purchase their ferrets from one of the large 'ferret mills'. These people churn them out as fast as they can. PERIOD! Due to the demands of the market they sell them at a younger age than is good for the animal. They are spayed/neutered MUCH to young. And, one has to question the gene pool at such places. Over breeding/inbreeding may well be rearing its ugly head. The life span of our fuzzy little friends is dropping and medical problems are on the rise. I haven't seen any direct evidence linking these items but the anecdotal information certainly gives one pause for thought. The idea that I'm trying to convey here is to consider making your purchase from a private breeder. There are a number of good ones (and some truly crappy ones as well!) so do some checking on the 'net and see if there is one near you.
And, by all means check the local shelters! There are untold numbers of fuzzies that desperately need homes. I presently have a German Shepherd that is the most beautiful that I have ever laid eyes on. She is the sweetest and most loving creature you will ever find and came from a rescue organization. Slinky did not simply because the nearest one that I could find was too many hours away. I ran across a local one the other day. It is operated by one of the folks at the The Ferret Lovers Club of Texas. This is where we acquired Weasel and Opossum.
While acquiring Weasel and Opossum I met Millie Sanders. At the time she was president of The Ferret Lovers Club of Texas and ran a rescue in the Dallas area. Through her I became an active member of the Club. I would strongly suggest that anyone owning ferrets join an organization dedicated to these special creatures. In addition to the availability of information you will have access to some very knowledgeable people. This is well worth a few dollars per year for a membership. We have monthly meetings where you can mingle with other ferret fanatics. There is a monthly newsletter with lots of pictures and articles related to the ownership of ferrets plus discounts on various ferret products and goodies. And, it's all for a good cause; help and education for ferret owners. The most important aspect of which is the positive impact it will have on the lives of our ferrets.
They are truly amazing creatures and will bring many happy hours into the lives of their owners. If you choose to join our little group you will have no regrets. But, be forewarned! They are addictive. In the world of ferret ownership there is a thing called 'ferret math'. It alludes to the fact that ferrets seem to multiply without benefit of mating and giving birth. It is an inexplicable quirk of ferret ownership. It is not uncommon to wind up with several of them.
Having multiple ferrets is like having your own private circus. A ferret is a great deal of fun with which to play and watch. Observing several ferrets play together will take it to a whole new level! However, there are things to consider with multiple ferret ownership. There is an increased possibility of medical costs in addition to yearly vaccinations and examinations. More ferrets will require a larger cage. This includes extra bedding (hammocks, sleep sacks, etc.) and a high level of scrutiny regarding the litter pan. Plus, there is a standing rule among knowledgeable ferret owners; if you are going to have multiple ferrets, make it three or more. Two is a dangerous number. Ferrets become extremely attached to their cage/house mates and suffer mightily when one disappears. They will go into a deep depression often resulting in death. The remaining ferret will actually give up his will to live. He will stop eating, and just lie down and die. If there are three and something happens to one the other two will generally not be severally affected. When there are two, the death of one could well lead to the death of the other. Hence, the 'three or more' rule.
This is a pretty basic outline of owning a ferret. There is a ton of information available on the 'net. I would especially recommend reading up on the medical aspects. Small animals tend to go down hill fast when an illness occurs. Knowing the signs and symptoms will greatly improve your ferret's chance of survival should a medical problem arise. My best suggestion is to visit Pam Greene's site. Ferret Central has to be the most complete ferret site on the 'net. There is a tremendous amount of information along with links to virtually every ferret subject. It will take a fair amount of time to go through everything but it will be time well spent.
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