Come, Mommy

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fun With Ferrets

I get a lot of hits from people looking for answers to various ferret questions. I've been keeping track of them for a while, and here are my (not to be confused with an expert's) answers to the recurring ones.

1. How big will my ferret grow?

Well, if you've got a girl (jill or sprite), she'll get to 1-3 pounds when grown. Boys (hobs and gibs) get to be a bit bigger, in the range of 2-5 pounds. Now that's American ferrets. Some of the German and Australian lines get to be about 50% larger than the American ferrets.

2. Can I give Imodium to a ferret who is pooping liquid?

I wouldn't recommend it. Diarrhea in ferrets can get serious very quickly, and you need to find the root cause of the problem. Call your vet immediately.

3. Why is my ferret going bald?

There's an outside chance there's a skin disorder or parasite, but the most common cause of alopecia in ferrets is an adrenal tumor of some kind. There are medical and surgical treatments available; again, call your vet.

4. Why won't my ferret use the litter box?

It's possible the box isn't clean enough to suit your pet. Scoop it every day and change the litter every other day and see if that helps. You can try changing the litter type, too. I've had good luck with recycled newspaper pellets, and some people swear by wooden stove pellets. Just stay away from clumping-type cat litters. There have been cases of ferrets eating litter, and I'm sure you can imagine what might happen internally when clumping litter is swallowed.

Put a box on every level of your pet's cage. Short legs don't like to travel far to find the bathroom. Also, put at least one box in every room where ferrets roam, for the same reason. If you have more than one ferret, I'd suggest one box for each ferret to get a rough idea of the number of boxes you need.

Also, my experience over the years with many different ferrets is that the best of them only use the box 80-90% of the time. So there's always going to someone who misses the box with at least some regularity.

5. Are ferrets expensive pets?

Yes. They need annual vet checks, plus distemper and rabies vaccinations yearly. They are prone to cancers of several kinds; I'd guess 60-70% of domestic ferrets develop cancer, often by the age of 3-4. Then you're talking surgery plus medication usually. I just took Houdini in for a vet visit today. She looks like she's developing an adrenal tumor, and it was $150 just for the pre-op testing. The surgery will probably run $300-400.

And there's the cost of food. We spend about $40 a month to keep three ferrets fed and happy.

And there's litter. And the cost of the cage. It adds up quickly.

6. Why is my ferret jumping with his mouth open?

That's what we call a weasel war dance. Ferrets often do this when happily playing or excited. It's a fun thing to see, actually, and nothing to worry about.

7. Why is my ferret stealing my socks?

Maybe because he wants to kiss your toes?

I have no idea. Most of mine have done this at one time or another. If you want your socks back, look under the bed or sofa, in the back of the closet, or wherever your ferret hides his stash of treasures. This behavior is so common that one company has capitalized on it to make a rather fun ferret toy.

8. Is a ferret a good pet for a child?

Yup, I can see why that search would end you up on this blog.

My answer is that it depends on the age of your child, and on how much work you as a parents are willing to put in. For older kids, maybe over the age of eight or so, who can read up on ferret safety and health, and who have parents on board with the idea, ferrets could be amazing pets. They are lively and curious animals, they play hard, and are quite affectionate.

The combination of small children and ferrets gives me pause. Both ferrets and small children can play rough, and without close supervision, there's too much chance of a ferret being seriously injured, or a child bitten by a mishandled ferret. (Of course, that's probably true of just about any pet you might envision.) Also, small children can't be counted on to close doors and windows, and a ferret who gets outside will not live long unless he's rescued.

Yes, we're doing it, but it's not easy. The ferrets are kept in their own room closed off with a special baby gate. They can see us, and we can see them, and I can climb over the gate any time to play with or tend to the ferrets. I am thisclose when Liam is petting ferrets, and now that he can really run, I shy away from letting him in the room with the ferrets unless there's another adult right there, too. We're not that far away from the day when Liam will be able to scale, knock down, or remove the gate, so I have to be extra vigilant if he's anywhere near the ferrets' room.

If you're an experienced ferret owner, you could probably make it work. If you have small children and are thinking about acquiring your first ferret, my heartfelt advice would be to wait until the children are much older. There's a steep learning curve for first-time ferret owners; add in a toddler or two, and it could be too much too fast.

So, those are the big ferret questions that land people here. Hopefully, this will help other ferret folk who stop by. Look for other exciting ferret talk in the future when I am inspired by new searches. In the meantime, it seems that Liam has decided to share his cold with me. Accordingly, I'm taking myself off to bed for as long as I can keep him entertained with books and crayons.


  • Great photo and lots of thoughtful advice. Feel better. Love, Gran-Gran

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, May 23, 2006 9:40:00 PM  

  • Hummmm....never really thought of a ferret as a pet for my kids. They sound like good pets. Interesting...

    By Blogger Wendy A, at Wednesday, May 24, 2006 5:18:00 AM  

  • Great Post!

    I saw an interesting comparison between domesticated ferrets in the European countries and Western countries. It seems the European ferrets rarely suffer from diseases. One of the reasons given was they are fed a natural diet. Many ferrets in the USA are fed processed foods like kibble. I became curious and read quite a few articles about the benefits of feeding them a natural diet. I adopted two ferrets last week and I’m trying to get them on a natural diet.

    I have a three year old daughter. I watch them closely when they do play together. We have gone over holding the ferrets correctly. I have told her that she needs to be even gentler when she handles them. We have a Maltese, Lalita. who is nine years old. She weighs five pounds. She knows to be “gentle” with her. It is a lot of work, especially when she was younger, but now she does well with her. I still watch her when she plays with Lalita. My two fert babies are almost two pounds each.

    By Anonymous Raw Vegan Momma, at Wednesday, July 12, 2006 12:58:00 PM  

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