This is only the beginning, but it is a start..........Let's jump in!
Make it Safe - Your ferret requires some sort of safe confinement. This is usually a cage or a 'ferret proofed' room of their own. You will hear a great deal about 'ferret proofing'. Trust me when I tell you there is no such thing. You make things as ferret resistant as you can, and they will still show you that you missed! But try anyway. Your entire house should be inspected from a ferret's point of view. The closest you can get to that is on your hands and knees, so down you go. Look for any nook, crook, crevice or cranny that measures 1/2x1/2 inch. If you find it, plug it! If they find it, they'll go through. These are weasels. It is their nature and duty to explore and get into trouble. Safety has to be your number one concern, because its not even on their list. Restrict access to refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, cabinets, washers/dryers, recliners, rocking chairs, anything that heats, cools, or moves. The whole house must be thoroughly inspected because it will be thoroughly inspected! Your baby will eventually escape from its room or cage when you least expect it and when you aren't looking. So make it safe.
Make it comfortable - Your ferret's cage should be the biggest you can afford and have room for. After all, unless your baby will be a `free roam' ferret, that is one with its own room, it will spend most of its life in that cage. Our favorites are what's commonly referred to as the `black 2 or 4 story wire' cages, or even better, a Midwest 'cat cage' converted to ferret use by adding shelves and ramps. Wire cages are easy to clean and disinfect and allow plenty of ventilation. But rubbing of your ferret's knuckles on the wire floors can cause serious foot damage, so cut some carpet fragments, available at just about any department or home improvement store, and cover each of the individual shelves. The carpet pieces can easily be removed and tossed in the washer on the gentle cycle. In addition to the carpeting, ferrets love to cuddle in old towels, baby blankets, sweat or tee shirts. So place some around for sleeping comfort. Hammocks are another ferret favorite.
Your baby needs a litter box which you should `scoop' daily and change weekly. Yesterday's News cat litter is the best litter available. Do not use gravel (too dusty) or clumping (can get stuck in the nose, throat, stomach, etc) litters as they can pose a serious health risk to ferrets. Use no cedar anywhere! The paper/wood shaving beddings have no place in a ferret cage either. Your baby will sleep in its bed(s) and potty in its litter box. One more thing. Ferrets are meticulous about personal hygenine. Watch. When they eat, they wipe their faces, when they potty, they wipe their bums. I always keep an old washrag tucked just under the edge of the litter box next to the exit. Washable toilet paper! You can change/wash these very easily and cut down on carpet cleaning.
Ferret food is a bit of a hot topic. Ferrets are obligate carnivores. The part of the intestinal tract responsible for digesting plant matter, i.e. grain, fruits, or vegetables, is called the cecum. Ferrets don't have one. So feeding plant matter to your ferret is a waste. Worse, it can actually be harmful. Yes I know there are foods in pretty bags out there with pretty ferrets on them and bananas and fruity breakfast cereals in them claiming to be good for your baby. But don't believe it Obligate carnivores, remember? That means they must get their nutrients from a meat source. So what to feed? Check the ingredients on the bag (read, read, read!). The first two, preferably three, ingredients should be meat. The food should be very high in protein, at least 34% and high in fat at least 18%. Be aware of where those nutrients come from. You and I can derive protein and fats from plants, our ferrets can't. In our area `Mauzri', `Zupreme', `Sheppard and Greene', Totally Ferret `Active' or `Turkey' and `Ultimate' ferret foods are best. If one of these is not available, we recommend Eukanuba Kitten, found just about everywhere. You will have to check around where you live. Which ever quality food you settle on, it should be available at all times. Water should be kept fresh, clean and available always. We prefer to use water bottles hung over water bowls. Many ferrets prefer to drink from one or the other, and the bottles make an ideal emergency back up in case of a spilled bowl while the bowl can catch the occasional drip from a bottle.
You're not done yet! Turn it over!
Don't give up, read on, there's a lot to learn!
Make it to the Doctor - More and more I am hearing from people whose ferret has never been to a vet and they boast “he looks just fine to me”. They are oblivious enough to be proud of the fact. Then, inevitably I get an urgent phone call, usually in the middle of the night, “Help! Help! My ferret is dying!” and it's too little too late. This is called neglect and it's totally unconscionable. Make it to the Doctor!
Veterinarian care by a ferret specialist is an absolute necessity. I can not emphasize this strongly enough, on two counts. I have first hand knowledge of vets claiming to know ferret medicine who have actually killed ferrets with their arrogance and ignorance. Contact a local ferret shelter for a referral and interview your prospective vet thoroughly before your baby needs to see him/her. Second count; there are illnesses out there that are not ferret specific or exclusive.
Canine distemper is an air borne virus, you can carry it home on your clothes and never even know you were exposed. Canine distemper is 100%, read that again, one hundred percent, fatal to all ferrets. There are NO exceptions. Your ferret MUST receive the protection gained from vaccinations against this killer.
Most areas have laws requiring rabies vaccination. If your ferret even inadvertently scratches someone breaking the skin and the authorities are notified, that rabies certificate makes the difference between quarantine for a few days or decapitation to check for rabies. This is true for all your pets.
There are 3 major `cancers', two of them manageable medically to a great extent by a ferret specialist, and one not so manageable, that 99% , virtually all, ferrets will manifest before they are 4-5 years old. Those are: 1st-Adrenal gland disease, characterized initially by loss/thinning & balding. 2nd-Insulinoma. Everyone has heard of diabetes. This is the exact opposite. Most people first notice either weight loss, hind leg weakness or a tendency to stare into space. The third is lymphoma. I call it the silent killer. Too often by the time lymphoma is diagnosed, it is too late to stop it. It strikes with no usual symptoms, in no usual way, and it's deadly. To compound these medical challenges, cardiac problems, usually cardiomyopathy, diagnosable in the early stages only by an x-ray, is going to hit at the same time.
There is a study that indicates a yearly shot of 'lupron' may delay or deter the onset of adrenal. There is mounting evidence indicating Melatonin implants done every 3 months may also help. Another implant, Deslorelin, a once a year treatment and preventative is being used by many vets and an adrenal `vaccine' is currently in the testing phases. Ask your vet about these.
Insulinoma requires prednisolone and high animal based protein snacks and meals to control. It will take a couple of weeks and blood sugar tests to get the initial dosing correct and follow up tests every 3 or 4 months as doses must gradually be increased over time as the disease progresses.
Cardiomyopathy responds well to taurine supplimentation, but again a visit to the doctor every few months, sooner if necessary, is required to monitor this illness and sooner or later medication will be required.
Your baby is susceptible to your colds and flu, and you to theirs. Many times these can be dealt with at home, some times call or visit to the vet is needed. Don't take chances with diarrhea. Ferrets can dehydrate to where medical intervention is necessary very rapidly.
Ferrets are very emotional creatures bonding tightly to their cagemates, surroundings, frienyds and families. Change, the loss or addition of a family member (ferret, feline, canine or human), a move to a new home or even rearranging your household furniture with a rare few, anything different, is often enough to cause a deep depression in some. Ferrets suffering from emotional issues must be watched very closely to make sure they continue to eat and drink sufficiently to maintain their health. Many a ferret has grieved himself to death because a parent or vet didn't realize the depth of emotion a ferret is
During times of change or with any ongoing illness, ulcers are a real threat. Any ferret who goes to the food bowl, just stares at it, puts their face in the bowl but doesn't eat, smacks their lips or grinds their teeth (sometimes load enough to hear!), or just doesn't eat, needs to be taken to a ferret doctor and that doctor needs to be told exactly what is and has happened. These are signs of stomach distress, ulcer or otherwise. Talk to your doctor about adding pepcid to any other medications.
Ferrets are also very prone to ingesting indigestible items, pieces of toys, part of your shoe, even their own hair, and ferrets are not built to 'throw up'. A `hairball' or other ingested indigestible can be deadly. A vomiting ferret is usually a ferret in trouble. Watch closely, if its more than just one fast 'blaaap' or even if it is and it reoccurs, it's time to go to the vet. Once ingested and then usually stuck, it generally requires surgery to get out. This is truly a case of an "ounce of prevention...." Choose ferret safe toys, no soft rubbers or removable parts, lock away your remotes with their easy to pull off buttons, and give your baby the kitten recommended dose of a good hairball laxative or treat, or canned cat hairball foods in some soup, 2-3 times weekly, more often during those twice a year shedding seasons.
Wow! So now you are having second thoughts ...Good! Not good that you don't know if you can actually properly care for your darling. If you have made it this far and are still reading you have the beginnings of an excellent ferret parent - congratulations! But good because those second thoughts, and all the doubts and questions that come with them will motivate you to be vigilant and to learn. And THAT is what will make your life with these incredible creatures rewarding beyond measure for you and safe, secure, happy and healthy for them. You will never find more unconditional love packaged in laughter anywhere. Enjoy each other and be safe!
revised November 2010