Thursday, March 10, 2011
Species of the Day: Ferret
Scientific Name: Mustela furo or M. putorius furo
Size: 13 to 20 inches in length; 1 and a half to 3 pounds in weight (males are usually larger than females)
Origin: Europe or Asia
Average Life-span: 5 to 7 years
Temperament: Ferrets are playful, inquisitive creatures. They are also quite intelligent and can be trained to use a litter-box. In the wild, polecats live in burrows, and the digging/burrowing instinct remains intact in domestic ferrets
Varieties: Seven colors; albino, black, black sable, champagne, chocolate, dark-eyed white and sable. Six patterns; point, standard, solid, blaze, panda and roan
Ferrets are fascinating creatures that have moved their way into hundreds of thousands of American households over the past several years according to a recent study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Popular because of their cute appearance, playfulness and friendly disposition, ferrets can be great companions. They do, however, require a lot of care and attention from their owners.
Members of the Mustelidae family, ferrets are related to minks, polecats, weasels, and otters. It is believed that ferrets were domesticated about 2000 years ago in Europe when they were used for hunting rabbits and small rodents. They are in no way to be confused with the North American black-footed ferret, which is a completely separate and endangered species.
Ferrets are very dependent on their human companions for survival. Because ferrets require constant care and supervision, potential owners need to evaluate their ability to commit to the huge responsibility that they are. Ferrets my not be the best pets for families with small children. Although ferrets are very social animals, they may bite or nip if mishandled. Children should always be supervised when interacting with ferrets, or any animals for that matter. Ferrets generally get along well with dogs and cats if they are introduced carefully, but they should not interact with birds, rodents or small reptiles. Ferrets are first and foremost carnivores, and I wouldn't put it past them to not try and make a meal of them.
When selecting a ferret from a shelter, a pet store or a breeder, choose one that is bright-eyed and alert. The presence of crusty eyes or nasal discharge that is full of mucus indicate illness. Whether you select a male ferret, known as a hob, or a female, known as a jill, you should get a spayed/neutered ferret. Breeding is not recommended. Most ferrets from farms or pet stores will already be altered. If not, it is best to have the ferret altered at the age of six months. Spaying is a must for jills because they can develop aplastic anemia when in heat if they aren’t bred, which can result in death. Altering a ferret may actually improve its disposition since it will not be as aggressive or territorial. De-scenting a ferret helps reduce the animal’s musky body odor. This surgery can be performed at the same time as spaying or neutering.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores which means that they need certain nutrients that can only be found in meat. You can buy specially made ferret kibble at pet stores, and high-quality cat or kitten foods may be used as well. Water is needed at all times, and is best served in a bottle since ferrets may enjoy playing with water in a bowl and making a mess. Food should be available at all times.
Ferrets require a lot of freedom and exercise, but should be caged when not directly supervised. Wire cages are best and should be a minimum of 2 ft. x 2 ft. x 14 inches for one ferret provided the ferret has plenty of play time outside the cage. For multiple ferrets or if playtime is limited, a larger cage is better. Spacing on the bars must be such that the ferret can’t escape. You can furnish it with hammocks and sleeping tubes for ferrets as places to rest and play in. A covered litter-box will be necessary for them to eliminate in. The cage may be kept indoors or outdoors. If kept outside, shade should be provided to avoid heat exhaustion. Supplemental heat is needed if temperatures fall below the freezing point.
Ferrets will jump, run around, slide, do somersaults and play games. They are very curious and like to investigate just about everything. Owners should "ferret proof" at least one room in the house for play time. Eliminate loose boards, open drains or air ducts or other holes that ferrets will investigate.Watch what you leave out in the open while the ferrets are playing, because they can and will steal it and then hide it somewhere in your house. Some ferrets like pens, while others like to collect rolls of toilet paper. You can buy specially made toys for ferrets at many pet stores, but ferrets will make a toy of anything. The best toys for ferrets are made of hard plastic. Don't give them anything that can be pulled apart from chewing.
Ferrets like dogs and cats are susceptible to rabies and should be vaccinated. They should also be vaccinated for canine distemper virus which can be fatal. Consult your veterinarian for recommended schedules. Ferrets are not immune to health problems, and should receive regular preventative health care through regular check-ups.