The following is a care sheet that I wrote for my sister who is going to take care of my ferret Zelda, since my job does not give me the time to do so anymore. I am posting it because there is a huge lack of information about ferret care and I think this letter may be helpful.
I was so happy when I found out that you would be interested in taking care of Zelda. I know that you guys have wanted one for a long time but there are always issues with having one in xxxx. I wanted to write you a letter to try to bring you up to date with what it is like to own a ferret. A lot of people go into this blind and get surprised. Ferrets are not like dogs or cats, they have a personality that is all their own.
When I first got Zelda I was still in a wheel chair recovering from my accident. I spent a lot of time with her and that is why she is so people friendly. Now don’t get me wrong. Many ferrets are very people friendly but Zelda definitely takes the cake in this department.
Ferrets are very strong willed and will not give up on something once they get their mind set to it. One of the most important things to do when you first get a ferret into a new environment is something that is referred to as “ferret proofing.” You need to get down on your hands and knees and try to see the room that the ferret will be living in from the ferret’s perspective. Ferrets are capable of compressing their body so they can fit underneath many doors and into holes that may be in the walls. It can be very difficult to rescue a ferret trapped in a wall. I have heard many horror stories. Best practice is to prevent it from happening. I prefer “gorilla tape” as it is strong and will easily plug up most holes that you do not want your little fuzzy getting into.
Remember that if you do not know where your ferret is that you must shuffle your feet when you walk. Stepping on ferrets is the #2 killer of domesticated ferrets right after reclining chairs. Ferrets are extremely social animals (more so than dogs) and they will want to follow you around everywhere. Always be aware of where your ferret is. With that being said, when you leave the house it is always a good idea to have the ferret locked up and in her cage. Ferrets are very intelligent and inquisitive and have a tendency to constantly get themselves into trouble. Caging them is for their own protection and is not really that cruel considering that they tend to sleep for 20+ hours a day.
Speaking of sleeping ferret….. The nice thing about ferrets is that they do sleep a lot. They are not necessarily nocturnal or diurnal. They tend to adapt to your schedule. When you come home and have some time for her simply pick her up out of her hammock and hold her for a couple of minutes. When she starts to get squirmy set her down and play with her. Remember that most ferrets will need to go to the bathroom within a few minutes of getting up.
While Zelda is litter trained, you need to keep in mind that using the litter is not the same with ferrets as it is with dogs and cats. Ferrets are very fastidious but generally are hard to train because they have their own Ideas about where they think they should be allowed to go. Zelda on the other hand is very well trained. I had the good fortune of being able spend mass amounts of time with her as a baby. In her cage she uses the litter box exclusively. Outside of the cage she is trained to go on newspaper. She will be instinctively attracted to corners to go to the bathroom. I recommend folding newspapers into squares and placing them into the corners of the room that she will be in to see which corner she likes the best.
Remember that when it comes to going to the bathroom, even the best trained ferrets (I believe this to include Zelda) only have about a 90% hit rate. Luckily ferret waste is small, does not permeate or smell, and is easy to clean up. Do not strike her or yell at her when she misses. Physical punishment will either be seen as mean or as an invitation to play. If seen as mean she will protect herself, if seen as an invitation to play she will play rough. (Hey you started it after all)
When ferrets do play with each other they do tend to play really rough. Ferrets have tough skin and have to be taught that humans do not. Zelda has been nip trained and she will not bite unless provoked. Sometimes when playing she will put her mouth on your hand but she has never applied pressure or broken the skin with me. Whenever she gets a little to rough just yelp and she will quit and start licking you to say she is sorry. Be cautious if you are ever introducing her to new people or other animals as you can never know (as with any animal) how they will react to unique situations.
Ferrets are a member of the weasel family. Like all weasels they are born with scent pouches (yes just like a skunk) in order to protect themselves from predators in the wild. When Zelda was a baby she had these pouches removed at the same time that she was spaded. Any animal that was born with scent pouches will still have a bit of a musty smell whether or not they still have their pouches or not. Now Zelda has never been that bad. I have always cared for her hygiene very well. There will be a slight odor though. I have supplied a skin conditioner that “can be” used up to three times a week if necessary. And a shampoo that can be used every 6 weeks to 6 months. You want to bathe her as little as possible as excessive bathing causes the oils in a ferrets skin to go into overdrive producing an even smellier ferret. The conditioner is not as big of a deal. Zelda seems to be fine for 3-4 months. Bathing her 3-4 times a year seems to be sufficient. Also washing her bedding and cleaning her cage regularly will help keep any unpleasant odors at bay.
When bathing a ferret prepare the bath with her out of the room. Make the water a little more than luke warm and set her in the tub so that she can stand with her head out of the water. Take the shampoo and scrub her down. Rinse her off and set her into a pile of waiting towels that you have previously warmed up in the dryer. Sit back and watch her dry off. There is really nothing more entertaining in life that watching a wet ferret dry herself. She will probably have to potty shortly after her bath so have some newspapers ready to go in the corners too.
A ferret’s nails can get long and sharp. It is a good idea to trim them about every 6-8 weeks. This is a two person job. One person needs to scruff her by the back of the neck. This will make her go limp and allow the other person to handle her paws without her squirming to much. Ferrets have a vein in their claws that you do not want to cut into. It is visible as a red line inside her claw. Make sure that you leave some space between the end of the claw where you are about to cut and that vein. If you cut into the vein it will hurt her and now you will also need a paper towel to stop the bleeding.
Ferrets do not bury their waste like cats. Many tend to have allergies to pine as well and wood chips can splinter their feet. The best litter to use is recycled newspaper litter. It should be changed daily. Do not and I repeat DO NOT ever use clumping cat litter! Ferrets think that cat litter is a great environment to play in. They will dig and burrow in it, but if they ingest it, then it will clump in their stomach and kill them. Keep them away from cat litter at all times.
In the wild Ferrets are strict carnivores. This means that they only eat meat. While humans process carbohydrates as energy a ferret’s body treats protein in the same way. For food I have found that the best is Marshalls ferret diet. Cat food will do in a pinch as it is 80% protein on average but the ferret diet is 100% protein and nothing can top it.
Ferrets love sweets but sweets are very bad for them. Zelda has a shaker can that I put crasins in. These are not great for her but in small doses (1-3 a week) I believe that there is no harm. The best part is that if you can’t find her you can just shake her can of treats and she will come running. Try not to go overboard with the treats. You don’t have to give her one every single time you shake the can but make sure you give her a reward once in a while.
Zelda love boxes, balls plastic bags and dirty clothes. When you are about to do a load of laundry make sure that you are aware of where she is. It is not unheard of for a ferret to be sleeping in a pile of dirty clothes that ends up getting washed.
Zelda loves to play games. Some of her favorites are
1. Chase-easy game, you chase her then she will chase you. (Remember to be careful where you step. Ferrets can changes directions in an instant.
2. Burrito- This is one of her favorites. Lay her down in a hand towel and roll her up. Then zip the towel out from under her and wave it in the air over her head. She will go crazy and often do what is commonly referred to as the “weasel war dance.” This is what ferrets do when they get really excited. The will jump all over the place and twitch back and forth while making a chirping noise. She will do this when she is really happy.
3 Dig dug- give her a cardboard box filled with paper or clean dirt and let her have at it. She will be occupied for hours. Will probably need a bath in the case of dirt.
Zelda will walk on a leash but don’t expect her to act like a dog. She will have her own agenda and want to explore on her own terms. A harness is the best thing to walk her on. Make sure it is snug (ferrets are notorious escape artist) and make sure that the other end of the leash never leaves your hand. Feel free to call or write me an email if you have any further questions that I forgot to cover.
Questions from my sister
The girls can't stop talking about Zelda!! One question xxxxxx has is: How long do ferret's live? Also xxxxx asked were will we get her food?
We are on our way to Santa Cruz today. We are leaving at lunch time and won't be back til Sunday. Hope you have a good weekend too!
Talk to you later
I will be bringing out two seven pound bags of marshall ferret diet. One of those bags typically last about 3-4 months. Since you wont be able to buy ferret food in xxxx you will probably have to order it online. I would reccomend ordering the next bag once you start in on your last bag so that you always have one back up in case it takes a little longer.
Ferrets have a very high metabolism and monitor their own diet very well. There is no need for you to put them on a feeding schedule. Just make sure that their bowl is always full and they will eat when neccesary.
Ferrets typicall live 5-8 years. Some ferrets have made it to 10. Typically ferrets will die of one of several types of adrenal gland disease, lymphoma or cancer. During this time they will crave sugar. (which buy the way in large amounts can bring on certain types of cancers in ferrets earlier on) I had a roomate with a ferret in Los Angelas that had cancer. She was 8 years old. We let her, at that time, eat all of the "craisins" she wanted. She died a happy ferret. Ferrets are "crazy for craisins." Sorry, a little inside joke with Zelda and I. Anyways Zelda is almost 2 years old, so she has many good years ahead of her.
I would reccommend checking out the book "ferrets for dummies." It is probably the most inclusive information about owning and taking care of a ferret.