Pet Ferret: The Complete Ferret Care Guide

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Published: March 27, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/OKrasyuk
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You’ve likely seen videos of cute ferrets online. Who can resist all of their silly jumpings and running about? You might want to know more about them, or perhaps you’re thinking of adopting one for yourself.

Ferrets are high-maintenance pets. They need to roam freely, like cats or dogs, for at least six hours daily. Even though they shouldn’t spend all day in their cage, it should be large and multi-story. Ferrets eat meat-based diets, require plenty of enrichment, and are social animals.

Learn more about pet ferrets in this complete guide. We’ll talk about their care, whether they make good pets, and more!

Are Ferrets Good Pets?

A pet Cinnamon ferret, portrait taken in studio.
Ferrets require the same level of care and responsibility as dogs and cats.

Couperfield/Shutterstock.com

Ferrets aren’t for everybody, but they make amazing pets for certain people! Let’s go over some pros and cons.

Ferrets Require a Lot of Time

If you’re sensitive to their natural odor, don’t have the time to clean a large cage daily, or don’t like high-energy pets, ferrets aren’t for you. If you’re super bothered by mess, ferrets might get on your nerves.

While they’re fairly clean animals, they come with a distinctive musky scent and are quite mischievous. They like to get into things, and they’re natural burrowers, meaning they love to dig! Watch out for your houseplants, and don’t expect the inside of their cage or free roam space to stay clean for long.

Ferrets have fast metabolisms, which means lots of poop and pee. The good news is that they can be litterbox trained, but the bad news is you’ll have to clean the litterbox at least once a day.

Never Adopt One Ferret—Two or More is Required

These social animals have to live in groups of two or more—so adopting more than one ferret is essential. This means double the work and expenses. Some people think spending a lot of time around their ferret will be enough. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Ferrets can form incredibly close bonds with humans! But we aren’t ferrets. We don’t understand them the way other ferrets do, and we can’t safely play in the same way. Their teeth are very sharp, and they bite each other a lot in play—it doesn’t hurt the other ferret because they have thick skin, but we have to train ferrets not to bite people to keep ourselves safe.

Expecting a ferret to live without interacting with other ferrets is kind of like expecting you to only spend time with your ferret and never other people. Many of us would enjoy this for a while—but eventually, you’d feel lonely and maybe even depressed.

You also cannot be with your ferret around the clock. Even if you worked from home and decided to completely free-roam your ferret, you’d still need to run errands, go outside, and socialize with other people. Most of us have work and school, so we spend at least eight hours a day away from home. Ferrets can keep each other company while we’re out and give one another someone to socialize with.

Free Roam is Essential

Another thing many people don’t realize is that ferrets aren’t cage animals. They must have at least six hours of free roam time a day in a ferret-proofed room or home. This is a non-negotiable part of ferret care and a deal-breaker for many.

Ferrets shouldn’t free roam without supervision, so this means carving out six hours of your day to watch them. At least a couple of these hours should be spent actively playing with them as well.

You’ll also have to learn how to ferret-proof a space well because they tend to get into everything. Their little bodies are meant to slither into tight spaces, and they’re curious critters!

They’re Expensive

Ferrets need a large, multi-story cage, high-quality food throughout their lives, plenty of enrichment, and bedding to snuggle into after a long day of free roam. This all costs money!

Unfortunately, veterinary bills for ferrets aren’t cheap. Ferrets must see an exotic pet veterinarian. As specialists, they charge more per visit than your typical dog and cat veterinarian.

Routine check-ups are costly, and illness or emergency procedures can be even more expensive. It’s good to have pet insurance or an emergency fund for your ferrets in case any medical problems arise.

They’re Fun, Lovable, and Smart!

If you want a couple of smart, playful pets that you can constantly have fun with and provide various enriching experiences for, I bet you’ll love having pet ferrets. It’s a lot of work but incredibly rewarding.

Ferrets are silly, fun, and constantly surprising due to their sense of mischief and intelligence. You’ll be surprised at their variety of sounds, movements, and ability to create havoc!

How Much Do Ferrets Cost?

Ferrets can cost between $0 and $500 initially. Considering that you must adopt at least two ferrets, initial costs could total $1000 just for the ferrets themselves.

This is just the beginning, however. Though ferrets shouldn’t be kept in cages 24/7, you’ll likely want someplace for them to go while you’re away from home or in bed. A large, multi-story cage costs much more than small, unsuitable pet store cages, but anything less neglects your ferrets’ needs. Purchase the largest cage you can afford and fit in your home.

Other lifetime costs include veterinary care, vaccines, and spay or neuter. Finding an experienced exotic pet vet before adopting your ferrets is essential.

Ferrets also need plenty of toys and enrichment, inside and outside their cage. Ferret-proofing your home will cost money to cover outlets, cords and keep things out of your ferrets’ reach. If they can get into it, they probably will!

High-quality food, litter, and bedding will also add up throughout your ferrets’ lifetime. Make sure to purchase a water bowl, not a water bottle, for them to drink from.

Where Can I Buy A Ferret?

A white ferret female with young, sleeping in the leaves.
Ferrets must live together, either in pairs or groups.

iStock.com/slowmotiongli

The worst place to buy a ferret is from a pet store. This is because of ferret mills—in particular. There is a mill called Marshall that breeds en masse and sells to most pet stores in the United States. Mass-bred ferrets are less healthy and live shorter lives. Companies often rely on the neglect of the parent ferrets to maximize profits, and inbreeding is much more common.

Responsible pet ownership starts before adoption. Look into ethical ways to adopt your new ferrets, such as rehoming, adoption, and reputable breeders. Rehoming should come with a fee to keep away people with poor intentions, but many people don’t know this—so you may be able to find ferrets for free online. Try Facebook or Pet Finder to look for people rehoming their ferrets. Rescues and shelters will almost always charge an adoption fee. This allows them to continue rescuing animals! It’s also much lower than the fees reputable breeders charge.

While reputable breeders are far and few in the United States, it is possible to find one—though it requires a lot of research to ensure you aren’t shopping with a ferret mill or backyard breeder. Reputable breeders know ferrets inside and out and aren’t afraid to answer questions honestly. They should discuss health problems, provide copies of veterinary paperwork and vaccinations, and show you the home setting where they keep their ferrets.

You should be allowed to see the entire family, including the parents (or mother, if the breeder doesn’t own the father). The breeder should also be asking you questions about your home and care. They should inform you that ferrets are free-roam pets like cats and dogs, not meant to be in cages all day like hamsters.

If the breeder doesn’t care for their ferrets properly, including veterinary care, free-roam space, and enrichment, walk away and don’t purchase animals from them!

Are Ferrets Illegal To Own?

Ferrets are legal as pets in 48 of the 50 states in the United States. They are banned as pets in California and Hawaii. Unfortunately, people in these states cannot keep ferrets.

Do All Ferrets Smell?

If you’re worried about ferret smell, you might want to visit with some ferrets before adopting. While they aren’t super stinky when properly cared for, they do have a distinctive, musky odor that bothers some people. Unneutered males are smelliest, as with most animals. There is also a procedure called descenting that many ferrets go through in the United States.

Descenting does nothing for the ferret or to control odor; it’s unethical, useless, and even against the law in some countries! We recommend against it if you adopt a ferret that still has its glands.

The best way to keep your ferrets from smelling is to keep their environment clean. Litter-train them, spot clean the cage daily, and do a full clean at least once a week.

A large, well-ventilated cage is also a must-have to prevent excessive build-up. Remember, ferrets have fast metabolisms and poop a lot!

How Do Ferrets Act?

Ferrets have a distinct odor but shouldn’t be exceptionally smelly.

Maria Lazutkina/Shutterstock.com

Ferrets are silly little creatures! They tend to be rambunctious, goofy, and incredibly social. It’s vital that your ferret has at least one ferret friend to keep it company. Untrained ferrets might be prone to biting. It’s in their nature, and their bite doesn’t hurt other ferrets—but can draw blood in humans.

Ferrets might bite or nip during play, grab your clothes or skin to show you something, or bite out of fear. True aggression is rare and can almost always be resolved with proper care and training.

While you might see ferrets as caged animals like hamsters, they actually need at least six hours out of the cage. They’ll be happiest if they can spend their days free-roaming in a ferret-proofed home, following you around and bonding with the family. Ferret cages are for when you can’t watch your ferret, kind of like a dog’s crate.

That said, if you have other pets, it’s best to keep them separate from your ferrets. Ferrets are predators that should never be housed with rodents, their main prey.

They can sometimes get along with cats or dogs when supervised, but this is a risk if the cat or dog plays too roughly or is aggressive with your ferret. Never leave your cat or dog and your ferret unsupervised together, no matter how well they get along.

Do Ferrets Need Baths? How To Groom A Ferret

Ferrets are self-grooming animals, and they don’t need baths! You might think otherwise due to their musky odor, but you’ll make them smell worse if you soap them up!

A ferret’s natural odor comes from the oil on its skin and coat. If you wash it away, your ferret’s body will produce more. Bathing your ferret too often can lead to dry skin and poor skin and coat health.

What Do Ferrets Eat?

Ferrets are obligate carnivores. They eat meat only and cannot process grains, fruits, or vegetables.

Their diet should consist of high-quality ferret food with meat as the first ingredient. No fillers, salts, or sugars should be added. Ferrets need at least 30% protein and 20% fat in their daily diet.

How Long Do Ferrets Live?

Ferrets live 5-10 years on average. Pet store ferrets have shorter lifespans, while well-bred ferrets will live longer.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the expected ferret lifespan has gone down. This is due to ferret mills and poor breeding.

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