Pet Ferret Guide: What You Need To Know

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: April 2, 2022

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Before Buying A Ferret

There are many things to consider before buying a ferret. Ferrets are extremely popular pets, right after cats and dogs. Although they are small, they can cost just as much as cats or dogs in the long term. They are high-energy, playful, curious, smart, social pets. These funny little creatures are members of the weasel family that have been domesticated for over two thousand years.

Ferrets do best with other ferrets as companions and enjoy small groups. Hence, you should buy more than one. The only exception to this is if you have the time and energy to give frequent company to a single ferret. Each ferret needs 2.5 cubic feet of cage space as well as at least 4 hours a day to play outside for daily exercise when they’re not sleeping. They don’t need much exercise space, which makes them good for apartment living and other small spaces. Make sure that if you get more than one, you supervise them for a few days they bond well and don’t fight with each other. Ferrets need to be supervised whenever they’re out of the cage. Even so, you can expect your ferret to keep a stash of items of yours they find, such as socks, keys, and wallets, because that is their instinct of what they would do in the wild with food.

Ferrets are very clean and groom themselves often, but should be combed twice a year when they shed their fur. They have scent glands which release a musky oil into their skin and when they play in the bedding, the bedding gets a pungent smell, so you should regularly clean the bedding to minimize the stink. They need a high-quality diet to stay healthy, and since they are obligate carnivores they must eat meat. They can also have a variety of health problems, such as swallowing foreign objects. You must be prepared to take care of your ferret.

How Much Do Ferrets Cost (To Buy and Own)

The initial cost of buying a ferret depends on whether you buy it from a pet store, a breeder, or adopt it from a shelter. As such, it can cost anywhere from $50-$350.

Along with this comes the cost of housing, transporting, and feeding the ferret. You will of course need a ferret carrier and a ferret cage. The carrier will cost about $30-$60, while the cage will cost about $250. You will also need to buy food and water bowls.

Bedding for your ferret should be throughout the cage to provide plenty of hiding and sleeping places. A hammock, wooden house, and blankets are some examples of bedding. Over a ferret’s lifetime, it costs about $500. Litter will cost about $2,000 over a ferret’s lifetime, while food will cost $30-$100 a month. Flea and heartworm treatments will cost $15 a month.

New Ferret Owner Shopping List: What To Buy

Before you bring your ferret home, you must buy the following:

  • Carrier – The ferret carrier will be key in terms of transporting your ferret home for the first time as well on any subsequent trips out of the home.
  • Cage — The ferret cage should be well-ventilated, have enough space, and be escape-proof. Here is a great article on how to choose the best ferret cage.
  • Harness — Ferrets have plenty of energy that you’ll want to expend by way of play and exercise. One option for exercise is to take your ferret on a walk, which will indeed require a harness for safety’s sake.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Bedding — Bedding should be placed throughout your ferret’s cage to ensure it’s comfortable.
  • Litter pan & litter — Ferrets can be trained to use litter pans, but they won’t travel far to do so. That means you’ll want to have on in your ferret’s cage as well as several others in the areas your ferret plays in. Here are the four best litter pans, reviewed and ranked.
  • Toys — Ferrets enjoy playing and physical activity. Things like small balls and tubes for them to run through are ideal.
  • Food — Ferrets are carnivores, and they enjoy consuming raw meat. They also can eat ferret food or cat food.

Ongoing Needs: What You Need to Care For Your Ferret

Ferrets need vet care just as much as cats and dogs. They should get vaccinated and have flea and heartworm treatments. But because they’re considered exotic pets and ferret vets aren’t common, vet costs can be expensive. You can expect to pay for at least one surgical procedure during a ferret’s lifetime. Ongoing care for ferrets at home involves playtime, companionship, high-quality food, and a clean cage and litterbox.

Spaying/neutering ferrets so they don’t go into heat is common. It’s best done before the ferret becomes mature, which is 6-8 months for females (cats) and 8-10 months for males (dogs). However, they can be altered as young as 3 months of age. Ferrets from a pet store are often already spayed or neutered. Altering ferrets alone reduces the smell from their skin glands.

Some people descent their ferrets, which means having a surgical procedure to remove their anal glands. Doing so stops their ability to “drop stink bombs” which is a secretion they spray when they feel threatened.

The total cost of everything for each ferret, plus room for unexpected emergencies or unique procedures, is about $15,500 over the course of a 7-year lifespan. While they’re not inexpensive pets to keep, some people enjoy ferrets enough that they’re worth the cost.

Exercise and Ongoing Care

Ferrets are high-energy pets and need to have at least four hours outside of their cage for playtime every day. Without exercise, they become neurotic and depressed. You should always supervise your ferret, even if you have more than one. But when you first bring home your ferret, you should give them enough time to adjust to their new surroundings so you don’t scare them.

The best game to play with your ferret at first is tag. Run up to it, touch it gently, then run away. After a few minutes of this, the ferret will understand the game and chase you. Ferrets also enjoy hide-and-seek, toys with treats attached, finding hidden toys, tunneling or burrowing areas, pits with sand, rice, dried beans, or packaging peanuts, fetch, and RC cars. Make sure to clear a large area when playing with your ferret.

Ferrets can be trained to walk on leashes as well as tricks such as sitting and shaking paws. However, they don’t need walks to get enough exercise. If you want to walk your ferret, first get it used to a harness at home — here is a great ferret harness guide to get you started. Walk the ferret no more than 5-10 minutes and do not push your ferret if it resists.

Like cats, ferrets can be trained to use litter boxes. Plastic is recommended because it’s the most durable material. You should keep the litter box in the same room your ferret plays in, because it can’t “hold it” for very long.

Ferrets should be kept away from direct sunlight and heat because they can overheat easily. That includes when the ferret is in your car, such as when you’re on your way to the vet. The ferret should also have access to water when in your car.

Ferrets are very clean animals and use a bowl of water to wash their faces, while they wash the rest of their bodies like cats do. Hence, it is not necessary to bathe your ferret. But if it gets very dirty, you can bathe it in a sink or bathtub.

Ferret Behavior

Ferrets love to hide things in a stash because it is their natural instinct to hide leftover food in the wild. Hence, you will find that your ferret has taken and hidden many things. You should keep important items away from ferrets during their playtime. If you need to find something, common places where ferrets hide things are in clothing, drawers, and under furniture.

The weasel war dance is common to all members of the weasel family. YOu will notice your ferret jumping around and even baring its teeth when it is excited, like when it is inviting you to play or excited about catching a toy. In the wild, the weasel war dance’s purpose is to confuse or scare away predators.

Ferrets sometimes wag their tails. Like with dogs, it means they are excited or happy, although they don’t do it as much. They also make clucking or giggling sounds, called “dooking.”

Ferrets have a dead sleep where they are so deeply asleep, they won’t wake up when you poke them. They play very hard, so they need to rest to recuperate.

Sometimes, a ferret will nip your toes. This behavior is not to be mean, but to get you to play with it.

A ferret can also hiss. It does this when it’s angry or scared. It may poof out its tail when it’s feeling scared or threatened.

Ferrets wrestle each other when together. They do this for play as well as dominance.

When their skin is feeling itchy, ferrets bite their skin. This is normal behavior.They also bite each other and may even bite you, especially if they were not handled much when young. A short “time-out” period will teach it that biting you is not okay.

Don’t be surprised when your ferret bumps into things. Its vision is poor, so it is clumsy.

Besides these behaviors, other common ferret behaviors are tunneling, climbing, digging, and investigating. Ferrets are more docile than polecats but keep some wild and instinctive behaviors. They can become friendly if they are handled often when they’re young, although nursing ferret mothers (jills) are protective of their young.

Feeding Your Ferret

You have three options when it comes to what to feed your ferret: Ferret food, premium cat food, or raw meat. Any option is fine, although raw meat is the best option, especially with whole prey. If you choose cat food, get kibble, which will help clean their teeth. Your ferret can also eat kitten food and as an occasional treat, eggs. Here’s more information on what ferrets eat.

Like cats, ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. Their food should be high in protein and fat and low in fiber and carbohydrates. Make sure any food you give your ferret is grain-free.

Ferrets have a very high metabolism and a short digestive tract. Hence, they eat 6-10 times a day.

RELATED: How to Know If You’re Feeding Your Ferret Too Much Food

How Long Will Your Ferret Live

The average lifespan for a ferret is about 7 years. Several factors influence how long a ferret will live: Genetics, diet, care, and illness. This article about the ferret lifespan is incredibly informative — take a look!

Common Health Issues For Ferret

Ferrets can be prone to disease (such as canine distemper), accidents, and injuries. They sometimes swallow foreign objects and risk choking or intestinal blockage. Common health issues ferrets face are diarrhea, foreign objects, parasites, heart disease, and tumors. You can prevent or treat many of these with regular vet checkups.

Ferrets need dental care just as much as cats, dogs, and humans do. They use their teeth for grasping and moving things. Their teeth can also tell their age. You can clean your ferret’s teeth with a toothbrush or finger toothbrush and feline toothpaste. Here’s an article on everything you need to know about ferret teeth.

RELATED: How Common is Adrenal Disease in Ferrets?

Where to Buy Your Ferret

You can buy a ferret from a pet store, a shelter, or a private breeder. A ferret from a pet store or shelter will tend to already be altered and be up-to-date on all shots, while a breeder tends to have very young ferrets. A breeder also does health screenings before pairing ferrets for breeding. The better the breeder or the more exotic the ferret, the more expensive the ferret will be.

Special Considerations With Ferret

Ferrets can be kept in almost all U.S. states. Otherwise, they are considered exotic animals. You should check with your state’s fish and game or wildlife department to see whether you can own a ferret.

There are some very important considerations when you are thinking about whether to buy a ferret, especially if you have already decided to get one. First and most important is that you should be ready to take care of and spend time playing with your ferret, as its physical health depends on its emotional health and ability to burn off excess energy. Also, ferrets are not recommended for households with small children. They tend to rough handle animals and ferrets will bite and scratch to play or ptoect themselves.

Before you bring your ferret home, you must ferret-proof your house. Intestinal blockages from swallowing foreign objects are dangerous, can be fatal, and usually requires emergency surgery. Poisonous plants are just as toxic for ferrets as other pets. Making your home safe for the ferret also involves preventing injuries and accidents, such as being stepped on, getting trapped, or suffocating. These animals are curious, persistent, fearless, and can squeeze into very small openings you wouldn’t expect.

  • Seal any holes larger than 1 inch in floors, walls, or ductwork, and in appliances using wire mesh instead of tape.
  • Put away anything small enough that a ferret can swallow.
  • Remove poisonous plants and other toxic items.
  • Lock all doors, cabinets, and drawers; childproof locks are not ferret-proof.
  • Look for small spaces around fixtures and behind and under furniture, where a ferret can become stuck, lost, or suffocate.
  • Confine your ferret if you cannot properly supervise it.
  • Provide ferret-friendly enclosures for the ferret’s tunneling instinct.
  • Do not allow your ferret to play around flower pots, rugs, large piping, or blankets.
  • Do not have items around the ferret that it can chew up or unravel.
About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Pet Ferret Guide: What You Need To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do I go about buying a ferret?

The most accessible way to buy a ferret is from a local pet store. However, you can also purchase a ferret from a shelter or a private breeder.

What is a good price to buy a ferret?

The average price of a ferret is $100.

What is the safest way to buy a ferret?

The safest way to buy a ferret is from a private breeder, where they tend to have some sort of health guarantee. However, the best way to buy a ferret is from a shelter, where many ferrets are waiting to be saved. You can also buy a ferret from a pet store. Ferrets from a shelter or a pet store tend to already be altered and up-to-date on their shots.

Is it OK to buy a 3-month-old ferret?

Yes, it is okay to buy a 3-month-old ferret. Ferrets open their eyes and fully wean by eight weeks, and the ideal age to adopt a kit is 8 to 16 weeks.