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Ferreting Out Information on Ferrets

Hi John,

My daughter is graduating from elementary school next month, and while some girls ask for jewelry, my daughter wants a ferret as her graduation gift. I’ve done some reading, but have a few questions. We have a wonderful dog age 5 1/2 ,2 comfortable cats and 4 kids, the youngest being 9. How will adding a ferret to the mix be?



Dear TT,

Start with my “Mom Rules” rule. Unless the person that wants the pet, any kind of pet, is capable of looking after a two year old child for 24 hours then all decisions regarding buying the pet default to mom. Not dad, mom. In all matters pertaining to pets it is almost always mom that signs the responsibility cheque. Food bought, pet fed, vet checkups booked etc. It’s mom, mom, mom. So the core question here may really be, “Do you want a ferret?” that your daughter may want to borrow once in a while.

The life span of a ferret averages out to about 6 years but as much as 10 years is a possibility. They are the cousins of weasels, skunks and otters and are classified as somewhere in between cats and dogs on the taxonomy scale. Domesticated ferrets have been around for over a thousand years give or take. They were originally used as hunting animals to catch rabbits and rodents. The hunter popped them down the hole and they explored until they found a critter and then chased it above the ground to the waiting hunter. That’s illegal now in a lot of countries so we have a lot of ferrets out of work. As they say, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” and a ferret can be pretty mischievous so plan on giving your little Ferret Faustus’s mind considerable attention, training and direction. You might get away without significant daily interaction with a hamster or guinea pig, but not a ferret. They are more dog-like in their needs and certainly higher maintenance then cats.

Their personalities do vary. Some are touchy-feely, others independent. Generally they are pretty playful but they need their rest. They can sleep so soundly that some new ferret owners have mistaken them for dead. You can be half way to the vet, sirens blazing and they’ll come around, eyes blinking wondering what all the fuss is about.

They can live with other pets but the more complicated the mix, the greater the likelihood of conflict. I wouldn’t recommend leaving them unsupervised at any time. When frightened, a ferret, like any cat or dog can lash out and so around youngsters be especially diligent. They can be rough in play with each other and will latch on and drag a companion as far as they can get away with and so they need to be taught to play nice with those of us thinner in the skin and fur departments.

Plan on starting toilet training while they are young and expect to provide diligent supervision and considerable patience. They can be trained to use a litter box but they are often not as co-operative as a cat. This is usually the main reason ferrets are turned over to shelters, which brings me to a related point. Ferrets have a distinct body odour which some people don’t like. Before you get one you should go give a few of them a good deep lung filling sniff. Everybody that is going to have to live with it should try and get a whiff.

They often have their anal glands removed also referred to as ‘de-scented’ That doesn’t help their day to day smell but does prevent the explosive release of their scent sacs when they’re frightened. Like a skunk but not as bad. Some people keep them intact and just hope their ferret lives a life without surprises.

I think you should contact one of the ferret rescue organizations and have a chat with them. Breeders tend to give you all the “good stuff”. Rescues get the returns and develop a pretty good understanding of what you should have been told, both pros and cons of ferret ownership.

– John Wade

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