Ferrets are those furry cousins of the weasel that have recently gained popularity as domestic pets. An estimated half-a-million households in the U.S. report keeping domestic ferrets. But before you’re won over by those cute, black ferret eyes, there are a few things you should know about keeping ferrets as pets to decide if it’s right for you.
Unlike dogs and cats, most ferrets have a cage as their domestic home. However, ferrets are curious by nature and should not be kept in their cage at all times. This means they’ll need a little space to get out and explore, which will require your watchful eye for their safety. You’ll need to do some “ferret-proofing,” as these little guys are incredibly good at getting into small spaces and putting their paws where they shouldn’t be!
Make sure the undersides of appliances and pieces of furniture are blocked off to prevent ferrets from crawling up inside of them. You’ll also need to block tiny spaces like the cracks under doors and spaces around air ducts.
Most ferret owners have had a run-in or two with their pets’ sharp teeth, as ferrets have a habit of biting when they’re startled, excited or handled incorrectly. Of course, as you and your ferret get to know one another the chances for biting are diminished, but households with children in particular should be aware of this ahead of time.
Ferrets have a distinctive scent that comes from the musk glands concentrated on their face and all over their body. While some people aren’t bothered by it, others find it undesirable. Spaying and neutering your ferret will greatly help reduce his or her natural scent, as will keeping their cage and litterbox clean. Choose a cage made of plastic or metal instead of wood, which can absorb odors. You should also routinely clean your ferret’s ears and feet, but be advised that completely bathing ferrets frequently is not recommended. It depletes the skin’s natural oils, which only causes the skin to produce more oils and more scent.
As with any pet, when getting a ferret you should be prepared to care for it for life. Ferret overpopulation is a problem due to owners abandoning their pet after the novelty wears off. If you’re still unsure whether a ferret is right for you, consult with a trusted vet or reach out to your local Humane Society, which often acts as a shelter for abandoned ferrets that you can meet and spend time with.