Know what popular pet’s name means “little thief”?
These domesticated members of the weasel family sleep up to 18 hours a day. But when they are awake, they love to explore and are notorious for stealing small objects and secreting them in hiding places.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are more than 1 million of these playful, inquisitive creatures living in American households.
“What people really love about them is the way that they play,” says Ruth Adams, DVM, a veterinarian in Walnut Creek, Calif., who specializes in exotic animals. “They are funny to watch. They will make you laugh.” They may even perform a “weasel war dance,” jumping sideways and clucking as their way of telling you, “It’s playtime!”
If trained at an early age, ferrets can learn tricks, how to walk on a harness, and even how to use a litter box (although they occasionally have mishaps).
Karen Purcell, DVM, a traveling veterinarian in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, said owning ferrets “is like having permanent kittens.” They’re cute and endearing but require considerable patience and time.
Ferrets Aren’t for Everyone
Ferrets can be aggressive and do not make good pets for families with young children, who may be too rough or excitable in their play. However, ferrets often do well with other, nonaggressive pets and can be good pets for people who live in apartments.
For some would-be owners, though, the unique odor is a deal-breaker. Most pet ferrets have had their scent glands removed. Even so, they have a distinct, but not overpowering, musky odor.
Are Ferrets Legal Where You Live?
Ferrets are illegal in California and Hawaii, as well as in some cities. Before purchasing a ferret, be sure to check with your local Wildlife Department, humane society, or veterinarian to find out if there are any “ferret-free zones” in your community.
Frequently cleaning your ferret’s cage — but infrequently cleaning your ferret — will reduce the smell. (Bathing your ferret too often will stimulate oil production and cause a stronger odor.)
The Ferret Information Rescue Shelter & Trust Society in Vancouver estimates that 50% of ferrets are relinquished by their owners within the first six months. Why? Their ceaseless curiosity and need for attention, supervision, and interaction.
If you are thinking of adopting a ferret, be sure you have time to play … and play … and play. Ferrets need active playtime at least twice each day and lots of toys to keep them out of mischief.
Before inviting a ferret into your home, talk to owners or rescue organizations and read reputable blogs or books to decide if this pet fits your lifestyle.
Your Ferret’s Health
Ferrets should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year and should be spayed or neutered to protect their health and reduce aggression.
They live six to ten years but are prone to sudden illnesses and are at risk for a number of unique health problems. “It would be unusual for me to see a ferret go through its life and die of old age and not have had insulinoma or adrenal disease,” said Adams. An insulinoma is a tumor of the pancreas. Adrenal disease is a growth of the adrenal glands that can be cancer.
Ferrets also need regular vaccinations for rabies and canine distemper virus (CDV). According to the American Ferret Association, ferrets are highly susceptible to CDV, and it is 100% fatal.
“Don’t assume that your veterinarian will treat your ferret, because most will not,” cautioned Adams. “Make sure there is a veterinarian in your area who sees ferrets and is familiar with them. Also, find out whether the emergency clinics in your area will care for them, too.”
To find an AAHA-accredited practice, go to Healthypet.com.
Never put a ferret up to your face. Their bites can cause severe damage.
AAHA, “Ferret Care”
Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians
Weasel Words News and Information
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.