Ferrets belong to a group of animals called mustelids, sharing characteristics with weasels, stoats, otters, pine martens and badgers.
Ferrets are domesticated animals, they are related to wild polecats but are not wild animals themselves and do not have the capabilities to live successfully in the wild.
Ferrets do make wonderful pets, but they're not for everyone. You do need to ask yourself some important questions before you think about adopting a ferret.
1. Do I have the time?
Ferrets need at least one to two hours time each day to play, run and enjoy human and ferret interaction. They cannot be left in a cage/hutch without human contact. It is vital to ensure they have the daily play time they need.
2. Do I have the space?
Ferrets can live happily indoors or out in a large hutch/run. Indoors they can live in a suitable large cage (ferret nation, tommy T3 or supapet cage) and can run and play indoors as long as their play area is 'ferretproofed' i.e holes blocked, chimneys made inaccessable etc. Remember ferrets can squeeze through very small gaps and can climb. Outside a large pen or aviary can provide the space they need, but beware of them falling from a height, ferrets dont have the same sense of danger as a cat when assessing height/distance before jumping! Often a converted cheap shed from a DIY store can work out a lot cheaper than a hutch, and can be customised exactly to your needs.
3 What if I go on holiday?
You will need to ensure someone is available to look after your ferrets whilst you are away. We can offer limiting boarding facilities but as we are a rescue, we cannot always guarantee that we will have space, so it is always better to make your own arrangements.
4. What do ferrets eat?
Ferrets need to have food and water available at all times. They have dried biscuits formulated to meet their nutritional needs (Merlin, James Wellbeloved, Alpha, Chudleys, Vitalin etc) available all the time, and a once daily feed of fresh meat which includes uncooked mince, chicken wings, fresh rabbit or pigeon to ensure a high protein diet. They also enjoy tinned tuna and other fish. Please ensure the meat is raw, although cooked chicken meat is useful to encourage poorly ferrets to eat (not cooked bones though)
Ideally they can be given water in bowls but please make sure they dont tip all the water out (a great ferret game). If in doubt try a bowl and water bottle. Mine do all prefer to play in the water bowl but will drink out of a bottle.
5. What about neutering?
As we have so may unwanted litters in the rescue each year we do urge everyone to have their ferrets neutered. All those rehomed from the rescue (with the exception of young kits) will be already done.
Hobs can become quite aggressive when they come into season and are very smelly! Two unneutered boys together have been known to fight to the death, and unneutered male and female will mate aggressively often causing wounds to the female.
Females cannot remain in season, they can develop illnesses such as pyometria (womb infection) or aplastic anaemia both of which can kill. There are ways of bringing females out of season to prevent this, the recommended being spaying. It is possible to use a 'jill jab' a hormone injection to bring the jill out of season if spaying isnt possible straight away - many vets will not spay an animal already in season. This injection is very useful and can lastall season but there are some controversies over long term usage.
Another method is to use a vasectomised hob who will physically bring the femal out of season but be unable to impregnate her. Please be aware that there are many reports of failed vasectomies resulting in unwanted litters, and also the risk of passing diseases as one vasectomised hob may have to 'service' many jills.
There is also an implant now available to bring ferrets out of season (or stop them starting a season) and this is a relatively straightforward procedure performed by the vet. It is reported to last approx 18 months but can be more costly. We are going to try it this year in a jill with a back injury who physically cannot be spayed, so it will be interesting to see how it works.
UPDATE - we have used the implant on several occasions now on ferrets that we feel would suffer with a general anaesthetic i.e old or infirm, and have been delighted with the results. Our first implant was done last year (2010) so we're keeping our beady eyes on how long it will remain effective. Will let you know...
Here we are in 2012 and no sign of the ferrets coming back into season!