PET TALK: Ferrets as pets
Pets can come in all shapes and sizes. While some animal lovers may consider themselves “dog” or “cat” people, others enjoy smaller pets, also referred to as “pocket pets,” like ferrets.
Many people like ferrets because they are relatively low maintenance, similar to a cat, according to Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Unlike cats, ferrets are happy to spend part of their day inside of a cage, which can allow their owner to rest easy knowing that their pet is safe from harm and easily accessible in case of an emergency.
The general rule is that ferret cages should be the largest you can afford that fits in your house. Like any other animal, however, ferrets should be given plenty of time outside of their cages to run around and get exercise. Blue-McLendon said they may even play with other pets in the home, most often with cats and smaller dogs.
“All ferrets need to be allowed bigger areas to run in, whether it’s a bedroom or living room, but they should never be in a house unsupervised, because they eat all kinds of little things,” Blue-McLendon said.
“One of the things potential owners need to be aware of is that pet ferrets are really curious, so they’ll eat what we would consider foreign bodies, which means they eat things that can then get stuck in their stomach or intestines that can cause illness and death, if not dealt with,” she said.
Pet ferrets also can have an odor if they haven’t been spayed or neutered, according to Blue-McLendon.
“Pet ferrets should get spayed or neutered, and some people will get them de-scented,” Blue-McLendon said.
De-scenting is a surgery that removes some of the glands that produce odor. Pet owners should consult their veterinarian to see if this procedure is right for them.
To keep your home clean and reduce any foul smells, ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, just like pet cats.
“Ferrets naturally will go to a certain spot, so oftentimes owners will just put the litter pan in that spot to get them to use it,” Blue-McLendon said. “Some of them will inherently use a litter pan because they’re generally neat little animals.”
Blue-McLendon said the time commitment associated with having a ferret is about the same as a cat.
“You’ve got to clean their litter pan, make sure they have food and fresh water, and give them love and attention,” she said. “Be sure that you’ve spent the time to know about the general husbandry.”
Ferrets live on a simple diet, but they’ll need to have constant access to their food since they tend to eat many meals throughout the day.
“There’s a number of commercial ferret diets on the market that can be supplemented with additional treats,” Blue-McLendon said. Healthy treats for pet ferrets include bits of cooked egg or meat, like chicken.
When considering getting any new pet, Blue-McLendon believes future pet owners should do their research before making the decision.
“Before people get ferrets, just like all small mammals, they should really do their homework and consider whether they are prepared to put in the time that it takes to give their ferret exercise in their house,” Blue-McLendon said.
If a ferret is right for you and your family, they can be an inquisitive and adorable companion that provides years of pint-sized love. When it comes to choosing a pet, a ferret might not be your first thought, but one could be your first choice.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to email@example.com.