Ferret FAQ: General Ferret Questions

There are many questions that a new ferret owner has! In this section, we try to cover the basics: figuring out the gender of your ferret, how to pick out ferret toys, how to find a quality ferret diet, and more.

You can find articles about basic ferret care at the following link: Basic Ferret Care Articles.

Males have what looks like a “belly button” on their lower abdomen. Also, females have 2 small openings under their tail, and males only have one. If you need to double-check, just check the litter box after the ferret goes. If it’s a male, the puddle of urine will be in front of the pile of feces. If it’s a female, it will urinate on top of the pile.

You have a few different options:

  • Pet stores
  • Private breeders – small and large
  • Ferret shelters

The benefit of getting a shelter ferret is that many times, the ferrets have already been litter-trained and nip trained. Also, you’re giving a ferret who needs a forever home a much-deserved second chance!

When you pick out a ferret, you should look at a few key things to make sure he or she is healthy:

  • Bright, clear eyes
  • Curious, alert attitude
  • Soft coat, healthy skin

By looking at his or her teeth! As a ferret ages, her teeth start to become translucent at the tip of the canines, and as she gets older, more of each tooth is translucent.

So at what ages should you see what changes?

  • 0 - 1 years: solid, bright white
  • 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 years: tips of the canines will be slightly discolored and semi-translucent
  • 3 - 4 years: discoloration and translucency will have spread further up the tooth and appear more pronounced
  • 6 - 7 years: discoloration and translucency will have gone up all the way to the gum line
  • 7 years and older: the canines should now be completely translucent

If your ferret's teeth have serious discoloration at a younger age, or if the discoloration is accompanied by very bad breath, see a veterinarian immediately. This can be a sign of serious dental problems.

Remember to check your ferrets' teeth when you do other grooming (ears, nails, etc) and brush them regularly! Have your veterinarian do yearly dental exams and cleanings.

Ferret food must be high in animal protein (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, etc) and fat. Protein should be about 35% to 40% minimum, and fat should be around 18% to 20% minimum. They do not have the ability to digest fiber, so their food must be low in fiber. Look for a food that has quality sources of animal protein and fat as at least three of the first five ingredients. Kitten food does not have the proper nutrition that ferrets need for their main food. Dog food also lacks the nutrients needed to properly maintain ferret health.

It is best to give your ferret a variety of food mixed together, that way if one of the foods becomes unavailable, your ferret will still have other food to eat. In general, ferrets tend to be picky eaters that imprint on their regular diet, so it’s good to have more than one choice in their everyday mix of kibble.

If you do have to switch foods, try to mix the new food with the old food before the old food runs out. That way you can switch them over slowly, which will make it more likely they will accept and eat the new food.

Read an article on the importance of choosing healthy food and treats.

Ferret litter MUST be dust free. Ferrets have very delicate nasal passages that are easily clogged by clumping litter. It can also get into their rectums and cause blockages. Recycled paper ferret litter and wood stove pellets work really well.

Do NOT use cedar or pine shavings. Some pet stores do, but this is wrong, as it produces dust and has been linked to allergies and respiratory problems in animals.

The most important thing to remember when you buy toys for ferrets is that ferrets easily get blockages. Don’t give them toys that have pieces that are easily swallowed. Cat toys, bell balls, and edible chew toys are generally good for ferrets. You can give your ferret rubber toys, just make sure it’s soft vinyl rubber and not spongy rubber.

Many people also give their ferrets dig boxes. You can put rice, ping pong balls, biodegradable starch peanuts, dirt – pretty much anything they can burrow into and throw around! Just make sure if you use rice that you supervise your ferret at first to make sure that he isn’t eating the rice, and never use instant rice!

You will find that ferrets will choose the items around your house that they want to use as playthings whether you want them to or not! This is why it’s very important to make sure objects that will harm them are kept far out of their reach if you have free-roam ferrets.

Remember – ferrets are not rodents, therefore they DO NOT need chew toys. Giving your ferret wood to chew on will be very harmful to the ferret, and it is totally unnecessary!

Read more about choosing the right toys for your ferret and the health benefits.

The key to ferretproofing is to get down on your hands and knees and think like a ferret! Ferretproofing is vital not only to keep your things out of harm's way, but to protect your ferret as well. Ferrets are very curious and persistant, so this is a process you will have to do repeatedly to make sure that your ferret's play area remains safe.

First block off all holes - air vents, dryer vents, etc. Then make sure that your furniture is ferret safe. Recliners are very dangerous, and the insides of couches are filled with staples, springs, etc, that could severely injure your ferret. Remove recliners from the rooms the ferrets play in, and cover the bottom of all chairs and couches to make sure they can't claw their way up in from the bottom.

Make sure all cabinets, especially those that contain dangerous chemicals and substances, can't be opened. It's best to lock them out of the kitchen altogether. Behind the fridge, behind the stove, under the sink - these are all dangerous places for a ferret to be.

Remember, if the ferret's head fits in the space, his body will as well!

Read more information on ferret proofing in Ferretproofing 101.

They are most comfortable at temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees. High temperatures above 80 degrees can be fatal to ferrets, as they are prone to heatstroke and cannot pant to cool themselves off.

No. All cedar and pine shavings give off chemicals (phenols) that are irritating to your ferrets’ eyes and can cause respiratory disease and asthma. The only wood-pelleted litters that you can use are those that are denatured, which means they are kiln-dried, and the harmful phenols are removed.

The average ferret life span is 7 to 10 years, though many ferrets will develop one of the common ferret illnesses around the age of 3 years. If you aren't sure that you will be able to provide your ferret with a home for 10 years, getting a ferret right now probably isn't a good idea.

Whether a ferret's nose is wet or dry is not an indication of health. Most ferrets have a dry nose when they wake up and a wet nose at other times. However, it isn't a way to diagnose illness, so don't worry if your ferret has a dry nose during playtimes unless the ferret is sneezing, coughing or has a runny nose. These can be signs of respiratory infections, flu, or other health problems, so make a veterinary appointment.

Ferrets like to tunnel and dig, so a dig box gives them an outlet for that instinctive behavior that doesn't involve your carpet or couch.

The most popular dig box filler seems to be long grain rice. Never use instant rice, since if they were to eat that, it would swell up inside their stomachs. Long grain rice will not swell up, but will pass through instead. However, if you use long grain rice, watch your ferret to make sure he isn't eating any of the rice. If he is eating it, use a different dig box filler.

Other materials are biodegradable starch packing peanuts, ping pong balls, dirt, potting soil (without fertilizers), hard beans (as in lentils, not green beans!), and shredded paper. Sand would also be acceptable. There are lots of options out there. You just need to figure out what your ferret likes best.

Put the filler in a tub that's deep enough for your ferrets to play in comfortably. You should look for a minimum of 2 feet or so, or you will have the dig material everywhere. If you purchase a container with a lid, cut a hole in the lid, and cover the edges with duct tape. This will keep a lot of the material inside the box.

It's important to locate a vet who is familiar with ferrets. Ferrets have different health problems and concerns than dogs and cats, so it's important to find a vet that sees ferrets fairly regularly. Your regular vet may also be able to point you in the right direction.

If you already have a vet but aren't sure how familiar he or she is with ferrets, you can ask a few key questions to determine this.

  • How many ferrets do you see a week?
  • How long have you been seeing ferrets?
  • Do you like working with ferrets?
  • How do you keep up with advances in ferret medical care? (continuing education, online groups, conferences, etc)
  • Do you perform ferret surgeries? If so, which ones?
  • How many adrenal surgeries have you performed?
  • What vaccines do you carry for ferrets? (should be Imrab-3 for rabies, and Purevax-D or Galaxy-D for canine distemper)
  • What are your fees for checkups, vaccinations, etc?

Yes! Ferrets can definitely get hairballs, especially during the spring-shed season. Hairballs can be very dangerous for ferrets. Ferrets can't vomit up hairballs as cats can, so if they can't pass the hairball in feces, it can get stuck in your ferret's stomach or intestines and form a blockage. Blockages are life-threatening conditions that require surgery.

Do you think your ferret may have a hairball blockage? Some of the signs include:

  • Tiny, stringy stool
  • Coughing
  • Sudden loss of appetite and weight
  • Vomiting or dry heaves
  • Pawing at mouth
  • Rubbing face on the carpet
  • Dehydration
  • Bloating
  • Swollen belly that is painful to the touch

Sometimes ferrets will get a floating partial blockage that causes them to exhibit these symptoms only occasionally while other times they are fine. If your ferret starts showing symptoms of a blockage, take him to the veterinarian immediately, even if the symptoms go away! If you aren't already, start giving him or her a ferret hairball remedy to try and help the hairball through your ferret's system and keep an eye on your ferret's feces to see if he passes it.

The best way to help prevent hairballs is to give your ferrets a hairball remedy regularly. Once a week is usually fine for most of the year, but during the spring shed, you should give a hairball remedy or a laxative to your ferret at least a few times a week. If your ferret is "blowing" his coat (shedding all of the guard hairs leaving only the soft undercoat), administer the hairball remedy daily.

If you have multiple ferrets but only a few are shedding, you still need to give all of them a hairball remedy. Ferrets groom not only themselves but their cagemates. So if a non-shedding ferret grooms a shedding ferret, the non-shedding ferret is also at danger of developing hairballs.

To prevent hairballs, you should also wash ferret bedding and vacuum your house frequently. Loose hairs will be lying everywhere, just waiting to stick to your ferret, so keeping the environment clean will help. Brushing your ferret to remove loose hairs also helps.