Ferreting out the facts

Social like dogs and curious like cats, ferrets are playful and affectionate pets. They can bond with their owners and even stay quiet for much of the day. With flexible spines and soft fur, they can make quite the cuddly companion.

Ferrets typically have white or sable fur coats, sable being brown or black. The sable-coated ferrets typically have white faces.

(Photo by Jeffrey C. Lim/Animal Scene)

Ferrets are part of the weasel family and are not rodents, contrary to popular belief. They grow to an average of 20 inches in length, and weigh between one and a half to four pounds. Male ferrets, known as “hobs,” are significantly larger than female ferrets, who are called “jills,” and can be taught at a young age not to bite when they play.

Regal ties

DNA evidence indicates that ferrets were first domesticated 25,000 years ago when they were trained to hunt rabbits. Since then, ferrets have been a constant companion to humans.

Queen Elizabeth I even featured a ferret on her somewhat misnamed “Ermine Portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First,” with the ferret being given spots by the artist in an effort to “ennoble” the queen’s pet.

Who you callin’ a weasel?

Settlers brought the ferret to the United States. The movie The Big Lebowski even features a pivotal scene with a ferret that Jeff Bridges’ character misidentifies with the line, “Nice marmot.”

Jewlya Renovich has been taking care of ferrets for almost five years a male-female pair named Cole and Brixx, respectively – and we asked her about this scene. “Well,” she replied, “a lot of people mistake ferrets for other animals, and it’s normal especially if they aren’t familiar with them. Ferret are from the weasel family and are not rodents. Actually, they prey on rodents.”

Renovich says that her pair of ferrets gets along very well, although Cole is the sweeter of the two. “Cole is our favorite because he was our first one,” she explained. “When he was small, he loved to fit himself inside my husband’s shoes and to sniff his feet. He goes wherever the shoes or slippers are,” she said with a laugh.

Ferrets love to play, so make sure they have a variety of toys to keep them occupied. A bored ferret can chew on objects around the household, so be sure to provide them with all the entertainment they need.

Ferret pellets

(Photo by Jeffrey C. Lim/Animal Scene)

“Ferrets are obligate carnivores,” says Renovich, “which means they need to eat a high protein diet.” Ferret pellets are designed to have no carbohydrates and to provide your ferret with the protein and fat that they need. “Fruits and vegetables are a big no because they can’t ingest carbs, fiber, or dairy.”

Ferrets can also eat soft kitten treats that have chicken or lamb in them or scrambled eggs as a treat. Give your ferret a water bottle and make sure they always have clean water to drink.

Playful companion

Mischievous, curious, and playful, ferrets are an endless source of entertainment. Inquisitive and intelligent, they can be trained to use a litter box and perform tricks. And with ferrets having different personalities, each one is unique.

But ferrets need to be supervised around children under six years old as they may nip at little fingers and toes. They can be taught not to bite at a young age, but they should never be left unattended with an infant.

With the right human companions, ferrets can be quite a cuddly friend.

Health and your ferret

Ferrets can live from 6 to 10 years, and they should visit the vet every 6 to 12 months. Make sure your vet has experience with ferrets as they have specific health issues as they grow older.

Because of their smaller gene pool, ferrets sometimes develop a cancer of the pancreas as they age. Also, ferrets can catch diseases from other species, such as dogs or even humans. Stay away from your ferret if you have a cold or flu and keep them away from any sick animals as well. “We make sure they are all vaccinated and for safety we don’t bring them outside,” says Renovich.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s July-August 2020 issue.

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