Introduction to Ferret Living Requirements

Jump ahead: Cage Cage Accessories Litter Box and Odor Control Bedding Food Treats, Vitamins Toys Grooming Travel Accessories

Before you bring your new bundle of joy and energy home, it’s time to think about what he or she is going to need to be comfortable, safe, and happy.

The first thing you’ll want to consider is the cage. Unless your house is meticulously ferret-proofed, the ferret is safer in the cage when you can’t be there to supervise. Many ferret owners allow their fur babies free run of the entire house, or just a “ferret room”, and it’s a goal you may want to work toward. As a new ferret owner, it’s probably a better idea to keep them caged at first. (Even if you’ve read everything you can find about ferrets and think you’ve got your place made completely safe for a ferret – they’ll soon prove you wrong. 🙂 Just wait!)

In addition to providing for their safety, many ferrets think of their cage as their own little private space and even when allowed to come and go from it freely, will return to sleep, eat and drink.

How to Select a Cage

Start with a good quality cage, preferably a cage specifically made for ferrets.

Corner Ferret Cage Hammertone Finish

A good ferret cage will be made of metal wire or bars to provide ventilation and the gaps between the bars will not be so large that a ferret can escape or get his head caught between them. Ferrets are the ultimate escape artists. Besides narrow gaps between bars, you’ll also need the cage door to close securely.

Bigger is better and multi-level is better yet. Ferrets require plenty of room to run and jump and play. This is even more important if you have decided your ferret will me kept mostly in the cage. Multi-level cages allow for sleeping sacks or hammocks to be hung at the top, food and water down a level, and still have room for a potty area at the bottom.

Some cages are easier to clean than others. Look for slide out trays on the bottom, or cages with doors that open very wide to make removing the litter box easy.

Selecting Cage Accessories

Once you have selected a cage, you’ll need a few accessories – litter and litter pans, food bowl and water bottle are the most important.

Prevue Ceramic Ferret Food Bowl

The food bowl should be either a large, heavy crock which they can’t tip over, or a bowl which locks to the side of the cage. These aren’t expensive and you’ll save in the long run with less wasted food.

Marshall Ferret Water Bottle Economy 16 oz

For water, ferrets will drink from either a bowl or a water bottle. They love water bowls, but tend to play A LOT and make a big mess. You’ll want to have a water bottle for providing water needed every day, and plan to use the bowl of water for play time.

Look for the type bottle which attaches to the side of the cage. Even water bottles sold as ‘no drip’ will drip water, so it’s a good idea to place a small bowl beneath the tip of the bottle to catch drips and keep bedding from getting wet. The same type bowl available for food which locks to the side of the cage works well for this.

Litter Box and Odor Control

Litter pans generally come in two shapes – a triangle made to fit the corner, and a larger square box. If you have only one ferret, the small triangle litter pan may work, otherwise definitely spring for the larger pan. In the litter pan you will want litter material which is absorbent as well as dust free and non-allergenic. Some brands also have odor fighting abilities and some are flushable.

Super Pet Litter Pan Hi-Corner

Many products are available which aim to control pet odor and all help to some degree. If you choose to use any of these be sure to choose those labeled ‘non-toxic’ to pets.

Two of the most important things you can do to control oder are feeding a high-quality diet (believe it or not, it makes a huge difference in smell) and keeping the ferrets environment as clean as possible.

Cage and accessories should be cleaned on a regular basis, including:

  • scooping solids from the litter box daily; completely removing everything from the litter box once a week and scrubbing with soapy water.
  • wash all bedding (hammocks and blankets) once a week.
  • once every couple of months remove the entire cage to the backyard, scrub with a stiff brush, and rinse with a garden hose. (If your ferret frequently misses the litter box you’ll need to do this more often.)

Bedding

Typical small animal bedding used to cover the floor of the cage, such as shaved wood chips, straw or even paper, are not necessary for ferrets. In fact, some of the stuff is even harmful. Wood chips produce oil which can irritate a ferret’s skin, paper bedding can be chewed and swallowed causing bowel obstruction, and straw creates dust which disturbs their breathing.

Ferret Nation Ferret Hammock Small

What every ferret will want, even if they can’t tell you so, is a hammock or some sort of sleep sack or cube hung from the ceiling or upper portion of their cage. There are many, many varieties available – everything from the most simple basic hammock to hidey holes made into all sorts of shapes and sizes. They’re super cute – just try not to want a dozen of them. 🙂

Marshall Hanging Monkey Ferret Hammock

Your ferret is also going to need a few blankets for covering and hiding under. Old blankets cut down to size or old t-shirts will do just fine.

Choosing Quality Food

Feeding your ferret a high quality food is one of the most important things you can do for their health. Even cats and dogs benefit from improved diet, but ferrets in particular suffer heavily when food is poor quality. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means their natural diet is only meat. Their bodies are not able to digest grains, sugars, or fillers such as corn which are found in many ferret foods on the market. Many experts believe that a poor diet is the main contributing factor toward many of the health problems ferrets face. If that isn’t enough to convince you to go with quality, the stinkier poops produced just might. 🙂 As any long-time ferret owner will tell you, low-quality food and/or fish-based foods result in a MUCH smellier litter box.

Ferrets are well-known to be very finicky eaters who don’t accept new foods easily. When you first bring your ferret home you’ll want to continue to feed whatever it is accustomed to eating. If change is necessary, make the change gradually by mixing the old food with the new. Each day increase the proportion of new food until you are no longer mixing the two.

As soon as you get your ferret eating the new food you’ve chosen – it’s a good idea to choose a SECOND high-quality food and get them used to eating that as well. 🙂 Why? For variety, but also as a backup plan should anything happen to the main food supply. Many things could happen which might cause you not to be able to purchase that particular food – the manufacturer might quit producing it or change the recipe, or delivery to your local store could be interrupted due to weather or shipping delays. It’s always a good idea to have more than one food that your ferret will readily eat.

A good, high-quality ferret food should have at least 34% protein and 20% fat. It is important for the protein to come from ANIMAL sources. You can check this by reading the label. Label ingredients are listed in order by whichever ingredient is found in the highest proportion down to the lowest. To be considered a high-quality ferret food 3 to 4 of the first 6 ingredients should be animal-based proteins.

A few examples of high-quality ferret foods: Wysong Epigen 90, Innova EVO Ferret, ZuPreem Premium Ferret Diet, and Totally Ferret. Unless you’ve adopted a ferret who has been raised on it and will eat nothing else, please don’t feed Purina Kitten Chow! Some high-quality cat foods are nutritionally complete enough to give ferrets a balanced diet, but most are not, especially most grocery store brand cat and kitten foods.

Visit the HealthyFerret.com Nutritional Requirements page for much more information about this topic than what can be summarized here. While there, be sure to check out our special pages Bargain Shopping for Quality Ferret Food, Feeding Sick Ferrets, and HomeCooking for Ferrets.

Treats, Vitamins

N-Bone Ferret Chew Treats

Ferrets who are being fed a well-rounded kibble diet don’t need treats, but do love them, and ferret owners love to spoil their little darlings. There is no harm in giving occasional treats provided they are healthy, and the offer of a favorite treat can work work miracles while training the intelligent but stubborn little ferret to do what we want. 🙂

Nutritional requirements for ferret treats follow the same basic rules as for their daily food – they should be mostly protein and fat, very low carbohydrates, and no sugar. Read package labels carefully – the majority of commercially available treats contain much more sugar than what is healthy for a ferret to consume. Many online articles and websites recommend feeding small pieces of fruits and veggies, and raisins as snacks – all of these also contain sugar and shouldn’t be given. A much better alternative would be very small pieces of cooked chicken, turkey, or egg. Baby food which is 100% meat (nothing with vegetables or noodles) is another good option.

Treats a ferret should NOT have:

  • chocolate (It’s highly toxic. I wouldn’t even keep it in the same room.)
  • any treat containing artificial sweeteners. This includes sugar-free candy, gum, and soda. (Also highly toxic. Again, don’t even keep it in the same room.)
  • any treat high in sugar.
  • fruits and vegetables. This includes raisins which are sometimes recommended as treats. All are high in natural sugar which ferrets bodies can’t tolerate. In addition, hard uncooked vegetables, such as carrots, can cause blockages.

Marshall Furo-Tone Skin & Coat Supplement 16 OZ

Liquid vitamins such as Ferratone or Ferretvite are enjoyed by most ferrets, some even go completely crazy for them, and can be given in small amounts as a treat. A few drops a couple times a week can help maintain a healthy, shiny coat. Ferrets love the stuff but they are vitamins, so remember too much of a good thing is still too much! Both can be mixed with equal parts of olive oil to cut down on their high vitamin content.

Toys, Tubes, and More

Ferrets are extremely playful and will keep you entertained for hours. Their toys don’t necessarily need to be store bought. They can be almost anything. Similar to a kid when you give them a new toy – it’s the box they end up playing with for hours.

Marshall Connect-N-Play Ferret Tube

Tubes are a big ferret favorite as well as many cat toys, such as feathery things tied to the end of a pole.

They love grocery sacks and boxes.

Stack boxes and tape them together to form a maze. Cut holes in different places along the structure. Turn the ferrets loose and see if you can predict where their little fuzzy head is going to pop up next.

Ferret Grooming

Your ferret will need its nails trimmed frequently and ears and teeth cleaned. This is easier done with two people. One person “scruffs” the ferret while the other does the trimming or cleaning.

Scruffing is a way of holding a ferret still, by the back of the neck, which mimics the way the mother ferret holds her babies. Ferrets have very thick skin at the back of the neck and grabbing them in this manner doesn’t hurt them, but never allow the body to dangle. (Their mother did it when they were babies, but they were much smaller and lighter then.) Always hold as much of their body up as possible either by holding their behind with your other hand or laying the rest of their body across your arm.

The ferret rarely needs a bath. Unless they get into something messy, once every 3 or 4 months is adequate. The ferret cleans himself by licking and grooming and frequent bathing can actually make an odor problem worse because it stimulates oil glands which increase production.

Traveling Accessories

For trips to the veterinarian, or anywhere else you plan to take your pet, you’ll need a safe way for them to travel. A hard-sided cat carrier is the perfect size to hold a ferret.

If you plan to walk your ferret outdoors (only on cool days with temperatures 75 and below) a ferret safe harness and leash will be necessary. Be careful! Some ferrets can escape their harness. Try walking them inside the house first and see how well they do. If a ferret escapes into the outdoors, they have almost no chance of survival.