Q: My daughter has been clamoring to get a ferret as a pet. What do you think of ferrets as pets? If we should get a pet ferret is there any special care involved in taking care of it? Any tips you can provide would be helpful. Thank you for your time.
A: Ferrets are playful, lively animals that make great pets. The scientific name of this small carnivore is Mustela purorious furo. They have been domesticated for over 2000 years, mainly to hunt rabbits and control rodents. The majority of ferrets in the United States are kept as house pets.
Ferrets are usually housed in cages but should be allowed out for exercise periods. Because of their inquisitive nature, ferrets will explore any small opening and can disappear into furniture and behind walls, so make sure to block any escape routes in their exercise area. Although they love to play, ferrets are attracted to latex and foam rubber and will often chew toys made of these materials resulting in a fatal intestinal obstruction. Make sure to provide toys that they cannot chew up.
Feeding guidelines for ferrets are somewhat controversial. Ferrets are obligate carnivores and require a high fat, meat-based diet. The food should be high in protein and easily digestible. Although numerous commercial diets are available, many veterinarians are concerned that the carbohydrate content in some of these diets can contribute to pancreatic problems, including the development of beta cell cancer or insulinoma. Look for a food that is at least 30% crude protein and 15% to 20% fat with minimal or no grain or vegetable matter. Avoid treats that contain corn syrup and molasses.
The current recommendation is to have your ferret vaccinated against canine distemper virus (CDV) and rabies. CDV is a deadly contagious disease that can be transmitted directly from dogs to ferrets or by clothing or shoes that have contacted infectious material. A young ferret can be protected by administering a series of vaccines with annual booster as an adult. It is important to use the ferret vaccine rather than one of the vaccines developed for dogs. A rabies vaccine approved for use in ferrets should also be administered annually. This is also a good time to have a physical exam performed on your ferret to detect any problems. If you choose a ferret as a pet, I would recommend reading one of the many good books available that discuss ferret care in greater detail.