Ferrets Ferret
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This page last updated: 8 January 2017.

Why ferrets?  That's what most people ask or, if they don't ask it, they probably think it.

Well, after Ramone passed away we were looking for another pet and Rob's hairdresser, Jackie, mentioned that a ferret was the best house pet she had ever had.  We questioned her, thought about it, checked the animals out on-line, bought a book, bought a cage and, finally, went to visit Wendy at Essex Ferret Welfare.  At the time Wendy had 80 ferrets in her ferret shed.  Quite something.

We had told Wendy on the phone that we wanted to adopt a single ferret and we were lucky enough that she had a single rescued ferret that had not been socialised with the group.

Given this, and given Wendy's clear desire to be two rather than one ferret down from her stock of 80, we decided to go for two.  And that led to...

Cage 1 We went for a sort of mother and son pair.  Padme is not Luke's biological mother; she is roughly 6 months older than him and suckled him when he was young.  So they knew each other.  She had been "done" and he was done shortly after we acquired him.  We housed them in a large wire cage indoors, where we learned...
  • Lesson number four: ferrets are clever.  Within a few days they'd discovered how to escape from their cage.  By rattling the base back and forth they'd dislodged the catch holding it in place and roamed the house very happily, discovered later that day sleeping on some cushions.  And they don't stop being clever; they don't know that a door is a door until you open it for them, but once they've seen it opened they know it can be opened and take a much greater interest in it.
  • Lesson number five: ferrets are utterly in your hands.  You can pick them up, play with them, harness them, all without complaint.  They have been bred to be handled by humans and you should make a point of handling them.

  • Lesson number six: ferrets sleep a LOT.  They are crepuscular (look it up) and will happily sleep during both day and night.
  • Lesson number seven: ferrets are planar creatures.  They know the ground, they aren't easily aware of much above the ground and so a ~40 cm high table/stool is enough to raise the pots of your delicate house plants out of their reach.
  • Lesson number eight: ferrets don't have much of a stomach.  Put something in one end and pretty shortly something will have to come out of the other end.  Don't feed them when you want to avoid that happening.
We'd been told, of course, the obvious points:
  • Don't let a ferret out of the house, you will never see it again.
  • Ferrets smell: a strong aroma exuded from several scent glands.
  • Ferrets should not be around young children as the ferrets can nip and scratch.
Padme being heldLuke being held
Given lesson number two, house training was not going to be possible and their escape attempt plus general noisiness in a wire cage meant that in-house ferret keeping wasn't going to work.  So we bought cage number two, a large rabbit hutch, placed it outside the back door, made a 10 cm hole through the wall of the house (like a dry cleaner exit hole) and constructed a closable flap so that the ferrets could be allowed in and out.

We were starting to get our head around ferrets, and them around us.  Padme is sweet and cuddly, with soft fur and a very attractive white bib.  Luke is about twice her size, with white, rather more wiry, fur and a tendency to bite.  When they play he is the bruiser, she runs away.  However, when they do something they should not (e.g. scratch at some carpet, try to get in a bin or underneath the cooker), he can be trained with a rap on the nose accompanied by a disapproving growling noise; she tends not to listen.  But then again, she's less likely to do such things in the first place, so it balances out.
Cage 2House entry flap
But, they do need mucking out each day and it is not so pleasant to have their muck outside the back door.  Plus, they'd learned to scratch on the flap over the entrance into their house, which was annoying.  And the large rabbit hutch wasn't really large enough for them.  Which led to cage number three: one of those designed to sit on the lawn, open to the grass, to house chickens or rabbits.  We picked a size just right to sit on top of an Ikea outdoor table.  It was not attached to the house this time, instead having a liftable roof section to one side so that the ferrets can easily be taken out without having a chance to escape.  An aluminium, cleanable, tray was made to put inside it and toys were purchased.  This is now their permanent home and it works pretty well.  They are brought in every other evening to play in a specific area of the house which has little carpet.  While they are playing their cage is cleaned and food is replenished.  More things we have learned:
  • Ferrets don't nibble power cables.  It just doesn't seem to occur to them.
  • Ferrets won't do naughty things if you occupy them with new toys; saved cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, packaging, rags, something novel for them to investigate.
  • Ferrets love tubes/tunnels/holes; flexible aluminum ducting available from DIY shops is ideal.  You may think some holes are too small for a ferret, that they might get stuck; don't worry, ferrets can take care of themselves.
  • Ferrets can be taken on walks with appropriate harnesses and a lead.  Think of the walk more as a smell-o-tour, though, because the ferret will be solely driven by the scents it picks up.
Cage 3
They can be trained but it takes time and patience. Lots of patience. You need to be firm: in the worst case scruff them (meaning hold them up by the skin at the scruff of their neck, just behind their head; their head will drop to a submissive position), otherwise tap them on the nose with your finger and accompany this action with your disapproving noise. Soon you will only need your disapproving noise and, when finely tuned, the threat of your disapproving noise. UPDATE: we found that scruffing has absolutely no effect on Padme but load noises scare her; chose your weapon to match your ferret.

They do still nip, or at least Luke does, but you learn to hold him so that he can't do that and, above all, you keep him interested in stuff. As planar creatures they learn quite quickly that you carrying them around gives them access to sniffs of the Other Dimension and so will be very happy not to nip you provided you carry them to those oh so sweet smellable places. Food-wise:
Padme
                in a box                  Luke in a box                  Luke in an octopod
                plaything
  • Ferrets will eat/drink sweet stuff but don't give them more than a lick or two, it is not what they're meant to eat; meat is what they're meant to eat.
  • Ferrets will not eat cooked food.  Meat must be raw.
  • Ferrets love whole portions of offally creature.  Roadkill or game is ideal, a bird quartered with all the feathers etc. on.  But if you can't get that then chicken gizzards, chicken hearts or chicken livers from the butcher will do.  Try to arrange to visit the butcher at 16:00 on a Saturday for a bargain.
  • Ferrets can live quite happily on James Wellbeloved's Ferret Complete, a form of small dry biscuit food that you can buy in convenient sacks.
  • It is good ferret bonding to feed them multivitamin ferret paste, squeezed into a 5 cm strip, off the palms of your hands on a regular basis (in our case every two days when they come into the house).
Oh, and while they can, in theory, be housed by catteries or managed by pet-taking-care-of-people, in practice that's for your singleton ferret.  We return Padme and Luke into the safe hands of Wendy when we need to go away.
Multivitamin feeding
So, what do we think of ferrets now?  Well, it is a different experience to what we had originally intended but that's through us chosing many ferrets over one.  In the "many" form they are not house pets.  They are not like cats and dogs but, though you might assume that means they are wild, they are also very happy to be handled and played with.  It is true that we could do without the mucking out, that bit is not so pleasant, but creatures that are of such intense playfulness, and are also both inquisitive and clever, make for immense fun.  We are never going to be ferret freaks like Wendy and Alan but we intend to fully enjoy our time with Padme and Luke.

Update 29 August 2016:
It is the Fenland Fair this weekend so we decided that we should give the ferrets an outing.  To enable this, we've knocked up a quick ferret carrier.

The ferret carrier

It consists of:
Carrier,
                inside
Carrier
                with bottle fitted

Here it is in action and being checked:

Carrier
                  in action Carrier
                being checked

We took the ferrets to the fair in it and all went very well. They didn't seem concerned at being carried in it and were happy to be got out or put back as necessary.  There was some biting/scratching damage:

Where Luke got into the lining

...which allowed Luke to climb into the lining but that was fine, he could never escape.  Good enough for now.

Update 11 September 2016:

While at the Fenland Fair, we saw that the ferret people there had an outdoor ferret pen, a Marshall Small Animal Play Pen.  It looked perfect, and can be purchased with a base and cover and carry case.  We bought the lot and tried it out on the lawn today.

Marshall
          Small Animal Play Pen

It's sufficiently heavy that they'll never be able to lift it to get out.  The cover isn't really necessary as it is too high for them to climb out, however it does ensure that they get shade.  We're happy to leave them in it relatively unsupervised and so get time to clear out their cage properly.

Update 8 January 2017:

A good plaything for a ferret at Christmas time, if you don't mind cleaning the floor afterwards:



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