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.
Lesson number one: ferrets are communal creatures, it is
not natural for them to live alone and, as we had gathered
from research on the web, a lone ferret is likely to make
higher demands on interaction with its owner.
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...
Lesson number two, how to count ferrets: one ferret, many
ferrets. To put it another way, one ferret is a wee
manageable beastie, two ferrets or more are like an
auto-chasing mad block of unstoppable furry
inquisitiveness. It is noticable that the videos you see
on the web are of a nice lady training her one
ferret. Never two. You can't train two ferrets, it
just doesn't work like that. At best you can contain
their excesses. Which means that house training is not
on. UPDATE: actually, Luke has sort of been
house-trained. If he needs to go while indoors, which is
rare, he choses the newspaper in the corner, probably
remembering receiving a tiny ferret biscuit and not
receiving a rap on the nose. Padme doesn't do indoor
loos, not sanitary I expect.
Lesson number three: ferrets can teleport. Look at
one ferret, then glance over at the other ferret. Big
mistake. The first ferret has now teleported, it will be
somewhere behind you, somewhere it could not possibly have
travelled within the constraints of human space and time.
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
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
Ferrets should not be around young children as the
ferrets can nip and scratch.
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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.
It consists of:
A standard soft fabric cool-bag, modified to have a wire
mesh window on the front, bolted to some thin MDF for
A thin MDF floor.
On both ends, a pair of standard plastic ventilation panels
bolted to each other through the material (the bag material
cut away within) to improve air flow.
Some random bits of plastic scrap attached to the ends of
the bolts to stop the ferrets impaling themselves.
A hole drilled at an angle through the material and MDF on
the front to support a removable water bottle.
Some shreddings inside for the ferrets to snuggle in and to
soak up any emissions.
Here it is in action and 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
...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.
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: