Last-modified: 20 Jun 2002
Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
FERRET FAQ (part 1 of 5) -- ABOUT FERRETS AND THIS FAQ
Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!
This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene. See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without
The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one. Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5. A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1. Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ. In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases. Information about those is
given in section [1.1].
Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file. I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way. For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.
Subject: CONTENTS OF THESE FILES
PART 1: ABOUT FERRETS AND THIS FAQ
0. *** About this FAQ ***
(0.1) Notes on formatting
(0.2) Where to get this FAQ
(0.3) Goal of this FAQ
(0.4) Credits and editor's notes
(0.5) Ferret FAQ copyright and redistribution information
1. *** Where to get more information ***
(1.1) Is there a shorter FAQ to hand out at meetings? Are there
FAQs for particular diseases?
(1.2) How can I find a ferret breeder/shelter/vet/catalog?
(1.3) What mailing lists are there, and how do I join?
(1.4) What about interactive online chats?
(1.5) Where can I find pictures or clip-art of ferrets online?
(1.6) Is there any other information available online?
(1.7) What are some of the books available?
(1.8) How do I start a ferret club or shelter?
2. *** Revision history of these files ***
(2.1) Revision history
3. *** Introduction to ferrets ***
(3.1) What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?
(3.2) Are ferrets wild? Why are there ferret permits?
(3.3) Are ferrets legal where I live? Do I need a license?
(3.4) I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to ferrets?
(3.5) How long do ferrets live?
(3.6) How much do ferrets cost?
(3.7) Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?
(3.8) Is a ferret a good pet for a child?
(3.9) What are the different ferret colors?
(3.10) What do you call a ferret male/female/baby/group?
(3.11) How can I help the ferret community?
Part 2: FERRET CARE
4. *** Getting a pet ferret ***
(4.1) Which color is the best? Male or female? What age?
(4.2) Is this ferret male or female?
(4.3) How many should I get? All at once, or one at a time?
(4.4) Where can I get a pet ferret? What should I look for?
(4.5) What are these little blue dots on my ferret's ear? What's
the deal with Marshall Farms?
(4.6) How do I introduce a new ferret to my established one(s)?
(4.7) Will my ferret get along with my other pets?
5. *** Getting ready for your ferret ***
(5.1) How can I best ferretproof my home? What do I need to
(5.2) How can I protect my carpet, plants, or couch?
(5.3) What will I need to take care of my new ferret?
(5.4) Do I need a cage? Where can I get one? How should I set it up?
(5.5) Any suggestions on toys?
(5.6) What kind of collar/bell/tag/leash should I use?
6. *** Ferret supplies ***
(6.1) What should I feed my ferret?
(6.2) Should I give my ferret any supplements?
(6.3) What are good treats?
(6.4) What kind of litter should I use?
(6.5) Pet stores use wood shavings as bedding. Should I?
Part 3: TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR
7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***
(7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?
(7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?
(7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?
(7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?
(7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?
8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***
(8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?
(8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
(8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?
(8.4) My ferret is losing hair!
(8.5) Is he really just asleep?
(8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?
(8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?
(8.8) Do ferrets travel well?
(8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!
Part 4: HEALTH CARE
9. *** Basic health care ***
(9.1) Do I need to spay/neuter my pet? How about descenting? Declawing?
(9.2) What vaccinations will my ferret need, and when?
(9.3) Can I vaccinate my own ferrets?
(9.4) What kind of checkups should my ferret be having?
(9.5) What should I look for when I check over my ferret myself?
(9.6) Do I need to brush my ferret's teeth?
(9.7) Is my ferret overweight (or underweight)? What can I do?
(9.8) Are ferrets really as prone to disease as it seems?
(9.9) How do I contact Dr. Williams? I hear he'll help with diagnoses.
(9.10) What special needs do older ferrets have?
10. *** Problems to watch for and related information ***
(10.1) What warning signs of disease should I look for?
(10.2) Why does my ferret scratch so much?
(10.3) What do I do for my ferret's prolapsed rectum?
(10.4) My ferret's had funny-looking stools for a few days. What's
(10.5) What is that huge bruised-looking or orangish patch?
(10.6) My ferret is going bald (tail only or all over).
(10.7) What are these little (black oily)/(red waxy)/(orange crusty)
spots on my ferret's tail/skin?
(10.8) How well do ferrets handle heat? What about cold?
(10.9) How can I get rid of these fleas?
(10.10) How do I tell if my ferret has ear mites? What do I do about
(10.11) Do I need to worry about heartworms?
(10.12) Is there an animal poison control hotline?
Part 5: MEDICAL OVERVIEW
11. *** Common health problems ***
(11.1) Common diseases in ferrets
(11.2) Overview of common health problems
(11.2.2) Parasitic health problems
(11.2.3) Infectious diseases
(11.2.4) Neoplasia (Cancer)
12. *** General medical information ***
(12.1) Do I need to worry about toxoplasmosis?
(12.2) How can I get my ferret to take this medication?
(12.3) Where can I get medications at a discount?
(12.4) Can ferrets have transfusions?
(12.5) What anesthetic should my vet be using?
(12.6) How do I care for my sick or recovering ferret?
(12.7) My ferret won't eat. What should I do?
(12.8) What's Duck Soup? Anyone have a recipe?
(12.9) What are normal body temperature, blood test results, etc.?
(12.10) What tests might my vet want to run, and why?
13. *** Medical reference material ***
(13.1) Who makes this product or medication?
(13.2) What books can I get or recommend to my vet?
(13.3) Are there any other useful references?
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0. *** About this FAQ ***
Subject: (0.1) Notes on formatting
The answers in this file are given in a "digest format" which should
make it easier for you to scan through it for the information you want.
Each question begins with a line of hyphens, followed by its number and
the question itself, as given in the Table of Contents above. In many
newsreaders, including rn, trn, and strn, you can jump from one
question to the next by hitting CONTROL-G. You can also look for a
particular answer by searching for its number or for words from the
Cross-references to other questions are in square brackets; for
example, [1.2] means that more information may be found in section
Subject: (0.2) Where to get this FAQ
This FAQ is posted around the 20th of each month to the rec.pets,
alt.pets.ferrets, alt.answers, rec.answers, and news.answers
newsgroups. It's stored on various internet access systems and BBS's,
including Compuserve and (I think) AOL, and it can be found in either
English or Japanese (possibly a slightly older version) in library3
of the FPETS forum in Japan's NiftyServe system. For information about
translations of the FAQ, email me
or see the list at Ferret Central
on the WWW.
The Ferret FAQ is also available on the World Wide Web, as a fully-
indexed, cross-linked set of documents for browsing with Netscape
Navigator, lynx, or any other WWW client. Open the URL
The FAQ is available by anonymous FTP in the directory
(that is, ftp to ftp.optics.rochester.edu and cd to the indicated
directory). The files themselves are called part1.faq through
It can be found, along with hundreds of other FAQs on a wide variety
of topics, at any of the news.answers archives or mirrors; for
instance, by FTP at
or on the Web at
If you don't have access to FTP, or if the server is busy (as it often
is), you can also request the files by mail. You can receive all five
parts in separate email messages by sending a message to
with the single line (in the body of the message)
GET ANSWERS PACKAGE FERRET
To receive only a single part, instead send a command like
GET ANSWERS PART1 FERRET
Subject: (0.3) Goal of this FAQ
A number of books exist which were written by experts and are intended
to be comprehensive discussions of all sorts of ferret behavior and
medical problems. This FAQ is not intended to replace any of those.
However, there seemed to be a need for a document which covers many of
the basic questions in a fairly light way. Originally, this was
intended to be a FAQ in the purest sense of the term: a document to
answer questions which keep coming up in the newsgroups and Ferret
However, over the months -- and years -- the FAQ grew, and its purpose
broadened. More general questions, and especially more medical
information, were included. Although I can't claim that this is now a
comprehensive guide to ferret ownership, it is a good source of
information and collective opinion about a wide range of subjects.
Whether you're new to ferrets or a long-time owner, chances are this
FAQ will have something interesting for you.
Subject: (0.4) Credits and editor's notes
Contributions of individual respondents are marked as such and
indented. Other sections were either written by me (Pamela Greene)
or compiled from a number of contributions.
Special thanks to Chris Lewis and Bill Gruber, moderators of the
Ferrte Mailing List; and to veterinarians Bruce Williams, Charles
Weiss, Susan Brown, and Mike Dutton, for all their efforts on behalf
of the members of the Ferret Mailing List and all "ferret friends".
Thanks also to the dedicated ferret enthusiasts who have helped to
translate the FAQ and Medical FAQs into other languages, inlcuding
Japanese and French, with others in progress.
Thanks also to the many people from the Ferret Mailing List [1.3] who
contributed (perhaps unwittingly!) responses, comments, and
corrections, too many to list here (at last count, the list included
97 different people).
Subject: (0.5) Ferret FAQ copyright and redistribution information
This compilation, which includes five main files as described
in the Table of Contents above, is copyright 1994-1998
by Pamela L. Greene. It may be freely distributed by electronic,
paper, or other means, provided that it is distributed in its entirety
(all 5 files), including this notice, and that no fee is charged apart
from the actual costs of distribution. It may not be used or included
in any commercial or for-profit work without prior written permission.
(For-profit service providers such as Compuserve and America Online
are granted permission to distribute the files provided that no
additional fee beyond standard connection-time charges is levied.)
Anyone who wishes to is encouraged to include a World Wide Web
hypertext link [0.2] to the main Index page of this document set at
wherever it might be appropriate.
"The Ferret FAQ," "Ferret Central," and the silhouette of a ferret
used in their logos are trademarks of Pamela Greene.
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1. *** Where to get more information ***
Subject: (1.1) Is there a shorter FAQ to hand out at meetings?
Are there FAQs for particular diseases?
There are five parts to the main Ferret FAQ. The contents of those
parts are listed at the top of this file.
If you're looking for something to hand out at pet stores, vets'
offices, club meetings, and so forth, you might want the Ferret
mini-FAQ, a much shorter document which covers all the basics and is
formatted to be printed out. There's also a single-page tri-fold
brochure with the most important information, ideal for vets' offices
and pet stores. They're each available as a Postscript or PDF file
(which can be read using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, available from
There are also FAQs dedicated to several common diseases:
Adrenal disease (adenoma, adenocarcinoma)
Insulinomas (islet cell tumors)
Skin tumors (skin and mast cell tumors)
Cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure (heart disease)
Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen)
Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (mystery green diarrhea virus)
Gastric ulcers and Helicobacter mustelae
These FAQs are not posted to any newsgroup, but you can FTP them from
ftp.optics.rochester.edu in /pub/pgreene/ . You can also receive them
from a mailserver. To get a copy of all the files, each in a separate
email message, send email to <email@example.com> with the single
line (in the body of the message):
GET DISEASE PACKAGE FERRET
To receive only a single part, instead send one of these commands:
GET ADRENAL DISEASE FERRET
GET INSULIN DISEASE FERRET
GET LYMPH DISEASE FERRET
GET SKIN TUMORS FERRET
GET CARDIO DISEASE FERRET
GET ENLARGED SPLEEN FERRET
GET GREEN VIRUS FERRET
GET GASTRIC ULCERS FERRET
Finally, there is a single-part Ferret Natural History FAQ, which
contains information on ferret biology, history, domestication,
taxonomy, and so forth. It's available from Ferret Central
<http://www.ferretcentral.org/>, or from
the CUNY listserver using the command
GET NATURAL HISTORY FERRET
Subject: (1.2) How can I find a ferret breeder/shelter/vet/catalog?
An extensive list of ferret clubs, breeders, organizations, vets and
catalogs is maintained by STAR*Ferrets and is available on the World
Wide Web at
It is also available from a list server. Send email to
with the line
SEND FERRET DATABASE
in the body. Note that the file is rather long, which may give some
The American Ferret Association (AFA) also maintains a list of
shelters, at <http://www.ferret.org/afashltr.htm>, and a local ferret
club may know about one not on either of the lists.
Subject: (1.3) What mailing lists are there, and how do I join?
The Ferret Mailing List (FML) is strongly recommended. To subscribe
to the FML, send email to its moderator, Bill Gruber, at
<firstname.lastname@example.org> and ask to be added. You can
also try subscribing automatically by sending email to
<email@example.com> with the command
SUBSCRIBE FERRET <first-name> <last-name>
in the body of the email.
You'll get a note back detailing policies and such and explaining how
to send letters to the list. Back issues of the FML are available by
sending the command INDEX FERRET in the body of email to
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, and an unofficial WWW archive at
is also available, though not quite as complete.
The Ferret Forum mailing list tends to be shorter and perhaps more
international in flavor than the FML. To subscribe, send email to
<email@example.com> with a blank Subject
"subscribe ferret-forum" (for the regular version) or
"subscribe ferret-forum-digest" (for the daily digest)
in the body of the message (no quotes in either command).
The "Ferret Tails" mailing list is a digest of ferret stories,
adventures, poems, and other entertainment. Email
"subscribe ferret-tails <your email address>" in the body of your
There are other mailing lists, too, including several regional lists.
A list is available at
or email Christine Code at <firstname.lastname@example.org> for information.
Subject: (1.4) What about interactive online chats?
There are several interactive WWW chat/talk servers; for a list, see
Ferret Central at
Various IRC chats exist, on servers such as undernet.org,
irc.mcgill.ca, irc.quarterdeck.com, or irc.eskimo.com. Specific
server/channel combinations include
irc.dal.net #ferret_chat or #Ferrets
irc.prospero.com #GCFA or #FERRETS (Thurs. and Sun. from 8 pm Central)
irc.prospero.com #ferret (nightly from 8 pm Eastern)
For more information about IRC, consult the IRC FAQ, available at
A weekly online chat also happens on AOL, Saturdays 10 pm - midnight
Eastern time. Sometimes there are guest speakers. This chat is only
accessible to AOL users: go to keyword "Petcare", then select "Animal
Talk Room 1".
Subject: (1.5) Where can I find pictures or clip-art of ferrets online?
The Ferret Photo Gallery, on the World Wide Web, has a large
collection of JPEGs and GIFs. It's located at
There are also the Equipment How-To Photos, at
which show and describe examples of cages, shoulder bags, collars, and
The Oregon Ferret Association has a clipart archive at
and Bob Nixon maintains an archive with many ferret pictures, too, at
Files there which start with "clip-" are clip-art.
Most of the pictures at one site are also at the other.
Subject: (1.6) Is there any other information available online?
Discussions of ferrets sometimes come up in the Usenet newsgroups
alt.pets.ferrets and rec.pets. The FAQ "Fleas, Ticks and Your Pet"
[10.9] is distributed there as well, and is also available by FTP as
Several bulletin board systems keep pet FAQs and discussions, as does
the Compuserve Small Mammals forum (GO PETSTWO).
An index of ferret information is available from Ferret Central,
on the World Wide Web at
Various ferret-related information is available from the file server
at CUNY; send the command
to <email@example.com> for a complete list, with descriptions.
Subject: (1.7) What are some of the books available?
Lots of books have been written about ferrets, ranging from brief
treatments to extensive discussions of behavior and medical issues.
Introductory books, all most owners will ever need, are usually
available in pet stores. A few of the more popular are
Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, by James G. Fox. Lea and Febiger,
Philadelphia (1988). ISBN 0-8121-1139-7
The Pet Ferret Owner's Manual, by Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD.
ISBN 0-9646477-2-9 PB, 0-9646477-1-0 LB.
Clear, well-written and comprehensive, with lots of color
photographs. Dr. Bell is an internationally known expert on
ferret medicine and care.
A Practical Guide to Ferrets, by Deborah Jeans. Contact the author at
Ferrets Inc., P. O. Box 450099, Miami, FL 33245-0099; fax
"Excellent, easy to read, very thorough and up to date, and
written with a lot of love and care," says Dr. Susan Brown, DVM.
Ferrets: a Complete Owner's Manual, by Chuck and Fox Morton. Barron's
Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY, 1985. ISBN 0-8120-2976-3
A relatively short, but well-written guide. Not as in-depth as
some, but a very good, friendly introduction to ferrets as pets.
Ferrets in Your Home, by Wendy Winsted. T.F.H. Publications,
Inc., Neptune City, NJ, 1990. ISBN 0-86622-988-4
Longer and more in-depth, but still very readable. Includes, for
instance, more information on reproduction and breeding, but also
For somewhat more in-depth medical and natural history information, Bob
Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by Elizabeth
Hillyer and Katherine Quesenberry (1997)
Wild Mammals of North America, by Chapman and Feldhammer (1989)
Use the section about mink, perhaps tempered somewhat with the
black-footed ferret. Together, they are very similar to the
polecat, which is the driving force behind our ferrets.
Ethology: the Mechanisms and Evolution of Behavior, by James Gould (1982)
Subject: (1.8) How do I start a ferret club or shelter?
Extensive advice on starting a ferret club, shelter, or other service,
including sample forms and other materials, is available from
STAR*Ferrets for a nominal fee. Contact Pamela Troutman of STAR* at
P. O. Box 1714, Springfield, VA 22151-0714 or email
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2. *** Revision history of these files ***
Subject: (2.1) Revision history
The most accurate description of the version of this FAQ is the date
at the top. For really minor changes, I won't necessarily change the
version number, but I'll always change the date.
Version 4.0 - 19 Jan 1998
Added sections 1.8, 3.5, 4.2, 7.3, 9.6, 9.7, 9.10, 10.2, 10.3, 10.5,
10.12, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4, 13.1
Significant changes to sections 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.6,
3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11, 4.1, 4.4, 4.7, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.6, 6.1,
6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.4, 7.5, 8.1, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.9,
10.1, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 11.1, 12.8, 12.9, 13.2, 13.3
Smaller changes to nearly every other section (it has been 15 months
since the last update, after all)
Version 3.1 - 25 Oct 1996
This really ought to be a major revision too, but I don't like
"inflating" the revision number that much, especially since the plain
text FAQ hasn't yet had a version 3.0. Many sections were moved,
sometimes between parts, and nearly all of them had at least minor
formatting fixes. The numbers below use this new version's numbering.
Added sections 1.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.10, 5.2, 7.3, 8.9, 9.5, 10.3, 12.2, 12.5
Significant changes to sections 1.1, 1.5, 4.4, 4.5, 5.1, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6,
6.1, 6.3, 8.1, 8.4, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 10.6, 10.8, 12.1, 12.6
Smaller changes to sections 0.2, 0.4, 1.3, 1.7, 2.1, 3.1, 3.3, 7.1, 7.2,
7.4, 9.7, 10.1, 11.1, 11.2
Version 3.0 - 3 May 1996
This is a "major" revision because I've changed the format of the HTML
files for the WWW version. The changes don't make any difference in the
plain text version.
Significant changes to sections 5.2, 6.5, 7.7, 9.5, 11.3
Small changes to sections 0.4, 0.5, 3.3, 4.6, 5.6, 6.2, 6.9, 8.2, 11.1
Version 2.8.1 - 22 Jan 96; 2.8 - 16 Jan 96; 2.7 - 11 August 95;
2.6 - 5 June 95; 2.5 - 16 Mar 95; 2.4 - 7 Feb 95; 2.3 - 26 Dec 94
Version 2.2 - 1 Nov 94
Reformatted all files. First version released on World Wide Web
Version 2.1 - 28 Sept 94; 2.0 - 2 June 94; 1.2 - 3 May 94;
1.1.1 - 15 Mar 94; 1.1 - 28 Jan 94; 1.0 - 15 Dec 93; 0.3 - 7 Dec 93;
0.2 - 29 Nov 93; 0.1 - 23 Nov 93
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3. *** Introduction to ferrets ***
Subject: (3.1) What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?
Ferrets are domestic animals, cousins of weasels, skunks and otters.
(Other relatives include minks, ermines, stoats, badgers, black-footed
ferrets, polecats, and fishers.) They are not rodents; taxonomically
they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They are
friendly and make excellent pets. If you've never met one before, the
easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in
personality, but rather smaller. They can only see reasonably well,
but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Some are cuddly,
others more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets.
Ferrets are a lot of fun. They are very playful, with each other and
with you, and they don't lose much of that playfulness as they get
older. A ferret -- or better, two or more [4.3] -- can be a very
entertaining companion. They are smarter than cats and dogs, or at
least they act it. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably
determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a
bother. They are friendly, and they do know and love you, though for
some of them it can take a year or so to fully bond.
They can be trained to use a litter box [7.2] and to do tricks [8.2],
and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or
in a bag [8.8]. They sleep a lot, and they don't particularly mind
staying in small places (a cage [5.4], for instance, or a shoulder
bag) temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at
least a couple of hours a day. A "single" ferret won't be terribly
lonely, although the fun of watching two or three playing together is
easily worth the small extra trouble [4.3]. Barring accidents,
ferrets typically live 6-10 years.
Ferrets have lots of good points as pets, but there are some negatives
as well. Like kittens and puppies, they require a lot of care and
training at first. They're "higher maintenance" than cats; they'll
take more of your time and attention. Ferrets have their own distinct
scent [3.7], which bothers some people, and many of them aren't quite
as good about litter pans [7.2] as cats are. Although most ferrets
get along reasonably well with cats and dogs, it's not guaranteed, so
if you have large, aggressive pets (particularly dogs of breeds
commonly used for hunting), keep that in mind. Likewise, small
children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination
might be too much [3.8].
Finally, the importance of ferretproofing must be emphasized. Ferrets
are less destructive than cats, but they love to get into EVERYTHING,
so if you keep them loose you'll need to make sure they can't hurt
themselves or your possessions [5.1]. They love to steal small (and
not so small!) objects and stash them under chairs and behind
furniture. They like to chew on spongy, springy things, which must be
kept out of reach or they'll swallow bits. Accessible boxes, bags,
and trash cans will be crawled in, and houseplants within reach are
liable to lose all their dirt to joyful digging [5.2]. Finally, many
ferrets tend to scratch and dig at the carpet [5.2]. Naturally, these
traits vary from one ferret to another, but they're all pretty common.
If you're not willing to take the necessary time to protect your
property and your pet, a ferret may not be for you.
Subject: (3.2) Are ferrets wild? Why are there ferret permits?
Domestic pet ferrets, Mustela furo (sometimes called Mustela putorius
furo), are not wild animals.
They have been domesticated for a very long time, perhaps two or
three thousand years. They're not equipped to survive for very long
on their own; escaped pets suffer from dehydration, starvation and
exposure, and usually don't survive more than a few days unless
someone takes them in. Unlike cats and dogs, ferrets aren't even
large enough to push over garbage cans and scavenge.
Domestic ferrets are generally believed to be descended from the
European polecat; they were originally used as hunting animals to
catch rabbits and rodents. They weren't supposed to kill the prey,
they just chased them out of their holes and the farmers (hunters)
killed them. This practice is now illegal in the U.S. and Canada, but
it's still fairly popular in the U.K. and some other places.
A "ferret-free zone," or FFZ, is a place where ferrets are banned or
illegal [3.3]. In some other places, ferret owners are required to
have licenses or permits. States, counties, and municipalities outlaw
or restrict ferrets for a variety of reasons, pretty much all invalid,
but I'd say that the fundamental problem is that many people don't
understand what a pet ferret is.
What are some of those invalid reasons, you ask? Well, a common one
is that ferrets are seen as wild animals like raccoons or skunks,
rather than a domestic species like housecats. Of course, ferrets
have been domesticated for at least 2500 years.
Another popular misconception is that ferrets pose a serious rabies
danger; in fact, studies have indicated that it's very hard for a
ferret to catch rabies, and when one does, it dies very quickly, so
the danger is very small indeed. Besides, there's a ferret rabies
vaccine which has been shown to be effective.
A third common reason for banning ferrets is the idea that escaped
pets (nearly all of which are spayed or neutered) will form feral
packs and threaten livestock or native wildlife. There are no
confirmed cases of feral ferrets (as opposed to polecats or
polecat-ferret crosses, for instance) in the U.S., and a few
deliberate attempts to introduce domestic ferrets to the wild have
failed miserably, so this, too, is an unfounded fear -- even if one
could picture a ferret harming a cow or breaking into a commercial
The only states which now ban ferrets are California and Hawaii. In
the face of overwhelming evidence, many areas are being persuaded to
change their outdated regulations.
Most of the misconceptions regarding domestic ferrets probably come
from mistaking them for their wild cousins. It's very difficult to
tell a polecat or a mink from a domestic ferret when all you've seen
is a flash of fur disappearing into a burrow, and polecats and minks
are quite common in the less-developed areas of Europe and North
Because of the similar names, domestic ferrets have also been confused
with their cousins the North American Black-Footed Ferrets, Mustela
nigripes. Black-footed ferrets (BFFs) are wild remote relatives of
the domestic ferret. They are an endangered species: the only BFFs
known to exist are in zoos or in a breeding program in Wyoming.
However, despite similar appearances, the BFF is not very closely
related to the domestic ferret.
Subject: (3.3) Are ferrets legal where I live? Do I need a license?
Depending on where you live, ferrets may be completely unregulated,
require a license to breed but not to own, require a permit to own, or
be entirely illegal. This varies by state or province, county, and
You can find out about your town by calling the local Wildlife
Department or Fish and Game Department, the humane society, or
veterinarians (recommended in that order). Note that some pet stores
in FFZs sell ferrets anyway, so the presence of one in your corner
store may not be any indication of their legality, and I wouldn't
necessarily trust the pet store to be honest about local laws.
Katie Fritz has compiled an extensive, though not complete, list of
FFZs. If you have or want more information, contact her at
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or on CompuServe at 71257,3153.
Here's a list of some of the larger places where ferrets are illegal,
as of April 1997. A more extensive list is also available, from
Washington, DC; Dallas, Ft. Worth, Beaumont, and various other
cities in TX; Bloomington and Burnsville, MN; Tulsa, OK; Columbus,
OH; London, York, and East York, Ontario, Canada; Puerto Rico
Although ferrets aren't actually illegal in New York City or
Minneapolis, MN, they are not welcomed and may be confiscated or
ticketed. Similarly, although it's legal to own ferrets in South
Carolina, it's not legal to sell them there, and the state is
known to be pretty ferret-unfriendly.
Many military bases ban ferrets. It seems to be at the discretion
of the base commander.
Permits or licenses are required in order to own ferrets in the
following places: New Jersey ($10/year), Rhode Island ($10/year),
Illinois (free). Permits are also required in St. Paul, MN, and
may be difficult to obtain.
These lists are by no means complete, so check locally before you buy
Subject: (3.4) I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to ferrets?
There's really no way to tell. You could be highly allergic to some
other animal and have no problems at all with ferrets. If you think
you might be allergic, visit a pet store, breeder or friend who has
one and check. Allergies might make you sneeze, or you might have a
skin reaction from touching or being scratched by a ferret. One
person wrote me to say he was allergic only to intact males, so you
may want to try contact with females or neutered males as well. Also
note that some people are allergic to the perfumes pet stores often
put on animals, but not to the animals themselves.
Subject: (3.5) How long do ferrets live?
Ferrets typically live 6 to 10 years, with 6 apparently more common
than 10. The oldest ferret I know of is 15.
Subject: (3.6) How much do ferrets cost?
Prices for ferrets vary widely from place to place, and depending on
where you get the ferret [4.4]. Prices for stores and breeders are
usually in the US $75-$250 range, typically around $100. Plan on
another $100-$250 for a cage [5.4] and supplies [5.3], plus around $75
for the first batch of vaccinations [9.2].
Of course, there are also regular costs of caring for the ferret.
They don't eat much, so food and litter aren't a huge expense, but
there are also treats [6.3] and hairball remedies, plus the annual
checkups [9.4] and vaccinations [9.2]. In addition, though it might
not happen, you should be prepared to pay for at least one $300 vet
visit in each ferret's 6- to 10-year lifetime, from his getting sick,
being in an accident, or eating something he shouldn't [11.1].
Subject: (3.7) Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?
Ferrets have an odor all their own, just like any pet. Some people
like the musky scent, a few can't stand it, and most are in between.
(Personally, I think it's much better than wet doggy smell or cat box
stench.) If the ferret isn't yet altered [9.1], having that done will
cut down on the odor a lot; whole (un-neutered) males, particularly,
have a very strong smell. Young kits also have a peculiar, sharp
scent which they lose as they get a bit older.
Descenting a ferret [9.1] doesn't change the day-to-day smell. Only
the scent glands near the tail are removed, which prevents the ferret
from releasing bad-smelling musk if it's frightened, but doesn't stop
the normal musky oils which come from glands throughout the skin.
The two big things you can do to cut down on your ferret's odor are to
bathe him less -- yes, less -- often and to clean his bedding more
often. Most of the musk stays in the cloth, on the litter or paper,
and on your floors and furniture, not on the ferret himself. Cleaning
them can be a big help. Also, right after a bath the ferret's skin
glands go into overdrive to replenish the oils you just washed away,
so for a few days the ferret will actually smell worse. Foods
containing fish may make your ferret, or his litter pan, smell worse
than those with chicken, lamb, etc.. You may also find that your
ferret smells more during shedding season in the spring and fall.
Some people have had good luck with Ferret Sheen powder and various
air filter systems.
Subject: (3.8) Is a ferret a good pet for a child?
Many people have both children and ferrets without problems, but
there's a difference between having both children and pets, and
getting a pet for your child. It's important to remember that a
ferret is a lot like a cat or dog, and will require the same kind of
attention and care. It's not at all like keeping a pet hamster or
guinea pig. If your child is responsible, careful, and not too young,
and you're willing to supervise and help out with the care, a ferret
will be a great pet. Otherwise, consider getting a low-maintenance
pet you can keep in a cage instead.
It is definitely necessary to monitor interactions between young
children and ANY pets closely, and to make sure children know the
proper way to handle pets. A living creature needs, and deserves, to
be treated with more care than a toy. Ferrets in particular love to
pounce and wrestle when they play, which may frighten children, and
children tend to play rather roughly, which may prompt a more vigorous
response from an active ferret than from a typical cat.
Just as some very friendly dogs become nervous around children because
they don't look, smell, or act like adults, some ferrets who aren't
used to kids don't quite know how to behave around them. Make sure
both your child and your ferret understand what's expected of them,
and what to expect from the other one. At least one person suggests
that ferrets brought up around other animals, including other ferrets,
will adjust to a child better than ones only used to adult humans.
There are several stories floating around about ferrets attacking
babies, some more true than others. Ferrets are unfamiliar to most
people, so it's easier for them to make sweeping statements on the
basis of a tiny amount of information. Some of the reports are simply
rumor, or the result of confusing another animal with a ferret.
Others are based in fact, but omit important information (for
instance, that the child and pets had clearly been neglected or abused
prior to the attack). A small number are unfortunately true.
However, plenty of children have been attacked and even killed by dogs
and cats. The number of people injured by ferrets each year is a tiny
fraction of the number wounded or killed by dogs. People don't claim
that all dogs and cats are too dangerous for pets, but rather that
more responsible parenting and pet ownership is needed.
According to Chris Lewis, former moderator of the Ferret Mailing
The FML has carried confirmed reports of two, possibly three,
cases where an animal identified as a "ferret" has seriously
injured, and in one case, I believe, killed, infants. One in the
UK, and one or two in the US. In none of these cases has it been
proven that the animal was a ferret - particularly in the UK, it
is quite possible that the animal was actually an European polecat
which are raised for fur and sometimes for hunting (in the UK).
And in each case gross child and animal abuse is well documented.
But it's important to remember, that even the most pessimistic
statistics on ferrets show that a ferret is about a thousand times
*less* likely to cause injury than a dog. Indeed, every year
there are hundreds of very serious or fatal dog attacks in the US
alone. Worst case statistics show approximately 12 ferret attacks
ever recorded in the US.
Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:
I can say from personal experience that there are many, many more
bite incidents with the household dog or cat, and that either of
these species tend to do a lot more damage. I have seen children
require over a hundred facial stitches from getting between the
dog and its food, but never anything like this with a ferret. But
I've also been nailed by my share of ferrets too.
Personally, I don't recommend ferrets for people with children
under 6 or 7 - either the child or the ferret ends up getting
Subject: (3.9) What are the different ferret colors?
Ferrets often change colors with the seasons, lighter in the winter
than in the summer, and many of them lighten as they age, too.
Different ferret organizations recognize different colors and
patterns, but unless you're planning to enter your ferret in a show,
the exact label isn't particularly important. Some of the more
commonly accepted colors are described in general terms below, adapted
from summaries written by William and Diane Killian of Zen and the Art
of Ferrets and Pam Troutman of STAR*Ferrets.
The albino is white with red eyes and a pink nose. A dark-eyed
white can have very light eyes and can possibly be confused with
an albino. These can actually range from white to cream colored
with the whiter the color the better. A dark-eyed white (often
called a black-eyed white) is a ferret with white guard hairs but
eyes darker than the red of an albino.
The sable has rich dark brown guard hairs with golden highlights,
with a white to golden undercoat. A black sable has blue-black
guard hairs with no golden or brownish cast, with a white to cream
The chocolate is described as warm dark to milk chocolate brown
with a white to golden or amber undercoat and highlights.
A cinnamon is a rich light reddish brown with a golden to white
undercoat. This can also be used to describe a ferret with light,
tan guard hairs with pinkish or reddish highlights. Straight tan
is a champagne.
A silver starts out grey, or white with a few black hairs.
The ferret may or may not have a mask. There is a tendency for
the guard hair to lighten to white evenly over the body. As a
ferret ages each progressive coat change has a higher percentage
of white rather than dark guard hairs. Eventually the ferret
could be all white.
White patches on the throat might be called throat stars, throat
stripes, or bibs; white toes, mitts (sometimes called silver
mitts), or stockings go progressively further up the legs. A
blaze or badger has a white stripe on the top of the head, and a
panda has a fully white head. A siamese has an even darker color
on the legs and tail than usual and a V-shaped mask; and a self is
nearly solid in color.
Subject: (3.10) What do you call a ferret male/female/baby/group?
A male is called a hob, and a female is a jill. To some people,
neutered males are gibs and neutered females are sprites , but these
are new terms and aren't as commonly used. A baby ferret of either
sex is a kit.
The most commonly accepted phrase for a group is "a business of
ferrets". Some people spell it "busyness" instead. Another
possibility, "fastening" or "fesnyng," is thought to be due to a
misreading of "bysnys" long ago.
Subject: (3.11) How can I help the ferret community?
There are lots of ways you can help the ferret community at large. If
your ferrets are very trustworthy and have had their vaccinations,
[9.2] take them with you to the park or pet store and show people what
wonderful pets they are, to counteract all the false rumors. (Be very
careful, though: if your ferret should nip or scratch someone, even by
accident, some states will kill him for rabies testing, even if he's
been vaccinated. You may want to only let people pet his back.) Give
good ferret information, perhaps a copy of this general FAQ and the
Medical FAQs [1.1], to your vet.
Adopt, foster, or sponsor a ferret from a local shelter, or donate old
towels, shirts, food, litter, cages, money, or time. Many shelters
could use help with construction projects, computer setup and use,
recordkeeping, etc., as well as day-to-day ferret care, cage cleaning,
and trips to the vet. (However, shelter directors are very busy
people, and may have established routines they'd rather not have
disrupted, so don't be offended if your offer of help is refused. Ask
if there's something else you could do instead.) To find a shelter
near you, see the STAR*Ferrets list of clubs, shelters, etc. [1.2]
or contact a local ferret club.
Participate in the "Support Our Shelters" coupon book program, in
which you send $25 and receive a book of grocery store coupons of YOUR
choice worth at least $200. More information is available by sending
SEND COUPON ORDER FERRET
in the body of email to <email@example.com>.
== End of Part 1 ==
- Pamela Greene
Ferret Central: http://www.ferretcentral.org/
Clan Lord (online game) FAQ: http://faq.clanlord.net/
This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.