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Ferret FAQ [2/5] - Ferret Care

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Archive-name: pets/ferret-faq/part2
Last-modified: 19 Jan 1998
Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
Version: 4.0
URL: http://www.ferretcentral.org/faq/

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
FERRET FAQ (part 2 of 5) -- FERRET CARE
Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <pamg@alumni.rice.edu>
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
permission.

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 THIS FILE 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 worry about? (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? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4. *** Getting a pet ferret ***
Subject: (4.1) Which color is the best? Male or female? What age? As with people, a ferret's inherent personality is more important than color or gender. Choose whatever color you like best. There's no consistent personality difference between a (neutered) male and a female. Males are generally considerably larger, around 18" and 2-5 pounds (that's 45 cm and 0.9 to 2.3 kg, in the US; European-bred ferrets differ a bit) compared to 15" and 0.75-3 pounds (40 cm and 0.4 to 1.3 kg) for females. Males' heads are usually wider, which can give them a more cat-like appearance. If you're getting an unneutered ferret, bear in mind that the cost to spay a female can be higher than the cost to neuter a male. (Unless you're specifically planning to breed them, you will NEED to "alter" your pets [9.1].) There are two contradictory opinions regarding what age ferret is best for a new owner. Adults tend to be a bit calmer and may already be litter- and nip-trained [7.2] [7.1], but they are larger and may have acquired bad habits, too. Kits are very cute, and their small size and (for a young kit) sleepiness can be less intimidating for a new owner, but they require more care and a lot more training and will become very active before too long. Ferrets under 7 or 8 weeks probably shouldn't be away from their mothers yet, and many breeders prefer to keep their kits for 10 weeks or more.
Subject: (4.2) Is this ferret male or female? If you can't tell whether you have a male or female, it's probably a female. :) Look on the belly of the ferret, about halfway between the tail and the bottom of the rib cage. If you see what looks like an "outie" belly button, it's a male -- and it's not a belly button. Otherwise, look just in front of the anus for a second opening, perhaps with a tiny flap of skin. If you see that, it's a female. To double-check, look at a once-used litter pan. Ferrets usually urinate and defecate in one "sitting," and because of the anatomy described above, males leave puddles a few inches in front of their piles, females right on top.
Subject: (4.3) How many should I get? All at once, or one at a time? Ferrets don't need other ferrets to be happy, but if you won't be around much, two or more will keep each other company. They'll also be more fun, but more responsibility. Many people have three, five or more ferrets, which may be more fun than you can take. :-) I'd recommend getting one at first, so you can get to know it, and it you. There's some advantage to only having to train one at a time, too. I'd suggest at least a month between them, if you're going to get several, although it's certainly not necessary. If you decide you want more later, you can always get another; they usually get along just fine [4.6]. There's no problem mixing (neutered) ferrets of either gender in any combination.
Subject: (4.4) Where can I get a pet ferret? What should I look for? Many pet stores have ferrets, and there are often ads in the newspaper placed by small breeders [1.2] with kits to sell or people who want to sell older ferrets. A ferret from a ferret shelter is also an excellent choice [1.2]. They're often a little older than kits from a pet store, but they've probably already been litter- and nip-trained, and the shelter director will know more about their individual habits and personalities. It's also less expensive to adopt from a shelter, and of course you're giving a home to a ferret in need. A local ferret club or a veterinarian who treats a lot of ferrets may be able to help you find a nearby shelter. In any case, look for bright, clear eyes, healthy skin and whiskers, soft coat, and a curious, alert attitude. You can't tell just how a kit's colorings will turn out, but if you watch and handle a group for a while you can tell a surprising amount about their personalities. Young kits will generally be pretty sleepy and uncoordinated, but they'll grow out of that soon enough.
Subject: (4.5) What are these little blue dots on my ferret's ear? What's the deal with Marshall Farms? If your ferret has two blue dots tattooed in his right ear, chances are he's from Marshall Farms, a large breeder located in Western New York. They tattoo one dot when the ferret is spayed or neutered and the other when it's descented. Several other breeders also mark dots in their kits' ears, so a tattooed ferret may not be from MF. Hagen, a Canadian breeder, uses a red X (for females) or Y (for males). Marshall Farms (MF) has been the subject of some controversy because they sell ferrets to laboratories as well as for pets. Some people feel that MF's efforts to produce ferrets for lab use might have resulted in their pets being genetically less healthy, but there's no evidence to support that. In fact, for many types of research, genetically diverse animals are needed. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says: There have been a lot of rumors going around recently concerning Marshall Farms ferrets. I'm not sure where they got started, but let's try to put this subject to bed. Sure, Marshall Farms ferrets develop tumors. So do ALL ferrets [11.2.4]. We don't know why ferrets develop most tumors - we know that they are most likely to develop them between the ages of 4 and 6, but not why. But it is certainly not Marshall Farms' responsibility when a ferret that they sold two years ago develops a tumor... To my knowledge - there are no inherent "defects" with Marshall Farms ferrets. Don't get me wrong - I know that Marshall Farms is the biggest breeder of laboratory as well as pet ferrets. I don't condone laboratory research on ferrets, or other animals for that matter and I don't do any. But I have never seen any problems with Marshall Farms ferrets that I could relate to Marshall Farms. Jeff Johnston, an epidemiologist (though not a ferret vet), adds: The bigger risk for so-called "congenic" animals is not cancer, which seems to be the alleged association with MF ferrets, but infectious disease since a microbe that is seriously infectious to one animal, will be equally infectious to all. And I haven't heard anyone report that MF ferrets are more susceptible to infectious disease than other ferrets. I don't believe that the evidence exists to convict Marshall Farms of breeding ferrets with defects. And now that so many allegations have been lobbed against them, the information gathered about MF ferrets is almost certainly biased. This happens all the time in the epidemiology of genetic diseases. A particular defect occurs twice in a family--perhaps coincidentally--and the family and their doctors go out of their way to look for it.
Subject: (4.6) How do I introduce a new ferret to my established one(s)? [This section was written by Kelleen Andrews, with contributions from me and others.] Dominance fighting is normal in ferret introductions. The severity can range from nearly nonexistent to all-out war. Prepare for the worst, and then anything less than that will seem like a piece of cake! Patience is the most important virtue. Often all is well in 3-14 days but sometimes peace is not achieved for 3, 5, or even 7 months. Ferrets that have been away from other ferrets for two years or more tend to take longer to adapt. Keep in mind that your final goal is well worth the work and that having two or more ferrets that have each other to love and play with is the greatest joy you -- and they -- may ever know! It's often easier to introduce a new ferret when the others are still fairly new themselves. A ferret who's used to being an "only ferret" or a group which has been together for several years may resist the newcomer more strongly. It's also sometimes easier to introduce two at once, to divide everyone's attention. Many techniques can be used to ease the transition. No one technique works on all ferrets; a combination of them has the best chance of success. Reassure all ferrets often that everything is OK and they are loved. * Most important, make sure the newcomer is disease-free and current on vaccinations [9.2] before any interaction. You may choose to quarantine the newcomer for one or more weeks. * If you can, and if you know that all the ferrets at the breeder or shelter are healthy and haven't been exposed to ECE, take your current ferret along with you when you pick out a new ferret so he can choose his own new friend. Also, a pair often blends into the existing group where a single may have more problems. A kit newcomer can be a plus but requires more precautions. Since a kit is tiny, if the established ferret is too rough you may need to cage it separately until it grows larger. A kit that is constantly attacked and dragged around by an aggressive ferret may be seriously injured or become so traumatized as to want nothing to do with other ferrets. * Make sure the first introduction takes place in a completely neutral area -- not just an unused room in your home, but preferably in someone else's home or someplace else neither ferret has ever been near. It also helps if other ferrets and distractions are there. One other ferret may be seen as an enemy whereas a group is seen as a party! * If an immediate introduction feels uncomfortable to you, keep the newcomer in a separate cage near your current ferret's cage. Have supervised visits often, and let one ferret out at a time for playtime. The new guy can then get used to the new surroundings and the established ferret will not feel he's being punished. Switch their bedding back and forth so they become accustomed to each other's scent. * Give the ferrets baths immediately so they smell the same. Bathing them together may help since misery loves company. You might also put vanilla extract on their noses to confuse their smelling and bitter apple on their necks to discourage biting. Smearing Ferretone or Nutri-Cal on their faces will encourage licking rather than biting. * Start out by holding the ferrets and letting them sniff each other. Gradually, as you feel comfortable with it, give them more freedom to interact with each other. Expect fighting, but always supervise in case it becomes violent. When you pull wrestling ferrets apart, if the loser goes back for more they are probably just playing rough. A ferret that bites with a darting motion and shakes his opponent roughly or tears at his skin is being more aggressive than normal dominance struggles. If you leave them alone, one ferret can end up with a neck covered in scabs, infected or worse. Usually when a ferret is being hurt he'll get very loud vocally, often screaming, but this is not always the case, so constant supervision is a must. (Some ferrets scream when they're not being hurt, or even when they're the ones attacking, so don't assume the loud one is the one being picked on.) When undue aggression occurs, immediately scruff the attacker with your hand, or better yet with your mouth, and gently shake him. Scold him loudly, right up close. Afterward put the attacker in his cage for a time-out. Don't hit him, even tapping his nose, since that will only make him afraid of you, and he's already under stress. If scruffing, scolding, and cage time don't work, he probably needs a little more time to adjust. Also be sure to find the newcomer and reassure him he is safe and loved. If the ferrets groom each other, often around the ears or neck, it's a sign of acceptance, but do not leave them unsupervised until you're positive there is peaceful integration. Unfortunately in very rare instances peace is never achieved and a new home may need to be found for the newcomer. Of course you'll want to be sure the new home will be understanding and loving, but also make sure the prospective new owner is aware of the problems the ferret has had getting along with yours, since even if he wasn't the aggressive one it will affect his relations with other ferrets. You don't want him to end up being passed from house to house, never able to fit in. Sometimes, even after an established ferret and a newcomer have stopped fighting, the first ferret may start to act depressed, especially if he's used to being an "only ferret". Ferret psychology is still an undeveloped field, but most people interpret this glumness as jealousy or resentment of the new ferret. Be sure to pay plenty of attention to all your pets, and give the depressed ferret a couple of months to adapt. Chances are he'll come to see the new ferret as a playmate instead of an interloper. In extreme cases, you may need to resign yourself to only having one ferret, and find a good home for the other(s).
Subject: (4.7) Will my ferret get along with my other pets? Most ferrets don't get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents, lizards, and the like, though there are some exceptions. For a dog or cat, patience is the most important part of the introduction. Give the new animal a chance to get used to you and your home before introducing it to the other pets one at a time, very slowly. Cats Cats are generally less dangerous than dogs, simply because of their size. For the first week or so, hold both the cat and the ferret (two humans is handy here) and just let them smell each other a few times a day. Over the next week or two, gradually give each animal a bit more freedom, watching them closely, until they're used to each other. Once you're convinced that they're used to each other and get along all right, let them interact freely, but supervise them for a while to be sure. Make sure the ferret has an escape route, a barrier the cat can't get through or a safe hiding place. It's generally believed that ferrets get along with cats better if they're introduced when the cat is still a kitten and is more willing to play, but there are plenty of exceptions. The same is probably true of dogs. Dogs [The following information on dogs and ferrets comes from Marie I. Schatz.] (1) First, do some work training the dog. Buy a dog training book, go to beginning obedience school (this should be something you do anyway). You want the dog to listen to your commands without fail. (2) Try putting the dog in a carrier or crate (modified so the ferrets can't slip through) and let them run around the room while he watches. Interact with the ferrets so he knows they're part of the "pack". (3) Hold the dog very firmly, with your hand right under his muzzle, while you let the ferrets run around and sniff him. Give LOTS and LOTS of encouragement to the dog and make loving noises over the ferrets. The ferrets are going to want to nibble his feet and jump at his face - try not to let this happen (two people will help). If the dog snaps at the ferrets, even with your hand right there, you won't have enough time to react. (Swift, loud assertive NO!'s right away if this happens.) So you may want to invest in an inexpensive cloth muzzle. You can't keep a muzzle on the dog long since he won't be able to pant, and it will tend to stress out the dog. I used one for the first couple of 10 minute intro's - still holding the dog. (4) If the dog seems to be doing well, i.e. fairly low prey and chase drive with good bite inhibition - put a leash on the dog when you finally get to the point where they are loose together. Stay close. You may want to use the muzzle again for the first time. The leash will allow a faster grab if the dog starts to chase the ferrets. (5) Do the "advanced" stage introductions in a room where there are lots of places for the ferret to get under or hide, or create some in the room temporarily. (6) If things work out reinforce by giving treats to the ferrets first, then the dog - reinforce that the dog is lower in the pecking order. (7) No matter how good things get, NEVER leave the dog's toys, rawhide chews, etc. lying around. The ferret will naturally want to investigate and hide them, and no matter how good the dog is it's just asking for trouble. (8) You should also try feeding the dog separately, when the ferrets aren't around. All any of this does is allow you to ascertain what kind of prey drive your dog has, without risking the ferrets too much. If the dog has a low prey drive and good bite inhibition and is just playful it should be apparent, and all this may be unnecessary or go relatively fast. If the dog does seem to have a very high prey drive, try a different older dog. Sometimes rescue groups can help with this as the foster homes may know a little about the dog's personality. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5. *** Getting ready for your ferret ***
Subject: (5.1) How can I best ferretproof my home? What do I need to worry about? As every ferret owner knows, our little friends love to get into trouble. Whether your ferrets live in a cage when you're not around or are free all the time, whether they live in a single room or have the run of the house, the first line of defense, both for your ferrets and for your possessions, is a well-ferretproofed home. Ferrets love to worm their way into any little hole (as small as 2 X 2 inches, or smaller for kits and some adults), which can be very bad if the hole in question is under or behind a refrigerator or other appliance (with exposed wires, fans, insulation, and other dangers), into a wall, or outside. Crawl around on your stomach to look for holes near the floor and under cabinets, especially in the kitchen and laundry area. Even holes inside cabinets (which are particularly common in apartments, where plumbers are often rather sloppy) should be blocked, just in case. Ferrets can open cabinets and drawers, which can be dangerous or just annoying depending on what's inside them [5.2]. Also watch out for heaters or furnace ducts. You can block openings with wood or wire mesh; be sure to leave ventilation around appliances. For doorways, try a smooth piece of plywood or Plexiglas slid into slots attached to the sides of the doorway. Recliners and sofa-beds are very dangerous; many ferrets have gotten crushed in the levers and springs underneath. They're difficult to ferretproof, except by putting them in a forbidden room. Even regular couches and beds [5.2] can be dangerous if the ferret digs or crawls his way into the springs or stuffing. Next, look around the area your ferret will be playing. Remove anything spongy from reach, and put fragile items out of the way. Keep in mind that many ferrets are good climbers and jumpers, and they excel at finding complicated routes to places you never thought they could reach. They can get onto a sofa, into a trash can, onto the third shelf of a set of bookcases, into a bathtub or toilet (from which they might not be able to jump out), and into the opening on the back of a stereo speaker. They can also open cabinets and drawers, unzip backpacks, and climb up drawers from underneath or behind to get onto the desk or kitchen counter. Apart from obvious dangers such as bottles of household cleaners, which ferrets do sometimes like to drink, be particularly careful with sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty, foam rubber (even inside a cushion or mattress), styrofoam, insulation, rubber door stoppers, and anything else spongy or springy. Ferrets love to chew on that kind of thing, and swallowed bits can cause intestinal blockages [11.1]. For some reason, many ferrets like to eat soap [8.7], so you'll have to keep that away from them. (A little lick won't hurt your ferret, just give her a bit of diarrhea, but large amounts can be a problem.) Human foods should also be kept out of reach, since even the ones which aren't dangerous to ferrets aren't good for them in large quantities. Be careful about full bathtubs, where your ferret might possibly drown, and consider keeping your toilet lid closed for the same reason. Buckets of water, paint, etc. can also be drowning or poisoning hazards, or might just be tipped over. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls are a problem because ferrets get their heads stuck in them and can choke or suffocate, and if you let your ferret play with plastic bags, you may want to cut off the handles and cut a slit in the bottom. Certain ferrets may also have special ferretproofing needs; for example, some like to eat paper, cloth, or plastic bags, which can easily cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage. A few ferrets like to chew on electrical cords or plants, and some common plants are quite poisonous. Liberal application of Bitter Apple paste [5.3] to the cord or plant can help persuade your pet to stop gnawing on it. Finally, once your home is done, it's important to keep it safe. Watch your ferret's toys to make sure they're not beginning to crack or break apart, and keep in mind that you can be dangerous to your ferret, too. Always double-check your dishwasher, refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer (even top-loading models) before closing them or turning them on, and watch where you sit and walk: that chair, throw rug, or pile of laundry might be hiding a napping ferret.
Subject: (5.2) How can I protect my carpet, plants, cabinets, bed, or couch? Many ferrets dig at the carpet [7.3], especially near doors that are closed. It's very difficult to teach them not to do it. You're better off protecting your carpet by putting down a piece of plastic carpet protector from an office-supply store. Chances are your ferret will get bored with digging when she sees she's not getting anywhere, though it might take a while for that to happen. A carpet scrap or sample from a carpet store might work, too, although your pet will be able to shred it, so she might not give up as quickly. For out-of-the-way places, wire mesh can be nailed to the floor through the carpet; be sure to protect any sharp corners or points. Also be aware that ferrets like to dig in and possibly chew on houseplants, and some common ones are quite poisonous. Plants can be protected from digging (but not chewing) by putting large rocks or metal mesh over the tops of their pots. Many ferrets like to rip the cloth on the bottom of a box spring and climb into it, where they can easily get crushed or caught. To prevent that, try putting a fitted sheet on the bottom of the bed, anchored in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a thin piece of wood to the underside of the box spring. You may need to drill air holes in the wood so the box spring can still compress. Depending on how your cabinets and drawers are constructed and how determined your ferrets are, you might be able to keep them closed using strong tape, rubber bands around a pair of handles, a nail or wooden dowel through the handles, or a strip of strong Velcro-type tape on the door and frame. Attaching eye hooks (screws with a ring shape at the top) to the door and cabinet and putting a nail through them both has worked for some people, and the latches with a pair of rollers on one piece and a mushroom-shaped catch are said to be strong enough for most ferrets. Some kinds of child-proof locks also work very well, though others are too weak or open wide enough to let a ferret through. The magnetic latch-and-key system works best for many people; they're available at many hardware or childrens' stores, or from the Woodworker's Store catalog (1-800-279-4441) or the Safety Zone catalog (1-800-999-3030). The kind that lock around two handles at once, available from baby stores, have also gotten a good report. If your ferret scratches at the underside of your couch to get through the fabric into the bottom, try taking off the couch's legs, if it has them. Heavy cloth or plywood stapled or nailed to the bottom can work, too, though ferrets can often rip cloth loose. Sometimes ferrets try to get into the bottom or arms of the couch by burrowing between the cushions and the back or sides. This is much harder to prevent, but some people have had good luck blocking the area with cloth or wood, stapled, nailed, taped or sewn to the couch. You can also give in and remove the bottom fabric and lower stuffing from your couch, putting a piece of plywood on the springs and the cushions on that. Then it doesn't matter as much if your ferrets get into the bottom, as long as they don't get caught between the cushions and the springs. Many ferret owners find it simpler to give up and get a futon or a "suspended" couch that doesn't have an inside in the first place.
Subject: (5.3) What will I need to take care of my new ferret? You will need: food for your ferret [6.1] a food dish (one hard to tip) a water dish (one hard to tip) or water bottle (see below) litter boxes (see below) litter [6.4] bedding [5.4] (not wood shavings [6.5]) a cage [5.4] ferret shampoo (baby shampoo works fine too) a collar and a little bell [5.6] pet claw clippers (large human-nail clippers work, but not quite as well) toys (ferretproofed) [5.5] a veterinarian who is familiar with ferrets [1.2] Linatone or Ferretone, if you can find them (see below and [6.2]) Bitter Apple or something similar (see below) a box or basket to be a bedroom [5.4] a harness and leash (optional) [5.6] Ferretone and Linatone are similar vitamin supplements [6.2] that nearly every ferret considers a wonderful treat [6.3]. Bitter Apple is a bad-tasting liquid or paste intended to stop pets from chewing things. The paste will probably be much more effective. You may want an H-type harness and a leash for walks [5.6]. Ferrets love to play in, and empty, water bowls, so you might want to give them a rabbit-type water bottle instead, or at least provide one in case their bowl gets tipped over. You will almost certainly need more than one litter pan, particularly if you have a large home. Small-size cat litter pans work fine, as do plastic dishpans, storage boxes, or large school supply boxes. Many ferrets don't seem to like the special triangular corner boxes, probably since they can't climb all the way in, but yours might. (Before buying one, ask ferret-owning friends. Chances are somebody has one sitting around that his ferrets never use.) For a travel cage or shoulder bag you can use a Rubbermaid-type plastic container intended for bread or ice cream (about 6 X 9 X 5 inches). Make sure the sides of the pan are at least 4 inches high, since ferrets habitually back into corners to deposit their wastes and you don't want messes over the sides of the pan. However, one side of the pan should be no more than an inch or two high, so your ferret can get in and out easily. This is especially true for a young kit. If you're particularly sensitive to cleaning pans or to litter pan odor, one novel suggestion was to use empty milk jugs, standing upright, with the circular indentation on the side cut out. Use only a small amount of litter, and the whole jug can then be thrown away when it gets dirty.
Subject: (5.4) Do I need a cage? Where can I get one? How should I set it up? Many people keep their ferrets in a cage or very well-ferretproofed [5.1] room whenever they can't be supervised. This drastically reduces the risks of digestive-tract blockages from swallowing indigestible objects [11.1], injury, and escape. However, even if you plan to let your ferrets have the run of the house at all times, you'll want a cage at first for litter-training [7.2] and other kinds of training [7.1] as well as for temporary use. A metal mesh cage is probably the best choice. Many pet stores keep ferrets in aquarium-like enclosures, but they are not recommended as cages. They don't provide enough ventilation at the bottom, and your ferret will feel isolated from whatever's going on in the room. Most aquaria also aren't nearly big enough. Plain wood cages aren't recommended because the wood soaks up urine and other liquids, so getting the smell out and getting the cage really clean are nearly impossible. If you use wood, cover the floors with linoleum squares or coat the whole thing with polyurethane. If you plan to keep your ferret caged whenever you're not home, and you'll be gone most of the day, a generous cage size is about 2 X 3 feet and 2 feet high (60 X 100 X 60 cm). A second or third ferret could share that size cage. Of course, a nice, big "condo" is even better, especially with lots of levels and hammocks to prevent falls from the top shelf. If you'll only be using the cage temporarily, such as when you're vacuuming or taking your pet on a vacation [8.8], 1 X 2 X 1 feet (30 X 60 X 30 cm) is sufficient for one or two ferrets, perhaps three. For trips around town [8.8], a shoulder or duffel bag equipped with a litter pan and mesh window works well. One option is to make the cage yourself. It may be cheaper than a store-bought cage, and you can get exactly the size and configuration you want. Of course, pet stores and catalogs have lots of cages, too. Multiple-level "cat condos" are probably the most popular store-bought cages. Some people like the easily cleaned medium or large size plastic dog kennels, modified to make multiple levels, although others think that they don't provide enough ventilation or contact with the outside world. Many of the condos for sale in pet stores are made by Midwest and are available for less from Dog Outfitters (cheaper than Ferret Outfitters). Call 1-800-FOR-DOGS. Safeguard will make custom cages to your design, and also sells several standard cages. You can call them at 1-800-433-1819. Sorry, I don't have numbers for international callers. (This is not intended as an advertisement. Specific products are mentioned here only because people keep asking about them.) In the cage, you'll want some sort of "bedroom" for your pet. A ferret won't be very happy sleeping on the open floor of a cage, even on (or, more likely, under) a towel or shirt, but any small cardboard box or basket works well as a bedroom. Old T-shirts and sweatshirts make excellent bedding, as long as they aren't too easily chewed to bits. Old towels usually work well too, though some ferrets tend to get their nails caught in the loops. Don't use wood shavings [6.5]. The bottom of the cage can be covered with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads. Other than food, water, a litter pan, bedding, and a bedroom, what you put in your ferret's cage is largely up to you. Enough room to stretch and move around is important, and different levels, ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, and so on will probably be appreciated. Hammocks made from old jeans or shirts and a set of metal eyelets are very popular for both napping and playing. Most ferrets get bored easily when caged and sleep much of the time, so they probably won't get a whole lot of use out of toys; they'd really rather be out playing. Just be sure nothing you put in your ferret's cage could hurt him, whether by catching a toe, being swallowed, or some other way. Also be sure your cage door fastens securely, perhaps even with a small lock, because ferrets can be very determined and rather intelligent escape artists. Twist ties, cable ties, or bits of wire often work well for fastening down litter pans or some bowls; and clothespins and small bungee cords can be enormously handy for holding all kinds of things down, up, or closed.
Subject: (5.5) Any suggestions on toys? Cat toys work well for ferrets, though you need to be sure they don't have any small, removable parts or foam stuffing which might cause digestive-tract blockages [11.1]. Most ferrets are rather harder on toys than a cat would be, so choose accordingly. Plastic balls, with or without bells, work well if they are not easily broken or swallowed (the little "webbed" ones break too easily). Soft vinyl rubber is okay, but not the spongy kind -- it's too easily shredded and swallowed. For hard rubber toys, be sure they can't get stuck in your ferret's mouth, and take them away when they start to crack. Avoid superballs: ferrets love to chew them to bits and eat the pieces. Cat or dog squeaky toys are good if they're tough enough to stand up to chewing and easily squeaked. Catnip won't hurt ferrets, but it doesn't affect them like it does cats. Remote-control cars are also popular, if somewhat expensive, ferret toys, though they may prefer chewing on the wheels. Most ferrets enjoy playing in a hammock made from a piece of cloth and some metal eyelets, and the leg from an old pair of jeans will be fun to crawl through or nap in. For other toys, try umbrellas, bathrobe belts, tennis balls, golf balls, ping-pong balls, film canisters (rinsed to wash out any chemicals), or old socks with bells rolled up in them. Plastic shopping bags are popular, but watch to be sure your pets don't suffocate or eat the plastic. Cardboard boxes are also fun, especially several nested together with ferret-sized holes cut at various places. Plastic bottles can be turned into clear ferret play-tubes by cutting off their tops and taping them together. Carpet-roll tubes and tunnels made of plastic pipe, dryer hose, or black drainage tubing are popular too. Avoid tubes from toilet paper or paper towels, though; they're small enough that ferrets can get their heads stuck in them and choke or suffocate. An excellent, inexpensive toy is a piece of plastic dryer hose about 4" (10 cm) in diameter. Wrap any loose wire ends. Be sure that your real dryer hose is out of reach (or get a metal one), since you're showing your pets that dryer hoses are great fun to crawl through. Clear dryer hose is even more fun, though less sturdy. One brand is Clear Duct by Dryer Mate, Model No. P48-C, a product of Nemco, Inc.. Several ferret clubs and shelters have begun selling clear hose as a fundraiser. If you can't find any locally, you should be able to order the original hose in 8-foot lengths or by the foot, or new heavy-duty hose in 20-foot pieces or also by the foot. Contact Crissey Fowler Lumber, 117 W. Vermijo Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80903, 719-473-2411, fax 719-473-0653. Talk to Stan in Plumbing. No matter what you decide your ferret's toys are, he or she will almost undoubtedly choose some household items you never expected, as well. Keep anything that would be damaged with a little chewing, or that might hurt your pet, well out of reach. Unfortunately, digging up houseplants is also enormous fun to a ferret, but there are some things you can do to protect your plants [5.2].
Subject: (5.6) What kind of collar/bell/tag/leash should I use? Depending on your ferret, either a nylon kitten collar, a thin, flat leather puppy collar, or a piece of ball chain will work well. A leather boot lace can also make a fine collar; just knot it at the right size. The problem you may run into with a nylon collar is that some ferrets will scratch at it, which pulls the nylon threads and can tighten the collar dangerously. Also, be aware that both nylon and leather can shrink if they get wet, so never leave a wet collar on your pet; it may shrink and choke him as it dries. For either of the collars, you may need to make an extra hole, then trim off the extra length and (for nylon) melt the end together. Be sure to leave enough to go through the little ring after it's buckled. For the ball chain (the kind made for light-pulls or to lift the stopper in a toilet), just snip it to the proper length. The collar should be loose enough to go over your ferret's head easily; if it gets stuck on something, better a lost collar than a choked ferret. We've never had any problems with either of our ferrets getting hurt by catching their collars in anything, but we make sure to leave them loose enough that the furry snakes can slip out if they happen to get caught. In fact, the easiest way we've found to get the collars on is to fasten them, then shove them over the ferrets' heads while occupying them with Ferretone. The cord-like figure-8 leash with a screw for adjustments, sold wrapped around a cardboard cutout of a ferret, isn't the best choice for a leash. It's too easy to get out of and too hard to adjust, the adjustment nut can break, and the cord can chafe the ferret. A flat nylon H-type harness with a leash clipped to the back will work much better. Several people have recommended the harnesses made by the WarmFuzzy Rescue (610-926-9087 or <warmfuzzy@aol.com>), and Marshall Pet Products (1-800-292-3424 or <http://www.marshallpet.com/>) also makes a popular one. A small cat bell and small-size plastic tag have worked well for us on a kit as young as 9 weeks. The slot on some of the smallest bells is easy to get a nail stuck in, though, so you may need to widen it a little with a nail file. I recommend getting an S-shaped hook for the tag rather than a split ring, since the rings have a tendency to loosen. Twice one of our ferrets got hers caught in a sweater or blanket -- which both frightened her and unraveled the item she was frantically rolling in before she pulled out of the collar. You can also attach the collar and tag using a neatly trimmed piece of stiff wire. For a nylon or leather collar, you'll probably want to poke the S-hook directly through the collar and put the bell and tag on the same hook, though, since attaching them to the ring on the collar makes them hang down far enough to drag on the ground. Neither of our slinkies seems to mind wearing a collar or bell, although the first time we put them on our older pet she spent 15 minutes trying to convince us she was dying and then the next hour playing with the jingly toy that followed her wherever she went. In short, tags and collars are handy for nearly all ferrets. Ours have never gotten out, but even just around the house it gives enormous peace of mind to be able to tell where they are! - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6. *** Ferret supplies ***
Subject: (6.1) What should I feed my ferret? The key ingredients in any food for ferrets are fat and protein, specifically animal protein, since ferrets' short digestive cycles prevent them from getting enough nutrition from vegetable proteins. Chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb are all fine; most ferrets don't like fish, and it may make their litter pan smell worse. The food needs to have 30-35% protein and 15-20% fat, and animal protein should be the first ingredient and at least two or three of the next few. Unless your ferret is overweight, you should just keep her bowl full and let her eat as much as she wants. Cat foods seem to have done okay for many years, but there's a fair bit of debate about which food is best for ferrets, whether high-quality cat/kitten foods are good enough, and so on. The usual conclusion is that while foods designed for cats probably aren't the best we could do, most of the foods with ferret pictures on the bags weren't designed for ferrets either -- they were designed for mink or cats and maybe modified slightly, and priced twice as high. If you choose a food packaged for ferrets, check its label just as you would a cat food. There is only one food I know of which was designed and feed-tested exclusively for ferrets, and that's Totally Ferret, from Performance Foods. It's very expensive and not available everywhere. (Call Performance Foods at 1-800-843-1738 or write them at 38251 Industrial Park Blvd., Lisbon, OH 44432 to find out the nearest distributor.) Many people feel that it's the best food, at least for ferrets who aren't overweight (it's pretty rich), but most people also agree that cat/kitten foods are entirely sufficient, and that there's not *that* much difference between them. Most people feed their ferrets high-quality cat food, such as Iams, Science Diet, or ProPlan. High-quality food may cost a bit more than grocery store brands, but your pet will eat a lot less and be much healthier. We've found that an 8-pound bag of dry food (usually $10-$15) lasts two ferrets a couple of months, so the cost of feeding them even high-quality food is not very great. Because of their high protein requirement, ferrets up to three or four years old should get kitten or "growth" foods. Older ferrets can have kidney problems from too much protein, though, so they should be switched to the cat versions. Soft cat food is not good for ferrets, partly because it generally contains much less protein than the dry kind and partly because it isn't hard enough to rub plaque off their teeth and can lead to tooth decay. However, very young kits and those recovering from illness or surgery may need their food moistened with water for a week or two. Note that moistened food spoils much more quickly than the same food left dry, so dump out leftovers every day. Dog food is NOT acceptable, as it lacks some nutrients ferrets (and cats) need. Among other things, ferrets and cats both need taurine, which is found naturally in poultry; many cat and ferret foods supplement it as well. In general, feeding your pet a variety of foods, rather than just one brand, is probably a good idea. Ferrets are known to be finicky eaters, and if the brand you've been using changes or is suddenly unavailable, you may run into problems if it's all your pets will recognize as edible. To switch from brand A to brand B, start mixing them before you run out of A. Add B a little at a time until they're getting half each, then phase out A. (Also see information on supplements [6.2], as well as fruits, vegetables, and treats [6.3].) Every so often, a discussion starts up about ethoxyquin, which is used in many pet foods to preserve the unsaturated fats. In short, it's very unlikely that there's any problem. The amount of ethoxyquin used in cat food is far below the maximum concentration allowed by the FDA. No adverse effects have been shown in any studies, including some done by researchers not affiliated with any pet food company. In fact, ethoxyquin has been shown to have an anticancer effect in cats. Foods which don't contain ethoxyquin use high levels of vitamin E instead, at greatly increased cost and generally reduced shelf life. Laura L'Heureux Kupkee, a veterinary student, says: The original reports about ethoxyquin were started by one single dog breeder whose bitch lost pups. They did not know why, so they thought they'd send a [food] sample to a chemist friend. The friend analyzed it, and said it contained ethoxyquin, a component in car-tire manufacturing [but then, so are a lot of things, including many compounds remarkably similar to Petromalt and probably water]. The breeder was shocked and immediately blamed the ethoxyquin, the newspapers grabbed it, and now here we are. There was never any mention of the fact that the bitch in question may also have had some autoimmune problems. Nor was there *any* proof that the chemical caused the abortion of the pups.
Subject: (6.2) Should I give my ferret any supplements? Ferretone and Linatone are two popular vitamin supplements. They are also one of the most common treats, since nearly every ferret loves them. They're very similar and can be used interchangeably, although their exact composition is a bit different. Both of these contain vitamin A, which can be very harmful or even fatal in excess, though it probably takes a whole lot more than you'd ever give your ferret. Still, some people prefer to dilute them 50/50 with olive oil or vegetable oil (<NOT mineral oil), which shouldn't hurt. Also, as with hairball remedies, too much Ferretone or Linatone can give your ferrets loose stools. No more than a few drops to one pump a day is recommended, and it's not thought to be necessary to give them any at all if you're using a good food. Similarly, many people give their ferrets a small amount of a cat hairball remedy such as Laxatone or Petromalt on a regular basis. This can help them pass the styrofoam, rubber bands, and such that they seem to love to eat, as well as helping to prevent hairballs from fur swallowed during grooming. Even better, most ferrets seem to think of this as a wonderful treat, too. As with all treats and supplements, give them only in moderation; you can estimate how much by taking the recommended cat dosage and adjusting for a ferret's smaller weight.
Subject: (6.3) What are good treats? Lorraine Tremblay has compiled a WWW page with advice and suggestions about ferret treats at <http://www.storm.ca/~ferret/mctreats.shtml>. Most ferrets enjoy some fruits and vegetables. Although they're not necessary for good nutrition if you're feeding your pets a high-quality cat food, small amounts of these won't hurt. Just be sure you don't fill your ferret up on fruit, since he'll need to eat his regular food to get the required protein. Too much of nearly anything can be harmful, so try to vary your treats. Some popular suggestions: a slice of banana (mashed, so it's more digestible), raisins, peanut butter, bits of pear, peppermint (small licks), freeze-dried liver (sold as cat treats), Pounce cat treats, puffed rice cakes, green beans, wheat crackers, Ferretone, Petromalt [6.2]... Try feeding your ferret pretty much anything, in small pieces. You never know what yours will consider a fabulous treat. I've heard of ferrets going wild for everything from spaghetti to blueberries. Although most ferrets love milk and ice cream, they shouldn't be allowed to have much. This is especially true for young kits, since the lactose in cow's milk gives ferrets diarrhea, which can easily cause them to become dehydrated. Goat's milk, available in some pet stores, is okay. Likewise, I've heard that soy milk is good for them and generally liked, but I haven't seen any verification. Too much fiber can also give ferrets diarrhea, so limit raisins, bananas, prunes, oatmeal, apples, and anything with bran in it. Sugary treats aren't good for them either, since they can cause dental problems. (Despite the rumors, there is no evidence that sugar causes diabetes or other metabolic problems in mammals.) Be careful with chocolate. Most ferrets like it, but the xanthines/theobromine found in it may be toxic to them in large enough quantities; nobody's sure. It's not recommended as a treat. (However, many people give their ferrets an occasional chocolate chip with no problems.) Likewise licorice -- the real thing, not the plastic, fruity, red stuff that goes by the same name -- is surprisingly strong. It's been used for medicinal purposes in the past; it might not be a good treat. Both chocolate and licorice are more likely to be dangerous to ferrets with heart problems [1.1]. Onions, garlic, and other members of that family can cause Heinz body anemia in dogs and cats; nobody's sure about ferrets, or what the dangerous dose might be (the tiny bit in some meat baby foods is probably fine), but caution is advised.
Subject: (6.4) What kind of litter should I use? Some people have had problems with the clumping varieties of litter, due to some ferrets' habits of sniffing at their litter corners or dragging their rumps across the litter when done using it. The litter can get into their noses or rectums, where it clumps and causes problems. You may not want to take the chance. Likewise, cedar shavings are not recommended, for the same reasons that they don't make good bedding [6.5]. Other than that, any kind of litter meant for cats is okay for ferrets. You and your ferret may prefer one to another, since they all control or cover odors differently, track more or less dust, cost more or less, and so forth. Many people favor pelleted wood litters (or wood stove pellets, available inexpensively at many large hardware stores). Others even use alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), which are often cheaper than cat litter but generally don't cover odor as well. If your pet is used to one and you switch, it may take a while for him to connect the scent of the new litter with where he's supposed to go. (Also see the information on litter training [7.2].)
Subject: (6.5) Pet stores use wood shavings as bedding. Should I? In short, no. Many pet stores and some breeders use cedar or pine shavings as bedding/cage lining for their ferrets, but it is not recommended. Cedar in particular has been associated with allergies and respiratory problems in various animals, including, for example, humans and rabbits, but pine and other woods also produce a fair amount of dust and such which isn't very good to breathe. Why take the chance? Furthermore, wood shavings are completely unnecessary. Ferrets are more like cats than hamsters: they'll be quite happy with a clean towel or old T-shirt placed in a small "bedroom box" or basket for sleeping. Sure, some pet stores and breeders use shavings, but they don't really have the option of using towels. Of course, it would be better if pet stores didn't use wood shavings either. Corn cob bedding is just as convenient for them and is dust-free and safe. If you need some authoritative information to convince your pet store to stop using wood shavings, here's an article by Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM: (The following short article may be reprinted by anyone desiring to disseminate this information in a newsletter or non-commercial publication. This material may not be altered or changed in any way. Under Title 17 of the U.S. Code, Section 105, copyright protection is not available for any work of the United States Government.) WHY NOT CEDAR SHAVINGS? For years, cedar shavings have been used as bedding for many species of small mammals including ferrets. Over the last ten years, increasing evidence is cropping up that this may not be a good choice. Cedar shavings, as well as other aromatic soft woods, such as white and yellow pines, release volatile hydrocarbons which affect those animals living in them. Plicatic acid, a volatile hydrocarbon, results in asthma in humans and rabbits. Other hydrocarbons result in changes in the liver, which may impair its ability to detoxify certain drugs, including various anesthetic agents. Cedar shavings have also been incriminated in increased mortality in rat pups, and various scientists over the years have alluded to possible carcinogenicity. In chicken litter, cedar shavings harbored more bacteria than other types of litter. On the more practical side, a 1986 article in Lab Animal evaluated many of the common bedding materials, also including hardwood chips, sawdust, paper chips, newspaper, ground corncob, rabbit pellets, straw, and hay (along with several others) for the following: absorbency, dust, endogenous effects on the animal, cost, use in nesting, and disposability. In all categories, cedar shavings was not recommended. Interestingly enough, paper products and heat-treated softwood chips scored highest overall. In my experience, ferrets are happiest in old sweatshirt or towels, which rarely cause problems. Beware, however, the bored caged ferret, who may ingest parts of these items for lack of other stimulation, and obtain a gastrointestinal foreign body in the process. References: 1. Weichbrod RH et al. Selecting bedding material. Lab Anim. Sept 1986, pp.25-29. 2. Kraft LM. The manufacture, shipping, receiving, and quality control of rodent bedding materials. Lab Animal Sci. 1980 pp. 366-372. 3. Weichbrod RH et. al. Effects of Cage Beddings on Microsomal Oxidative Enzymes in Rat Liver. Lab Animal Sci. 38(3): 296-298, 1988. 4. Hessler, JR. Design and Management of Animal Facilities. In Laboratory Animal Medicine, JG Fox, ed. Academic Press Inc, Orlando. 1984. 5. Chan H. et al. A rabbit model of hypersensitivity to plicatic acid, the agent responsible for red cedar asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 79(5) : 762-767. == End of Part 2 == -- - 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.

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