Ferret Fur Everywhere!

Our ferrets blow their coats twice a year.  Around the end of February into March, ferrets will start shedding that beautiful thick luxurious winter coat.  Your ferret may “blow” his coat in one or two days coating everything in sight with fur or he may decide to spread the shedding over several weeks with tufts of fur left behind in his hammock.

Cheech getting a good brushing from Fred

Ferrets become very itchy when they are shedding.  Using a soft brush on your ferret helps to loosen the fur and give them a good scratch at the same time.  You don’t want your ferret inhaling all this loose fur! Worse, you don’t want your ferret to groom himself and ingest all this loose fur.  If he licks and ingests too much of his own fur, he can give himself a life threatening blockage requiring major surgery and a huge vet bill.

I have tried many types of brushes over the years and thanks to my friend Colleen, I have fallen in love with this round cat brush.  This brush fits nicely in the palm of my hand. Made of soft rubber, it contours the ferrets body nicely. It’s easy to remove the accumulated fur and of course very easy to wash with soap and water. **Don’t leave this soft rubber brush lying around after brushing.  Your ferret may decide to chew on it because it’s soft rubber and give himself a blockage!**

soft rubber brush for short haired cats

I have discovered that this rubber brush is also great for getting that thick mat of fur off the split hammocks. I have already worn out a washer and dryer due to an accumulation of ferret fur that doesn’t seem to get caught by the filter and gets into the guts of the machines.  I had a split hammock that was “loaded” and I certainly didn’t want to spend an hour picking the fur off of it.  One or two swipes with the brush and the hammock was relatively clean of the fur. Wow!

split hammock with “some” fur

excess fur removed prior to washing

condensed mat of Cheech’s fur in the hammock

mat of fur removed from inside split hammock

After using the brush to get as much fur off the hammock; I will wet my hand and pass it over the bedding and get the fine fur that the brush didn’t pick up.

Tiko, a gorgeous sale male came to the shelter in the late fall.  He adjusted to shelter life while he awaited his forever home.  I was getting to know him.  On litter box changing day I inspected his litter box as I do for each and every ferret.  It is the best and quickest way to determine if your ferret is sick.  When I looked into the litter box I immediately saw a strange poop!  Red flag went off.  I removed this poop so that I could examine it in minute detail.  It was not your normal fecal matter.  It was a poop containing nothing but FUR!! Tiko was a ferret that groomed himself lots and seeing as it was shedding season, he had ingested all his loose fur.  I was very lucky that he was able to pass this  blob of fur. He could have died as I would not have suspected a blockage and may not have gotten him to the vet in time!  Tiko could have easily been looking at major surgery to remove a blockage caused by his own fur.  Tiko is a ferret that you cannot forget to give hairball remedy on a weekly basis.  The hairball remedy ensures that his fur is “greased” and can pass easily through his system!

poop made up of ferret fur

poop dissected revealing it’s all fur

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How to NOT step on your sleeping ferret

The MFA has a handout “Ferret Proofing” your home.   I wish we could also ferret proof our ferrets! Years ago after a “near Squish” scatter rugs were banned from my house and added to the list under Ferret Proofing.

Carpet runners have crept back into my house now that I have vinyl flooring through out. When the ferrets are out playing I will never step on a bunched up carpet runner.  I know that a silly ferret may be hiding under there.

I hang up wet towels after my bath and my clothes go into the hamper immediately.  I do not give the ferrets  the chance to curl up under these things. One moment of inattention and hurry could lead me to stepping on a sleeping ferret. I have a dozen safe sleeping nest boxes all over the house but we know that the ferret will choose the most dangerous place to sleep if they can. If only I could ferret proof the ferret!

One trick I have learnt over the years is to put a ferret blankie down were a ferret insist on pooping and I don’t want him to; such as behind the bedroom door or even in front of the bedroom door when the Plexiglas partition is in place.

I left Rosie and Finnigan out in the ferret room to play as an overnight treat. These two old ladies do tend to go potty where ever they want, not even in corners!  I put a blankie across the front of the shelter room door hoping to discourage a mess at the door.

This morning it was time to put the old girls back in their cage and let another cage out to play.  I lifted the Plexiglas divider and looked down at the flat blankie.  I gently patted the blankie and sure enough even though it looked flat there was a small warm ripple (couldn’t even really call it a bump because it was so small).

"Flat" blankie in doorway

“Flat” blankie in doorway

A tiny little face poked out of the folds!

Finnegan poking her head out from the blankie on the floor

Finnegan poking her head out from the blankie on the floor

Finnegan is half a pound soaking wet, maybe! She is so tiny.  My miniature Eskimo Miki had wanted to dash past me into the ferret room to “clean” any crumbs up.  Miki weighs 30 pounds; she would have caused a fatal squish had I let her bolt past me into the ferret room.  The reason Miki is so overweight is because of all the ferret food she steals. She is very good at it!

Miki cleaning up ferret "crumbs"

Miki cleaning up ferret “crumbs”

I peeled back the blankie and my sweet Finni was not much interested in leaving her current sleeping spot. Finnegan is the same little girl that hid in my grandson’s boot and had me on a worried hunt for over 30 minutes!

Finni and Rosie were put back to bed in their cage. A kiss on the nose, now safe and snug as a bug in the rug! LOL

Finnegan uncovered and not wanting to move from her blankie in the doorway!

Finnegan uncovered and not wanting to move from her blankie in the doorway!

If you have anything on the floor and you know your ferrets are out; enforce the rule “Never step on anything  a ferret can sleep under or in!

Making your ferret a home

Ferrets do need daily playtime outside of their cages, but they usually still spend a fair amount of time in their cage. A large, well designed cage is a necessity.

Some features to look for are; solid floors and shelves (wire mesh is hard on the feet, although you can cover with a towel), balconies, and ideally solid ladders. Multi-level cages are nice, but depending on the arrangement of the levels, falls are possible. Get extra shelves or use hammocks to make cages safer as needed.

You should purchase and set up your ferret’s cage prior to bringing them home, the cage will serve as “home base” for your new pet and should be ready and waiting upon his arrival. Below are some pointers for setting up your pet’s new domain.

Comfort Counts – There are many options out there in terms of the type of material from which your cage will be built. Metal, plastic, and various forms of wire or mesh are a few that come to mind (wood is not recommended).

**Manitoba Ferret Association has used cages for sale**

In choosing the best type of cage for your ferret, consider how easy it will be to clean. Will urine and food odors seep into the material and be impossible to scrub away? Does the cage offer easy dismantling or removal and replacing of each level so that you can clean all the nooks and crannies?

Ferrets aren’t known for their neatness, and will make messes in places you have only imagined.

If you choose a wire or mesh cage, be sure to provide adequate bedding, old blankets, towels and clothing work fine. The goal is to make sure that the pads of your ferret’s feet are not injured or sore as a result of walking around on wires or mesh all the time. Wire or mesh-type cages do have the advantage of allowing you to purchase the types of litter boxes and food dishes that can be hooked to the side of the cage, making it harder for your ferret to overturn them.

Arrange your ferret’s cage so that each “function” has a designated place. Setting up a safe and comfortable home for your new companion will help him feel right at home. You wouldn’t want to live in an unclean house, and neither does your ferret! A clean cage is essential to your ferret’s overall well-being.

Accessorize – Equip your ferret’s cage with the following:

1. Litter pan, or pans, depending upon the number of ferrets in the cage and how stubborn your pet is regarding “potty training.”

2. Dish that holds a good amount of food and is difficult for your ferret to overturn. Heavy dishes or those that can somehow be hooked to the side of the cage work best.

3. Large bottle or second dish that holds plenty of fresh water, keep the water near the food.

4. Area designed especially for sleeping, with either extra bedding or a hammock or two. Ferrets love to curl up in hammocks to sleep, but will also enjoy comfy hideaways such as the leg of an old pair of your sweatpants.

5. Do not keep toys in the cage. Your ferret may chew the toy & cause itself a life threatening blockage

Part of responsible ferret ownership is cleaning your ferret’s cage regularly. This includes scooping litter, wiping down the cage, washing bedding, and other daily or weekly tasks. Because your ferret’s cage is a relatively small living area, it’s very important to make sure that any mess is cleaned up promptly.

Bringing your Ferret Home

Before bringing home your new carpet shark it is good to make sure you have everything prepared as (1) it will allow you to spend as much time with them as possible upon arrival and (2) some things are very dangerous to our little monsters.

These are must-haves for any little furry to live safely and comfortably with you;

1. Cage

This cage is large enough to have multiple water dishes - and because the bottom is so large a water on one side and litter box on the other is okay

Ferret cage all setup – hammocks to catch climbing ferrets

When you are not around to supervise your ferret the safest place for them is in a ferret friendly cage. It is recommended having the cage setup in a room where you spend your time most. This way the ferret will always feel a part of the family.

A ferrets cage should be chosen based on their life style. If your ferret spends most it’s time free-range, smaller cages just for sleeping will suffice. If you are unable to have your ferret out for more than a few hours, it is recommended that you acquire something a little larger (see here for example).

Ferrets do not live in aquariums, this will cause more odor, they need lots of air flow which will help keep the animal smell down.

Ferrets should never have wood chips for bedding, they like to eat everything and as wood is sharp this can cause internal injuries. Wood chips may also cause respiratory problems or liver disease.

You can find ferret specific cages at almost any pet store (new or used), online, a ferret shelter or pet supply store, etc. Metal is usually the norm as if created out of wood it may be harder to clean and begin to smell after time.

If you decide to get a cage that has a wire bottom, protect your monster’s feet by placing a carpet, thick blanket or piece of linoleum.

** The MFA has a selection of pre owned ferret cages for sale **

There are many options out there for housing, simple single levels, bi levels, multi levels. Just keep in mind when shopping; ample size, good ventilation, small openings between wire and secure doors.

Ferrets are escape artists – if they see you push a door closed they may try to push it open. Make sure you secure all opens and have a sturdy cage. I had to purchase a lock for one of my cages as my little Bandit (after watching once) would grab the door with her teeth and shake it until it opened.

2. Bedding / Hammock

Bandit napping

Bandit napping

Ferrets love to tunnel in blankets, snuggle up in their bedding and curl up in a hammock. There is a huge selection of ferret specific options along with small animals or even cat products. As each ferret has their own personality find out what they like best and go from there. The only thing to note is stay away from Cat Nip products, this is not ferret friendly.

You can also DIY bedding and toys, just make sure it’s baby safe, as ferrets and babies both like to eat things they shouldn’t (i.e. no buttons or sharp pieces).

** The MFA has a great selection of bedding for sale **

Simple items around the house that you can use include; old towels, baby blankets, old sweatshirts, pillow cases.

Have an old pair of jeans? Cut the legs off and you have yourself a brand new ferret tunnel.

3. Food and Water containers

Turnip's favourite is when I add ice cubes

Discussion at the water hole

It is recommended to use heavy duty plastic or ceramic dishes. Ferrets tend to enjoy making huge messes and as much noise as possible.

For water I use both a ceramic dish full and two large water bottles, my boys Turnip & Radish like the bottles while Bandit would only drink from the dish. Turnip also enjoyed bathing in the dish, so always make sure to change often.

It is nice to have a bottle that holds at least 15 ounces, hung from the outside of the cage the monsters are unable to fiddle with. Changed daily or every second day to keep the water nice and fresh.

A great idea is to put the food on one level and the water on another while possible, so they have to get exercise in order to get both. Although if you happen to have an old or ill ferret you may want to keep them closer together. Another thing to note is ferrets, like us, prefer having food separated from their washroom, so as able keep the food and water on a different level than their litter box.

Please make sure that you don’t put the food dish too high up or too low on the cage when using ones that clip to the sides, as well as the water bottle so they cannot reach it. You don’t want them having to strain to get either their food or water.

Finally if you have a ferret nation cage that is about 4 feet in the air, placing heavy dishes at the top is not always best – ferrets like to push things off ledges. Depending how many ferrets you have in one cage consider having more than one food and water containers.

4. Litter and Litter box Selection

How I ended up with all these random photos of her I don't know but I definitely am not complaining!

Bandit modelling for us with her favourite brand of litter

The type of pan to get depends entirely on the ferret you are getting, along with the temperament, gender and age is a factor.

If you are getting a kit you don’t want anything that has too high of sides as their legs are quite short. As well with older, sick and injured ferrets, too high can prevent them from using the litter pan.

When adopting an adult ferret in perfect health you generally would want to get one with higher sides that of course fits well inside the cage, but remember ferrets have personalities – so before purchasing multiple see what they like.

Lastly I have noticed with my male ferrets they poop with their bums as high in the air as possible, while my girl would keep her arms on the edge of the pan and squat. For the males I had a high back corner pan, for my girl I would have a lower square pan.

The shelter in Winnipeg actually uses 2 pans the bottom one is bolted to the cage while the top one isn’t. It fits right inside the bottom one so you can remove it to clean.

You will also want to get additional pans to place in different areas of your home as they do go outside the cage when it is their time out for play. The best way to determine where to put these pans is to watch where your ferret decides to go and of course that is where you would put one.

Litter do’s and don’ts..

As you hopefully are aware ferrets are diggers and burrowers, with that please DO NOT get any; clay, clumping or flushable litter. These options tend to be quite dusty, even those that claim they are not and can actually cause respitory problems in your little one. As stated before do not use wood chips or cedar shavings as these do the same.

The litter I highly recommend is a pelleted litter. Natural of course without any added scents. These can be made of plant fibres or recycled newspaper. Lakewood Industries Premium Wood Pellets are what the shelter uses, they manufacture out of Ontario and readily available in Canada. I have used Yesterday’s News in the past as well.

5. Grooming

Group tummy licking from their (almost) weekly nail clipping

Group tummy licking from their (almost) weekly nail clipping

Bathing – Ferrets can be bathed every 2-3 months. This helps reduce the musk smell (although an important part of reducing the smell is keeping the ferret’s bedding clean and it’s ears clean). There are now several ferret-specific shampoos available, kitten shampoos and dry shampoos.

Nail Clippers – They need their nails clipped every week and a half to two weeks, be careful to not cut into the quick.

Ear Cleaning Solution – Earwax buildup is smelly and can lead to health problems if not cleaned. Any ear cleaning solution for cats or dogs will work, Saline solution for contacts also works well. Never stick a q-tip inside the ear canal.

6. Cage Accessories and Toys

Ferrets love tunnels

Ferrets love tunnels

Ferrets will entertain themselves with anything they can find. Ferret-safe toys don’t have parts they could accidentally chew off and swallow. Always monitor all toys for damage, as accidentally swallowed pieces of things can lead to intestinal blockages.

You are the best toy of all spend time playing with your ferret. Later we will post of game ideas and DIY toys.

7. Harness, Leash and Carriers

Bandit is in the red

Ferrets at the Spring frolic

Ferrets can slip out of a collar easily which means you will want a harness that goes both around the neck and front legs. There are two dominate options on the market (option 1 & option 2 – I use option 1).

You want to have it snuggly fitting but still loose enough to fit a finger between strap and ferret. It is never a good idea to keep a collar or harness on your ferret for prolonged periods of time, especially unsupervised and don’t forget to adjust them as your ferret grows (or possibly loses weight).

A portable carrier should be used for bringing your ferret to the veterinarian or other outings. It can also serve as a training aid by being used as a time-out cage for a misbehaving ferret. Never use a carrying cage as a permanent home for your ferret as they’re too small.

8. Treats

Scrappy sneaking some treats

Scrappy sneaking some treats

Please remember that treats are just that, small rewards, they should not be a large part of your ferret’s diet. They are good for bonding with your ferret and rewarding good behaviour, as well as learning tricks. Later we will update with ferret friendly recipes!