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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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!

Ferret Colours, Markings, and Patterns

These beautiful little carpet sharks come in a variety of colors with different markings and many patterns.

Turnip

Turnip

When describing a ferret’s appearance, two terms are used; Colour and Pattern.

Colour is in reference to the colours of the ferret’s *guard hair, **undercoat, eyes, and nose.

Pattern is the concentration and distribution of colour on the body, mask, and nose.Where applicable, pattern can also refer to white markings that appear on the head or feet.

*Guard Hairs Are simply the stiffer, more prominent and longer fur that covers the shorter and softer undercoat. Guard Hairs provide the critters coloration or camouflage and, in many mammals, also aid in water proofing the fur.

**The undercoats job is to act as insulation and also to provide a water resistant barrier.

There are competitions in which ferrets are judged on a number of different criteria, including structure, colour, coat condition, temperament, and grooming. 

Every show is different; some shows have seminars and other educational events taking place throughout the day. Others have fun events such as the “best dressed ferret” competition or the “best kisser” competition.

A significant portion of your ferret’s score at the show may be determined by the maintenance of your ferret. 

That is, the judges are looking for ferrets that are not just a nice colours or well put-together, but also ferrets that have been well taken care of throughout their life.

Ferrets need regular routine maintenance to remain healthy. Ears should be cleaned regularly, nails should be trimmed at least every 2 weeks, teeth should be brushed regularly.

If you would like to see the different colors of Ferrets:: Click Here

If would like to see the different types of masks and nose colour/markings and what judges look for at shows:: Click Here.

If you would like to see the LOS National Colour, Pattern Standards and Body Structures:: Click Here

If you would like to see more fur colouring, patterns and markings:: Click Here

Are you really prepared?

First off I am by no means trying to discourage anyone from ferret ownership, but to help those considering ferret ownership make an educated decision. There are far too many ferrets in shelters across Canada & the United States and beyond.

If you do feel you are ready to be owned by a ferret you should always consider adopting a ferret from a shelter rather than purchasing one from a pet store.

For those considering a Ferret;

1. Are ferrets legal in your city, province/state, or country? (see Do your laws allow ferrets?)

Some states may not have specific laws against ferret ownership, however the counties within the state may. Please refer to the section “Do your Laws allow them”.

2. Will you be able to afford to pay for high quality food, supplies and with $1000.00 or more for medical bills?

Ferrets are very expensive to own, this is one common reason ferrets are surrendered to our shelter, owners cannot afford the medical bills.

Ferrets can suffer from a variety of health conditions (cancer, ECE, adrenal disease, respiratory infections, injuries, gastrointestinal blockages, etc)

Bandit passed away recently due to an infection that caused her to become septic - vet bills amounted to just under 1K

Bandit on her last day with us

3. Are you a patient person?

If you are someone with a short fuse and little patience, ferret ownership is probably not for you, owning a ferret can be like having a two year old child. Ferrets are very intelligent, persistent, & curious animals who will try to get into everything, especially things they are not supposed to.

I was changing bags and Radish somehow got it (I have no idea how) and could not get out!

Radish trapped in the garbage

4. Do you have at least 3 hours per day free for supervised out of the cage ‘ferret play time’ and additional time for going on walks, grooming, and cage cleaning?

If a ferret is left alone for long periods of time, or is never let out of the cage it will become depressed, stressed or ill. If you are someone who is out of the home a lot or one who travels for work often a ferret may not be the right pet for you. Ferrets are very social animals and need at least three hours of “out of cage” play time each day.

My middle LOVES teddies

Turnip taking his toy for a walk

5. Will you be able to provide constant supervision for your ferret as well as if you have young children ? Will you be able to help with the care of the ferret ?

Children, especially very young ones, have difficulty understanding how to properly treat animals. Small children have a tendency to pull, grab, squeeze and drop small animals without realizing they can hurt them. This can lead to injuries to the ferret, or the ferret may possibly nip the child out of fear.

6. Will it bother you or would you want want to get rid of the ferret if he/she gets into everything, damages a carpet by scratching, or goes to the bathroom on your carpet or on the floor ? (if the answer is YES, DO NOT get a ferret)

Ferrets like to hide things. If you leave items around such as the tv remote, shoes, socks, keys, kitchen items, etc where ferrets can reach them, the items will usually end up in their favourite hiding place. Be prepared for litter box accidents, drinks getting knocked over, potted plants being dug into, toys and other objects showing up under the couch or bed.

If a ferret with intact anal scent glands is very frightened, it can release a foul odor. However, unlike a skunk, the odor does not linger as long and it does not smell as bad.

7. Are you willing to make changes to your home to protect your ferret and your belongings ?

Ferret proofing your home is a must as there are many dangers that can be found within the home. Later we will post steps to ferret proofing your home.

8. Do you have other pets at home that your ferret may not get along with or that may be dangerous to them?

Ferrets can get along with some other domesticated pets, mainly cats and some breeds of dogs. It usually works best when they have been raised together. Please use extreme caution and constant supervision when introducing a ferret to another pet.

NEVER leave your ferret alone with birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, chinchillas or reptiles. Ferrets will usually consider them food.

The decision to adopt or purchase a ferret (or any other pet for that matter) should be a careful one. Ferrets do bond with their owners and become stressed when separated from them.

Sometimes the smells and noise of the outside becomes too much and ferrets need a quick cool down between walks

Radish taking a break

Always consider adopting a ferret from a ferret shelter.

Older ferrets are a good choice for first time ferret owners, as they are less hyperactive and may already be trained. Baby ferrets (kits) require a lot of training, patience and time from their owners. It’s best to think of it as a 6 to 10 year commitment. Don’t act impulsively.