Ferrets are rapidly becoming the third most popular domesticated pet in America, after dogs and cats.
They are more independent than dogs, and remain playful their entire lives, unlike cats. The small size of a ferret paired with the fact that they are generally caged when owners aren’t home make them an ideal pet for many people’s lifestyles.
Lisa Watson, founder of Wind & Willow Ferret Rescue in Fallon, compared ferrets to toddlers in their terrible 2s.
“Ferrets are potential 2-year-olds and they never grow out of it,” Watson said. “They are the toddlers who when you say ‘no’ they look at you and do it anyways.”
While many people choose to keep their ferrets in a cage, Watson recommends giving each ferret two hours out of the cage each day.
“You don’t have to always be with them, but they do need to be supervised,” she said. “They are easily bored and need entertainment, so let them out so they can play and interact with you. They love to socialize.”
Ferrets also can free roam in a household, but for their safety it is best to keep them in their cage because they are curious animals.
“Say there is a fire, and if you can run to the cage and grab the ferret on the way out of the door, it is more logical,” Watson said. “If you’re hunting around for the ferret because he found a nice place to sleep, you both won’t survive.”
According to Katie Weldon, DVM, of Mount Rose Animal Hospital in Reno, it is important for any area in which a ferret roams to be ferret-proofed.
“By ferret-proof, I mean no rubber because ferrets love to chew on foam, rubber and all sorts of strange little things they will swallow,” Weldon said. “They shouldn’t have access to electrical chords or small bits of things they can get in their mouth.”
Ferrets have a very high metabolism and should be free fed with no set meal time, and they should eat every two to four hours.
“Ferret foods are the best foods for them, so if you go to the pet store you can get Marshalls or Shepherds and Green, which are good brands,” Weldon said. “You don’t want to feed them cat food or dog food because they require high levels of protein and fat in their diets.”
Watson added that quality ferret food is best because ferrets are less likely to get hungry and, with cheap food, a ferret tends to empty its bowl faster because it is not receiving as much food.
According to the official website of the American Ferret Association, www.ferret.org, there are three main diseases to which ferrets are prone.
“Adrenal gland disease, where their adrenal glands become overactive and can cause hair loss, itchy or thin skin, or a potbelly is common,” the website states. “Insulinoma, which causes tumors in the pancreas that secrete insulin and cause blood sugar levels to drop. And lastly, lymphoma cancer is also seen.Veterinary treatment of these diseases can keep a ferret happy and playful and extend their life expectancy.”
Watson stressed that having a ferret can lead to costly health issues and high medical bills.
“They have a lot of health issues and are definitely special needs, but they also get ahold of your heart and never let go,” Watson said.
While diseases are expensive, Weldon said routine vaccinations also need to be taken into account when caring for a ferret.
“When ferrets are babies, they need to get a series of distemper vaccines about every four to six weeks until they are 16 weeks or older, and after that, once a year,” Weldon said. “Rabies is usually given at 16 weeks of age and every year after that.”
Watson said on average, she spends $1,000 for every ferret that comes through the door. She is currently caring for 44 ferrets and only sees four to five adoptions a year.
“It’s not fair for them to come into a shelter where they are sharing moms love with 44 others, so we quickly try to move the young ones to a shelter with more volume,” Watson said.
Despite the hard work that comes along with running a shelter and caring for the ferrets, Watson takes pride in knowing she is making a difference.
“Some days I don’t even know if I can do it, but then I walk into that room and one of the ferrets needs me and I wonder what would happen if I wasn’t there,” Watson said. “It is the fact that I am needed.”