The ups, downs, ins, outs and fun of ferrets

by Camilla Christiansen Poole

My 13 years in the veterinary field and 16 years of petsitting have provided exposure to ferrets.  Personally, I have come to love them, simply because the ones I have experienced have always been so sweet and hilarious.

It is one thing to work with them in a veterinary setting and a completely different thing to house and care for them 24/7. Ferrets are unique. Their name is derived from the Latin “furonem,” which means “thief.” A friend and pet sitting client, who has rescued three wonderful ferret “children,” can attest to this well-deserved name, as her triplets will happily steal anything they can get their paws on and hide it in their house. They will also steal your heart, if allowed.

Ferrets come from the same family (“Mustelidae”) as badgers, wolverines, otters, mink, weasels, black footed ferrets and polecats. They come in a range of colors and have a unique scent that emanates from their skin glands. It is recommended that they be bathed just intermittently. Bathing them too often will result in drying out their skin, so consulting with your veterinarian is highly recommended.

Ferrets are prone to having B vitamin deficiencies, so it is very important to find an appropriate diet designed specifically for them, and a veterinarian recommended vitamin supplement with the appropriate B vitamins. It is also extremely important to stimulate ferret companions with different toys. Ferrets are extremely smart and will get bored easily, which is why rotating toys appropriate for ferrets is recommended.

Once ferrets become bored, they will find things to stimulate them, usually your things. So ferret proofing your home is a requirement before letting them loose. Getting them a ferret friend is also a good idea.

Your ferret children should have an appropriately-sized cage stand with tiered levels that they can call home when they are not roaming the house and when you are not home. Ferrets may be litter trained and it is important to have more than one litter box available for use in your home as well as in their cage. It is also important to have hammocks and other bedding that they can hide in. Ferrets love hiding in cozy spots to sleep.

Ferrets are not for everyone, and are most definitely not recommended for small children. Ferrets need consistency and patience in their life, like ALL animals do. They will bite, and not necessarily because they are mad or aggressive. Like small children, ferrets like to investigate everything and enjoy testing their boundaries. They cannot see that well but have an excellent sense of smell. The bottom line is that ferrets are loving, fun and give hours of mindless entertainment.

Before adopting a ferret, learn how to care for it appropriately. Do some research, and consult with your veterinarian first. Other issues aside, you have to appreciate the humor of The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, or Charlie Chaplin to truly appreciate the humor and joy ferrets will bring to your life. If you don’t enjoy slapstick humor that may be the first sign you are a poor candidate as a “ferret parent.”

I recently sat for Tripp, Trouble and Double Trouble, my friend’s three ferrets, while she was out of town.  I had already met them once and was excited to go play in their world. When I entered their home and approached their ferret condo, all three stuck their heads out of their canopy bed. They yawned and stretched. They knew it was play time. I opened the doors and out they came.
All three began their approach to their toys, investigating and hiding in boxes. Trip and Trouble have an interesting dynamic. Trip is the most docile of all three, but has proven to be the biggest prankster. He hid behind a litter box that Trouble was using. Trouble concentrated while he commenced doing his business, and didn’t notice Trip lurking under the kitchen cabinet right behind the litter box. Then all of a sudden, Trip laid down and started kicking the litter box while Trouble was in mid-business transaction. Talk about shock and awe!

I laughed watching this…it was such a Stooges moment. Trouble, all flustered, gathered himself and left his belongings while he chased Trip through the kitchen. Concurrently, Double Trouble started “tubing” down the stairs. One of the boys’ favorite toys is a 6’ plastic coated tube as wide as a dryer vent tube. They love to start at the top of the stairs, flip on their back and slide through it all the way down. Sometimes they will go three at a time and punch each other the whole way. All the above happened in the first five minutes of my visit. Then the show went on for another hour!

As I said before, ferrets may not be for everyone. But if you love to laugh, they just might be right for you.

Camilla ChristiansenPoole CVDT (Certified Veterinary Dental Technician)is a Veterinary Nurse at the Animal Medical Center of Asheville.

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