Do ferrets make good pets? Simple answer, YES!
I’ve owned a lot of different types of pets in my life, from fish, to rodents, to birds, to dogs. And I can safely say that my ferrets are the best pets that I have ever owned.
So, yes, ferrets do make good pets. They make great pets – for the right person.
That’s the catch, of course. Like all animal companions, ferrets come with their share of unique quirks, needs, and, yes, let’s just be honest here, problems.
Unfortunately, ferret rescues are filled with perfectly wonderful little creatures whose would be owners simply didn’t realize how much time and energy it takes to care for ferrets. They are not low maintenance pets. For that reason alone, I would encourage anyone to think carefully before buying. But they are worth it – for the right person.
Are you the right person? In this post, I want to take a hard look at what makes ferrets awesome, and also what makes them challenging. I have found that the good far outweighs the challenges. Maybe you will too.
First, what ferrets are not, and why it matters
A lot of people think that ferrets are rodents. They’re not. True, an adult ferret is actually smaller than the average domesticated rabbit. But ferrets are not rodents, and they do not behave like rodents. This is a problem if you buy a ferret expecting it to behave like a rodent.
Imagine going to the pet store expecting to buy a hamster, then waking up the next morning to realize your new hamster is actually a cat. This is exactly the situation you will find yourself in if you buy ferret expecting it to be like a rodent.
Ferrets are carnivorous predators who were domesticated to help humans hunt small animals. They have long, sharp claws and large, sharp teeth designed to tear prey apart. Their claws also come in very handy for digging. They were originally bred to chase small animals out of their dens. They have a natural instinct to burrow into whatever they can – including your carpet, your sofa, your potted plants, and your mattress.
They are predators, which means that they play like predators. They nip, bite, claw, grab each other by the scruff of the neck and drag each other around the floor – all in good fun. They have very thick skin which can withstand the bite of other ferrets. They do not understand that your skin in not as thick as theirs. You can train them not to bite you, but they will always want to play rough.
In terms of temperament and personality, ferrets are basically a cross between a cat and a dog. They need to be played with. They need daily time outside their cage. They need toys and activities that stimulate their minds. If you do not keep them active and entertained, they will find ways to entertain themselves – and you might not like the end result.
Another thing: Ferrets are strong for their size. Many of them are exceptional climbers. They’re not as good at jumping as cats are. They can’t jump from the floor to the counter top, for example. But they are good jumpers, especially horizontally. And, just to make things more interesting, because of their small size, they can get into holes you didn’t even know were there. They’re also strong enough to create their own holes, and tear quite a few things apart.
The bottom line: If you’re looking for a docile pet that you can drop in a cage, feed every day, and let out to run around a few times a week, buy a rabbit. (Or better yet, a chinchilla. Chinchillas are awesome.)
If you’re looking for a companion animal, that craves your attention, and behaves a lot like a cat or a dog, a ferret might just be perfect for you.
5 Reasons ferrets make good pets
1. Friendly – So, I said above that ferrets are predators. But they are the friendliest predators you will ever meet. In fact, it’s really hard to think of them as predators, even when they’re nipping at your feet and hands. They are good-natured, eager to interact with people, and thrilled to meet new people. While cats are often standoffish, and like to be left alone until they want to interact, ferrets behave more like dogs. They will run up to you, wait by the door for you to open it, and try to get you to play with them. By nature, ferrets live in social groups (called “businesses” for some reason). They crave company. And when they live with humans – as most ferrets do – those humans are part of the family.
2. Affectionate – This goes beyond just being friendly. Ferrets cuddle, snuggle, and genuinely want to be near you. They’re hyperactive and extremely curious, so they won’t just sit on your lap while you watch TV. But they want you around, and like cats and dogs, they have the ability to connect emotionally. When I’m upset, they have come out to comfort me. When I’m excited, they get excited. Technically, ferrets are companion animals, like cats and dogs, in large part because they show affection.
4. Smart/Endlessly curious/Trainable – Sure, these things can get them into trouble, but more often, their curiosity and their intelligence are a lot of fun. I really enjoy watching my ferrets grow up and figure out how to do different things. I also enjoy watching them problem solve. It’s extremely entertaining to watch them explore new environments or new toys. They get so excited, and that excitement is infectious. You can also train them, to use litter boxes, for instance, and to do tricks – which is something you certainly cannot do with any rodent.
5. Small/Can live in a cage – A ferret is basically a small cat or dog. The main difference is that ferrets can live in a cage, or, at least, easily be confined to a single room. Like cats, they use litter boxes – no need for that midnight potty run outside. Their small size makes them great apartment pets. The fact that they are technically “cage animals” means the extra fees and regulations imposed on cats and dogs usually don’t apply to them. (Be careful, though. Some rental properties specifically do not allow ferrets.) They are also easy to transport from one location to another.
Bonus Reason: Outrageously adorable – Ferrets are extremely cute animals – and I don’t just mean the way they look. Everything they do is adorable. They have faces you cannot get angry with, and they move in odd ways you just can’t help but be mesmerized by. I usually find them more interesting to watch than anything on TV. Of course, there are people who might not agree with me here. So, the best advice I can give you is to find a ferret, play with him for ten minutes, and decide for yourself if he is not the most adorable little creature you have ever seen.
For more on why I think ferrets are the perfect pets, check out this post.
5 Reasons ferrets might not be right for you
1. The energy level – Ferrets crave your time and attention – which means that they need your time and attention. Sure, you don’t need to let them outside, or take them for walks, but they still need as much of your time as a dog does – more than a cat does. The books tell owners to spend two hours a day playing with their ferrets. And they need about four hours, at least, outside their cage. Those aren’t consecutive hours. But it does add up to quite a bit of time, and might be difficult for people who work long hours, are away from home most of the day, or have other family responsibilities. Also, ferrets sleep most of the day, but when they are awake, they’re AWAKE. They have a crazy amount of energy for exploring, and if you don’t keep a close eye on them, they can get into a lot of trouble, very quickly.
2. The smell – Yes, ferrets have a unique odor that a lot of people call “stinky.” Yes, it’s true, they are related to skunks. Theirs is a musky smell that, in high enough concentrations, can smell like a very, very mild version of that time you drove past a dead skunk on the highway. Honestly, I have never been bothered by their odor. I actually find their food smellier than they are. And then, there is the smell from the litter boxes too. Whatever you do, please, do not judge by the smell of their cages in the pet stores. That smell is a combination of food, feces, and multiple ferrets, all piled together in very close quarters. If you’re vigilant about changing their bedding regularly, cleaning up after then, and allowing them plenty of space and free time, I think you will find they don’t smell that bad at all. Still, if the smell is not something you’re willing to deal with, well, that might be a problem.
3. The mess – Ferrets are not dirty animals, but they can certainly make a mess. You can litter train them, but it’s more difficult than training cats and dogs, and until you succeed, you will have to deal with the mess. But more than that, ferrets have a habit of digging in their food dishes – which spills food everywhere – diving in their water dishes – which spills water everywhere – digging up carpets, knocking over whatever you have on you shelves, digging up your potted plants . . . I think you get the picture. Having ferrets has trained me to keep anything they might get into up off the floor, on surfaces they cannot climb or jump to. Once you figure out where to put things it’s not that bad, but you do have to figure it out, and readjust as they get older and better at climbing.
5. The natural born thief, and other proclivities – The word “ferret” comes from a Latin word that means “to carry off.” It’s a word that refers to a thief. And ferrets are thieves. They will steal anything they can carry, for absolutely no logical reason. From what I can tell, they just like hording things – like the mythical dragon sleeping on his stolen treasure.
Honestly, I find it entertaining to watch them scurry away with their latest piece of plunder. (I just go and take it back from their hiding place later.) But they can steal things you need – like your car keys – or things that eventually rot and smell – like, no kidding, whole raw potatoes. They can also steal things that are potentially dangerous to them.
And they have other troublesome proclivities, too. For instance, biting, digging, playing in their litter. They can be stubborn, which makes litter training and discipline difficult. They can open cabinet doors, get into vents, under refrigerators and ovens. They will find their way into even the tiniest holes in your walls or under cabinets, sinks, etc. Ferret proofing you house is as intensive a job as child proofing. If you’re not up for any of these things, they might not be the right pet for you.
Yes, they drive me nuts, but . . .
My ferrets drive me insane. They bounce off the walls, climb and knock everything off my desks and my shelves, somehow keep getting into my cabinates, continuously steal my yarn (trailing strings of it all over my apartment in the process), and even bite my feet while I’m trying to sleep. They’re obnoxious. They can make a great deal of noise when they want to. They literally stick their noses into everything.
But I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They’re sweat. They’re adorable. They come running to the door when I come home. They beg me to play with them. They love having me around. And I love having them around. They keep me company like no rodent ever could. And they’re more manageable, especially in an apartment, than a dog.
Do ferrets make good pets? Simple answer, Yes! You really couldn’t find a more loving, friendlier, more agreeable, smarter, or more entertaining animal. Like all pets, they have their quirks and troubles. But what doesn’t? If any of the things I mentioned above seem insurmountable to you, then maybe look into a nice, quiet guinea pig. But, if you’re like me, then all the negatives are minor inconveniences at best. Nothing compared to the joys of owning a ferret.
Want to know where people even get ferrets? Find your options here.
Do you agree with my list? Did I forget anything? Have any ferret experiences of your own? Share your thoughts below!