So you want to own a ferret.
Or maybe you already do, and you’re wondering: Now what?
Owning two of these adorable little critters is one of my great joys in life – but they can be a handful. And keeping them happy, while maintaining your own sanity isn’t always easy.
I wanted to pass along manageable things I’ve learned over the years. This will be the first in a series of posts presenting the ferret care tips and tricks that I wish I had known going in.
I love these little guys, despite all the hassle and trouble they cause. My hope is to cut down that trouble to a manageable size.
Tip #1. Puppy Training Pads
One of the biggest problems with ferrets: They poop.
They have really fast metabolisms, so they poop quite a lot, actually.
And they seem determined to go everywhere except their litter box.
There is some good news, though. They’re predictable. They may live in open defiance of the little box, but they almost always go in corners, and almost always return to the same three or four places. Once you notice them going in a certain spot, you can be relatively sure they’ll go there again.
The problem is, most of us don’t want three or four litter boxes in a single room. The answer: Puppy training pads.
In the process of coxing my ferrets down to a single “bathroom,” puppy training pads saved my life (or, more accurately, my carpet).
Start by putting them in every corner in whatever room the ferret is allowed to run loose in. Slowly narrow it down to the places the ferret actually uses. DO NOT put them in the ferret cage. Ferrets might start chewing on them or using them like bedding – imagine your baby eating a disposable diaper or using one for a pillow. Yeah, it’s not good. But I’ve never had any problem outside the cage.
The goal, of course, is to get your ferret consistently using one or two litter boxes. But I still like to place a training pad out in the “problem corners,” just in case. It works great, especially when combined with the next tip.
Tip #2. Plastic Moving Sheets
In addition to the potty issues, ferrets love to dig, and they don’t much care what they’re digging in. Dirt, grass, a potted plant, your carpet… It’s all the same fun to them.
Both these issue can be very frustrating. You might find yourself caging your ferrets more than you should just to stop them. Or – Try This:
Get heavy plastic moving sheets, the kind with spikes that dig into the carpet. They should be heavy enough that the ferret can’t rip them up, but light enough that you can cut them into various sizes. Place them on the ground where ferrets are likely to dig – under furniture, in corners, and in doorways. Try to position them partly under furniture as much as possible to hold them in place.
Plastic sheets are a lot easier to clean than your carpet, and you can also throw them away if they get too bad. They won’t totally stop the digging, but they make it a lot harder. And bonus, ferrets like to crawl under them. Yeah, they don’t seem to mind the spikes. In fact, I think they might like the spikes.
Tip #3. Get Creative with Corners
So, I mentioned that ferrets will dig up your carpet…
A bit of creative redecorating will help here, too. Most of us tend to put large items in the corners and along the walls anyway. These are the same places that ferrets tend to dig – you know, where it’s easiest to get the carpet up.
So make sure your corners are covered with heavy things the ferrets can’t knock over or climb. Dressers, book shelves, plastic storage bins. One of the only things you absolutely should not use is a large potted plant. (More on that below)
It’s okay if the ferret can still fit under the object. They can fit underneath most dressers, for example. In order to dig, they need to be able to stand a little bit, so if they only have room to crawl, you’re good.
If you just can’t fit anything into that corner, try turning it into a litter box area instead of a play area. And remember the plastic sheets from Tip #2.
And then there’re those places you can’t see. Between my headboard and the wall, there’s about a foot of space that can’t be seen where nothing would fit. The ferrets decided it was a great place for a litter box, which was awful, because it was very difficult to get to clean, and also at the top of my bed… So I filled a bunch of gallon plastic milk jugs with water and stuck them in that space. It worked perfectly.
Just be aware that ferrets take advantage of corners. The more of them you can get rid of, the better.
Tip #4. Buy/Set up the cage before going to the pet shop
Don’t do what I did. Don’t go to the pet shop, buy your ferret, and then buy the cage at the same time. Don’t expect to be setting a cage up while keeping an eye on your new pet.
When you bring him home, your ferret will be excited. He’ll be this wild mixture of terrified and curious. He’ll try to run in every direction at once. Sniff everything, jump on everything, crawl into everything. Think a puppy when you reach for a leash – then shrink that puppy down to “fit into every hole you didn’t know existed in your kitchen” size. And, while you’re at it, make him about five times wilder.
Yeah. Please, for your own sanity and the safety of your new pet, get the cage first, and have it set up before the ferret comes home.
Tip #5. Buy an Animal Carrier before going to the pet shop
For all the same reasons as Tip #4, buy an animal carrier, and take it with you to the pet shop. Or, this one you could buy at the pet shop at the same time. Just have something to carry the ferret home in.
The pet shop will likely try to put your ferret in a cardboard box – where they put all purchased animals. Your ferret is not likely to stay in that box. More likely, he’ll shred the box, get loose, and barely let you hold onto him.
Don’t expect your child to be able to hold onto the ferret in the car ride home, either. I had to hold my first ferret on the drive home. It was not fun. I almost lost him at least half a dozen times. And I was an adult. You’ll want an animal carrier for the ferret eventually anyway, so just get it before the drive home, and make your life easier from the start.
Again, these are things I wish I’d known going in, ticks I’ve picked up over the years.
I love ferrets, and I want others to love them as much as I do. Unfortunately, manageable unique problems they present can overwhelm new owners and make them seem undesirable. They are not a low maintenance pet. But, with a little time and energy, the problems can be overcome – and they are worth it in the end.
I have many more tips to share, from behavior, to grooming, to food. Check out tips 6-10 next!