Ferret FAQs

The cost of feeding raw can vary greatly, depending on how many ferrets you own, what types of meats you are feeding, and where you live.

Freeze dried commercial raw food is the most expensive, followed by whole prey, grinds, and then “frankenprey”.

Marketing Gurus say many things to get us to buy items. Just because it has a ferret on the package doesn’t mean it’s actually good for them. Many ferret specific foods are chock full of bad ingredients such as corn & peas, which are completely indigestible by the ferret. A ferret that is given a steady diet of these foods is essentially starving to death a little bit each day.

Ferrets imprint on what we give them to eat as youngsters. If kibble is what they know, that’s what they’ll eat. They also seem to gravitate toward sweet items. There are also some weirdos that like the odd item such as broccoli, but while they may “like” it or eat it, that doesn’t mean it is good for them. It is up to us to make sure they always have plenty of healthy food and fresh water available and to restrict access to inappropriate food and treat options.

"Just because it has a ferret on the package doesn’t mean it’s actually good for them."

We do understand that some people don’t like to handle raw meat. If you are squeamish, that’s okay. There are several options to help you work around this.

First, there are many varieties of commercial raw meats (in many forms) that can reduce or eliminate the need for preparing meals and directly handling the meat. Commercial ground raw for example is similar in consistency to feeding wet cat food, and you can always wear gloves when serving food or cleaning.

A second option to consider is Freeze Dried Raw. Freeze dried raw offers almost all of the benefits of fresh raw meat, but the convenience of kibble. The only downer? The price! Places like Casey’s Hidden Pantry sell FD raw at low costs, but it will still cost more than fresh raw. FD raw meat comes in many brands, flavors, and forms so your ferret can still get the nutrition and variety it needs without you having to handle fresh raw meat. We do encourage you to wear gloves and try it out though, you might surprise yourself, and you will find that you become used to handling meat in a rather short time.  [See Raw and Whole Prey Providers for places to find commercial and freeze dried raw].

If your obligations are moral in nature consider this…the meat products in your kibble still came from cute animals, but those were raised in a the mass meat market, typically in poor living conditions, fed a poor diet, and processed in poorly regulated facilities. By feeding raw, you can control where your meat comes from an source humanely raised and properly handled meat products!

Come visit our Forum and Facebook pages – we have many vegan and vegetarian members who have overcome their squeamishness to feed raw who are happy to lend their emotional support and practical suggestions!

Note that the amount of food a ferret will eat each day will vary from ferret to ferret, season to season, and day to day. Ferrets typically eat significantly more during the fall/winter, and less in the spring/summer. Males typically eat more than females. Kits and young ferrets eat significantly more than adults.

On AVERAGE adult females will eat 1-3oz per day, and adult males will eat 2-4oz per day.

Raw fed ferrets very rarely over-eat; they are great at self-regulating. Unless you have a ferret who is overweight, they should be offered as much food as they will eat. A good rule of thumb is to always offer enough that there are a few bites leftover by the next meal. This ensures that they get enough food, while minimizing waste.

To determine how much your ferret needs each meal, we recommend weighing the amount of food offered each meal, and then weighing the leftovers before the next meal. (Subtract the two to see how much they ate). Do this for several days to get an idea of how much your ferret eats per meal in order to determine how much food you should prepare. You may want to do this in the winter and again in summer to get a feel for your ferret’s seasonal variations.

It depends. Most raw feeders give meals about every 12 hours. Ferrets with certain medical conditions may need smaller, more frequent feedings. Others give one larger meal one time per day and let the ferrets graze for 24 hours before the next meal.

Any raw, unprocessed meat. Most meats sold as fit for human consumption are okay to feed ferrets as long as they are NOT processed; ferrets should NEVER be fed meats that are seasoned/flavored, smoked, cured, or injected with saline to preserve freshness (read labels carefully).

Also, some meats not “fit” for human consumption can be fed as well; these include meats such as commercial raw made just for pets (watch out for grinds with high veggie content though), freeze dried raw, whole prey, butcher scraps etc.

Read more on these pages:

Variety

Raw and Whole Prey Providers

No. While a whole prey diet is hands down the best thing you can offer your little carnivores, it is also unrealistic for most people to feed strictly whole prey. Most people cannot afford a whole prey diet, and many cannot find the sources for adequate variety (the 3-4 protein minimum rule still applies to a whole prey diet). Most people feed a Frankenprey diet, consisting of a balanced menu of “grocery store” meats. Many still like to offer whole prey items as a part of the diet (see Balancing Frankenprey with Alternative Meals), but this is not required. If you are ready to feed raw but too squeamish for whole prey – don’t worry! Your ferret will still get infinitely better nutrition from a balanced raw diet than kibble, even without whole prey.

Again, it depends. In some areas, live feeding is prohibited by law. In others, it’s perfectly legal, but your desire to provide enrichment to your ferret must not be greater than your desire to see the prey dispatched humanely. Should your ferret not do the job quickly and cleanly, you must be prepared to step in and do the deed. The most common way to dispatch small prey (which is the ONLY type recommended for ferrets) is by cervical dislocation. If you can’t handle watching the video, then please do not attempt live feeding. Rats and larger prey can seriously injure a ferret, so anything larger than mice or African soft furred rats (ASFs) should be pre-killed.

Yes. Bugs that haven't been exposed to pesticides are great for a healthy snack, and hunting live bugs is fantastic mental enrichment for your ferrets. However, they should not be fed in large quantities as the high chitin content of the insects’ exoskeleton can cause constipation when fed in excess. Also, some ferrets have difficulties with bugs such as crickets and may vomit if they eat too many at once.

Ew, yeah…in the parts of the world where most of us live, we avoid maggots. That said, your ferrets will be fine. Think of it as added protein. You can reduce this happening in the future by feeding smaller meals more often to minimize any excess meat stashes.

Ferret Thor Photo Credit: Heather Downie

Yes! However, ferrets are very high energy animals and are usually either sleeping or going full tilt. It takes them time to get used to their surroundings, their people and relax enough to spend “cuddle” time with a person. Some ferrets are more prone to “cuddling” than others but don’t be dismayed if you don’t have a cuddly ferret. They still love you with all their little heart and soul!

 

The average lifespan of a ferret is about 6 to 8 years. Death is usually caused by one of the common ferret diseases (Insulinoma, Adrenal Disease or Lymphoma). If a ferret dies of old age it is usually closer to 10 -12  years old (though this is quite rare).

Ferrets have anal glands that they can express when scared or startled. It is bad smelling (not as bad as a skunk) and the smell dissipates within about 5 to 10 minutes. Most mill ferrets in North America have the anal glands removed when they are desexed. However, removing the scent glands is NOT necessary  or recommended and in most countries is considered mutilation; in many places it is illegal to remove a ferret's anal glands without a medical reason to do so.

Ferrets shed twice a year (spring and fall). Some ferrets have their seasons backwards because the mills breed them year round. This means you could have a ferret that has a heavy thick coat and puts on weight in the summer (instead of winter) and is skinny with a short coat in the winter (instead of summer).

If you have more than one ferret they will groom each other (including their ears). If one of your ferrets has dirty ears just put a bit of oil they like on your fingers and rub the dirty eared ferrets ears (just the outside and surface of the inner ear, do not stick your finger IN their ears) and the others will clean them up.

In North America, ferrets can have certain tattoos that help determine what ferret mill they came from (but not all ferrets have tattoos). The tattoos seem to mean certain things at each mill but some of the theories are conjecture (one for neuter/spay, one for descenting, etc). Sometimes you can determine which mill a ferret came from based on their tattoos, though this is not always reliable. See our page on Ferret Mills for more.

Unfortunately, ferrets are predisposed to a number of ailments. Insulinoma which is a cancer of the pancreas and is thought to be largely caused by the consumption of sugars and carbohydrates (kibble). Adrenal disease which is a cancer of the adrenal glands and is thought to be caused by desexing at too young an age and possibly exposure to unnatural light cycles (inside homes). Lymphoma is another common cancer that ferrets seem to be prone to.  Heart disease is very common as well. If you do not properly ferret proof and supervise your ferrets, they can get into a lot of trouble and suffer from intestinal blockages and injuries. Spending excessive amounts of time in their cage without stimulation and exercise can result in cage biting which may lead to broken and chipped teeth, as can the use of water bottles.

Ferrets cannot tolerate hot weather. Anything around 80 degrees F (26 degrees C) is risky, anything above is dangerous and could lead to heat stroke (and death) in as little as 10 minutes. Also, because ferrets do not sweat, a fan will not cool them down. The actual temperature in the room needs to be lowered or they need to be provided with some way to cool themselves (frozen water bottles in a blanket or sock). See here for more info.

There is no specific temperature that is "too cold" for ferrets, and in general they tolerate cold climates better than hot. However, much like us they acclimate to their usual environment and an indoor ferret should not be expected to suddenly tolerate long periods outdoors in cold weather. Indoor ferrets can and do enjoy walks and play times outdoors in the winter though, and burrowing in snow is a fun activity. If your ferrets have access to an outdoor enclosure, or are housed outdoors, it is important to ensure they have access to a warm, insulated den, and/or the ability to go indoors when they feel too cold. It is also critical that they always have access to a water source that remains unfrozen.

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box but it takes time and consistency and they will never be as good about it as cats are. Check out our page on Litter Box Boot Camp for some tips on litter box training.

Ferrets are clean animals. The will regularly wipe their chins/ faces if something wet gets on them and they even wipe their bums after using the litter-box (putting the litter-box on an old fleece blanket will help save your carpet if the room is carpeted). In general, carpet and ferrets are NOT a good combination for many reasons.

Ferrets are playful and very intelligent animals. They NEED at least 4 hours of play time out of their cage (if you cage them) every day. They need even more than this and lots of interaction time with you if they are a single ferret (generally ferrets do better with another ferret friend or two). Ferrets will get destructive if they are bored or caged for too long (and they can be VERY destructive when they put their minds to it). Think of a bored 2 year old with A.D.D on speed with claws and teeth in a bad mood and you can see where this is heading.

Once a home or certain portion of a home (ferret room) is ferret proofed and the ferrets are well litter trained, many people let their ferrets free roam (like cats). Keep in mind that litter training is NOT as easy with ferrets as it is with cats or dogs.

Check out our section on Enrichment and Toys for more ideas to entertain your ferret.

The answer is - sometimes. Ferrets will bite if scared or hurt. (Ferrets who have been abused or neglected are more prone to becoming "fear biters" and will require more hands-on work). Ferrets, especially young ferrets, play with their teeth - much like young puppies do. Biting is something they do need to be trained not to do. As hard as you think they are biting you, they could always bite harder. Ferrets can consume the thigh bones of chickens. If they wanted to break a finger they could. When a ferret bites, they are trying to communicate something to you, not hurt you out of meanness. Check out our page on No Bite Training if you are having issues with biting behaviors.

Ferrets are naturally musky animals with slightly oily fur. This means their scent will get on their bedding and other fabrics. It is best to wash their bedding on a weekly basis to help control their scent. Regularly cleaning their litter-boxes is also essential (every other day or so depending on how many you have and your own sensitivity). Bathing your ferret will only make them smell worse as their oil glands go into overdrive trying to replace the oils on their skin and fur. A ferret's odor is largely determined by the quality of their food (cheap kibble = smell really strongly, expensive kibble = a bit better, raw diet = hardly any body odor).

Ferrets can get hairballs (called bezoars) but unlike cats can not hack them up. They must be passed through their digestive system. Whole raw eggs (or yolks) and a properly balanced raw diet help to prevent hairballs. Large enough hairballs can cause intestinal blockages and require surgery to fix.

Ferrets need their claws clipped about every two weeks. The easiest way to clip claws or clean ears (if you have a single ferret) is to put a bit of oil (salmon, herring, marine fish, EVOO) on their tummies and when they are busy licking it up you can clip those claws without too much wriggling.

If on kibble you will need to brush their teeth weekly or spend the money for an annual or bi-annual professional cleaning (usually around $200). Generally, raw fed ferrets don’t need their teeth brushed as chewing the bones in their diet cleans their teeth (there are exceptions to this of course).

Ferrets generally should NOT be bathed unless they are very dirty. Like cats, ferrets groom/clean themselves and excess bathing will dry their skin and cause increased body odor.  Brushing is generally also not required. However, you may find it helps to reduce the risk of "hairballs" (bezoars) to periodically brush your ferrets while they are shedding their coats (2x yearly in the spring and fall). Additionally, if you have an Angora ferret, regular grooming will reduce risk of bezoars and matting/"dingleberries" in the fur around their bottoms.

It depends on the ferret. Ferrets are generally solitary animals, but through years of domestication have been raised and bred to also do well in groups. Some ferrets prefer to be solitary and will not accept a cage mate. Some will accept only a few friends and refuse new additions to their business, and still others do best with a playmate. It is important to be aware that if you bring home a new ferret, there is no guarantee that your existing ferret(s) will accept the new friend. You must be prepared to have two different play groups if this happens.

Ferrets are territorial and introducing new ferrets to one another can be a difficult process. Basically they have to work things out themselves (can take up to a month or more) and the more you interfere the longer the process will take. If a ferret is pooping/peeing in fear, drawing blood, or fleeing and hiding from the other ferret is an indicator that they should be separated. When it doubt it is a simple matter to post a video to our Facebook Group and have experienced owners assist you with the behavioral assessment. Read our page on Introducing New Ferrets for more information.

Once a new ferret has been integrated into the Business, they can form intensely strong bonds. It is important to note that you may not know whether a particular pair of ferrets are bonded until you separate them and they become excessively stressed or depressed - not all bonds are obvious just through their day-to-day interactions. They may bond to one or multiple ferrets in your group, AND WILL BOND TO THEIR HUMANS TOO. If you have to send one over the bridge for medical reasons either bring the surviving ferret with you or bring the deceased ferret's body home. This is so the surviving ferret can have closure and come to terms with the other’s passing. In some cases bonded ferrets have been known to starve themselves when their companion “disappears” so please do not take this advise lightly.

Ferrets play hard and sleep hard. It can sometimes be hard to tell if your ferrets are playing or fighting. If a ferret is pooping/peeing in fear, drawing blood, or fleeing and hiding from the other ferret is an indicator that they should be separated. For a great overview of play vs fight behaviors, see this VIDEO. When in doubt, feel free to post a video on our Facebook Group to get input from our experienced administrators.

Ferrets can sometimes sleep so deeply that you can mistake them for being dead. This is called Ferret Dead Sleep or FDS / DS for short. It causes most ferrents to panic (even if they have experienced it many times).