Are you planning to get a ferret into your life, but you are not sure if it is a suitable pet for you? Here are a few essential information about the general care and life expectancy of these lovable rascals.
Ferrets are often confused with rodents. These mammals are, in fact, carnivores related to weasels, minks, ermines, and wolverines, in the Mustelidae family.
Qualified as small pets, ferrets have an elongated body, measuring between 20 inches (51 cm) from nose to the tip of the tail. The average body weight of males is 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg), while females weigh 1.3 pounds (600 grams).
If you want to adopt a ferret, you should know that the life expectancy of this species is, on average, eight to ten years of age. Although lower than dogs or cats, ferrets are still a long term responsibility.
Life Expectancy of Ferrets
The life span of ferrets can variate from five to even 15 years of age. Of course, it all depends on their genetic background, diseases that they may develop during their lifetime, but also the medical care and attention that they receive.
Common Health Issues
- Ear mites – This is a common finding in ferrets that can evolve with itching and scratching. Treatment consists of drops applied within the ear canal or external antiparasitic spot-on solutions;
- Fleas and ticks – Ferrets are just as predisposed to flea and tick infestation as cats and dogs and need to be treated with specific solutions;
- Worms – Most ferrets are free of intestinal parasites and don`t require routine treatment unless diagnosed with intestinal parasites.
Ferrets can suffer from a series of endocrine disorders such as persisting heath cycle in females (persistent oestrus), insulin-secreting pancreatic tumors (insulinoma), adrenal glands tumors (hyperadrenocorticism), and diabetes. All these endocrine pathologies require specific diagnostic tests and long term treatments.
- Canine distemper virus (CDV) – Although it is specific for dogs, this virus can infect ferrets. Clinical signs include dermal lesions, eyes and nose discharge, fever, sneezing, coughing, and lack of appetite. CDV in ferrets is almost always fatal;
- Influenza – Ferrets can get infected with various strains of human flu viruses, and in their turn, can pass it to humans. Clinical signs are usually self-limiting and consist of short-term sneezing, coughing, or fever;
- Aleutian disease virus (ADV) is caused by a strain of parvovirus different from the one that causes bloody diarrhea in dogs. Severe clinical signs are rarely observed and include weight loss, bloody diarrhea, fever, and neurological symptoms. Unfortunately, there is no cure available, and treatment is directed only at the alleviation of symptoms.
Other common diseases:
- Heart problems (Congestive cardiomyopathy);
- Lymphatic system cancer (Lymphoma).
How to Keep Your Ferret Healthy
Annual checkups for young individuals or twice a year for older ones are sufficient for early detection of any possible illness.
Physical examination in ferrets is no more complicated than that of a cat or dog. However, the body temperature, respiratory rate, and heart frequency of a ferret can get altered with normal handling. As such, most veterinarians will start the examination by measuring the heart rate, respiratory frequency, and checking body temperature with a digital thermometer, all with minimal handling.
Don`t get scared if you see the veterinarian scruffing your ferret. This procedure tends to calm them down, making the examination of the eyes and ears more comfortable. Scruffing also triggers the yawning reflex, which facilitates teeth examination.
– Distemper vaccine at eight, ten and 12 weeks of age and then yearly;
– Rabies at 16 weeks of age, then annually.
Spaying or Castration
Ferrets reach sexual maturity as early as four to six months of age, in the first spring after birth.
Females are often spayed in the first year of life to prevent persistent heat cycles and consequent clinical signs. Unfortunately, some studies linked early spaying and neutering to the development of some forms of cancer of the endocrine system. Veterinary medical researchers are still trying to figure out the pros and cons of early spaying and neutering.
Diet and Nutrition
The ferret is an obligate carnivore, and should only eat meat or a proper quality 9 to 28% or higher protein-based diet, with reduced content of fats and carbohydrates. While veterinarians recommend food designed especially for ferrets, good quality cat food is also suitable.
Food should always be available because ferrets have a short gut and fast metabolism. Ferrets are known to thrive on raw meat diets, but can also eat dry or wet food. Dry food can prevent bacterial plaque and tartar formation on teeth through a mechanical cleaning that occurs during chewing. If you feed your ferret a dry food, you need to make sure that fresh water is always available to prevent dehydration.
Caging and Bedding
Ferrets require well-built cages as they are masters of escape. The cage should be high enough to allow them to stand on their hind legs, wide enough to fit separate areas for playing, feeding and sleeping, and also for a litter tray.
Because they are highly energetic, they are not fit for a caged life only and need to be allowed to play outside the cage under supervision.
Ferrets sleep a lot, and they need comfortable bedding. The sleeping area should consist of a box or other design, lined with soft towels or small blankets that allows them to hide and rest comfortably. Hay, straw, or wood shavings are not recommended for ferrets as they can cause respiratory issues.
Factors That Influence The Ferret Lifespan
The life expectancy of ferrets is related to their genetic background, adequacy of their living environment, and wellness checkups.
A poor diet, inappropriate environment, and skipping annual health checkups can negatively influence the quality of life and significantly affect their overall health.
Ferrets that are not used for breeding need to be spayed or neutered at the appropriate age, to prevent a series of diseases that can drastically shorten their lifespan.
Are Ferrets Good Pets?
Ferrets can be excellent pets. They have a highly playful, curious, and energetic personality and like to stay active. They are sociable creatures and tend to do better when they have another ferret playmate.
Because of their hunting background, ferrets should not be left unsupervised around other small pets, especially rodents.
Ferrets like to play a little rougher. As such, cats and small dogs are not safe around them unless you are sure that they are well behaved.
Ferrets fun facts:
- In their beginnings, ferrets served as hunters and control of rat population near houses and buildings. Thus, the energetic behavior of ferrets has a good explanation;
- Ferrets are crepuscular animals, meaning that they are more active during twilight, or both dawn and dusk;
- Ferrets have a distinctive musky smell that gets impregnated in the environment where they live but also in the clothes and hair of people handling them;
- An intact or uncastrated male is called a hob, while an unneutered female a jill. A castrated male ferret is called a gib, and a neutered female is called a sprite;
- A group of two or more ferrets is called a business.
Mischievous and playful, ferrets are very entertaining and lovable pets and can bring you the best company for a very long time. Make sure that your lifestyle and home environment are suitable for these adorable little creatures, and you will find yourself with the cutes „business” on hands.
Vinke, Claudia M., and Nico J. Schoemaker. “The Welfare of Ferrets (Mustela Putorius Furo T).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 139, no. 3-4, 2012, pp. 155–168., DOI:10.1016/j.applanim.2012.03.016.
Girolamo, Nicola Di. “Disorders of the Urinary and Reproductive Systems in Ferrets.” Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents, 2020, pp. 39–54., DOI:10.1016/b978-0-323-48435-0.00004-6.