Ferrets are a domesticated species of the European polecat. As a mammal, they belong to the same genus as the weasel. Most have fur that is white, black, brown, or mixed in some way. The males are typically much larger than the females, although both genders typically have a natural lifespan of about 7-10 years. When living in captivity, it can be up to 20% longer. Most owners keep them as pets in cages, since the average length of the animal is just 20 inches, with one-third of that length attributed to the tail.
The history of domestication for the ferret is not entirely known. Some experts believe that the first human attempts to have them as pets occurred over 2,000 years ago. Owners use these mammals to help them hunt for rabbits in some parts of the world today, even with the prevalence to keep them as a pet.
Because the ferret is closely related to polecats and weasels, they can cause significant damage to the natural landscape if they are released or escape to become semi-feral. Because of this issue, there are countries which impose restrictions on ownership.
If you are thinking about the addition of a pet to your home, then these are the pros and cons to consider of having a ferret as a pet.
List of the Pros of Having Ferrets as Pets
1. Ferrets love to play games with you.
You won’t find a more playful pet out there today than the ferret (sorry dog and cat owners!). These intelligent animals love to play a game of hide-and-seek when you have them out of their enclosure for some controlled bonding time. They will dart away when you try to catch them, hide under your furniture, and look for the tiniest spots where they can squeeze their flexible bodies through. If you have more than one ferret at home, they will even team up to make the process of catching them even more difficult, but it is still a lot of fun – even if it can be frustrating at times.
2. Ferrets are highly intelligent animals.
You can train ferrets to perform tricks or exhibit specific behaviors rather quickly. It might not be easy to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can achieve this outcome with adult ferrets rather easily. When you work with them right away on potty training issues, handling, and the ever-popular biting habit, then you can experience results right away that can make it a lot easier to keep these animals as pets. Most learn successfully by following the same principles that you would follow when training a small dog.
3. Ferrets are very social animals.
Once you have worked with your ferret to accept handling, you will discover that they are very sociable creatures. They are a colony animal in the wild, so there is a need for constant companionship. If you can own more than one at a time, then they can offer each other social interactions when you are not around to provide them. Once you get to four animals, it might be a good idea to stop because then they will work on setting up a social hierarchy which could dictate which animal receives your attention, and in what order.
If you are unable to provide a single ferret with the attention that they need, then this is not the pet for your home. When these animals are unable to engage in social interactions, then it can impede their mental health. Their lifespan can be reduced significantly if they are exposed to frequent and extended periods of loneliness.
4. Ferrets have high levels of energy all of the time.
When you have a ferret in your home as a pet, then you will want to keep a large enclosure available for them so that they can burn off their excessive energy every day. Most owners use the type of cage that would be suitable for a large rabbit when bringing them home. You will want to create a specific open space in their living quarters that can serve as their bathroom because these animals have very specific toileting habits that they prefer to follow. Then add ramps, tunnels, and toys that allow for independent play when you are unable to provide these interactions on a personal level.
5. Ferrets are often trained before they are offered for sale.
When you look for ferrets at the local pet store or from an experienced/licensed breeder in your community, then you will discover that many of them are trained to use the bathroom or perform some tricks before you even bring them home. Adult ferrets will usually pick up on the cues that you want them to follow if you are patient with the process over a couple of weeks. Since the average lifespan is up to 10 years, even an adult at the age of 2 can become a long-term addition to your family while you can avoid the entire training issue altogether.
6. Ferrets have access to numerous animal-specific options.
When ferrets were first becoming popular as pets in the United States, it could be challenging to find the specific foods that are necessary to maintain their health. Over the past 20 years, there are a number of ferret-specific items that have become available globally through pet stores and other retailers that you can purchase to meet their specific nutritional needs. You will also find that there is a large selection of treats and toys that are available. Even veterinarians are more familiar with them in recent years, helping you to avoid the cost of finding an exotic vet to treat your animal.
7. Ferrets can be self-sufficient when they have a friend.
When you own at least two ferrets, then you don’t need to be social with them for hours on end every day. They can entertain themselves, often sleeping for long periods together throughout the day. Then you will experience a few hours of high-level energy. Most of them will eventually match their schedule to work with yours, waking up ready to play when you get up for the day. When you don’t give them enough attention, they will quickly remind you vocally that you’re not doing your job right.
List of the Cons of Having Ferrets as Pets
1. Ferrets are known to bite in certain conditions.
Ferrets are generally animals who are loving, friendly, and loyal. They do like to explore, with their curiosity being strong enough that you would not want to let one loose outside without fencing restrictions. The problem that many owners face is the likelihood that a ferret will bite them, which typically occurs when the animal feels like it is being handled too roughly. Each individual has a different tolerance level, so the combination of a sensitive ferret with younger children may not be suitable for some families.
2. Ferrets want to escape whenever they can.
When you have a ferret as a pet, then you must keep your doors and windows closed at all times. These animals do not like being locked up in cages or kennels because it prevents them from being able to explore. You will need to get into the habit of shutting down everything all year long, even with the ferret in its cage, to prevent them from escaping. These intelligent animals can often figure out the locking mechanisms on their enclosure, and it only takes one successful to escape to potentially lose your ferret for good.
That means you must take the time to ferret-proof your home. They will find every small space that is available, and then explore it. There are stories of people losing their ferrets in their walls, behind appliances, or even getting into the plumbing in the bathroom. Because it can be challenging to know if they are in pain or not, your best option is to reduce the risk of an injury proactively instead.
3. Ferrets do not like being around other animals.
Animals that come from the weasel family can be exceptionally ferocious when they come around other creatures. Ferrets are no exception to this rule. They are highly territorial when they come around other pets, even if there is a significant size difference between the two. If you have dogs at home, then you will need to keep them separated at all times for the safety of both animals. Cats and ferrets can sometimes get along, but they often antagonize each other. Unless there is no other option, any pet-to-pet encounters that involve a ferret should be personally supervised, and then the ferrets should live in a different area of the home than your other pets.
4. Ferrets have a distinctive odor that never really goes away.
Even when you clean their cages frequently, the odor of a ferret is something that will become the dominant smell rather quickly when you have these animals as pets. It is a smell that is rather musky thanks to its production from the anal glands of the animal. Even long-term ferret owners say that their initial impression of this odor was bothersome until they got used to the experience. You can curb this odor by giving them a monthly bath, trimming their nails, changing their bedding, and keeping their ears clean, but it never really goes away.
If you are renting a home, then you may find that the property owner or the management agency for your landlord may not allow ferrets because of this issue.
5. Ferrets are a high-maintenance pet.
If you own a ferret as a pet, then it can be challenging to find someone who will care for them because of their maintenance requirements. You will need to feed your new pet 3-4 times per day to ensure that they are receiving adequate nutrition levels. If you try to place all of the food for your ferret in their enclosure at the start of the day, then you might find yourself taking care of a sick animal later because they tend to gorge themselves. You will also need to clean out their litter box or cage every 2-3 days to prevent the strong odors from wandering around the house.
The reason for this issue is that ferrets like to eat a lot, which means they produce a lot of waste. Their gastrointestinal transit time is quite vast, so they are going to the bathroom all of the time.
6. Ferrets require a specialized food product for their health.
You will need to feed your ferrets a specific diet to ensure that their health and wellness is always at its maximum. That means they are a little more expensive to care for than your average pet since you must purchase specific items from your local care provider. Like dogs and cats, you will also want to consider spaying or neutering your ferrets (called “de-sexing”) since the females will stay in perpetual heat if this does not happen. It will also improve the odor levels in your home.
You must keep ferrets away from any other foods because they will eat anything that is close to them. Grapes are toxic to them. You should avoid giving them access to any dairy products because they cannot digest lactose. Chocolate is also a problem, as are any sugar-free food items. Try giving them some scrambled eggs, cooked meat, or even some raw meat if you want.
7. Ferrets will need plenty of space to play.
You cannot leave your ferrets cooped up in their enclosure all day, every day and expect them to expend all of their energy. You must allow them to have space to play in your home in ways that are safe. Even if you give them an entire room that they can keep to themselves, it may still be inadequate to meet their needs. If you are unable to give them time to roam, then it can impact their overall health in numerous adverse ways.
8. Ferrets like to collect things.
You will find that the antics of a ferret can help to keep you entertained for hours on end. They will explore everywhere you allow them, and their reactions to unexpected circumstances can often produce a laugh. The one annoying trait these animals have is the desire to collect things that they find to be interesting. It’s not just small or shiny objects that they’ll collect either. Ferrets have been known to steal entire balls of yarn, remote controls, and even your keys if they can grab them.
The pros and cons of having ferrets as pets must all be evaluated in each home. If you have older children who understand the care needs of this animal, then having them as pets can be a successful experience. If you are not home very often, have young children, or can only afford one ferret at the moment, then now might not be the right time to bring one home.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.