When asked, ferret lovers mention two qualities most often - the loving, affectionate nature of their pets, and their entertaining antics - as the attributes which have helped make the ferret the alternative pet of choice for so many. Ferrets like people, and they like to interact with them. They like to ride around on your shoulder, or in a pocket, or in a purse or shoulder bag. When you are seated, they like to climb around on you, sniffing your nose, licking your ear, or digging around in your hair looking for mice. But most of all, ferrets like to play. Life is a game, and young ferrets play it with an exuberance that is fun to watch.  A single ferret can make a game out of whatever is available, or nothing at all. Two ferrets can be twice as creative, and if you join in, it can really be fun. A toy on a string is great to chase, and a towel dragged across the floor makes a great ride.

Although most people think the ferret is a wild animal, that is not the case. The domestic ferret has been a house pet for over 3000 years, probably beginning in ancient Egypt. The breed is thought to have originated from a Eurasian weasel, or polecat, and was used to control the mouse and rat population. Years later, cats would take over the job. While similar in appearance, the domestic ferret is not related to the black-footed ferret, the wild American ferret which is on the verge of extinction.

Ferrets are small, clean, quiet animals, usually 15-18 inches long and weighing 11/2-3 pounds, and can be litter box trained in a short time. While they normally get along fine with dogs and cats, they are a more difficult pet to own. Part of what makes them so endearing, - their playful, inquisitive nature - also gets them into trouble. Most ferret owners keep them in a cage, and let them out every day to play, either where they can be watched, or if unsupervised, in a room that has been made ‘ferret proof’. Closet doors can be crawled under, cabinets can be opened and emptied, book shelves can be climbed on, and plants can be dug up, if precautions have not been taken to prevent it from happening. There are few openings so small a ferret cannot squeeze through.

Ferrets love to go outside, and will find a whole new world of adventures out there. Special harnesses are available for use with a leash, so that a walk in the neighborhood or a trip to the park is possible. Care must always be taken to make sure the ferret does not escape. They can’t fend for themselves in the wild, and couldn’t survive for long.

When ferrets play with other ferrets, they play rough. There is a lot of wrestling, biting, and squealing. It looks as if one of them is going to get killed, but it is harmless. No one ever gets hurt. Their skin is tough and thick, so the biting doesn’t bother them. Until taught otherwise, many ferrets will attempt this type of play with humans. It isn’t aggression; it’s just play, and they quickly learn not to do it.

Ferrets are intelligent, energetic, social and inquisitive, and need to spend time out of the cage playing, exploring and exercising. If you do not have time in your day to play with your ferret, it might be better to choose a different pet. A ferret left in a cage will be bored and unhappy.

Ferret Facts

One of the curious habits of ferrets is that they like to choose where the litter box goes. They will almost always pick a corner to relieve themselves, and always use the same corner. Simply wait to see where it wants to go, clean it up, and place the litter box in that corner. It’s easy, and it beats having a battle of wills with a 2 pound animal, and losing.

Ferrets are very susceptible to human illness, especially colds and flu. It is best to avoid contact with a ferret when you are sick. Young ferrets seem to do only two things, play and sleep. Frequently, a ferret will be busy playing, doing ferret stuff, and a few minutes later, is lying motionless in its cage. It won’t respond to talk or touch, and if picked up, is limp and appears lifeless. At this point many new owners panic, thinking their new pet is dead. Never fear. Experienced ferret owners call it ‘playing till they drop’. It’s just a very deep sleep they fall into, and it is very hard to wake them up from it. They wake up on their own soon enough and are back to their old ways in no time.