A nice cage is important for times when you cannot supervise and don't have an area that is ferret safe. The cage should have 1/2x1/2 mesh floors at the least. I recommend PVC coated wire. Covering them with something will help them stay comfortable. I use bedding mostly but have used linoleum at times. The linoleum helps with those that miss the box frequently.
The cage needs to be a suitable size. I use a couple sizes and types. One type is my maternity/hospital cage. This cage is 24" tall x 24" deep x 42" wide and is a two level cage. The upper level can be blocked off when need be. The next type of cage is my general purpose cage. It measures 36" tall x 24" deep x 36" wide and has four levels with the nesting box. I use this cage for up to four ferrets. Some have a drop in tray and others have a slide out tray. The drop in tray helps with those box missers. The slide out makes cleaning up after food and litter diggers easier.
All cages should have doors large enough to facilitate litter boxes and ease bedding and accident cleanup. You want access to anywhere your ferret may be. If they are doing something they aren't supposed to or is have a medical emergency you will need to get to them quickly. Since the doors are large they need reinforcement or snap bolts to ensure no one pushes past them.
I make litter box holders out of cage material to hold the litter boxes in place. I also make dig guards out of Plexiglas or FRP so litter stays in the cage at least. If you are using the slide out trays the litter will go there. You can also use large spring clamps to hold the boxes in place but you will want to take the plastic off of the handles. If you don't your ferret probably will. Surgery for foreign objects is common and can be expensive so beware!
I like to incorporate a nesting box in my cages. It provides a nice dark safe place to sleep. I have made them out of wood before. The problem with having anything made of wood built into the cages is trying to keep things clean. I'm changing over to using plastic storage boxes. It is still easy enough to access but much easier to clean.
Hanging a hammock in spots that ferrets could potentially fall is a good idea that could save an injury.
When ferrets are young or unfamiliar they will test their boundaries. You need to make sure that they are aware that you are the alpha not them! If you don't they will assume that role. Don't be afraid to scruff them. That is what their mothers and other ferrets do to show who's boss. Of course they do it with teeth but that isn't necessary for us. You don't want to get your face within range of any ferret until you are very familiar with one another. It is VERY important to supervise any time that a ferret and young children are together!!!
Ferrets sleep a lot! That being said they also need quality out time. Having a good size area for them to safely play is essential! That area should be "ferret proof". Ferret proofing is more of a journey for a ferret owner. They will show you any places that you might have missed!! I will try to get you started on your journey First lets talk about holes. Ferrets love holes! You have to find any holes that your ferret can get to and make them safe. Look under sinks, around cabinets, furniture, electronics, around heat/ac registers. There is a drowning hazard if a ferret gets into an open toilet. Be vigilant and supervise!
Keep any chemicals or cleaners out of their reach. If your ferrets are around when you are using a washer, dryer, or dishwasher make sure that they didn't get into the machine before you start it. Ferrets have died that way! If your ferrets were around a laundry basket make sure you don't put them in the washer with the wash. I have heard of this happening before also.
Be aware of the toys that you give your ferret. The biggest problem is with ingestion. If there are small parts that can be chewed off then they probably will be. An example of this would be plastic eyes on stuffed toys. Stuffed toys are OK but if they start eating them like prey it would be best to remove it. There are toys that don't have the stuffing but pieces could still be chewed off. Crocheted eggs are fun but many ferrets will chew the crocheted outer off at that point it is done an discard that part. Latex or rubber toys shouldn't be given to ferrets. It doesn't take much for these toys to become a surgery.
Dig boxes are always popular. I use pinto beans, rice, or plastic eggs in mine. The pinto beans work very well and I actually find ferrets sleeping in them. The same can be said for the plastic eggs. For the right ferret, the rice looks like litter. I have had to stop using it because a few bad apples have spoiled it for all. I make the dig boxes with small storage containers that I drill a hole in the top with a 4 1/8" hole saw. Then I use drain tile that can be purchased at the hardware store. I have a cat tree that everyone enjoys. I wrapped it with dryer vent which was a big hit. Ping pong balls or cat toys with a bell too large to eat are fun for some ferrets. Drain tile can be used alone as well and you can purchase several different fittings. You can change things around from time to time to keep it fresh too.
You will probably be your ferrets favorite toy though. It is important for you to interact with them often! Always supervise in a new space for several time before you consider it safe.
Food & water
Ferrets need a constant fresh supply of water. Whether you use bowls or bottles is up to you. If you use a bowl, use one that can't be easily tipped. Either a bowl with a heavy base or one like this. I have a food and water station that I made out of a storage container. This keeps them from tipping the bowls when they are out. Even if they play in the food or water it is contained and easy to clean up. Since it stays covered, I need to remember to check it often to make sure that the water is fresh.
If you use water bottles in the cage you should use some drip cups in case a seal is bad. I also like to use two bottles when I can so that if one fails there is another as backup. There is no reason to add anything to their water. In the cages I use food bowls that clip on so that the ferrets don't play hockey with them. If you have someone that likes to dig in the food try putting the bowl higher.
I feed Innova Evo Dog in both the poultry and red meat versions. It is a grain free food which is important. Ferrets are carnivores so their protein source should be from meat. The protein level should be at least 35%. Don't think that the highest that you can get is best though. Too high can cause kidney issues. It seems best to stay under 45%. Fat should be at least 20%. There should be no more than 3% fiber. Ferrets do not have the ability to digest fiber! Do not feed plant based food or treats.
There are so many good foods since I got my first ferret. Some of them are Zupreem, Ferret Store Supreme Choice, and 8in1 ULTIMATE. There are also many BAD foods out there. One thing to stay away from is anything corn in the ingredients. If the food has dried fruits and vegetables in it, STAY AWAY! I have actually seen a vegetarian formula ferret food. This will kill you ferret! Again they need animal protein.
When it comes to treats remember that they are little carnivores. Meats can be a treat. I've seen dried chicken and other meats that could be used. Fresh cooked meats or some cooked eggs. Some of the ferrets that I got from Scarlett really enjoy their day old chicks from Rodent Pro. These are more natural than other manufactured treats. Stay away from anything with sugar or chocolate. Sugar is not good for ferrets and chocolate is as toxic for ferrets as it is for dogs.
Grooming & health
Nails-Ferrets nails need trimmed every two or three weeks. If they get too long they will catch on bedding and the ferret will be caught until you can rescue them or they will tear the nail. If they tear the nail it will bleed profusely! I use spring loaded nail trimmers but you can also use human nail trimmers. Some folks use ferrettone on the ferrets stomach or on a counter and while the ferret is engrossed in that they get their nails trimmed. I've never had a problem cradling the ferret and just trimming away. Trim to about an 1/8" from the pink part of the nail(quick). If you get too close to the quick it will be painful for the ferret. If you get into the quick it will bleed. Use some type of styptic. Flour or corn starch will work for this.
Ears-Ferrets ears need to be kept clean. If they are not they can get ear mites or a bad odor. You can use Q-Tips dipped into some ear cleaner or even water if you like. DO NOT GO TOO FAR INTO THE EAR! Clean in the folds and the outer ear. I also use unscented baby wipes to clean the ears. If you feel that your ferret has a case of ear mites you may want to take a trip to the vet.
Teeth-I've noticed that some ferrets have better teeth than others. You should check the teeth regularly especially the upper molars. If they have too much tartar buildup on them the vet may need to give the ferret a dental. If the ferret has a foul mouth it's a sign that something is wrong also. You can brush your ferrets teeth with a cat or a small child's toothbrush and some pet toothpaste. Be gentle though!
Bathing-Really the only time that a ferret needs a bath is if rolled in a dirty litter box. Even then I would try to clean up with some unscented baby wipes. If a bath is called for I like to use DR Bonner's Castile soap in peppermint or eucalyptus(these two help ward off fleas). The soap comes in concentrated form so you want to dilute it. I have found that a used dish soap bottle works great for this. I then warm the soap in water. The ferrets enjoy the bath after that. If you show your ferret you will be bathing them more often. If you bathe ferret too often they will suffer from dry skin and will smell. Ferrets produce more oils to make up for the bathing which will increase odor. Clean litter, bedding, ears, and teeth will do the most to keep odors down.
Shedding-Ferrets typically have two coat changes a year. When they are shedding you should give something to help get the hair passed through their digestive system. I use a 70/30 mix of mineral oil and ferrettone to act as a laxative. The ferrettone keeps them from aspirating the mineral oil. A cat hairball laxative can also be used. Some contain sugar or molasses so beware. A rubber deshedding brush can also be used to decrease the amount of hair the ferret ingests.
Temperatures-It's important that ferrets be kept at a comfortable temperature. Somewhere between 65 and 75 is good. The cold end isn't nearly as critical as the high side. Ferrets don't sweat. They cool through their tongue like a dog. If the temperature gets too high ferrets can suffer heat stroke and die.
Vaccinations-Ferrets need two vaccines, rabies and canine distemper. The canine distemper vaccine is given to kits at 8, 11, and 14 weeks. The rabies vaccine is to be given at 12 weeks. Both are recommenced annually thereafter. Currently titer levels are being researched to see how often is enough. Ferrets have had extreme reactions to vaccines. It is always best to wait at the vet's office for about 30 minutes after the vaccine is administered in case of a reaction.
Illnesses-The first thing to say here is to find a good ferret knowledgeable vet! Ferrets are small mammals so it is easy for their systems to become compromised. You should not smoke or allow smoking around ferrets! If you delay in taking a ferret to the vet if there is a problem the risk is much higher. Ferrets can catch many strains of the flu virus. Keep an eye out for a green runny stool. This could be ECE and will require a vet visit. Ferrets have some common illnesses that you should be aware of. Insulinoma is tumors on the pancreas. It will cause the blood sugar to crash. It is a good idea to have a blood glucose meter around if you are able. Medications can help this disease. Adrenal tumors can cause the ferret to seem like they are in season(aggressiveness, hair loss, an enlarged vulva in the female). Surgery is tricky with this disease since the vena cava(the main vein off the heart) is very close to the right adrenal gland. Some treatments are helpful for this. The risk for males is the inability to urinate. The risk for the females is aplastic anemia. Heart disease is another problem. If your ferret has a blue tongue, trouble breathing, or a bad cough the vet needs to have a look. It may be heart failure. I have had some experience with this. There are medications that work well but it is best to catch it early for the best results. Lymphoma is another problem
ADV stands for Aleutians disease virus. It is a parvovirus that first affected mink populations then spread to ferrets. There is no cure for ADV. The best option is to test and keep positives quarantined from negative ferrets. The best way to test is with a blood sample sent to DR Blau at the Blue Cross Animal Hospital.
The best litter I have ever used is wood pellets. They are available at feed stores, hardware stores, Tractor Supplies, and wood stove stores. They are inexpensive, control the odor well, and they are easy to clean up. Urine makes the pellets break down into sawdust and the stool can be scooped off the top. The sawdust can be sifted out with a litter scoop. Some other litters that can be used are Yesterdays news or Care Fresh. I have used both in the past(key word being in the past). Do not use anything like clay cat litters, clumping cat litter, or wood shavings. The clay makes dust that is bad for the ferrets lungs. The clumping litter can be ingested where it could clump. Wood shavings have aromatics that are toxic and therefore to be avoided.
If your ferret isn't really getting the concept behind the litter box you may want to leave a little bit behind when you clean to remind them what you are expecting from them. I like highback litter pans the most. When I use a low pan I make dig guards to keep the litter contained. I also make retainers out of cage material to keep the litter boxes in place. You could also use large spring clamps to clamp the box to the cage. I even make retainers for the boxes on the floor. If your ferrets go just outside the box you can try putting newspaper around the box for easier cleanup.
Ferrets often take care of business shortly upon awakening. You may want to give them some time before letting them out so that they can do that. I've found that vinegar works well to neutralize odors from accidents.
There are a lot of sources for bedding these days too. I have a few on my links page that you can look at. There are beds, hammocks, sacks, and more. You can also use old T-shirts, sweat shirts, or towels for bedding. If you do use towels or other bedding with loops you will have to watch that nails stay trimmed. Their nails can get caught in the loops if they are too long. Another source of bedding is inexpensive fleece or microfibre throws from discount stores like Ollie's. I use these blankets in my nesting boxes. Changing bedding frequently helps minimize odors.
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