Ferrets are best kept outdoors in a large cage big enough for them to run around and stretch upwards. Some people keep ferrets indoors, but they are best kept outdoors in natural light so as not to upset their circadian rhythm and hormone balance. They are often kept in multi-level cages to allow them to climb and explore. The absolute minimum acceptable cage size is 4 feet by 2 feet and 2 feet tall, but this would only be for single ferrets caged for a few hours at a time. The floor should be solid, not wire mesh, and plenty of bedding provided with separate toilet and eating areas. Ferrets like soft fleecy bedding that they can bury themselves in, and many like to explore fleecy tubes and hammocks. Food and drinking bowls should have heavy bases as ferrets like to try to tip them up!
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they need meat in their diet. They can be fed whole prey, for example rabbits or day old chicks, but many owners find feeding dried ferret kibble easier. It can be supplemented with meat if required. Sweet foods (chocolate, fruit etc) are not recommended for ferrets as they cannot digest this easily, and overconsumption may lead to medical problems such as insulinoma. Vegetables are not necessary.
Neutering of ferrets is not a straightforward issue. Female ferrets (jills) are induced ovulators, meaning that when they come into heat they will not come out until they are mated with an entire or vasectomised male ferret (hob) or given a hormone injection. If left in heat, the high levels of oestrogen will eventually cause anaemia and death. Traditionally, spaying jills was recommended to prevent this, and also to help with aggression and odour. Recent studies however have shown that neutered ferrets are at risk of developing Adrenal Gland Disease, a hormonal disorder which initially causes hair loss and eventually progresses to tumour and death, so vets are moving away from the traditional recommendation of neutering at six months old.
Option for keeping ferrets are to keep intact (ie not spayed or castrated) – this is suitable for hobs. Jills are not so straightforward! Jills may be kept with a vasectomised hob to bring them out of heat. They can be brought out of heat with the ‘jill jab’, a hormone injection. Possible side effects of this may be uterine infections. A new treatment is to give them a hormone implant under the skin, which will suppress heat for up to 2 years. It would need to be repeated throughout the jill’s life.
If you would like any more information then phone 01621 818282 (Tiptree Veterinary Centre) or 01206 561407 (Willows Veterinary Centre) to book an appointment with one of our vets. You can also visit our websites at www.tiptreevets.co.uk or www.willows-vets.co.uk