April 2nd is National Ferret Day – a holiday designed to celebrate and raise awareness of ferrets. Ferrets get a bad rap as sneaky, aggressive little creatures, but they actually make for affectionate, playful, curious companions!
Ferrets are carnivores belonging to the Mustelid family, which includes otters, weasels, martens, and minks. They begin their life as all-white “kits” the size of a teaspoon. Later they can develop other colors, and can grow up to 18 inches. Unneutered males and females are called “hobs” and “jills” respectively, and neutered males and females are “gibs” and “sprites”. A group of ferrets is called a business. They usually live 6 – 10 years as pets.
Ferrets have been domesticated as working animals for approximately 2500 years, but have only in the last century or so become a popular pet. It is believed ferrets were first domesticated by the Romans for hunting rodents, although there is mention of ferret-like creatures in both ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek records. Europeans likely brought ferrets over to the New World to help manage rodent populations, which they are still sometimes used for today.
In addition to hunting, ferrets have also been used to run wire in cases where it can’t be pushed with rods. They pull the wire through tubes or tunnels that are difficult to access. They have even helped run wire in Buckingham palace!
Ferrets require regular veterinary care, the same as any other pet. They need at least a yearly exam and rabies and distemper vaccinations. They can be prone to dental problems, pancreatic cancer, and adrenal disease, so it is important to monitor your pet at home for any signs of abnormality, so that they can receive treatment as soon as possible. It is also very important to spay or neuter your ferret! Unspayed females can actually die from an excess of estrogen if they don’t mate frequently enough.
While wild ferrets are nocturnal, live in tunnels, and consume mainly rodents, domestic ferrets are a little bit different. They sleep up to 18 hours a day, and usually adjust to be active when the household is active. They require a high-protein diet of lots of ferret pellets due to their rapid metabolism. They live in cages – they love climbing, so a multi-level cage is a fun option! – but require at least 4 hours outside the cage daily. They can also be easily litter box trained.
When letting your pet run around outside their cage, take the time to ferret-proof the area first. They will get into anything they can, so make sure there’s no open holes or vents around for them to escape into. Get rid of any toxic food, chemicals, or plants. Even non-toxic plants you may want to consider moving, since they do love to dig! Also watch out for any small and/or sharp objects that could be choking hazards. They like to hoard objects they find, so keep an eye on where they keep their stash so you can retrieve any lost belongings.
If you already have one of these crazy critters at home, you and your pet can celebrate the day together! Consider giving them a tasty treat like some cooked egg or cooked chicken. You can also give them a new toy or some new bedding, or just spend a little more time to get affectionate with them. If you’re lucky, they might even do their happy dance!