Ferrets: They’ll Steal Your Heart, Then Your Socks


I had neighbors who had ferrets growing up and I never wanted to own one because they were stinky. This was my first misconception about ferrets. We got our first ferret, Loki, a little more than a year and a half ago and I fell in love instantly. He was so cute, loving, and not stinky at all. As soon as we got him I began researching everything that I could about ferrets and one thing I came across, where I believe a lot of first time ferret owners make their mistake, is that bathing too often actually makes ferrets stink more. They only need to bathed once a month at the most. Bathing them more frequently strips away the oils in their skin and they produce more to compensate, and it’s these excess oils that smell. Another cause of the stink is having an intact male, but generally you will not come across an intact ferret in the United States, and I believe de-sexing a ferret is required before they can be sold in a pet store. Don’t get me wrong, ferrets still have a very distinct musky smell, but a healthy, de-sexed ferret does not smell any more than a dog or cat. They may even smell less in my opinion, and I have actually come to like the smell of ferrets. You definitely get used to it.

resting ferret

Feeding Your Ferrets

About four months after we got Loki we adopted Thor. From what we know, someone got him as a gift for someone and they did not want him so they surrendered him to Petco. When we brought him home, within five minutes he had explosive diarrhea. Ferrets have very sensitive digestive tracts and stress can cause diarrhea, but this was something much worse. After taking him to the vet we discovered he had an intestinal infection and he was on antibiotics for 10 days.

ferret playing

After adopting Thor, I really began looking at the food I was feeding my ferrets. As sensitive as their digestive tracts are, Thor’s is much more so. Ferret food should have high protein (at least 35%), high fat (at least 15%), and low fiber (no more than 3%). It is also best for their main source of food to be low in moisture. Dry food is better for the health of their teeth. You should also read the actual ingredients. The more meat based ingredients in the first five, the better quality the food is. What I like to look for in food as well, mainly because of Thor’s digestive issues, is some kind of probiotics, such as lactobacillus acidiphilus (the bacteria found in yogurt). It is the same logic behind eating yogurt; they help the good bacteria population in the intestines to help digest food. You will also want as little carbohydrates (sugar) as possible in your ferret food. Too much sugar in the diet may lead to insulinomas, or cancer of the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. This is based on what I have read online from many different sources over the last two years and I am in no way a veterinarian or an expert in these matters, so I urge you to talk to your vet about such things before changing anything you do with your ferret, especially changing their diet. Not only did they go to school for many years to do their job, but they know your individual ferrets’ health better than anyone.

ferret looking up

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give about food is this: make sure you are feeding at least two different foods to your ferret(s). This is for a couple of reasons, but most importantly it is so your ferret will be used to more than one type or brand of food just in case you run out of one type and do not have the means to replace it right away or the company decides to discontinue the food you are currently feeding. I recently ran into this problem. When I first got both of my ferrets they were eating Marshall’s Ferret Food (what they usually feed them at pet stores). Once we adopted Thor I switched them to 8 in 1 Ultimate Crunchy Diet food. IMPORTANT ADVICE: when you switch your ferret onto a new food, or just add new food, you must do so slowly, over a period of at least two weeks. You should mix a small amount of the new food in with the old food and gradually increase the new food to allow your ferrets’ sensitive digestive tract to adjust. If you switch or add a new food too quickly your ferret may get diarrhea.

In the case of Thor, I once fed them a new duck soup one night and it was too much too soon, which actually resulted in a bit of bloody diarrhea. More recently, I had been reading about having more than one ferret food as part of their diet and I was actually in the process of researching new food to add when I tried to order more of the 8 in 1 I discovered it was out of stock on Amazon. I went to the one pet store in town that I knew still sold it. They were out and said they were not going to be receiving any more of that food. When looking online I discovered that this company was discontinuing that particular food. I was panicking a little because I only had a couple of days’ worth of food left. I decided to buy a small bag of the Marshall’s Ferret Food because they both used to eat it and I figured this would cause the least upset. Just in case, I supplemented them with 1/8 teaspoon of low sugar yogurt while I switched them to Marshall’s and continued giving it to them until I switched them to their new food, which is now Sheppard and Greene Ferret Food. I know that there is a lot of debate online about what are quality ferret foods and the foods I have fed do not usually qualify as “high quality” but as long as your ferrets are healthy and the foods do not cause any adverse effects, in my opinion they are fine. It is the same as with any dog or cat food. Once again, consult your vet with any questions, concerns, or recommendations. I urge any ferret owner not to wait, like I did, and end up in a bind if you do not have the means to replace your ferret food right away.

ferrets on grass

Ferrets In Hot Weather

Ferrets are originally from Europe and are more inclined for colder weather. Living in Las Cruces, New Mexico is not ideal for a ferret and having good air conditioning is a must. However, problems do arise and the last two summers we have had our refrigerated air unit break down on us. Since we live in an apartment, we cannot do anything about this ourselves and we have to wait for the facilities to come and fix it. Sometimes that can take a few days, or even a week. The first summer that this happened I was not prepared and once again took to the internet to search for suggestions about how to keep my babies cool. Before I was able to look all of this up, I immediately put my ferrets in our closet, which they love exploring anyway, because our closets are always much cooler than the rest of the apartment. If it gets over 80 degrees ferrets can have a heat stroke and can even die. I took the top off their extra cage and filled the base with some cool (not cold!) water and let them explore it on their own, because my ferrets do not like to be forced into water. I also turned a storage tub on its side, placed a damp hand towel on the bottom of it, and placed it in a cool area. This is supposed to simulate a mud wallow and can help keep ferrets cool without them getting completely wet. I put a frozen bottle of water in a sock, and put it in their cage. I now keep two or three frozen water bottles on hand all the time, just in case. When experiencing a heat situation such as this, it is even more important to keep your ferrets hydrated. When they start getting over heated, they will eat less food, sleep more, and when they are awake they will stay very low to the ground. At this point I sometimes take that damp hand towel and wrap them in it for a bit to help cool them down. If your ferrets’ nose starts getting really dry, they begin vomiting, or they pass out seek veterinary attention immediately. I hope no one experiences this, which is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to be prepared and know your ferret, so you can see the signs of when they are in trouble.

ferret at feet

Final Words

I really enjoyed writing this article and I love educating people on ferret care. If anyone has any specific questions about ferrets or would like me to go more in depth and write another article on a particular subject please email me at nicolesanchez710@gmail.com.

Nicole Sanchez is a new addition to our staff of writers. Nicole has a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and is currently work at Mountain View Regional Medical Center. She has always loved animals and has cared for dogs, fish, turtles, hermit crabs, goats and more throughout her life. Two years ago Nicole and her fiancé got their first ferret and from there were hooked. Nicole has spent a lot of time learning about ferrets and trying to educate people who believe the mostly false stereotypes about these wonderful, highly intelligent creatures.