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Ferrets come from the family "Mustelidae" which is the same family as badgers, wolverines, otters, mink, weasels, black footed ferrets and polecats.  The word ferret is derived from the latin furonem, which means "thief."   They have been domesticated for 2000 years or more, and were brought to America as pets as long as 300 years ago.  Ferrets are usually spay/neutered and descented.  They have a distinctly musky odor about them, which comes from their skin glands and is present whether the ferret is descented or not.  Occasional baths are recommended, however, frequent bathing will actually cause the skin glands to produce more oils in an effort to combat the dryness.

Ferrets live an average of 6-8 years.  Females are called Jills.  Males are called Hobs.  Males tend to be larger than females and can weigh up to 4 lbs whereas females average 1-2.5 lbs.

Ferrets sleep about 16-18 hours a day and are naturally active at dawn and dusk, but will adjust their sleeping and active times to the fit the schedules of their owners. They have relatively poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores and must be fed a high quality ferret diet high in animal protein (30-40%) and fat (20-30%) while low in carbohydrates and fiber (<3%), similar to cats, however, it is NOT recommended to feed cat food.  Ferrets have a quick metabolism and a short digestive system, so they need to eat frequently (usually every 3-4 hours). It is best to have food available constantly.  And remember NOT all foods are created equally!




Treats should be given sparingly.  Eggs (hard boiled or scrambled), small amounts of cooked meats and freeze dried liver make good treats. Commercial ferret treats should only be used if they are meat based - avoid those with grains, vegetables or sugars. Ferrets do have a sweet tooth but it is best to avoid sweet treats (including raisins and other fruits).

Litter training: http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=11+1280&aid=553


CURIOUSITY!  Ferrets are good at getting into drains, under doors, inside drawers, in cupboards/cabinets, and inside/under/behind household appliances, which exposes them to the danger of being injured or killed by moving parts, getting into poisons or chemicals, drowning or some other misadventure. REMEMBER THEY ARE WEASLES! Clothes dryer vents often become escape routes to the outdoors. Serious and sometimes fatal injuries have resulted from ferrets chewing on live electrical cords.  Recliners and fold-out sofas are a leading cause of accidental death in pet ferrets.  The curious animals will climb inside the mechanism and are then injured or killed when the position of the chair or sofa is changed.

Vaccinations for distemper should be given at 8, 11 and 14 weeks of age and then boostered annually.  Distemper is unfortunately much more common in ferrets and is an airborne virus that is very deadly to any ferret that is unvaccinated. Distemper can even be carried in on your shoes and clothes. Fervac-D and Purevax are the only distemper vaccinations approved for ferrets,  Rabies (Imrab 3) vaccine should be given at 3 months of age and then boostered annually along with a yearly check-up by your veterinarianRabies vaccination is required by law and is not approved for more than one year in ferrets.

Top 3 Ferret Diseases

1. ADRENAL TUMORS--A tumor forms on the adrenal gland inside the abdomen and produces excess cortisol (steroid) and causes:

  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Papery thin or translucent looking skin
  • Excessive scratching and itchiness with sores
  • Increase in musky body odor
  • Excessive grooming of self or other ferrets, including ear sucking
  • Sexual aggression and mating behavior in neutered males
  • Swollen vulva in spayed females
  • Difficulty urinating for males - this is a sign of an enlarged prostate, a condition usually associated with adrenal disease
  • Weakness in back legs - usually seen in severe cases
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weight loss with a pot bellied appearance
  • Your ferret can be managed medically with Lupron injections and/or Melatonin or be referred to a specialist for surgery to remove the adrenal tumor.  Please note that treatment for adrenal tumors in ferrets is NOT the same as dogs and those medications can be deadly.

    2. INSULINOMAS--A tumor in the pancreas that causes too much insulin to be secreted, thus dropping the blood sugar.  Signs of low blood sugar include lethargy, salivation, seizures, and comas.  Most people say their ferret acts "drunk".  Emergency treatment involves forcing a sugary solution into your ferrets mouth (karo syrup, pancake syrup or NUTRICAL).  Your veterinarian will run blood tests to confirm low blood sugars.  Many ferrets are managed with prednisone after diagnosis.


    3. LYMPHOMA--Cancer of the Lymph Nodes and White Blood Cells...There are two presentations of lymphosarcoma in the ferret - a rapidly progressive lymphoblastic form which is most common in ferrets under 2 years of age, and a more chronic form which affects ferrets 5-7 years of age. 

    The "classic" form of lymphosarcoma causes marked enlargement of the lymph nodes.  Late in the course of disease, neoplastic lymphocytes invade visceral organs (including the liver, kidney, lungs, and spleen) resulting in organ failure and death. This disease is usually insidious, resulting in little clinical debility until extensive infiltration of visceral organs has occurred.

    The juvenile form is quite different. In this disease, large immature lymphocytes quickly infiltrate the thymus, spleen, liver, and many other organs. Little to no lymph node replacement is seen in these cases.  One of the more common presentations is dyspnea (trouble breathing) and is often mis-diagnosed as cardiomyopathy or pneumonia. The lesion in this syndrome is actually a rapidly growing thymic mass which compresses the lungs.

    While prednisone may result in initial clinical improvement, more aggressive forms of chemotherapy increase the chances of inducing remission.


    Ferrets are also prone to intestinal blockages and hairballs.  Many ferrets chew items that present the risk of intestinal blockage and death if ingested. Objects made of soft rubber, foam, or sponge are the leading cause of obstructions.   Latex and hard rubber dog toys, foam rubber cat balls, rubber bands, foam ear plugs, pencil erasers, chunks of "flip flop" thongs, soles from shoes, foam weather-stripping or insulation, rubber feet from small appliances or telephones, etc., remote control buttons, foam insulation around sports bottles, foam rubber cushions or matresses, and Styrofoam cups or packing "peanuts", have all been eaten by ferrets. If ingestion occurs, sometimes dosing the ferret with a cat hairball laxative paste may help the foreign matter to be passed, but if this is unsuccessful, surgical removal is probably necessary. If a ferret is vomiting due to an obstruction, it is a medical emergency.

    Ear mites, fleas and heartworm are also a concern in ferrets.  Advantage may be used on ferrets to kill fleas while some use Revolution to take care of all three diseases.


    Aleutian disease virus (ADV)  is a parvovirus discovered among mink in the Aleutian Islands in the early 20th century. In ferrets, the virus affects the immune system (causing it to produce non-neutralizing antibodies) and many internal organs, particularly the kidneys. There is no cure or vaccine and ferrets may carry the virus for months or years without any signs.



    Please Rescue Your Next Ferret  http://www.ferretrescue.com/