New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2002



Text by Heather Rangevine and photos by Mikey Alderson

Step into any ferret fancier's home and you'll set foot into a different world. As any ferret owner and enthusiast can tell you, owning a ferret, or rather being owned by a ferret, is a unique experience. These people are the first to admit that having ferrets is a lot of work, but it is undoubtedly a labor of love. These lovely little creatures are friendly and entertaining with their antics of dancing and dooking (hopping).

The domestic ferret (mustelaide furo) has been domesticated for thousands of years. It is believed that the ferret originated in Europe, for purposes of hunting rodents. Also belonging to the ferret family are skunks, otters, weasels and polecats. Ferrets, like their cousins, are strict carnivores and require a high protein, meat based diet. Your veterinarian and ferret shelters can provide you with a list of foods meeting the nutritional requirements of your ferret.

Frankie the ferret

Ferrets enjoy both human and ferret companionship. They require a minimum of three hours of social interaction per day. Friendly and curious by nature, ferrets can and will get into everything, including houseplants, cabinets, closets, etc. Anywhere a ferret can fit its head, it will squeeze its body into. Ensuring the health and safety of your ferret is priority number one. Whether you've had ferrets for years or are a first time owner, you must ensure that your ferrets' play areas are "ferret proofed."

Routine maintenance will keep your pet happy and healthy. Nail trimming, ear cleaning and tooth brushing should be done on at least a bi-weekly basis. But what about that "musky" odor? Sanitary living conditions are the best way to ensure odor control. This includes cleaning the litter pans daily, changing bedding at least once a week and using a diluted bleach solution to clean the cage on a weekly basis.

The needs of a ferret are similar to those of a dog or a cat. They require annual health exams by a veterinarian and vaccinations including distemper and rabies. However, unlike dogs and cats, ferrets are susceptible to the common cold and flu. If you are sick, you should not handle your ferret until you are well. Unfortunately, as ferrets age, they are more prone to illnesses in their later years, ranging from various types of cancers, Aleutians Disease Virus, tumors and insulinoma. Because ferrets are considered exotic animals, veterinary care can be more costly.

. . . and his pal Freddie

So you've researched and educated yourself about ferrets and have decided that a ferret is the right pet for you. A good first step in obtaining one is to contact your local ferret clubs and shelters. Both are an excellent source for information on health, training, veterinarians or any other questions you may have. New Mexico has a network of ferret shelters; you can contact your local Animal Humane Association for a list of shelters in your area.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of adopting a ferret from a shelter? First of all, there are numerous ferrets in shelters in need of loving homes. In fact, many of the ferrets in these shelters are waiting to be adopted by qualified homes. Most of the time a ferret from a shelter is litter box trained, well socialized and well behaved. There are exceptions to this, as ferret shelters are known for taking on some of the toughest cases. Ferret shelters accept all ferrets - young and old, abused and neglected, special needs and unwanted. If necessary, adoptable ferrets are rehabilitated with patience and love, while unadoptable ferrets become permanent residents of the shelter.

Ferret shelters are all home-owned and operated by volunteers who sacrifice their own time and money to ensure the happiness and safety of ferrets. They rely on donations of food, litter, cages, toys and adoption fees to survive. In Albuquerque alone, local shelters rarely have fewer than 15 ferrets at any given time and are in constant need of support. Despite the special assistance from veterinarians and volunteers, there is never enough help. Please contact your local shelters and see how you can help today!

Heather Rangevine operates Hooked on Ferrets Rescue & Shelter in Albuquerque
(505-271-5946), e-mail address:

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