Ferrets: walking disasters or great pets?
It is a very, very tough job keeping ferrets as pets for a number of reasons. Here are some of the big ones below:
- They smell. Ferrets smell really bad to most people. Animal lovers don't find the scent awful, but it is definitely strong. Some describe it as musky, but I find that the smell of strong artificial chocolate is the closest way to describe it. Males generally smell stronger than females, while neutered ones smell more mild. If you don't wash and dry one throughly an hour before traveling, you'll get many people turning their noses up at you and your pet on public transportation, which can be very embarrassing. I found out that that any smell = bad. People don't want to smell anything, basically.
- They poop. A lot. How much? At least 10 times a day, and the consistency is like brown toothpaste. You can't stop them from going as much either, as their digestive tracts are very short. Not all can be litter-trained, and a lot of the time they'll still go outside of the litter tray. You have to put the tray in a corner where they choose to do their business, and most like doing it in more than one corner, which means lots of trays. You have to be willing to clean up accidents on a regular basis and to keep trays as clean as possible, because a dirty one will not be used. You will also have to smear some feces on it whenever you clean the trays, because otherwise the ferret might mistake it for a bed instead.
- They might bite. You'll have to be very very careful in selecting yours. If it bites the human hand, it is next to impossible to train it not to. If you move your hand away, the ferret will learn that it will be able to do what it wanted, which was to drive you away, even if it its intention was to play (you became "it" when you moved away!) Some have luck in training them not to bite, but I have not and I have had mine for over two years. Others who are more experienced will say it is because I have been a bad parent or owner. But why is it that all the other pets I have kept have never bitten me? Basically, expect to be bitten with blood to be seen. This is why ferrets are not good for children. They also bite each other to induce play and this is their normal behaviour. Unless you teach it that it is unacceptable to bite humans, you cannot expect it not to bite. (Note: Be careful in London. I suspect there is a breeder out there breeding bad genes. London ferrets tend to be more prone to biting a lot, for some reason.)
- They are difficult to walk. You can take it out for walks, but you can't expect them to walk with you. Most don't, and for those that do, they only run in straight lines against a wall, so it is hard to cross roads with them. It is very hard to take more than two out for walks with you. Speaking of . . .
- You need to get more than one. You must always get ferrets as a pair or more. Although I wouldn't advise more than three.
- They need a lot of freedom. Not only that, they need a lot of playtime. Keeping them caged for long periods of time is cruel, just like it would be cruel to cage a dog. Ferrets are highly intelligent animals, more so than rodents—they possess around the same intelligence as a dog or cat. They also have lots of energy that needs to be spent on playtime daily. Otherwise, they can be very destructive, messing up litter trays, food, water, and even chipping their teeth through constant biting of their cages.
- The vet bills are expensive. So expensive. On top of that, it is hard to find cheap insurance for ferrets. They are often classified as exotic pets, when they're really domestic, and there is nothing exotic about them, they're just uncommon pets. They are very prone to genetical diseases—especially cancer, and treatment is very costly. Don't bother getting one, unless you have at least a grand saved for each that you plan on owning. Although they are becoming increasingly popular as pets, many vets still don't know what a ferret is, and some that do are very insensitive towards them, not wanting to touch them and are always thinking they will bite. Most don't know how to treat them for more ferret-related illnesses, and you have to be careful about the ones that claim that they do. You need to find the right one.
If you read all of this and none of this puts you off, then you are one of very few! If you are willing to go through the above, then a ferret may be the perfect pet for you. Otherwise, you should really consider a different pet.