Q. What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?
A. Ferrets are domestic animals, cousins of weasels, skunks and otters. They are not rodents; taxonomically they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They are friendly and make excellent pets. If you've never met one before, the easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in personality, but rather smaller. They can only see reasonably well, but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Some are cuddly, others more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets.
A ferret or better, two or more, can be a very entertaining companion(s). They are smarter than cats and dogs. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a bother.
They can be trained to use a litter box and to do tricks, and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or in a bag. They sleep a lot, and don't mind staying in small places (a cage, for instance, or a shoulder bag) temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at least a couple of hours a day. Ferrets typically live about 6-10 years.
Like kittens and puppies, ferrets require a lot of care and training at first. Ferrets have their own distinct scent, which bothers some people. Although most ferrets get along reasonably well with cats and dogs, it's not guaranteed, so if you have large, aggressive pets (particularly dogs of breeds commonly used for hunting), keep that in mind. Likewise, small children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination could be too much.
Q. My question is about fleas and my 9-year-old ferret: I am never sure what is safe to use for flea control for my ferret. I have dipped her before and tried the flea pills, however, no one was ever sure what the correct dosage should be. Do you have any suggestions as to the best way to control fleas on my ferret?
A. Splash (Marc's ferret) says that the best flea spray for ferrets is Marshall's Flea Spray or Flea Shampoo, which is sold in pet stores. It's a pyrethrum-based solution that not hurt your ferret if used properly. Keep your house very clean, as ferrets are on the floor all the time, going in dusty corners where fleas breed.
Q. My ferret never goes outside. Do I have to get him inoculated for Rabies?
A. Actually the possibility of your ferret contracting Rabies is probably nonexistent. However, there is always the possibility that someone could claim that your ferret scratched or bit them. If that happened your local health dept. will ask to see a certificate from you that proves that your ferret was inoculated They will give both you and your ferret a hard time if you cannot produce the certificate, so it is well worth the peace of mind to get your ferret inoculated.
Q. What are the different ferret colors?
A. Ferrets often change colors with the seasons, lighter in the winter than in the summer, and many of them lighten as they age, too. Different ferret organizations recognize different colors and patterns, but unless you're planning to enter your ferret in a show, the exact label isn't particularly important. Some of the more commonly accepted colors are described in general terms below:
• The albino is white with red eyes and a pink nose. A dark-eyed white can have very light eyes and can possibly be confused with an albino. These can actually range from white to cream colored with the whiter the color the better.
• A dark-eyed white (often called a black-eyed white) is a ferret with white guard hairs but eyes darker than the red of an albino.
• The sable has rich dark brown guard hairs with golden highlights, with a white to golden undercoat. A black sable has blue-black guard hairs with no golden or brownish cast, with a white to cream undercoat.
• The chocolate is described as warm dark to milk chocolate brown with a white to golden or amber undercoat and highlights.
A cinnamon is a rich light reddish brown with a golden to white undercoat. This can also be used to describe a ferret with light, tan guard hairs with pinkish or reddish highlights. Straight tan is a champagne.
• A silver starts out grey, or white with a few black hairs. The ferret may or may not have a mask. There is a tendency for the guard hair to lighten to white evenly over the body. As a ferret ages each progressive coat change has a higher percentage of white rather than dark guard hairs. Eventually the ferret could be all white. White patches on the throat might be called throat stars, throat stripes, or bibs; white toes, mitts (sometimes called silver mitts), or stockings go progressively further up the legs.
• A blaze or badger has a white stripe on the top of the head, and a panda has a fully white head.
• A Siamese has an even darker color on the legs and tail than usual and a V-shaped mask; and a self is nearly solid in color.
Q. Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?
A. Ferrets have an odor all their own, just like any pet. Some people like the musky scent, a few can't stand it, and most are in between. If the ferret isn't yet altered, having that done will cut down on the odor a lot; whole (un-neutered) males, particularly, have a very strong smell. Young kits also have a peculiar, sharp scent which they lose as they get a bit older.
Descenting a ferret doesn't change the day-to-day smell. Only the scent glands near the tail are removed, which prevents the ferret from releasing bad-smelling musk if it's frightened, but doesn't stop the normal musky oils that come from glands throughout the skin.
The two big things you can do to cut down on your ferret's odor are to bathe him less - yes, less - often and to clean his bedding more often. Most of the musk stays in the cloth, on the litter or paper, and on your floors and furniture, not on the ferret himself. Cleaning them can be a big help. Also, right after a bath the ferret's skin glands go into overdrive to replenish the oils you just washed away, so for a few days the ferret will actually smell worse. Foods containing fish may make your ferret, or his litter pan, smell worse than those with chicken, lamb, etc. You may also find that your ferret smells more during shedding season in the spring and fall.