The average life span of a ferret is 6 to 8 years. When fully grown, females weigh about 800 grams (1.5 lbs) while males are generally about 1.2 kg (2.5 lbs). A female's length is about 30 cm (12 inches) nose to tail and the males are about 45 cm (16 inches).
Ferrets come in many colour variations: Most are shades of brown, gray and black with the mask, feet and tail ("points") generally being the darkest in colour. The red-eyed white breed of ferret, commonly called an "albino", was bred for the trait of eye colour. These animals suffer from some vision problems due to this breeding, mostly related to difficulties with bright light.
Ferrets have powerful, distinct and engaging personalities, with a playful and fastidious nature. They are very gregarious and are happiest in pairs or larger groups.
Ferrets are half-light creatures with their periods of greatest activity just before sunrise and shortly after sunset. They sleep about eighteen to twenty hours of the day, waking up twice a day for very active periods of about two hours. Due to their very high metabolism, ferrets also awaken roughly every four hours for a few minutes to eat, relieve themselves and play briefly. When they wake, ferrets shiver noticeably for periods up to twenty minutes. This is normal as the ferret is increasing his body temperature after sleep due to his high metabolism and inherently higher body temperature.
As burrow-living animals, ferrets require a dark, quiet place to sleep. The most suitable places are boxes and drawers with bedding of old towels, sweaters, pants and the like in which they can roll up or bury themselves.
Ferrets are extremely curious and will investigate anything and everything. This curiosity is the leading cause of accidents amongst ferrets. It is important to supervise your ferret at all times when he is at play. When you allow your ferrets to roam about your home, never close refrigerators, washers, driers, etc. without first ensuring no ferrets are exploring or roosting within.
Ferrets are latrine animals and prefer to use specific areas for this purpose. Generally, a ferret will relieve himself within a few minutes of waking up. Being small predators, ferrets would be in the middle of the food chain in the wild, so their instinct is to find a sheltered corner as a latrine. This makes it possible to litter train a ferret with considerable success.
The ferret should have a litter box or paper placed in a corner near his nest or in his cage and be confined to the nest/litter area until after he has relieved himself. Afterwards, he can be released to play in the rest of the home, as he will not relieve himself again until after his next sleep. The size of the training area can slowly be expanded as the ferret learns to use a specific area, much like paper training a puppy. A litter box can be placed in a secluded, out-of-sight corner with a piece of furniture providing cover on the third side of the box. Place a litter box in each room for the ferret's use, and his natural preferences should guide him to it. The use of a fine, dust-free, clumping litter in a litter box or newspapers is suggested. Remember to clean up daily.
Play & Nipping
Ferrets are very playful animals, much like kittens or puppies that never grow up. They have many behaviours related to play and play "hunting" which confuse or even frighten people unfamiliar with ferret body language.
The most common action is the "war dance," where the ferret arches his back, throws his head back with fangs bared, often bushing up his tail, and maniacally bounces forward, backwards, sideways, all the while chittering happily away. As seemingly mad as this dance may seem, it is only a challenge to come down to his level and play. If you imitate his actions, he will become more frenzied (hard to imagine though this may be) and start chasing you, stop suddenly, turn and run. Now it's your turn to chase him.
Another common message is pawing the ground while semiprone: This is a challenge to a play fight. Paw the ground yourself, and he will jump at you, and then retreat. A few more bouts of pawing and jumping, and he will attack your hand or wrist, wrestling it down and attempting to "kill" it.
All ferrets have an affinity for people and want to include their parents in their play. This is a major bounding component in a ferret's life. Due to his extremely strong jaws and small, sharp teeth, a young ferret easily can break a person's skin during these games. The ferrets' thick fur and skin protects them when they play together. It takes a while for them to realize that humans have only thin skin and no fur, which is no protection against bites. When the ferret bites or nips too hard, simply do what is natural and yelp in pain. Once they recognize that they are hurting us, ferrets modify their play so as not to do damage. This rough play is an essential part of a ferret's life, especially when young.
Nipping, that is pinching the skin hard without breaking it, is another invitation to play. Some kits never nip, but most do and, though they do mellow with age, this is a normal communication process with ferrets.
Ferrets are active, curious animals that should be allowed to run free when awake and be caged only when required for safety. Should you not be able to allow the animals a large area with toys to roam about freely and explore, then ferrets are not the pet for you.
When it is necessary to confine your pets, they should be kept in a cage large enough to allow separate sleeping, eating, litter and play areas. Generally, a cage of 1 metre by 1/2 metre (40 inches by 20 inches) can house one to three ferrets comfortably for a short period of time or for travel. If confined for too long, they become frustrated and claw or gnaw at the cage, resulting in dental damage. When it is necessary to keep the animals caged, exercise in a large area conducive to exploration for periods of two to three hours twice a day is advised. Remember that a cage is a dangerous place for animals that roughhouse when playing. Make sure that there are no exposed wires, gaps between wires that could catch toes and nails, loose doors or panels that can catch a head, or perch-like shelves that the ferrets can fall from when playing.
Ferrets love to tunnel, so their favourite beddings are sheets, towels, blankets, sweaters and such. These items are ideal for ferrets to snuggle into, but ensure that sweaters and blankets do not have decorations on them that the ferret can pull off and swallow.
Small cardboard boxes, bags of plastic and paper, throw rugs and towels, white socks and clean linen: These are some of a ferret's favorite things. Fancy toys are nice for humans, but the child in the ferret enjoys the things he can crawl into, under, and through, like drainage pipe and box lids. The leavings of the latest shopping expedition (bags, boxes, etc.) are the greatest gift mankind can bestow upon a ferret.
Ferrets are exceptionally playful, so expect your ferret to tip over his food and water bowls. Check on them often, tape them down, use a heavy dish or place a rubber mat underneath for spillage.
Do not use water bottles for ferrets: These are unsanitary, damage teeth and do not allow a dehydrating ferret to get enough water to survive. Ferrets also wash their faces in water, so an open source is necessary for their hygiene.
Because ferrets have such rapid metabolisms, they awaken to eat about every four hours. Fresh water and food should always be available to them. Ferrets eat only what they need and leave excess food for later, so one need not worry about over feeding.
Ferrets are carnivores, they need at least 3 proteins in their diet. 8/9 Bone in meals a week, 2 muscle meat meals, 1 heart meal and 2 organ meals. All should be fed raw and as much as the ferret will eat. They need taurine (found in the hearts) in their diets. Bones will clean their teeth and hold their poops together better. High quality kitten or cat kibbles can be fed but need to be over 35% in protein and trace amounts of fiber and carbs. Ferrets source their energy from fats so fatty foods are preferred for a high energized ferret!
Avoid fruits and vegetables as much as you can and these should not be given as treats as they are too high in sugar and ferrets cannot digest them and they may cause blockages. Healthy treats for ferrets can be canned pure pumpkin (NOT pie filling!!) or cooked and blended squash/pumpkin (baby food consistency) this will help push anything that may block them up through and will hold their stools together. This is not a replacement for vet treatment if your ferret has a blockage!!
Oils (olive oil, fish oil etc) are a tasty treat, nutrigel and ferret tone
Vitamin supplements are not necessary if the ferrets are fed high quality food with 3 proteins and hearts and organs. However, many ferrets love Linatone or Ferritone vitamin supplements, which are given as reward for good behavior or a distraction when clipping nails and such. No more that 3 drops per day should be given to your ferret as an excess of certain vitamins can cause medical problems including fur loss and blindness. Nutri-Cal and Ferretvite are other supplements used mostly for ill or undernourished ferrets, though they can be used as healthier treats for ferrets instead of Linatone or Ferritone.
Yearly Veterinary Visit
As a ferret year is the equivalent of a decade in a human's life, you will need to take your ferret to your veterinarian two or three times a year for a medical checkup, with yearly vaccinations once a year. Ferrets require yearly inoculations against canine distemper to which they are highly susceptible and it is always fatal. Given the frequency of distemper outbreaks, do not forget to inoculate against this every year!
If your ferret is outside for any length of time or exposed to other animals that are, a rabies vaccination is also suggested. Be aware that proof of a valid rabies inoculation is required when taking your pet across international borders.
Include a dental examination for your pet also. Though ferrets seldom develop cavities, check your ferret's teeth regularly as many ferrets break their fangs when playing. This can cause excruciating pain and make the animal cranky and bitey. Supplementing your ferret's diet with a food formulated to clean teeth and massage gums (e.g. Hill's Prescription Diet Feline T/D) will reduce the likelihood of dental problems. Such foods are available only through veterinarians.
Spaying & Neutering
All ferrets should be fixed before they reach sexual maturity as this will drastically reduce their odour and it will extend their lives. Female ferrets go into heat in their first spring (generally in February) and they will remain in season until successfully mated. If mating does not occur, the females can succumb to aplastic anemia and die a most unpleasant death. You will greatly increase your female ferret's life span if you have her fixed before she goes into season.
As ferrets are very difficult to breed successfully and the risk of losing the jill, her kits or both is very high, the breeding of ferrets should be left to experts with on-site veterinary support.
Ferrets attract mates through the use of pheromones, giving the unaltered animals a very pungent aroma which most people find unpleasant. Unfixed males have a strong musky odour and will mark their territory with urine.
When a ferret is altered (spayed or neutered) its odour will be eliminated almost entirely. Thereafter, bathing when the scent becomes strong (once every month to six months, depending on the weather, activity level, food, etc.) should be all that is required. However, ferrets, like all animals, will retain a slight odour.
Be a responsible pet owner and have your pets neutered or spayed. This increases your pleasure in your pets and makes them more attractive to others.
You can also bring a jill out of season via a hormone injection or breeding with a vasectomized hob (this is different to a desexed male) or via breeding.
Once your ferret has been fixed, your ferret will require a bath only every few months. Use a good quality "no-tears" human shampoo, preferably with a conditioner, which allows you to wash the ferret from nose to tail without causing any discomfort to the eyes. Be sure to wash around your ferret's neck and face, as there are additional scent glands located on the cheeks.
A common cause of premature death in ferrets is the intestinal obstruction. Many ferrets will chew on soft rubber and other small objects. Objects can become lodged in the ferret's intestine, causing an agonizing and slow death unless surgery is performed immediately to remove the obstruction. Many other items can be just as deadly: Doll feet or hands, erasers, ear plugs, sponges, coffee beans, small buttons, shoe inserts and other foam rubber items, etc. Be careful and use your common sense as you would if you had a toddler at home. Fortunately, most ferrets outgrow this rubber fetish once they have left kithood, but it is best to take no chances.
Do not feed your ferret grain-based foods (breads, cakes, cookies, cereals, noodles, etc.), nuts, or fibrous fruits and vegetables. These items are indigestible to ferrets and can result in various digestive problems, including blockages.
Warning signs of a blockage are listlessness, problems passing a stool, passing a thin and/or mucousy stool, refusal to eat or drink, and vomiting after eating or especially drinking. If you suspect a blockage, take your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
Ferrets can catch the human influenza and cold viruses and they can pass them back. If you have a cold or the flu, be sure to wash your hands before touching your ferret. Keep the ferret away from your face and do your best not to give your cold to your ferret.
Ferrets are also susceptible to canine distemper and rabies (see above). Other common diseases are adrenal and pancreatic tumors, cardiomyopathy, Aleutian disease, bronchial pneumonia and other viral infections. Most can be effectively treated given early diagnosis.
As ferrets tend to deteriorate quickly if they become ill due to their high metabolic rate, it is important to provide proper veterinary care immediately.
Ferrets are dry, temperate climate creatures who suffer from warm temperatures and the damp. They should be kept indoors rather than outside and when the temperature exceeds 20ø C (72ø F) they should be kept in a cool, shaded place with fresh water in bowls. Ferrets do have sweat glands, but their thick fur prevents body cooling by evaporation, making them very susceptible to heatstroke and dehydration. Even if temperatures do not reach such an extreme, the ferrets are often left damp from sweat and sensitive to chills from sudden cooling afterwards. Leave your pets at home with lots of water on hot days.
*taken from www.ferrets.org/Caring_For_Fer… and removed certain aspects.