Because it is so long, I am putting it under a cut.
Basic Ferret Care
Every new or prospective ferret owner should buy and read Kim Schilling's book “Ferrets for Dummies.” It is a very informative guide on the proper care of ferrets, and is the best one out there. You can find it at some pet stores, like Petsmart or Petco, larger book stores, and online. Some good web sites are www.ferretcentral.org and www.ferret.org.
A ferret should have the largest cage the wallet can afford. Make sure it is a good quality cage where it is highly unlike the ferret would ever become injured. Avoid flimsy parts, sharp edges, and wire flooring. If the cage has wire flooring, you could cover it with linoleum and zip-tie it down. Many ferret owners praise Midwest's Ferret Nation cage, model 142. It is huge and very easy to clean. The cheapest one I've found is on www.ferret.com.
Your cage needs to have one or two high-back low-entry litter pans(you might need more, depending on how many corners of the cage your ferret likes to use), pelleted litter, food and water dishes/bottles, toys, and plenty of beds to snooze in. There is a large variety of choices for beds, like different kinds of hammocks, sleep sacks, old blankets, old towels, old clothing, cuddle cups, hanging cubes, and more.
Your ferret should not remain caged for long periods of time. A ferret needs a minimum of 4 hours out of the cage daily. I allow mine free run during the day, and they are put in the cage to sleep at night. Actually, it's more like so I can sleep at night!
In order to have your ferret playing in a safe environment outside the cage, you'll need to ferret proof the area that the ferret will be inhabiting. Ferrets can fit in the smallest nooks and crannies. If they can fit their head inside something, chances are that they can squeeze their whole body in. Holes that ferrets can escape from need to be covered up, and spaces where a ferret could get stuck needs to be eliminated.
Keep anything you don't want your ferret to get into well out of reach. Ferrets are highly intelligent, and can get into everything. Keep all small objects and rubber objects out of their reach as well. If swallowed, a ferret could get an intestinal blockage, which requires very expensive surgery. Keep away any poisons, cleaners, and medications. Lysol is especially poisonous to ferrets, so never spray any around them.
Recliners are death-traps for ferrets. Ferrets can climb inside them, and when the unsuspecting owner sits in the chair and reclines, the ferret would be crushed. Rocking chairs are also dangerous to ferrets and can crush them as well. Ferrets can crawl behind the refrigerator and under it, so make sure that either the fridge or kitchen is blocked off from them. Keep toilet seats closed as ferrets could accidentally fall in. Make sure your trashcans are lidded and heavy, as ferrets can get in them and either get stuck or make a huge mess. Not to mention they could eat something in there they aren't supposed to!
If you cannot completely ferret-proof the area your ferret will be roaming, they will need constant supervision. You will not be able to leave them alone while they are out.
Some ferrets are naturals at using the litter boxes, others take more time, and some just never learn. Most ferrets aren't 100% at using a litter box. You have to be prepared to deal with a lot of ferret poop, and it's not always going to end up in the places you want it to be. You will need a high-backed litter pan with a low entry. The low entry makes it easy for them to get into the box, and the high-back is because some ferrets tend to poop up high. The box needs to be large enough for the ferret to get all four feet in. Ferrets do not like small litter boxes.
The litter you use should be a pelleted litter. No wood shavings or normal cat litter. Also, do not use any pine products, which contain deadly phenols. Ferrets have very delicate respiratory systems, so these types of litters are very bad for them. Pellets have minimal dust. You can also use puppy pads as an alternative to litter boxes.
You can start litter training in the cage. Ferrets like to go potty in corners, so a litter box or puppy pad in every corner is a good start. Ferrets like to use the restroom right after they wake up. So when you go to wake up your ferret, stick him in the appropriate place for pottying. Praise the ferret for a job well done, and offer a treat. Realize that when giving this treat, the ferret will probably start to fake pooping and peeing in order to get the treat once it realizes what is going on. Once you have mastered the cage with the ferret, you can move on to a larger area, like a small bedroom, and keep adding on to that with each success.
You should make sure that every corner in the house has got a litter box or puppy pad in its place. Ferrets will let you know where they like to use the bathroom, and you can learn from this.
The ferret is an obligate carnivore. That means it's diet should mainly consist of meat, and not meat by-products. The first two or more ingredients should be meat, like chicken, duck, or turkey. Beef isn't that great. Foods with corn and grains need to be avoided. No chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin should be present in their food. The food needs to be be high in fat and protein. It needs to have taurine in it, which is good for the heart and eyes. Chicken has natural taurine in it. Here is a wonderful food chart that has helped me in my decision to feed the right foods: http://www.mdferretpaws.org/care/food_t
Treats need to share similar qualities of their normal kibble. Never give ferrets fruits or vegetables. They cannot digest them, and might cause intestinal blockages. Most ferrets are lactose intolerant, so do not give dairy products. Candy should never be given, as chocolate is poisonous, and the sugars from candy are thought to be a cause of insulinoma tumors. Breads and grains are also inappropriate, as ferrets have problems digesting fibers as well. The best treats are meaty ones. Never give too many treats.
Products like Ferretone, Linatone, and Nupro can be used as a treat, but should be given sparingly. These are all vitamin supplements. Your ferret does not require them, but they do make a tasty occasional treat. Gerber's chicken baby food Step Two makes a great treat, and is easy to feed when a ferret becomes ill.
When switching to a new food, the change needs to be done gradually, not cold-turkey. Not to mention a lot of ferrets are picky, but changing foods abruptly can cause an upset stomach and a lot of loose stools. Over a 10 to 14 day period, gradually increase the amount of the new food and decrease the amount of the old food. It is also good to introduce a lot of different foods at a young age. Kits imprint on their food, and it becomes harder for them to recognize new foods as they get older. This is why there are so many picky ferrets. Up until the age of ten weeks, your ferret's food should be served moist. Dry food fed at too young an age can cause a prolapsed rectum.
Make sure your ferret has access to food and water at all times. Ferrets need to be able to free-feed because their metabolism is so fast. They will have digested their food in three to four hours. Ferrets very rarely become obese from free-feeding.
Toys and Games
Ferrets need many toys to stimulate their very intelligent minds. Sometimes ferrets get bored with their toys, so switching them out with different ones weekly gives them something new and fun, even if they had it only two weeks ago.
Ferrets love noise-making toys like those that crinkle or rattle. They do not like squeak toys. Squeak toys remind ferrets of a kit crying out in fear or pain. But they can be very useful in finding your ferret, should it become lost. They usually come running to the sound of a squeaker. Ferrets love to play in tubes(long, flexible ones or long PVC pipes), and will race through them for hours. Most cat toys are appropriate for ferrets, but ALWAYS avoid rubber toys or with small parts they could ingest.
Invent plenty of games you and your ferret can enjoy together. Tag is a very popular game. They also enjoy being skidded across a linoleum floor and come running back to you for more. They also enjoy if you drag a towel across the floor. They will hop on and go for a ride!
Your ferret needs to go to the vet at least once a year for a check up, until it reaches the age of four, when it needs to start going twice a year because it is now a middle aged ferret. Make sure that your vet is experienced. Do not be afraid to ask them questions. Ask about what kind of ferret surgeries and illnesses they have experienced. Ask about how many ferrets they have come in regularly.
Ferrets require distemper and rabies vaccines. Distemper should be given at ages 8, 11, and 14 weeks of age, and once every year after that. Rabies is needed annually, starting at 12 weeks. I recommend having your vet give Benadryl to your ferret prior to the vaccination to help prevent allergic reactions. There have been a lot of reactions to the rabies vaccine, and I have experienced this first-hand, nearly losing one of my ferrets to a rabies vaccine. Some ferrets who are allergic to the vaccines may not show symptoms the first time they get the shot. This was the way my ferret was. So make sure you always ask for Benadryl.
You will need to have your ferret tested for ADV. It is a strain of parvo, and is very contagious to other ferrets. It is usually fatal to ferrets. Here is a page on ADV: http://www.ferret-universe.com/health/a
At each vet visit, have your ferret tested for intestinal parasites. Bring in a little poop sample for them to test. If your vet confirms your ferret has worms, they can prescribe a wormer appropriate for it. Remember, fleas can cause tape worm, so fleas have to be eliminated first in order to get rid of tape worm. Puppy and kitten Revolution has proven pretty safe to use on ferrets monthly.
Ferrets need their ears cleaned once a week. Mineral oil is great for cleaning ears. Just dip the end of a q-tip in the oil, then swab around the ferret's ears. You can scruff the ferret while cleaning the ears, which keeps the ferret from squirming so much. Once the end of the swab has been used, do not reuse again. Very dark ear wax, scratching at the ears, and a bad smell coming from the ears is a sign of ear mites. Check with your vet if you are concerned your ferret might have ear mites.
Ferrets need their nails trimmed weekly. Untrimmed nails can cause problems with their feet, and can also lead to nasty scratches. They also need their teeth brushed every two weeks.
All the items you need for trimming their nails, cleaning their ears, and brushing their teeth can be found at the pet store or grocery store. Make sure tooth paste is kitten or ferret safe, and you use a soft dog or baby toothbrush.
Ferrets do not need baths often. Maybe twice yearly, unless they get into something dirty or nasty. Over-bathing a ferret actually causes it to stink more. When you bathe a ferret, you wash away all its natural oils and it has to work extra hard to get them back, so it stinks more. Ferrets are not really bad smelling; in my opinion, their smell reminds me of corn chips.
Ferrets will shed twice a year, not year-round like a dog or cat. This happens around the spring and fall months. If you notice any abnormal shedding, especially around the base of the tail and their lower back, it could be a sign of adrenal cancer, so get your ferret to the vet right away! You can give your ferret hairball medication that is cat or ferret safe.
Keep their environment clean. Wash bedding weekly, and clean litter pans daily. Wipe down the cage daily, and hose down once every two weeks.
Do not take the ferret's respiratory system lightly. It is very delicate, and actually very similar to our own. As I mentioned earlier, regular clay cat litter and wood shavings are bad for ferrets. You should NEVER smoke in an area that your ferret roams.
All people who take in a ferret need to learn what they are getting into is very expensive. And it's not the food, the cage, or the cost of the animal that is the expensive part. Their vet bills are what makes the ferret a very costly pet. Most ferrets develop some sort of cancer by age 3 or 4, referred to as lymphoma, adrenal disease, and insulinoma. It is unfortunate that 80% of ferrets will get at least one of these cancers. They all require surgery, and medicine for the rest of their lives. The surgery can sometimes cost around $1500. Medicine can be as cheap as $3, or as expensive as $200. It depends on your vet. Here is a good site you can go to learn about these and other diseases: http://ferretcentral.org/faq/index.h
Spaying, Neutering, and Descenting
Most likely, if you have adopted your ferret from the pet store, it is already spayed or neutered. About 95% of the ferrets sold in the US come from a ferret mill called Marshall Farms, which spay, neuter, and descent your ferret at a very young age. If your ferret has not been spayed or neutered, it needs to at about 6 months of age. Males need to be neutered because they smell very musky if you don't, and can become aggressive during the breeding season. Females must be spayed because a female in heat cannot come out of heat unless bred, given a hormone shot, or spayed. If she is left in heat, she will develop aplastic anemia, which will kill her. Only about 3% of female ferrets will survive this anemia.
Descenting a ferret is unnecessary, and can be detrimental to the ferret's health, even causing incontinence. Unfortunately, most ferrets are sold this way. By being descented, a ferret's anal glands are surgically removed. Most mammals have anal glands, not just skunks, even dogs and cats. A ferret's anal glands will release a musky smell when agitated, upset, excited, or scared. This does not happen often, and the smell quickly dissipates. It washes off the skin or clothing easily. If you have the choice of descenting your ferret, I highly recommend that you don't.
The Ferret's Personality
Each ferret differs in personality, but all share similar traits. One should know that ferrets are common thieves. They will go to no ends to steal car keys, wallets, and anything else that suits their fancy. You will find these items hidden in their “hidey holes,” which may be under the bed or a dresser chair or anywhere! If you find your ferret has a passion for hiding something it shouldn't be, make sure to keep that item far out of reach!
Ferrets are very friendly, social animals. They do best with other ferrets, because when you can't play with them and aren't around, they'll have a companion. Ferrets are intelligent and will try their best to get whatever it is they want.
Ferrets make very few noises. Ferrets “dook” or chirp when excited and playing. It means they're having a good time. Ferrets hiss when angry. They will scream if in pain.
When playing, you might see your ferret hopping about with an arched back, probably dooking or hissing. This means it is having a GREAT time. It is known as the “Weasel War Dance.” It is the ferret's call to play.
Sometimes, it can be hard to wake a ferret up. Some ferrets seem nearly comatose when sleeping, and many new ferret owners have rushed the ferret to the vet thinking it was dead. This is most common in young kits. It is absolutely normal. Ferrets also shiver when waking up, so do not let this alarm you. It is how the ferret brings its body temperature back up.
Some ferrets are unfortunately biters. Ferrets need to be nip trained. Kits are naturally nippy, and nipping during play is normal ferret behavior of how the kit would play with its siblings. When they nip or bite you, scruff them, look them firmly in the face, and tell them no. Then you may place them down again. Continue this practice. You can also use your voice to exclaim your pain to the ferrets when they bite, so that they know that you just aren't as tough as another ferret is, and will be gentler. Even if the biting doesn't really hurt, it could get worse, so you can still feign pain for the sake of teaching them not to bite. If this does not help, there is a product called “Bitter Apple Spray,” which you can spray on your skin. Once the ferret tastes it, he will decide it is not very good and will be less likely to bite you because he thinks you taste bad. “Ferrets for Dummies” has good tips on dealing with problem biters.
Keeping Kids and Ferrets
Ferrets are very delicate because of their small size, especially their backbones. If your children are very young and do not know how to handle animals, big or small, they either need to be taught how to handle them or not left around your ferrets. If other people's children come around, do not trust them with the ferrets. Most children do not realize how to be gentle with a pet. Some children have squeezed ferrets to death on accident. Never trust children alone with your ferrets.
Keeping Ferrets and Other Animals
Do not ever allow your ferrets around rodents, reptiles, or birds. These are prey animals, and it is your ferret's instinct to kill them. There have been successes with ferrets and dogs and cats getting along. If they do not get along, they will have to be kept separately.
When introducing your ferret to another animal, whether it is another ferret, a dog, or a cat, it must be done gradually. Leaving your ferret alone with another strange animal is dangerous. First off, bathe all your animals with the same shampoo. Animals tend to accept animals that smell like they do. Do not allow ferrets to stay in the same cage until you know that they get along. If you have an extra cage, or a Ferret Nation cage, you can switch the ferrets out between the different cages(or with the ferret nation cage, you can switch them to different levels), so they can become acquainted with the other animal's smell. Let dogs and cats sniff the ferrets through the cage bars. Once they are used to that, you can hold the ferret and allow your other dogs, cats, or ferrets to inspect it. If they do not make too much fuss, you may let the ferret down and let them check each other out. Make sure you can stop any fights that may occur. With ferrets, it might be hard for the new owner to tell whether the ferrets are fighting or playing. Signs of a true fight are blood, pooping or peeing in fear, and screaming. If you think your ferrets may be fighting, separate them for a moment. Put them down in separate places away from each other. If the one who seemed to be getting the worst of it comes running back to the other ferret, they were most likely just playing.
Never leave a dog alone with a ferret. No matter how much you may trust your dog, something could always happen to cause your dog to attack and/or kill the ferret. Cats seem to do well alone with ferrets, but you shouldn't leave young kits alone with adult cats or young kittens alone with adult ferrets. Deaths have resulted from this.
Ferrets are not for everyone. They are high maintenance pets, and can get expensive. But they are a very rewarding pet, living out their lives loving you. They make great companions and friends, and will be sure to always keep a smile on your face.