Myths and misconceptions abound for ferrets.
From stories about ferrets carrying rabies to being stinky biters, they get a bad rep based on a bunch of falsehoods. Here we debunk 25 of those myths and misconceptions.
1. Ferrets are silent creatures.
Tell that to ferret owners. Ferrets can make noises and often do so while playing or dancing (known as “dooking” by some ferret owners). While they may not be the most vocal animals, they are certainly not silent.
2. Ferrets can’t be trained.
They certainly can be trained: to use the litter box, come on command and even do tricks.
3. Ferrets have great vision because they burrow in the dark.
Ferrets do not have good vision and can see only in reds and blues.
4. Ferrets can’t use a litter box and poop everywhere.
They can — it just takes time and patience with training and a lot of litter boxes in corners (ferrets typically “go” in corners).
5. Ferrets must be caged.
Not true. In some homes ferrets have free run of the house just as a cat or dog would enjoy. You will need to proof your home, though (close openings, remove small objects, cover cords, etc.).
6. Ferrets will bite you.
Not all ferrets. In fact, not most ferrets. Although any animal with teeth has the potential to bite, the key to prevention is socialization, proper care and training. With these necessities covered, ferrets will not be prone to biting. Ferrets that do bite have typically endured abuse and are fearful. Ferrets that receive proper care are affectionate and friendly.
7. Ferrets attack people.
Ferrets don’t attack people as recently portrayed on an episode of Two and a Half Men titled “Ferrets, Attack!”
Ferrets will try to get away from the source of harm first, although abused ferrets may be more prone to biting as a form of self-protection. They do not chase after people in packs on command as shown on the show.
The episode angered the ferret community. If you missed the ferret episode and want to see it, click here. A rabies misconception is at 11:45 and ferret attacks are at 15:15 and 18:44.
8. Ferrets don’t need vet care.
Yeah, they do, just like any other animal. Annual exams and screenings are important for a ferret’s health, along with exercise and good nutrition. They also receive vaccinations such as rabies and distemper. The earlier you catch and treat an ailment or disease, the better chance of recovery you give to your ferret.
9. Ferrets need to eat fruit.
Giving ferrets fruits (and veggies) regularly can actually cause health problems such as tumors. Ferrets need protein from a high-quality food. And by the way, they’re carnivores.
10. Ferrets are rats.
Ferrets descend from a polecat and are mammals. They are a member of the weasel family along with skunks, otters and badgers to name a few.
11. Ferrets are wild animals.
There isn’t a wild ferret colony hiding in the woods. In fact, ferrets would have a hard time surviving outdoors with their limited eyesight, lack of fear, and inability to endure heat and dehydration.
Ferrets were domesticated a long time ago and are indoor companion animals. There are black-footed ferrets that were reintroduced to the wild after captive breeding because the animals had become endangered, but these are in specific areas and monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
12. Ferrets are illegal.
Only in some places. Ferrets are legal in most states, although city and county laws can be stricter than state laws (and in some cases ban them). You may need to provide proof of a rabies vaccination to obtain a license for your pet ferret in some areas. Always check the local laws before adding a ferret to your home.
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13. Ferrets spread rabies.
Domesticated ferrets living indoors would have a difficult time contracting and spreading rabies, and they are statistically less likely to bite than other animals. Previous research has also shown that when presented with rabies, only a small portion of ferrets actually carry the disease. The rate of death in afflicted ferrets was a few days, making a ferret rabies outbreak a bit far-fetched.
14. Ferrets kill other pets.
They do have hunting instincts, and some pets that are not recommended for ferret households include reptiles and insects. Birds are another caution, although pet owners have been known to own birds and ferrets, as well as rabbits (this doesn’t mean they’re the best of friends, but that they co-exist).
Ferrets can become friends with the family cat and might even share the litter box with them. Dogs can be ferret buddies, although dogs with high prey instincts could cause the ferret harm or death.
15. Ferrets are difficult pets.
While it’s true ferrets demand more attention than some other pets, hide your keys or incur higher costs for quality food and vet care, ferrets can be very rewarding and excellent companion pets.
16. Ferrets stink.
Ah, one of the most popular ferret myths of them all.
Every animal has some kind of odor. Neutering a ferret decreases their scent, as does removing the anal glands.
If a ferret is not neutered, has its scent glands, is improperly fed or lacks good hygiene care, then yes — it will smell more than expected. Melissa, owner of ferret Vegeta, confirms that poor-quality food doesn’t help the situation.
The anal glands can release a scent when the ferret feels defensive or threatened. This smell will dissipate easily with some open windows. Any affected area can be washed with soap and water — which is much easier than skunk spray removal.
Every animal needs basic, quality care and attention. Cleaning the ears and mouth, trimming the nails, keeping litter boxes and bedding material clean, and bathing your ferret when necessary will greatly reduce the odor produced by ferrets.
Don’t wash them too often or you could dry out their skin (and increase oil production, which may make the smell worse). Most ferret owners suggest once per month or once every two to three months for baths.
Some ferrets might dislike water, while others love it. Here’s Raja the ferret enjoying his bath:
17. Ferrets are stupid.
Ferrets may seem unintelligent for their short attention spans, but based on their curiosity they can be better problem solvers than cats or dogs. They are intelligent animals, and most crave daily play and attention.
18. Ferrets will keep you up all night.
There isn’t a ferret conspiracy to ruin your sleep. Every ferret is different, but most of them are active at dusk and dawn or adjust their schedule to fit their human counterparts. They may get up and move around during the night just as any animal would. They can also sleep an average of 18 hours a day!
19. Ferrets need to be kept outside.
Not only is this myth wrong, but it’s also dangerous to ferrets.
There are many dangers to keeping outdoor-only ferrets. They cannot tolerate heat and dehydration well, can develop heartworms from a mosquito bite or be seen as prey by another animal. Lost or escaped ferrets can be very hard to find; they keep moving wherever their curiosity takes them.
20. Ferrets carry diseases.
The conditions prone to ferrets typically occur toward the end of their life spans. These conditions are few, and ferrets have a low rate of genetic diseases.
Earlier conditions are minimal and typically adrenal (usually seen at 3 years and older). Ferrets born or raised on “farms” may experience a higher rate of illness.
21. Ferrets need to be declawed.
Declawing a ferret is similar to crippling your pet. Their nail and toe formations are not like those of a cat (and we don’t suggest declawing your cat either), and declawed ferrets can suffer pain and trauma from this type of surgery. Long-term effects include difficulty walking, running and climbing.
22. Ferrets eat anything.
True, ferrets can eat anything, but it doesn’t mean they should.
Proof your home and don’t feed them the same food given to other animals. Provide a high-protein diet available at all times (ferrets free-feed) unless otherwise directed by your vet.
Some ferret owners have reported that their pets love anything rubber for chewing, so remove these items as well. An internal blockage can cause serious damage and even death.
Speaking of dietary needs, Sheri, mom to ferret Iggy, tells us about the importance of a well-balanced and quality ferret diet. She says, “Diet is a very important part of raising a healthy ferret. I wish more people were aware of this. They are obligate carnivores who require high protein (I’d recommend at least 40% protein) foods with little to no carbs. Ferret owners should look at the ingredients on their ferret’s food. The first several ingredients should be meat based.”
She continues: “Ferret owners should also avoid sugary treats, as too much sugar can lead to medical problems. A favorite treat around my house is bits of freeze-dried chicken or turkey. Many people assume that just because a product says ‘ferret food’ on the label that it is going to meet all of their ferret’s food needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, so I always encourage people to read the labels on their pet’s food and snacks and make sure that the ingredients really do meet the animal’s nutritional needs.”
This nifty food chart lists and compares food types and their ingredients. Y
ou can review the types of food and their ingredients to choose a healthy product, or check out what you’re already feeding your ferret to see where you might need to improve. Sheri says it is a must-have tool for anyone with ferrets or someone new to owning them.
23. Any cat litter or material is fine.
A ferret’s sensitive respiratory system says otherwise. Strong odors, particles and clumping litters can be dangerous for ferrets; the same goes for cedar or wood shaving litters and bedding.
24. I can’t have a ferret because I’m allergic to pets.
Untrue. Ferrets are great for allergy sufferers because they are hypo-allergenic.
25. Ferrets are dangerous to children.
Children are more of a danger to ferrets. Rough handling, hitting and inappropriate care can cause ferrets distress and harm, and they may feel the need to defend themselves.
Always supervise children with pets and teach them proper care guidelines.
Shelters and Rescues
If you are considering getting a ferret, please check rescues and shelters first.
There are many ferrets waiting to find homes. Ferret shelters and rescues don’t get as much attention as cat and dog organizations, and often they can be at full capacity.
Sheri tells us that her ferret shelter, Massachusetts Ferret Friends (MaFF), is completely full. One of our Facebook fans says her Oregon shelter is in desperate need of donations, and Vegeta’s mom Melissa actively campaigns for the Broward Ferret Rescue in Florida. These are just a few of the many ferret shelters that need help.
While money and space are always key priorities for any shelter or rescue, ferret organizations also have to contend with limited exposure to find homes for their furry friends. To find a ferret shelter or rescue near you, click here.
This is a long list of myths and misconceptions, and there are even more out there. Know of one I missed or want to add to an item here? Let me know in the comments below.
- Organizations in Need: Ferret Shelters and Rescues
- Ferret Care Information: Frequently Asked Questions
- How Does Your Ferret Food Compare? Ferret Food Comparison Chart
Photos: downatthezoo(top), h080/Flickr