Friday, 13 January 2012

What you will need before you buy your ferrets.

It can be tempting to just rush straight out and buy the fuzzies first. However it is very important that you have their new home all set up ready for their arrival. Below I have compiled a list of things that you should have before you go and pick your ferts up.

  • Cage/hutch This is the most important thing to have set up as your ferrets will need to go straight in here when they get home and spend around a day in without coming out to enable them to settle in. It should be of an appropriate size for the number of ferrets you are getting, the bigger the better really as in this case size really does matter! If it is a tall cage then I would suggest the careful placement of several hammocks to break the fall of any free-falling fuzzy. Wire ladders and ledges are a terrible design, not only are they uncomfortable for your pet to walk on they can cause foot problems such as bumble foot.  If you do get a cage with wired parts then you can either buy or make covers from various materials. Also try to find a cage that you will find easy to maintain. The best thing to do would probably be to ask around on ferret sites or forums, the well seasoned ferret owners will tell you what cages are fab and what to stay away from!
  • Bowls/water bottles Your ferrets will need decent size bowls for food and/or water if you choose. My ferrets used to drink from water bottles, but since I put water down in a bowl for their out of cage play they refuse to drink from the bottles any more! Bottles are recommended as ferrets love to tip bowls over and mine like to splash and 'dig' the water! Aside from getting water everywhere this could be quite dangerous if you leave your ferrets on a warm day and they have tipped all of the water from their bowl. I have bottles on the side of the cage as insurance. the food/water bowls need to be heavy and non tip. I favour the large ceramic bowls as mine cannot tip them, but there are non-tip bowls on the market.
  • Travel cage You will need a travel cage, or several depending on the size, to transport your ferrets home on the first day. They will also be necessary for trips to the vet and for transportation for shows. Please pick the largest you can find as if they need to relieve themselves it will be unpleasant for them to have to stand/sit virtually on top of it. Try to find cages that allow a bottle to be attached to the side for long journeys.
  • Ferret grooming To keep your pets looking their best you will need a brush (I favour the bristle type rather than the wire slicker type, the last thing you want is a ferret clamping down on sharp wire), toothpaste and a toothbrush (do not use human toothpaste, use a meaty/malt toothpaste formulated for pets along with small finger caps/brushes to gently remove tartar), nail clippers (you can buy special small animal claw clippers or just use small cosmetic clippers), ferret shampoo, and ear cleaner or gentle baby wipes to clean excess wax from their ears, do not poke around inside the ear as you can cause damage such as perforated ear drums. I use baby wipes as although I have heard of using cotton buds I think that this could be a bit risky as if the ferret suddenly jerks his head around it could cause the bud to enter the ear canal. I just worry too much!
  • Bedding, floor covering and litter You will need somewhere cosy for your ferrets to cuddle up. This can be provided by hammocks, hanging tents, sleep sacks, purpose made beds or if the cage has an enclosed section as a sleeping area you could line it with fleecy blankets or old fleece sweaters. You will need a suitable substrate for the cage floor. Different people use different things. I use a paper based material which is basically tea bag paper-a by product from the food industry, it is super absorbent and soft to walk on/nestle in. Other people use straw but this could be quite dusty and cause respiratory problems. I know some people do use sawdust and wood shavings but personally I stay well clear of these as they are known to cause respiratory problems. Other things that I have heard of people using are offcuts of carpet or linoleum to line the floor that can be replaced as necessary. Shredded paper is a fantastic substrate, it soaks up any mess, is cheap and relatively easy to obtain, just don't use newspaper and make sure any staples have been removed prior to shredding. You will need something to line litter trays with, it is often a good idea to have a separate material to the rest of the cage as the ferrets can then identify this as their toilet area. There are litters that have been created especially for ferrets but most paper based cat litter is suitable, just stay away from clay based litter, it can be very dusty and also the clay can be spread very quickly across your floor!
  • Litter tray accessories You will need either a poop scoop to regularly clean up mess from the litter tray or poop bags. You could use doggy bags or nappy bags, these are what I use and the price varies greatly from place to place. You can pick them up quite cheaply at markets, something like £1 for 200 but I now get mine from my local supermarket which is saving me a fortune! I pay around 13p for 100 value nappy sacks, you can't argue with the price and they get the job done.
  • Food and treats You will need to have food and treats ready. Treats can be high in sugar so I use them sparingly, usually as a way to get the ferrets to do what I want. Ferretone is an oil based vitamin supplement that ferrets adore! It can be used to socialise ferrets and introduce new ferrets into an existing group, to teach your ferret tricks or trickled on their belly to enable you to perform health checks and clip nails. There are many different diets you can offer your ferret, I will go into more detail in a future post but here I will outline the main diets and what you should look out for. Kibble diets are a complete dried diet. They can be expensive but it is well worth paying a little extra to know your fuzzy is getting the best it can get. Cat food is no longer recommended so please do try to find a good ferret food. I quite like the James Wellbeloved ferret food and the Supreme science selective ferret food. Their prices differ slightly but as far as I can tell the nutritional analysis and ingredient lists are more or less the same. You need a food that is high protein between 35 and 40%. It should have quite a high fat content , around 20% or more and a very small amount of fibre, ideally less than 2%. Good quality meat should be listed rather than meat by products. Also check that the protein is not coming from things like vegetables as ferrets are obligate carnivores and need meat based protein. Also ensure that the food is low in sugar. If you want to compare food then use the nutritional analysis along with the list of ingredients. The ingredients list will have the highest amounts first and the least last, for example my food has poultry meal at the top at 43% and linseed is near the bottom with only 2%. You can also feed your ferrets with an all meat diet that can be given raw or cooked. Raw meat such as chicken can be given on the bone, this provides your ferret with calcium and helps to keep their teeth tartar free. Do not give cooked meat on the bone as once the bones have been cooked they are extremely brittle and can cause a serious injury to your pet. I have been told to stay away from pork products and I supplement my ferrets kibble diet with pieces of rabbit, turkey, chicken and beef, I am going to try them on heart and liver soon too. My ferrets seem to prefer cooked meat, they will eat this straight away whereas they will stash raw meat and it often has to be removed before it goes bad. If feeding cooked meats ensure that you have not used seasoning and it isn't something from your plate that's been smothered in veg, sauces and the like. It would be an idea to find a 'duck soup' recipe that works for you. Duck soup often contains no duck at all and is mainly used to help poorly ferrets get nutrition, although some feed it as a treat. Ferrets often do not see soup as a food at first but it's a good idea to persevere as your ferret may need to eat the nutritious soup if they become ill. Also some ferret owners make a gravy or use natural meat juices to pour over kibble. 
  • Harness and lead set This is essential for taking your ferret out and about on walks or to shows. There are many different types out there, you simply need to find the right design for you and your pets.
  • Cage cleaner I use a cage cleaner that is formulated for use in small animal cages and hutches. Most are antibacterial disinfectants that kill germs whilst cleaning the cage. I would try not to get an overly fragranced cleaner as this could affect your ferret. The ferrets will need to be away from the cage when you clean, the cage should be thoroughly dried before they go back in and it should never be used on your ferrets.
  • Toys Ferrets love toys! Mine seem to prefer the packaging that the toy came in than the toy itself, and this is why I think it is often better to provide home-made toys. You can buy chasers and cat teasers, wind up wheelie toys, squeaky and chewy toys, cat scratcher homes, play tunnels and balls but I've found that my ferrets favourite toys are cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and plastic bags! Obviously you will need to supervise them with things that they could tear and swallow or become trapped in and suffocate. All toys should be checked regularly for wear and tear. I would also recommend that you do not put plastic bags and bubble wrap etc in their cage for safety reasons, mine only play with them when they are outside the cage and I can supervise them.

I hope my little list will help you be prepared for the new arrivals, but there are also a couple of other points to consider before getting the ferrets. If they will be running free around the house at any point in time then all the rooms that they have access to will need to be ferret proofed, holes and gaps need to be blocked, dangerous objects removed and all climbable objects need to be considered. It is also a good idea to have a list of potential vets to speak to. You will need to ask them things like 'how many ferrets do you treat a week?' and 'do you have any vets that specialise in exotics?' It is not always the expensive vets that are the best but I certainly wouldn't always go for the cheapest. I use a vet that specialises in exotics, it is a 45 minute drive each way for me but I have peace of mind that they are in safe hands.
For some excellent ferret toys try For cages you could try or For ferret 'soup' recipes type 'duck soup for ferrets' in google or a similar search engine. There are so many recipes out there, they are all really just slight variations of each other. Don't forget to contact a ferret club or forum as they will have lots of hints and tips as well as recipe ideas!

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