Friday, 30 March 2012

Showing your ferret.

Ferret shows are a great way to meet other ferret owners and show off your pets. Some people take ferret shows very seriously and only keep ferrets for showing purposes, whereas others such as myself see shows as a bit of fun for them and their pet ferrets.
I went to my first ferret show last week and it was great chatting with the other owners and eyeing up the competition! To start with you need to enter your ferret(s) to be judged. They need to be entered into the appropriate classes. If you are a member of a ferret club or group then entry into shows is often free as this is covered in the membership costs, however if you attend open shows then you may be expected to pay a small fee for entry. Typical classes that they can be entered into include the colour classes (Albino, polecat, dark polecat, sandy, silver, coloured, mitt and copper) which are then separated into male and female of that colour, kits, veterans, disabled, matching pairs and working ferrets. I have two albino males, one of which is blind in one eye. So I entered one in the albino hob class, and the other in the disabled class. I also entered them both in the matching pairs class. You normally record on a form what classes you are entering your ferrets into, this is then taken and sometimes returned with a number next to each ferret. The ferrets are all numbered for each class and the judges will see them in numerical order. In the case of blind judging, the stewards who come to collect each ferret may use their name or number to identify them.
The show I attended had blind judging, which means that the judges are located in a separate room/marquee to the main room/marquee that the ferrets and their owners are in. Stewards are used to take ferrets from the owners to be judged and vice versa. The other common types of judging are ring judging, where judges examine each ferret, going from one ferret to another and the other type is where the judge sits at a table and has the owners bring their ferrets to him/her for inspection.
The judges look for certain qualities in each ferret, the most common being good muscle tone, good temperament and alertness, coat in nice condition and generally signs of being a healthy ferret. A ferret having these qualities is one that is obviously well cared for and handled, but judges can tell when ferrets have been 'spruced up' for a show. To be honest my ferrets' claws needed cutting around the time of the show, I had done them the week before but the front claws do tend to grow quite quickly. Anyway I decided to leave them longer than I would have liked, as often when you first cut claws they can be scratchy and sharp for a couple of days, which wouldn't leave a very good impression. Not only does this indicate that you have cut them purely for the show but it can indicate that you let them get too long in the first place and left it till the last minute. So we put up with longer nails and cut them when we got home from the show. It is best to cut them around 5 days before a show, judges typically look for well rounded nails that are about 2-4mm in length from the quick.
If your ferrets need to be bathed before a show then it's best to do it a few days beforehand, judges can tell if you have just bathed them and it can reflect badly. They will want to see that your ferret is clean but not in a 'just bathed' way. This proves that you are taking care to keep their homes in a sanitary condition. Ears should be clean but not over-done so that they are bright pink and sore. Your ferret's teeth should also be clean and well cared for.  Ferrets can be disqualified for biting, although this will depend on the individual judge and the severity  of the bite. The ferrets age will also be taken into account, as young ferrets tend to nip.
Once the judging has been completed the results are given. There are usually prizes such as rosettes for 1st down to 3rd or 4th place for each class. The winners from each class then get re-assessed to compete for the title of best in show and reserve best in show. Prizes that can be won are typically rosettes, medals and certificates.
I am very proud that my boys came away with three rosettes from their first show. Shiro won 2nd place in the albino hobs class, Alfie won 3rd place in the disabled class and they won 3rd place in matching pairs.
We  are now looking forward to the next show, even if we don't come away with any rosettes we will have had a great day out and will still be very proud.
To find out about ferret shows near you contact your local club or society, or you could search via the internet.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Bringing your ferrets outside.

Regardless if you house your ferrets inside or out, they will need time out from their cage to exercise. This can be done within the home but during nice weather why not let your ferrets outside? But before you grab your fuzzies and rush on outside, read on to make sure that you are prepared for introducing them to the big wide world.
Unless you have properly ferret proofed your garden (I will discuss this in a minute) then you will definitely need a harness and lead set. I would get one anyway as they are useful for going on walks near home and at shows. With a lead you can safely let your ferret get some fresh air and exercise without having to worry about them running off. I find that my boys do not walk on the lead as a dog would, as in they don't follow you and it's better to pick them up to move them rather than try to lead them. For more information on harnesses please try my post by following this link
If you have indoor ferrets and you want to take them outside in colder weather then you will need to gradually acclimatise them to it. One way you could do this would be to take them to a colder room for a few minutes at a time, then let them sniff the air outside and spend a couple of minutes out there, and gradually increase the amount of time they spend outside. It's a good idea not to let your ferrets outside in extreme temperatures at all, and if you do then only for a short amount of time as ferrets can suffer from heatstroke and hypothermia.  
You will need to ferret proof your garden before you let them play outside. A basic ferret proof check-list could contain the following:

  • Properly enclosed garden, with no gaps that the ferret can escape through.
  • Ponds, pools and water features are fenced off.
  • Garden chemicals and tools are put away.
  • Dangerous/broken objects are removed (such as broken glass or nails)
  • Natural dangers are removed or fenced off (such as rose thorns, nettles and poisonous plants)
  • Gardens with vertical drops (normally as a feature) have fencing/barrier to prevent ferrets falling.
  • Non ferret areas (such as veg plot/ornamental garden) are sectioned off, ferrets love to dig.
  • Pets kept in the garden (such as chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs) are secure and out of the way of the ferrets
  •  Climbable objects are out of reach.
  • There are no gaps under or behind objects such as sheds/compost bins where ferrets can hide.
The list of possible hazards will vary from garden to garden, so take a look around yours and try to think like a ferret and look for dangers!
Don't forget to bring your ferrets in when they have had enough, you can either set a specific length for the play time or you can sometimes tell when they are ready to come inside as they may go to the gate/door, try and climb your leg or look up at you or simply stop playing and stand around.
So now you can safely take your ferret outside with you, he'll love you for it!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Indoor cages, travel cages and show cages.

Most ferret owners will have at least two or three different types of cage for use in various situations. Here are the most common types that I have found.

  • The home. The most obvious type of cage is the one that the ferrets will spend the most time in, their cage at home.  There are many different types of cage on the market, and you will need to select the most appropriate to suit your ferrets needs. If you have a single or a pair of ferrets then they will obviously not need as much space as a group of ferrets, but I would still try to buy as large a cage as your budget will allow. This will enable your ferrets to exercise in the cage, have plenty of space to themselves if they want some alone time and it will also give you more freedom when planning the layout of the cage. In a larger, multi-level cage you will be able to move toys and bedding around to keep the environment fun and stimulating for your little friends. It is also better for your ferrets as you can keep toilet, food and sleeping areas completely separate.  For the positioning of cages/hutches please see my post on general ferret care If you have elderly ferrets, or ferrets that find getting around difficult or painful, then a multi-level cage may not be for you, as your poor fuzzy will have to constantly drag itself up and down the stairs to use the bathroom/eat/drink etc. You may have more creative freedom if you decide to keep your ferrets outdoors, as you can design and build large runs and 'sheds' for them. You will however need to ensure that they are well maintained and escape proof, as well as protected from the elements and damp, which can be a major problem for ferrets. This may also be a risky business if you live in an area where animals such as foxes roam, as they have been known to attack ferrets left in cages overnight. Please try to avoid cages with barred floors as they cause foot problems, and are quite frankly uncomfortable for your ferret to walk on. You can of course cover barred flooring with carpet or linoleum for example. Another point to consider when choosing a cage would be the ease of use for yourself. Does it have areas that would be hard to clean? Try to picture yourself using it before you buy.
  • The travel cage/carrier. Travel cages and carriers are normally small handheld cages that will hold either one or two average sized ferrets. They can be made of plastic, fabric or have wire mesh. These cages are usually for short term use such as a trip to the vets or to separate individual ferrets as a 'time out'. I see them as a very short term option as most do not allow water bottles to be attached and do not have the space for food bowls. There is also the problem that if your ferret needs to use the toilet it will have very little chance of avoiding standing in its own mess in the confined space. I avoid having my ferrets in a cage like this for longer than an hour, they can fall asleep after a while, but don't forget that they will need to use the toilet within 15 minutes of waking! Try to find a cage that you find easy to use, ours at the moment have a ridiculous lid that is almost impossible to close when you have a ferret pushing it from the inside! But please be aware that ferrets are problem solvers, and it's not uncommon for ferrets to find a way out of the most secure looking carriers! 
  • The show cage. I have called these show cages as they are most commonly used by people taking their ferrets to shows or gatherings. They are often sold as rabbit cages and most have a plastic tray with a wire mesh top half. These cages will allow space for bedding, toys, food and water and will allow your ferret to relieve itself. The cage that I use for this purpose (and for long car rides) at the moment is an extra large version and it is a struggle to fit it in the car! You should look for one that will comfortably fit the desired amount of ferrets inside and that you will be able to easily move and handle. You may need to practice putting it in and removing it from your vehicle to find the easiest way as it can be a delicate job. Also be aware as to where the cage doors are, as you will need to be able to easily remove your ferrets in the event of an emergency. Always load the cage before putting your ferrets inside, it may seem obvious but you never know... Lastly remember to make sure the cage is secure and will not move during transport, that there are no draughts blowing directly at the cage, that music blaring from the radio can cause stress for your ferrets and to never leave your ferrets in a hot car. 
  • The playpen. This is much like a child's playpen or those designed for dogs. Please do not try and use ones that are designed for rodents as they are neither strong enough or tall enough! (If my hamster could escape from one then a ferret definitely will!) These are used when introducing new ferrets, or simply as a safe place for your ferrets to exercise out of the cage. They are usually made from metal, but the bar design is easy for ferrets to climb, and I have seen people line them with wood or perspex to prevent this. Don't forget to provide your pet with a comfy bed to sleep on if he gets too tired as well as food, water, toys and a litter tray if used. Remember to supervise you ferrets while they are inside the playpen. 
I hope this has been helpful, if you have heard of another type of carrier/cage for ferrets that I haven't covered please do leave a comment and I will look into it for you. Obviously I cannot cover every single type of cage on the market, but hopefully this has given you an idea what you may need as a ferret owner. If you are a member of a ferret group, either online or otherwise, you will be able to ask experienced owners on the best (and worst) cages available.