If you’re looking for a fun, non-traditional pet, ferrets may seem like an obvious choice.
Unfortunately, they’re not as simple as you might think. In fact, there’s a lot you probably don’t know about those funny, adorable little creatures. Consider these facts before deciding whether or not a ferret is the perfect pet for you.
1. Their name says it all
The scientific name for ferrets is Mustella putorius furo, which basically translates to “stinky weasel thief.” That tells you some pretty important info about this critter.
2. They are not rodents
They might look a lot like rats and hamsters, but ferrets are actually members of the mink family, closely related to the weasel. And they’re ridiculously cute.
3. They sleep a lot
Ferrets are sleepy creatures, sometimes snoozing up to 20 hours a day.
4. And they sleep hard
Sometimes they slip into a deep sleep, often called a dead sleep, that they just can’t be woken up from. You can shake them, pinch them or thump them on the chest, and they just don’t budge. Inexperienced owners panic, thinking their precious pet has passed away, only to have it open its eyes and look around like nothing happened.
5. They need their space (and some of yours)
It could be all that sleep they get but when ferrets finally wake up, they need to run and play. Ferret owners need to be able to share their space with their pets. They need 3-4 hours of supervised playtime each day, and without it, they may start to act out. But who wouldn’t want to play with these furry critters for a few hours a day?
6. They stink
Ferrets have a musky smell that can be very offensive to some yet is tolerable to others. Having your ferret spayed or neutered may cut down on the smell, but it won’t eliminate it completely.
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7. They will take your stuff
And you might not get it back. Stealing and hoarding items is part of a ferret’s nesting instinct. There’s not much you can do to deter this behavior, so it’s best to learn its hiding spots for the next time you can’t find your keys.
8. Breeding ferrets is nasty business
When a male ferret is ready to breed, he becomes violent and often takes it out on the female. Males have been known to drag females around and bite them enough to cause bleeding, all during the mating process. They can also be violent toward other males and humans during this time, making them less than the ideal pet when they come into heat.
9. Females can actually die from not mating
Seriously. Dying from a lack of sex is an actual thing. Female ferrets reach sexual maturity at 4-6 months of age. Once they go into heat, they stay that way indefinitely until they breed. Over time, prolonged high doses of estrogen lead to aplastic anemia — a serious condition that can lead to death. Luckily, a veterinarian can help bring a ferret out of heat if breeding doesn’t happen.
10. They’re usually “fixed” when you buy them
Now that you know all the problems associated with breeding ferrets, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that most ferrets you buy, either through a pet store or a breeder, have often been spayed or neutered before the adoption process.
11. Ferret babies are so tiny
In fact, a newborn ferret can fit inside a teaspoon. So adorable.
12. They can get almost anywhere
They may appear wide, but most of that is just fluff. Ferrets can squeeze into any opening that’s just over an inch wide.
13. They spread the flu
Keep your distance from your ferret when you’re under the weather. Ferrets can not only spread around human influenza, they can catch it, too. Symptoms are pretty much the same as when people get the flu, and they’re treated with antibiotics and decongestants.
14. They’re not great with (human) babies
Ferrets do not like to be handled roughly or restrained, and since small children don’t usually know the proper way to handle the critter, they may end up being bitten.
15. They need their shots
Just like cats and dogs, ferrets need to stay on a regular vaccination schedule to avoid serious, contagious diseases.
16. They’re all business
Or at least someone thought they were. A group of ferrets is referred to as a business of ferrets.
17. They overheat
Ferrets do not sweat, and for that reason they do not tolerate heat well. Heatstroke is a very real and possible deadly threat to these cold-loving creatures. To reduce risk, ferrets should never be exposed to temperatures above 80 degrees.
18. They can be litter trained
It takes some time and effort, but ferrets can be trained to use a litter box. Easier cleanup for you.
19. It may be illegal to own them
You may think they’re cute and cuddly but in some places, they are considered pests or wild animals — and completely banned. The only statewide bans on ferrets are in California, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. There are also bans in New York City, Salt Lake City and other, smaller locations.