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Ferrets are related to otters, skunks and badgers. They are close relatives of the weasel, polecat and mink. Their scientific name is Mustela furo, or thief, in Latin. Ferrets are not rodents but carnivores, and in the wild they enjoy eating mice.

They have scent glands for marking and protection. While the ferret cannot spray, it can mark its territory or emit a smell when frightened. Pet stores sell descented ferrets. The scent gland is surgically removed when they are neutered or spayed. While ferrets have scent glands throughout the body, removal of the anal scent gland removes the strongest smells.

Today’s domesticated ferret probably came from the Romans. The ferret was used for hunting and was helpful in hunting rabbits. Wild ferrets can kill game twice their size. Farmers and sailors used them to control rodents in barns and on ships. Rodents are afraid of the ferret’s scent. Ferrets were used in early America to control rodents until poisons and traps were invented to replace them.

Ferrets have been used by Boeing to run wires through tight spaces in aircraft assemblies. They became popular as pets in the 1970’s once someone learned how to de-scent them. Female ferrets weigh from 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. Males are larger, weighing from 3 to 5 pounds. Male ferrets are quieter while females are more active. They come in a variety of colors. There are also many color variations in paws, neck rings and tail tips. Ferrets mature in six months and live an average of 7 to 9 years. They are playful all of their lives. Older ferrets will even sit in your lap. Adult ferrets sleep around 15 hours a day. They will be awake when you wake up and sleep while you’re gone to work. They will be ready to play when you get back home. Ferrets love to play with you, other ferrets or even other pets. They enjoy being chased and love to chase you. They like to play tug of war, run in tubes and pipes, jump on blankets, and chase balls. When a ferret gets excited it begins to dance and jump in circles. Don’t be surprised if he jumps off of your sofa or runs into a wall. This usually doesn’t hurt him.

All ferrets like to steal whatever they can drag away and they like to hide whatever they steal. They usually have a couple of stockpiles in your home. Once you find them, you can usually find whatever’s missing. Ferrets are also intelligent. They are able to solve problems, for example, how to get in the cabinet to drag away rolls of toilet paper.

Ferrets need a high protein diet and lots of fresh water. They are not big on fish. You can feed them chicken cat food and also meat, such as turkey cold cuts. Many ferrets will not eat real meat. They should also be given small amounts of cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables. Goat’s milk and cooked egg are enjoyable treats, too. A ferret will eat many small meals a day. There should be a supply of food handy for them at all times. Giving them dry food helps keep their teeth in good condition. Chocolate is toxic to ferrets. They are also lactose intolerant so don’t feed them any Dairy products. Goat’s milk is okay, though. It is low in lactose.

You can use cat litter for a ferret. They instinctively use one area of the cage as a toilet. Even young ferrets have this instinct. Ferrets like to keep their bathroom separate from eating, sleeping and play areas. Ferrets need a cage and other areas to relax in outside of the cage. The cage should be a wire cage with a wire bottom. Ferrets need to be let out of the cage every day for exercise and recreation. They return to their cages to eat and sleep and need free access to it at all times.

Just as birds fly and fish swim, ferrets dig. Potted plants are a big invitation for them. Move plants to another room or put them on a high plant stand. Ferret-proof the home, as you would baby-proof it for a toddler. Due to their curiosity and fearlessness they will get into anything. They can open cabinets, get under your stove and behind or in your appliances. Ferrets are social animals. Having two ferrets keeps them from being bored if they’re left alone during the day. They can be taught to do simple tricks. They love toys.

Ferrets shed their fur twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Nails must be clipped every three to five weeks. There is a vein in each nail. Make sure you cut below the vein, otherwise your ferret will bleed for a while. Not an emergency. The ferret will be fine quite soon. People who own ferrets love them. Personally, I have trouble with the scent, which is pervasive. However, if you want a playful, active and friendly pet, the ferret may be for you.