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I admit that I may have some extreme views but I see having animals like this- think about how you would like to be treated if you were the animal- and go from there. If I was an animal, I would like to be treated kindly, I would like company, a proper diet, and if I was sick I would want to be treated and not just left suffering.
How many ferrets?
Housing and exercise
Children/ teenagers and ferrets
Sick ferrets and caring for them
Ferrets and your lifestyle and miscellaneous thoughts
Good ferret books
UK (and American) Ferret Stores and Merchandise
My ferrets' care
My ferrets' housing
I have seen a lot of bad things happening to ferrets and it hurts me and makes me angry to see how people neglect their ferrets through sheer ignorance. So I thought I write about things that people should be aware of if they wish to keep ferrets or add more to the ones they have. It may sound harsh but that's the way I feel and I feel strongly about doing what's best for the ferrets. It's a mix of advice and my own experiences.
One thing that ferret keepers should have is a good ferret book (my favourite being "Ferrets for dummies"). And, if possible, a veterinary ferret book. Not all vets know about ferret diseases, or they assume ferrets are like dogs and cats- which they are not. I have heard from many people whose ferrets were misdiagnosed, suffered and died because the vets didn't have enough knowledge about ferrets and didn't listen to the owners and didn't even do diagnostic tests that the owners asked them to do because of the advice the owners received from other ferret knowledgeable people. It is important to read up about ferret illnesses and then to find a vet who is willing to co-operate.
How many ferrets?
You should only have as many ferrets as you can afford and have time for. You should ideally have 2 ferrets so they can keep each other company. I myself like groups of 3, if one ferret dies, at least there will be 2 left over to keep each other company and then you can add a third ferret again. If you only have 2 and one dies, the ferret that is left will be lonely and may pine for the lost friend. You would have to spend a lot of time with the ferret that is left.
But ferrets are addictive and many people like to add more and more. But the day may come when your existing group doesn't want to accept anybody else. If you insist on adding more ferrets, you may end up with 2 or more groups in the end. You will need to be able to give them all good housing and enough care and attention and exercise. It's not nice getting another ferret, realising it doesn't get on with your existing group and then just getting rid of the new ferret. So it's best to be aware of possible problems before you get any more ferrets.
Housing and exercise
Ferrets need a lot of space and exercise. Forget little 2 foot rabbit hutches (which are in no way adequate for rabbits or guinea pigs, either, in my opinion...) and think big. Whether you keep the ferrets indoors or outdoors. If you want to build a hutch or have one built, I'd go for 5-6 feet long, 2+ feet high and 2+ feet wide. You could have it 3-4 feet high and do a 2 storey hutch. It needs to be treated with a good "wood treatment" (I don't think you call them paint) like Ronseal to make it water proof, it'll then be easy to clean. For an indoor hutch/ cage you can use white gloss. You can put vinyl on the floors so it'll be even easier to keep clean. There are also nice rabbit cages with a plastic bottom and wire top, minimum size 4ft long.
If you have the ferrets outdoors, they need to be in shade. The heat from the sun kills them. Even early morning sun in summer can be fatal so if you have a hutch outside, it'll need to be in the shade all day long. Under some trees for example. Many people keep ferrets in a shed (free range). Then you can attach a run to the shed, like an aviary, where the ferrets can play as well.
I personally like to keep ferrets indoors. If we lived on a farm or smallholding and had an outbuilding or stable, I'd be happy to keep the ferrets there. But we just have an exposed garden with no shade from the sun anywhere. So they have their own room in the house. Ferrets can be a bit destructive when they have run of the house, some like to dig carpets up, especially when they encounter a closed door. You can put a piece of thin ply wood into the doorways, this way you can protect your carpets. Or instead of carpets you can have vinyl or laminate flooring. They also dig in any plant pots they can get hold of or tip over bins. So if you don't want something destroyed, take it off the floor. ;-)
[Update 12.03.2014: I think no matter where I live I would always want all animals indoors. There is just too much theft going on and I couldn't live with myself if one or more of my animals were stolen. Plus I would worry way too much when it's cold in winter.]
For bedding you can use old pullovers, blankets, jackets, anything they can snuggle in. Wood shavings are bad because of the aromatic oils which are bad for the lungs. Straw is a bit harsh and hay is usually dusty. Old clothing is the best, it's clean and you can wash it and it's definitely comfortable.
Ferrets will need quite a bit of exercise and I think 1 - 1 1/2 hours twice a day is minimum. Younger ferrets will very probably want even more exercise while older ones need less. You can also take ferrets for walks, the figure H harnesses are best (and after having bought many harnesses, the ones from Hagen are brilliant and very secure). Some of my ferrets love walking while others don't particularly like it...
Ferrets here in the UK need neutering. While it is still a minor part of the vet expenses that await you, you should make sure that you don't mind spending this initial vet cost. Jills stay in season all spring/ summer long and if indoors, they can be in season all year round. You have to bring jills out of season so that means jill jabs 2-4 times a year. Jill jabs are not good for the health and can be expensive, they can increase the risk of cancer, plus there is the risk of pyometra in intact jills so the best thing is to spay jills. I don't think much of using vasectomised hobs and people shouldn't breed because there are too many thoughtless people breeding and breeding and too many unwanted ferrets already. Ferret rescues are full of ferrets, I know rescues that have 50-100 ferrets! So the less people breed, the less unwanted ferrets there will be. Sooo- neuter your ferrets. Hobs smell and urine mark when they're in season plus they will fight with other hobs and will be rough with jills so they would need to be housed on their own which is not nice and hobs in season are often very restless, especially when other ferrets are close by. So castrating them takes the smell away, they won't urine mark and can be kept with other hobs and jills. All my ferrets are neutered. Vasectomised hobs will still need to be kept on their own when they're in season and they will still behave like a whole hob. I don't think it's nice for ferrets to be kept by themselves so neutering all ferrets takes care of that and you can keep them in a group.
Update September 2010
There is now an alternative to neutering. A relatively new implant called Suprelorin (deslorelin acetate) can be used to "chemically" neuter ferrets, it is also a treatment for adrenal disease. You need the 4.7 mg deslorelin implant which will work for approx. 2 years. This is something I heard so people interested in this option should research it more. There is also a 9.4 mg deslorelin implant which apparently can be used, too, and will work for even longer.
Some reading material:
The effects of surgical and chemical castration on intermale aggression, sexual behaviour and play behaviour in the male ferret
HYPERADRENOCORTICISM IN FERRETS- By Nico Johannes Schoemaker
[Update 12.03.2014: I have one ferret, Skippy, who hasn't been neutered but received a Suprelorin implant instead. It is still working 2 years on.)
Having ferrets is expensive, they're not as chea to feed as rodents and rabbits. If you decide to feed a cheap, low quality food then you have to start saving your money for vet costs because the cheaper and worse the food, the sooner the ferret will get sick. You *can* kill a ferret (or any animal) with bad food. I can't understand people who go into a shop and look for the cheapest (ferret) food. Some decide to feed cheap cat kibble or, worse, dog food. Somebody who really cares about the ferrets should buy good quality ferret or cat kibble which will cost a bit more. The best kibble I have found is Arden Grange Kitten.
Some pet shops can also order Arden Grange Kitten for you or you can order it online. There was a time when I phoned all manufacturers of ferret and good quality cat foods and talked to the nutritionists about the contents of the foods and Arden Grange came top. James Wellbeloved Ferret Complete seems okay, I like the shape of the kibbles as they're more likely to have some cleaning action than little kibbles. Burns have also brought out a kitten food with a high meat content, just a shame the kibbles are sooo small. A raw diet is the best of course.
[Update 12.03.2014: I now feed a mix of Arden Grange Cat, Totally Ferret (ordered from Zooplus) and James Wellbeloved Ferret Complete. When I last ordered food, I didn't get Arden Grange but Sanabelle "no grain", it is made by the same manufacturers as Totally Ferret, and also bought from Zooplus.]
I once received an e-mail, some people lost a 4 year old ferret to bladder stones. That's what happens when you feed cheap food. The people did feed Whiskas and Felix so it's quite probable that the diet made the ferret sick. The cheap cat foods contain a lot of plant protein which makes the urine alkaline and promotes the formation of stones. Expensive foods contain a lot more meat protein which makes the urine acidic and prevents the formation of stones. So cheap kibble can make your ferret very sick. It also increases the likelihood that your ferret will get sick and die at an early age of other common ferret diseases like insulinoma. I haven't added this paragraph to make the people who this happened to feel bad, it's just a warning to other people to change their ferrets over to a better diet so they can prevent this happening to their own ferrets.
Another great expense is vet costs (especially if you're in America, here in the UK vets are less expensive but the cost can still mount up and vets are raising the fees more and more). The initial spay or castration is the least expense involved. It's the x-rays, blood tests, lab costs, possible exploratories and operations etc. that become necessary when the ferret gets sick. And the more ferrets you have, the more you will have to spend on vet bills. If you have a few and they start to reach middle age, you can be overwhelmed with vet costs. My first ferret that became sick was Angel. Within the 1 1/2 months that she was sick (before she died) I paid £250.00 (and that was in 1998 so you can easily double the amount if it happened now...). From then on I thought I must make sure that I have at least £200.00 saved up. But then I had a group of 10 ferrets and most of them reached middle age... For 2 years I had huge vet costs, Jack with his countless x-rays, Jilly and Mason with their dentals, all the ferrets that died and had x-rays and blood tests and had abdominal fluid tested which meant lab costs... So it's always a good idea to have a bit of money saved up or put some to the side every week. I probably have too many ferrets and should aim to have 10 or less but then strays come along and I fall in love with them... At the moment, I have to save all money I have for the ferret vet costs. For about half a year my vet costs were £100.00 every month. I can't afford anything for myself, luckily for me I am not bothered about it, I'm not interested in going out to pubs or buying lots of clothes or having the latest gadgets or smoking etc. I adore my ferrets and don't mind spending the money that I have on them. But ferrets deserve to be looked after properly and the more you have, the more expensive it can be. I think it's a good idea to have £100-£200 saved for every ferret you have. That way you can afford the vets when it becomes necessary. Many people don't think about this and think ferrets are low maintenance animals like rabbits and guinea pigs but they're not. When I had all my small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, degus, gerbils), I hardly had any vet costs. The most I spent was when one guinea pig developed ovarian cysts and needed to be spayed. I think I had one x-ray done on a degu. But the ferrets are completely different. One gets sick and you do all those tests that are necessary to find out what's wrong and what treatment the ferret needs. So ferrets are not for people who are not prepared to spend money on them.
Children/ teenagers and ferrets
There are many kids who are interested in ferrets and want one or more as a pet. I think parents should only buy the ferrets if they are willing to look after them when the children loose interest. Parents should consider that the children might be interested in having a pet ferret when they're 10-14 years old but what happens when they get interested in the opposite sex and are more interested in going out and having fun than looking after their pet ferret? It's not good to get a ferret and then get rid of it if the children loose interest. Parents should be responsible and either say "no" when the children want ferrets, or, when the children loose interest, the parents need to look after the ferrets. And it's a good idea not to get too many, 2-3 are plently for children. The ferrets will probably need more looking after and medical care as they get older (and as the children loose interest or have to spend more time studying or discover other interests...). So parents need to be willing to take part in the looking after or even eventually look after them full time.
Sick ferrets and caring for them
Ferrets also get sick and need a lot of care then. They are really easy to look after when they're young but that can change and the ferrets may need hand feeding and medicating two to four times a day. It's all great when you have young, healthy ferrets but when they are around 5-7 years old, they are likely to get sick. They can get cancer and other illnesses anytime in their lives but most get sick when they reach around 5-6 years of age, of course, some may stay healthy for a lot longer. Insulinoma is a very common and horrible illness and affects the ferret a lot. Many stop eating dry food, don't want to eat any more hard food. So you have to feed them soft foods. Either grind kibble (in a coffee grinder) and mix it with water and ideally one of the Hill's veterinary diets (Hill's A/D) or feed ground/ minced/ liquidised chicken. Insulinomic and other sick ferrets can go off their foods and can be *very* hard to look after. When my Jilly got insulinoma, I soon had to spoon/ hand feed her soft, mushy food 3-4 times a day. People who work will have to feed a sick ferret first thing in the morning, first thing when they get back from work and last thing at night. The personal life will have to come second, looking after the ferret will have to be the most important thing. People may not be able to continue with their social life the way it was before the ferret got sick. So if people want to have ferrets, they need to be prepared to look after them when they get sick.
Also if the ferret eats soft food, the teeth will become dirty with plaque and tartar, causing gum problems as well. So the teeth need to be brushed once or twice a day, I use a soft duster and enzymatic toothpaste from the vets (Logic Oral Hygiene Gel) or Dentipet Toothgel (made by Arnolds) that contains chlorhexidine which is a broad spectrum antisepic. I sadly didn't think of brushing teeth when I had Jilly and she needed to have a lot of dentals and in the end all her teeth were pulled out because the gums and teeth became bad. So I'm advising people to brush teeth if the ferrets eat soft foods, I'm writing about mistakes I made so that other people can learn from them, no need to repeat the mistakes that I made...
Ferrets and your lifestyle and miscellaneous thoughts
You need to have time when you have ferrets, they're not the ideal pet for somebody who works in the day and goes out every night, whether it is college classes, swimming, the gym or whatever. Ferrets are not like a toy, computer or TV, that you spend time with them only when you have nothing better to do, they are companion animals and need time with their owner so you will need to have or make time for them in the morning and then in the evening after work. Anybody thinking about getting ferrets or adding any, have a read what can happen to them. Look at all my ferrets, especially the ones that have died and then you'll see what diseases they get, how much care they need, how many diagnostic tests they need... Find out whether ferrets suit your lifestyle, whether you have enough time for them, whether you can really afford them, ask yourself whether your life will allow you to look after them as long as they need, if you're lucky, your ferret can live for 10+ years, it's rare but can happen. Really people with ferrets should have settled down, not teenagers who're in school and off to college soon... Ferrets should have time out of the cage at least twice a day for at least one or two hours, they need interaction with their humans, love to play and cuddle with their humans. If they're caged, make sure you can afford a big cage and have room for it, the bigger, the better.
Good ferret books
I have a lot of ferret books and am keen on having ferret veterinary books. It's hard to get hold of ferret books here in the UK, you can't find any in book shops and can only order them from shops, of course you need to know titles and what you're after. I now buy all books from Amazon, they have a wide range of ferret books at good prices.
This is a list of the books I like most:
Ferrets for dummies by Kim Schilling, ISBN 0764552597 (0470139439 new 2007 edition)
Biology and diseases of the ferret by James G. Fox, ISBN 0683300342
Ferrets, rabbits and rodents by Hillyer and Quesenberry, ISBN 0721693776
Essentials of ferrets- A guide for practitioners by Karen Purcell, DVM, ISBN 0941451739
Ferret husbandry, medicine & surgery by John H Lewington, ISBN 0702028274
The "Ferrets for dummies" book really is good and covers everything, it's an excellent book for general ferret care. I also love "Biology and disease of the ferret" but some people find it hard to read and understand (I need to look up many of the veterinary terms), the other 3 veterinary books are easier to understand (I think).
[Update 12.03.2014: There are now second and maybe even third editions of some books I have bought so ISBN numbers may not be up to date anymore. But easy enough to search by title.]
It really is a good idea to have at least one veterinary book, many vets don't know all that much about ferret diseases so it's good if you can give them a book to look through and even have a read yourself. My vets have actually bought the "Ferrets, rabbits and rodents" book which I thought was brilliant. :-)
Ferret stuff for UK folks
[Update 12.03.2014: I had a few links to UK ferret stores and NONE are in existence anymore. So I have deleted them. But it is easy to google for ferret items, there are now many online pet stores with a huge variety of food, cages, bedding, ferret items...]
Some general ferret care info:
[It's the 18th of April 2002 now and I'm updating this subject, I have deleted some paragraphs and updated others, there are still old updates at the end of the page. It's a bit of a mess but I don't want to re-write the whole page now, maybe not ever. (And now it is August 2006 and I'm updating again, time flies, I can't believe it's been over 4 years since I last worked on this page...)]
I use Frontline on the ferrets to prevent fleas and ticks and since I started using it, I've never had a flea problem. And I've never seen a tick on them. Just 2 pumps on the neck and back. If I get an infested animal in, they get around 5 pumps though... I clean the ferrets' ears once or twice a month, they seem to get a lot of ear wax and I've had a lot of problems with ear mites so it's best to keep the ears clean. And they get their nails clipped every 2 weeks.
(August 2006- I hardly ever use Frontline now because I just haven't had problems with fleas. If I encounter a flea, they get 2 sprays but for years now I have not seen any fleas or ticks. For ear mites I asked my vet to prepare a solution that can be administered into the ear- you mix 1 part injectable ivermectin with 20 parts propylene glycol and then administer 0.2-0.3 ml (10-15 mg) into each ear canal every 3-6 weeks. This controls and eventually eradicates the ear mites. I got this from the book "Biology and diseases of the ferret". If you have a ferret with a bad case of ear mites, you need to treat the ears every 2 weeks for the first 6 weeks and then every 4 weeks and then possibly ever 6-8 weeks. I don't manage to get 0.3 ml into their ear canals though, more like 0.1 - 0.2 ml max. For general ear cleaning I like the ear drops from Phytopet. You can either order online or get them from a pet shop. I have used many ear cleaners from the vets and some didn't work well at all, others irritated their ears. The ear cleaner from Phytopet is excellent, very gentle on the ears yet it cleans really well.)
(September 2010- I have used Stronghold (selamectin) (also called Revolution in the USA) repeatedly over the last few years at about 15 mg/kg as it helps with ear mites. You can use the kitten or even cat vial for a ferret but if you have a lot of ferrets/ animals and are good at maths, you can buy the largest dog vials and split them up. You need to weigh the animals and then draw the liquid from the vials up into a syringe and then apply the needed amount (without a needle). If anybody ever needs help figuring out dosages, I'm happy to help. I started using Stronghold because of ear mites in the ferrets and also because the rabbits can't have Frontline. There's a good document regarding dosages, Efficacy and Safety of Selamectin (Stronghold®/Revolution™) Used Off-Label in Exotic Pets.)
I've got a hairball remedy in the house at all times. Especially when the ferrets are moulting. They seem to get hairs or something stuck in their throats sometimes and start coughing badly so then I also give them some hairball remedy. But I hardly ever use it.
[Update 12.03.2014: I don't have a hairball remedy anymore, never used it, never needed it, never had a problem.]
Sometimes I shower the ferrets in the bath with some baby shampoo. I used to wash them every two weeks- now I don't really know why I did it. Maybe because they smelled more when they weren't neutered. Now I only wash them every 4-6 months at the most. Or I don't even wash them completely but only their feet and tails. I don't mind the little smell there is.
(September 2010- I can't remember when I last washed the ferrets... When I get a dirty rescue, he or she usually gets a wash- and that's it. I do sometimes use a wet microfirbe cloth, maybe some vinegar water, and wipe the ferrets down. But generally they're clean, maybe rolling in wet grass and going out in the rain helps them keep themselves clean.)
And last not least I get my ferrets vaccinated against Distemper. The vet told me that they hadn't seen any Distemper cases in years but I do travel with the ferrets and I'm rather safe than sorry. I couldn't live with myself if I lost all ferrets because they got Distemper- what an unbearable thought... We used to use Nobivac DP but it's not manufactured anymore. So now we use Nobivac DHPPi (made by Intervet), another vaccine that can be used is Vanguard DA2Pi (made by Pfizer). The dose is half a vial per ferret and I don't vaccinate every year, I vaccinate every 2-3 years as over-vaccinating can cause illness as well.
(Update August 2006- I now have quite a few ferrets that haven't been vaccinated at all, when I do vaccinate, I vaccinate once or twice during the ferret's life. Can't find any info on the Vanguard at all but the Nobivac vaccine is commonly used.)
(Update September 2010- none of my current ferrets have been vaccinated. There is so much information out there about the dangers of vaccination that I rather not risk it when there's hardly any distemper out there. If we had a local outbreak, I would vaccinate, but not otherwise. Science of Vaccine Damage- by Catherine O'Driscoll.)
March '99 (but updated April '02)
Right, about food and how my views have changed. I used to believe in kibble, that it was a good way to feed ferrets, a good way to ensure that they'd get all the nutrition they need. People went on about feeding raw meat and carcasses because ferrets are carnivores but I thought what about dogs and cats, everybody feeds kibble to them so why not to ferrets? Now of course I know that kibble causes diseases in dogs and cats, too, and that there are many people who believe in feeding a natural diet to dogs and cats as well. Anyway, when Jilly got sick, I started supplementing their diet with tinned cat food and Bob Church's chicken gravy. But my guys weren't keen on cooked meat and I was too scared to feed raw meat. I fed raw meat a few times and they were alright but I thought I was just lucky that they didn't get sick from bacteria.
At the end of November '99 I fed Totally Ferret as the main diet. Sometimes raw meat, I started buying free flow pet mince and I added a vitamin and mineral powder and cooked the mince lightly and the ferrets liked it. I had to start feeding mince because my old ferret Hope wouldn't eat dry food when she came in, she ate just enough not to starve. So I first gave her tinned cat food to eat and then got her the frozen mince which she loved and then she wouldn't go back to tinned cat food! It was doing her good, she was so full of life now! :-)
A couple of weeks ago, Karen phoned me with the news that Arden Grange stopped manufacturing the Totally Ferret food. I mean we finally had the best ferret food and 1 1/2 years later they just stop making it... :-( So Karen and I went and enquired about food again, we phoned ferret food and cat food manufacturers up and in the end the 2 best foods were Arden Grange kitten food and Eukanuba cat food. The Arden Grange kitten food has 58% total chicken content while James Wellbeloved, the most popular ferret food manufacturer, only had a meat content of 46.5% and the chicken was only 35% plus they use BHT in their food. So Arden Grange kitten and Eukanuba cat are the 2 best foods and definitely better than any ferret foods here in the UK. Anyway, I decided to feed the Arden Grange food, it's just as good if not better than Eukanuba but a whole lot cheaper, Eukanuba is around £31.00 for 7.5kg while the Arden Grange food is sort of £27.00 for 10kg! Plus the Arden Grange foods have been developed by Path Nutritional Consultants who are headed by Dr. Thomas R. Willard- who developed Totally Ferret.
So my guys are fed Arden Grange kitten now and they love it. As a treat they get Whiskas cat milk with Companion's Choice Z-Megamore (which is an oil for coat and skin) and they also get Whiskas Kitamins- a treat with yeast and vitamins. I tried them on minced chicken again but my guys just won't eat it. Only a few so it's not worth bothering with it. And I also don't bother with tinned cat food anymore. Well, lets see whether I change my mind again... ;-)
Update August 2006- Regarding the dry foods, James Wellbeloved Ferret Complete has changed a lot for the better. No more pork in it, just turkey meat meal (min 50%), also naturally preserved without BHT. Arden Grange on the other hand doesn't seem as good anymore with only 28% chicken meal and a little bit of fresh chicken and fish meal. Arden Grange used to do 2 different "ranges" of food, a classic range which was not as good (and cheaper) than the other range. Then they put the 2 ranges together which means the food isn't as good as before. As I mentioned before, Burns are doing a good kitten food with 39% duck meat meal. It is missing some fancy ingredients that the Arden Grange has but I don't think those ingredients are that necessary. I prefer the Burns Kitten but the kibbles are little round balls and I'm really not keen on the shape or small size.
Update September 2010- At the moment I feed Arden Grange Cat and Totally Ferret which is manufactured by Bosch in Germany and sold by Zooplus. I get 7.5 kg bags and mix it half/ half. Thinking about adding James Wellbeloved Ferret Complete to it. The ferrets have dry food available at all times and get raw meat at night.
Update 16/10/00- starting the BARF diet
Friday 13/10/00 I got the surprise of my life. Phoned Karen in the evening and we talked and eventually she told me she's feeding her guys raw chicken and has done so for 3 months!
You can't imagine how my head went when Karen told me about BARF. I dreamt about getting minced chicken *all* night and got sooo excited about it! Then I quickly cleaned the ferrets Saturday morning, it's my bedding changing day and I changed and washed all ferret bedding and then rushed to town. For some reason I thought it was Sunday and thought I had to wait until Monday! So was really happy when it dawned on me that it was Saturday. But my mind just went round and round and any more thinking and my head would have exploded... I just couldn't stop thinking, it was horrible. Made my head tense and achy...
So got my minced chicken, I'd phoned the butchers up before I went and asked if they could mince a chicken for me and the lady said "yes, we can de-bone a chicken for you and mince it". So I said "no, I want it with the bones". I guess I confused her a little... Anyway, got to the butchers and they'd already done the chicken! A 3kg chicken! Because I couldn't get taurine in the health food shop, I had half an ox heart as well... They didn't have chicken hearts so I thought I get some ox heart. Couldn't look at it for long though... They minced that for me. I'll mix it into the chicken once the guys get used to the meat. Because Friday night I read some BARF stuff and read that they get ox heart because heart is high in taurine. You can also get frozen chicken hearts in the freezer cabinet in the supermarket so I guess I'll get some some time.
Well, all my guys eat the meat though I have to hand feed it to Jack, Baby, Rose and Jasmine and of course Jilly and Mason. Igor ate some out of the bowl by himself! But he won't eat out of the big bowl but ate it out of his small feeding bowl. Mason eats it real well, he eats big lumps of it off the spoon. I hand feed Jilly, she ate it well. :-) So much easier than feeding mush. Don't have to prepare anything, just get a towel, ferret and the food bowl and hand feed it.
Today more of the ferrets are eating the meat by themselves. I've been hand feeding *all* ferrets except for Barney and Spike. But now more and more are fine with eating it out of the bowl.
I'll soon start adding more stuff to their meat. People add egg yolk, taurine, kelp, vitamin C and alfalfa (Karen and I haven't made up our minds whether alfalfa is good or not though).
Feeding raw meat and bones is not dangerous, on dog BARF sites it says that the acid in their stomachs is a lot more aggressive than ours and their digestive tract is too short for any bacteria to multiply so it's very unlikely they get sick from salmonella or e-coli or any other bacteria. I'm feeding the raw meat to Jilly who's had insulinoma for 1 1/2 years and even she is completely fine on it. If anything, she'll be doing a lot better from now on. No more carbohydrates that make the pancreas work harder and make the blood sugar go high and then crash, just a good source of easily digestible protein that will keep the blood sugar more stable. I'm glad I switched over, I guess I'll see if there's a difference in a few years. I'm hoping that the ferrets will live longer and not get sick at an early age anymore. It may be too late for my older ferrets but if they're already growing tumours then the meat diet will slow the cancer growth.
[Update 12.03.2014: I am now ordering chicken carcasses and different mince from Natural Instinct.]
I've made a page dedicated to the BARF diet now, click here to read updates on how the ferrets are doing on their diet...
How my ferrets' housing has changed over the years
When I first got Baby, I kept her in the garage where she could roam free all day long. She loved that, the garage was full of boxes, old armchairs, mattresses and blankets so Baby could explore everything all day long and make herself lots of little hidey holes. When I went to see her she would come to me, at first she bit my hands a lot but then I didn't stay long and after a few weeks she seemed to realise that when she didn't bite me that I would stay with her for longer. So she hardly ever bit me and climbed onto my lap for cuddles instead.
So Baby was a free roaming ferret. But when I got Jilly, I kept her in the lounge in a converted kitchen cupboard. I'd taken the doors off and put it on it's back with wire mesh on top to stop her from escaping. Her bedding consisted of wood shavings, hay and straw, she also had a cardboard box to sleep in and always made nice nests for herself. I would never have thought of cloths for bedding...
After her babies had been born and gone, I bought a bigger second-hand sideboard and made it into a cage for Jilly, Angel and Jack. I sawed the middles out of all the doors of the sideboard, leaving just a frame to staple wire mesh on. I changed the bedding to newspaper and hay. They always tore the paper into pieces and made nests so I thought it was nice bedding for them.
At the beginning of '96, I got an Internet account and subscribed to the ferret newsgroup and eventually to the FML (Ferret Mailing List). There I read that people gave their ferrets blankets, pullovers and other clothing items for bedding. And that the aromatic oils in wood shavings can even harm their lungs! So of course I quickly looked around the house for blankets. Needless to say, the ferrets didn't mind their new bedding at all and quickly took to it.
When I moved house, the ferrets and the other animals got their own room and the ferrets got another bigger sideboard cage, a two storey cage. This time I took all the doors off again and built frames that I fitted where the doors had been. I glued vinyl flooring on the "floors" of the cage, put a big blanket upstairs and a jacket downstairs where they also had their toilet and food and drink.
Because the ferrets shared their room with the other animals, I could only let them have a run for a few hours each day. Jilly, Angel and Jack didn't really bother about the other animals, they climbed onto the rats' cages a few times, got their toes bitten and then lost all interest in them and rather played with their toys.
Since Summer '97, the ferrets had the room to themselves. I kept most of the little animals outside in the garden over the summer and the rest were in the lounge. So the ferrets had free run of their room all day long, at night I still put them back into their cage. I also added a few hidey holes to their room, like their old travel cage and the cat carrier so they've got those and the upstairs of their two-storey cage to sleep in. They've got 3 pipes to run through and in one corner they have a big blanket, 2 pillows and all their toys. Eventually I stopped locking them into their cage at night.
A lot of time has gone now and it is now the end of Nov '99 and I don't have the sideboard cage anymore, all the ferrets have now is a condo that my friend Karen had done and given me :-) and they have 2 cat play frames and a cat radiator bed and a converted toilet that they use to sleep in and they have a big bean bag and of course pipes and toys.
This is what the room looks like now though I keep changing things:
So the way I have kept my ferrets has changed dramatically over the last few years. Thanks to the FML! When I went to see Jilly when I first got her, she was being kept in a bare, dirty rabbit hutch in a garden. She had no bedding at all then. So the clean wood shavings and hay that I first gave her must have been nice for her but all the blankets, pullovers etc. she can now sleep in is the best bedding.
I know I didn't keep the ferrets 100% properly at first but I still kept them a whole lot better than most people here in Britain and especially here in rural Wales. And I was lucky to have Internet access and to be able to learn about ferrets and how to keep them. So now, whenever the weather is good enough, I take the ferrets out (shopping) with me to do ferret PR as a lot of people approach me to talk about the amazing little creatures and learn about them.
It is the beginning (March) of 2003 now and I thought I add a little here. I have 3 groups now so unfortunately they are all caged. They have big cages, 8ft long and 2ft wide. Pete built the cages, 4 on top of each other. They can be sectioned off, I can put a divider into each cage to make them 4ft by 2ft and could have as many as 8 cages if I needed them. They have run of the house morning and night, the only rooms they're not allowed in are the lounge and our bedroom. The guest bedroom has been made into a ferret play room, it can be converted back into a guest bedroom when we expect guests though... There is a pipe in the wall between the ferret room and ferret play room so they can go from one room to the other if they can only have the two rooms to play in, in case we renovate and can't let them have run of the house.
When I first started my 3rd group with Willow's arrival, I left Jilly's group out all day long and only caged them when Rose's and Willow's groups came out. But Jilly's group didn't play much during the day or night and slept most of the time when they were allowed to roam free so I guess it doesn't matter too much that they are now caged. But one day I would like to go back to having one group only and letting them roam free in their room and their play room...
Update summer 2007...
For years the ferrets have had run of the house now. We went from having carpets to having laminate and vinyl flooring everywhere. :-) The ferrets still had their own room with the big cage unit that Pete built and the spare bedroom as their playroom. But recently I moved the ferrets into the lounge. I have had 5 groups for the last 2 years and spent a lot of time upstairs and in their room, cleaning, feeding etc. Now they are in the lounge in their travel cages, the cages are easier to clean than their old wooden cage unit and I don't feel so isolated being upstairs most of the time.
Ferret play room
Some recent pictures
New ferret cages in lounge
Ferret play room- the layout keeps changing but this is what it looks like at the moment. Plus they have the whole house except the bedroom to play in- and the garden.