14 yr old daughter wants a ferret.
May 31, 2006 6:49 AM   Subscribe

Do these animals require a lot of care? Will it stink up my house or her room? Does it have to be potty trained? How big will it get? When we go on trips do we take it with us or is there a ferret kennel? What will it do during the day when no one is at home? What do they eat? I dunno if letting her get one is a good idea.
posted by sandra194 to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest you talk to your daughter and figure out why a ferret seems like a good idea and not a cat or a dog. We've succeeded at domesticating only a few animals in our time on this planet, and a ferret, in my opinion, is not one of them.

Many places have laws against keeping them as pets (I know Nova Scotia did when I was a kid), and they can turn vicious in an instant. Sharp teeth and claws, and a different attack style than a cat, which can be easily deflected. Even if where you live has no laws against them as pets, it's telling that some places do, no?

Maybe she just likes the word ferret, or wants to be unique.
posted by jon_kill at 6:55 AM on May 31, 2006

Will it stink up my house or her room?

Yes, most likely. Make sure you get it decented, though even then they still stink... but not much more than an inside/outside dog.

Does it have to be potty trained?


When we go on trips do we take it with us or is there a ferret kennel?

Years ago I took my ferret on trips, which involved bringing along it's cage (we had a van). This seemed to work fine, and the ferret didn't change it's behavior or seem to mind being on the road.
posted by nitsuj at 6:57 AM on May 31, 2006

Friends that have had them do seem to enjoy them quite a bit.

However, in my limited exposure, ferrets smell like urine and get into as much trouble as they are physically able to.

I haven't known anyone to get attacked by one, but they have lots of energy and generally need a good deal of space to play in. They are in the same family as weasels after all.
posted by o0o0o at 7:02 AM on May 31, 2006

I have to urgently endorse the idea that if you get one, you MUST get it de-scented. These are stinky critters with their scent glands in, but otherwise fairly good-natured in my experience.
I found that they are hard to housetrain, but otherwise cute, cuddly, critters that smell really bad and need lots of attention or they get destructive.
But chimps are also quasi-domesticated critters, most of the time. D'you really want something that's only partly tame in your house, with your kids?
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:14 AM on May 31, 2006

Ferrets are very high maintenance animals who have pretty delicate systems. They get sick easily, especially if they eat things they shouldn't, they require tons of attention, play and exercise, their diet is not cheap, and trips to the vet are absolutely required. A ferret is not a pet you keep in a cage and occasionally play with, like a rabbit.

For me, this would be on par to my 14 year old asking if she could adopt a toddler (and a toddler that will never get past 3 years old.) That's how much work and responsibility a ferret can be, so if you wouldn't let your daughter have a toddler, I'd say no on the ferret for now.
posted by headspace at 7:17 AM on May 31, 2006

I currently have two ferrets and have had four in total.

First, ferrets are not for everyone. They require specialized care and can suffer from very expensive health problems. You have to really want to be a ferret owner. Also, ferrets will be much happier in multiples. They need the company of their own kind. So think in twos or not at all.

That said, to answer your questions:

They sleep approx. 18-20 hours out of every day. They will need a fairly large, multi-level cage with seperate areas for sleeping, eating, pooping. They are very intelligent and maintain a puppy/kitten-like love of play their whole lives. They are social animals and love to be part of what you are doing.

Stink-wise, it depends on the ferret. They should be descented, but even then, some are more or less stinky than others. People with stinky ferrets usually bathe them once a week and use coat sprays to mask the odor.

They can be potty/litter box trained within 95%. There will always be accidents. They have a very short fuse on the poop reflex, so if you give them free roaming of a room, there better be a litter box nearby. Also, rooms must be ferret-proofed. They can get through spaces you would not believe and have been known to chew wires, eat fabric, claw the foam inside furniture, get inside your walls, etc.

They can get to be the size of a medium cat. Females tend to be smaller, more large kitten sized.

I board my ferrets at the vet when I travel. You can leave them home in the cage with ample food and water for 24 hours. I have brought mine along with me on trips, but I think it is overstimulating for them. Having total command of their environment is very important to a ferret.

They will sleep when you are not there, but will be desperate for some out of the cage play-time when you get home. At least an hour or two. They are natural problem solvers and have phenomenal memories. They love tunnels and dryer vent hose is one of their favorite play toys.

They eat ferret-chow you can get at any pet store in addition to fruit. There is fairly long list of things they should never eat.

Finally, to address some of the other comments. Ferrets, like all animals, have teeth and claws. Their method of play among themselves tends to be fairly aggressive. So you have to teach them as kits that people are not for biting. I have successfully done this with all four of mine. They have never bitten another person.

I work out of my home and give my ferrets free run of the house with some exceptions. They are the light of my life, but I am trained and willing to adapt my living situation to them. I hope this has been helpful!
posted by garbo at 7:26 AM on May 31, 2006

Overall, the wikipedia entry is pretty good, and I recommend reading it, if you haven't already. I had two ferrets for about six years, so here's my two cents:

Do these animals require a lot of care? Not really. Certainly not as much as a dog, but a little more than a cat. They sleep about 16 to 18 hours a day. They need to be let out for a couple hours of playtime every day.

Will it stink up my house or her room? Most likely it will smell a little. Not an overpowering smell, but ferrets are in the same family as skunks, and even descented (which they will be if you buy from a reputable pet store) they still can have a slightly skunky odor.

Does it have to be potty trained? Ferrets can be litter box trained, but the success rate varies. Mine batted about .600, which is a spectacular average if you're a major league ball player, but not so good if you have carpet.

How big will it get? Not big. 2-3 pounds maybe.

What will it do during the day when no one is at home? Sleep all day.

What do they eat? Ferrets are carnivores and eat only meat. They sell ferret food at pet stores, but they're usually fish based, and smell awful if they get wet (plus the ferrets start to take on a fishy odor). My vet recommended a high end cat food, Hill's Science Diet, which they ate without any problems.

Ferrets are like kittens that never grows up. They sleep all the time, but when they're up, they want to play, and they're all riled up. It's fun, but it can be a little tiresome at times. Ferrets are really social creatures, and if you decide to get one, I'd advise getting a pair instead, so they'll have a playmate.

They're really energetic, intensely curious, and will get into absolutely everything. A closed box is an hours worth of entertainment for them. But at the same time, they're not particularly bright, and often their curiosity is stronger than their sense of self-preservation, so you have to ferret-proof your room, like you would take safety precautions for a baby, otherwise they might do something stupid and hurt/kill themselves. They love people, but may not necessarily like being held (It varies from from individual to individual). Mine were too squirmy to really let me hold them, but they always wanted to be near me, running around poking into whatever I was doing.

I have to agree with jon_kill's sentiment about domestication: I'm not sure if the term really applies to ferrets. The kind sold in pet stores definitely can't fend for themselves, and need people to care for them (unlike a cat). They're definitely not what I would call "wild", but they're not going to curl up a the foot of your bed, either.

Let me sum up my feelings this way: I loved the little guys, I'm glad I had the experience, and I miss them sometimes, but they were definitely more trouble than I bargained for, and I don't think I would ever own any again.
posted by Gamblor at 8:08 AM on May 31, 2006

I'll echo much of what garbo says above, with an addition or two.

Yes, they can smell, but like it's been stated already, it depends on the ferret and they don't really smell any more than your average dog or cat. They don't smell like a rose garden, but they do have a decidedly animal smell, but it's not really noticable unless you pick them up and handle them enough to sniff them. Most of the ones you'll find in a petstore will have been descented and spayed/neutered already. Bathing them can actually make them smell even more, as it strips them of some of their natural oils and forces their bodies to produce even more oil. In my experience, the smell associated with them is related more to their bedding than anything else, since that tends to absorb the oils from their fur and should be washed regularly. Fresh bedding and clean litter pans will result in very little smell, and sprays and powders for their fur can be used if you really don't like an animal-scented animal.

Temperment will vary, as it would with any animal. Males seem to be a bit cuddly and mellow compared to females, however if you're buying one at the petstore it's probably going to be a typical kit and be extremely curious and playful. They play rough, but if you start young you can quickly train them not to nip at you, and their claws, when properly and regularly trimmed, are less of a weapon than a cat's.

As for potty training, it can be done to a degree. Mine refuses to use a litter pan of any size or shape, but the entire lower level of her cage is filled with some Carefresh bedding and she'll run back to it when she needs to go. Another one I had preferred certain corners of the room but not a litter box, and we simply put down the puppy housetraining pads.

I've got a single ferret at the moment, she's got free roam of two rooms of the house, and she considers a trip into the bathroom when we shower to be an epic adventure. She came with us to my mother's house while we were house-sitting and spent the majority of the time sleeping in the bathroom, ignoring the bedding we brought for her and making a bed out of my mother's hand towels. She ignored my mother's dog and chased a 30lb cat through the kitchen. My husband describes her as a sugered-up toddler. They do require a lot of attention while they're awake, and their vet bills can be as expensive as a larger pet's would be, but they're an absolute joy to have.
posted by chickygrrl at 8:25 AM on May 31, 2006

For me, this would be on par to my 14 year old asking if she could adopt a toddler (and a toddler that will never get past 3 years old.)

that about sums it up.

get a cat. or a guinnea pig.
posted by radioamy at 8:49 AM on May 31, 2006

Based on my own experience, ferret stink is quite manageable if you bathe them regularly, change the litterbox frequently, and launder their bedding. I'd say they're more high-maintenance than cats but less than dogs (assuming a dog requires several times daily walking). My ferrets have been easily bite-trained—usually within a week. Some recommend bitter apple spray and the like but some form of ferret timeout has always worked for me (scruffing, wrapping the head with a hand to firmly close the mouth for a few seconds, etc.).

They are latrine animals so litterbox training is easy. That being said, they need litterboxes placed all around their environment because of the aforementioned short fuse. The "going to poop" behavior is easily identified—it's the only time a ferret will waddle backwards toward a wall with its tail in the air—so supervision during play time will minimize accidents.

I'll nth the suggestion for getting them in multiples. My first was an only ferret and while I was able to spend lots of time with her (yay permastudent lifestyle!) she was freaked out every time I tried to introduce her to ferrets of friends. Other than that, she was well adjusted and the best lap ferret of any I have had. Subsequent ferrets have come in multiples because I am no longer able to devote 4-6 hours a day to being playground manager (though I wish I could). I'd also recommend against getting the most rambunctious one of the litter and getting females over males—at least the first time out. Females are smaller, less prone to stink, and a bit more docile on average though you'd be hard pressed to get more docile than my gib. His nom de guerre is Bar-Co-Lounger.

As others have mentioned, they are the most playful, silly, and goofy of the domesticated pets. With proper care their disadvantages can be mitigated. It's obvious I'm biased toward them but watching the current set of carpet sharks do their thing can dissolve even the crustiest of days. If your daughter is a responsible type and willing to make the 7-9 year committment, then they would make awesome pets for her. Besides, think of the teen cachet that comes with being guardian to a couple of cartwoozles.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:59 AM on May 31, 2006

Fezboy! nails it:
If your daughter is a responsible type and willing to make the 7-9 year committment, then they would make awesome pets for her.

This is the most important consideration for any pet. Will your daughter be going to college? Traveling for a summer in Europe? Backpacking through the Appalachians when she graduates? If so, be prepared to be the foster Mom for whatever critter she adopts.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:28 AM on May 31, 2006

I hope the original poster isn't in California (couldn't work out from profile) as ferrets are illegal to keep there. They are similarly illegal to take into California.
posted by wackybrit at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2006

Please, please consult Ferret Central.

Lots of people, especially young people, think of ferrets as accessories for a Gothic, hipster and/or counterculture lifestyle, instead of as pets and companions. If your daughter arranges her appearance to match her friends and/or her taste in music I'd say she's simply not mature enough for a high-maintenance pet; we've acquired a few ferrets over the years who'd been "surrendered" (read thrown away).

Practically speaking, my additions:

First, ferrets' vet care is HIDEOUSLY expensive: among other things they're prone to nasty cancers and tumors that are expensive to operate on and as with humans the operations don't always do much good -- and last year we had to euthanize my Blitzen because the inoperable lymphoma was brutally compressing her heart, lungs and stomach.

Most decent ferret foods are fish-based, which makes their poop stink something fierce; we feed our ferrets high-quality CAT food, currently a mix of Innova and Wellness, as one of our girls is gets all itchy because she's allergic to corn -- one of the main ingredients in most common pet foods.

As far as the Body Odor issue goes, the stink comes from OVER-bathing them: besides initially drying out their skin, bathing also makes them overproduce skin oils to compensate. Bathing them once every few months is fine, if they get into something dirty between baths we wipe them off lightly with a washcloth soaked in plain warm water. But yes, some ferrets normally have a SLIGHT aroma that I find pleasant: those who don't like animals that smell like animals should stick to "action figures."

And most ferrets from pet stores are already de-scented and spayed or neutered as infants; I'm personally against "altering" them so early and neutral on de-scenting, but we've had no say in that recently since all our three of our current ferrets were adopted from a Humane Society -- because they were thrown away by K3wl Kidz who decided the fuzzies ain't so neat-o after all.

I'd recommend that someone who's still interested in keeping a ferret or two should consider adopting from a shelter/rescue organization instead of buying from a pet store. Ferret Central has a list, and we found these via Pet Finder. (The third one indirectly so: the humane society where we adopted the older pair called us when somebody ditched another one with them.)

Considering everything, I think the expense of even routine vet care, not counting cancer tests and operations, would count most people out right off: figure at least $1000 a year per ferret for the basics. That's why we make do with one used 1991 Honda Civic between us (with no sound system and a busted A/C) and we're middle-aged adults. Has your daughter won the lottery lately?

Short answer: I'd say no your 14 year old daughter cannot have a ferret. But you might look into the possibility for yourself.
posted by davy at 10:08 AM on May 31, 2006

For me, this would be on par to my 14 year old asking if she could adopt a toddler (and a toddler that will never get past 3 years old.)
Especially if that toddler STINKS TO HOLY HEAVEN and also like to shit on your pillow.

Mr Mimi had a "descented" (female, Fezboy!) ferret before I lived here, and it stank something nasty. Nasty nasty NASTY.

If you do go down this hell path, do your best to keep them out of the basement, where there's lots of air circulation equipment and small places for it to hide (and shit) that you will not find. To the point where three and a half years later, I can still smell it from time to time, especially when turning the AC or furnace on after they've been dormant.

They can also develop adrenal problems fairly commonly, and lemme tell you, a bald, blind ferret with its poochy sticking out that stinks stinks stinks and THEN shits everywhere, may not be your number one favorite companion animal. While there is no such thing as a no-maintenance pet, ferrets are a lot more trouble than they look.
posted by mimi at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2006

mimi, that is too funny, you poor thing.

I have nothing to add to this discussion except a somewhat amusing tale from my husband: He had a ferret when he was a kid, and she (Louise) became obsessed with sponges. She had run of the house and was allowed (or escaped) into the neighborhood, and would steal every one she could find, from makeup sponges to the big ones you use to wash your car. She would hide them all over the house, and my MIL continued to find them for years after. Apparently this is common (?) in ferrets - the obsession with an object and stealing/hiding.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:10 AM on May 31, 2006

The ferret you describe, mimi, sounds like it had some serious and unattended to health issues and, frankly, behaved in a way that a neglected ferret might. This will have significant impact on scent and, erm, waste management issues. While my story was largely ferret-positive, I don't think I skirted the maintenance and smell issues.

I probably failed to mention that you should plan to spend at least two hours a day with them in play. You need not be actively engaged with them for the whole two hours, but they're not strictly cage animals. They need some "outdoor" play time and if you're not there to play poop cop, you run the risk of the fuse going off with no litterbox nearby. By the same token, they need boundaries if they're not kept in a cage. They can manage the geography of one or two rooms pretty well, but they need to be introduced to this concept if they're used to being caged. These rooms should have a litter box in every corner, and these litter boxes should be easy access so the ferret need not climb into the thing. I've found boxes that were essentially two walls with an open face. They're quite shallow so frequent litter changing is required, but they're not messy and they're easy for ferrets to negotiate.

I can also say that I've been ferreted for the last 15 or so years and, of the fuzzies that have come into my life, none have been stink factories like you describe. Given the information above, they're certainly no worse than cats. Data point: my current apartment was previously occupied by three cats who were not well managed and on hot days you can still smell the cat piss in the stairwell five years and one new carpeting later.

They're not for everyone and especially not for those already predisposed to not liking them, but for someone like sandra194's daughter, who has an interest in one as a pet and who—as I stipulated—will make the committment to the fuzzy, they make adorable and rewarding companions. A simple test: walk into a pet store and spend 15 minutes near the ferret cages. Can you handle the odor? That's the worst it will ever get (again, if one adheres to some basic animal care as outlined by myself and others above).
posted by Fezboy! at 11:16 AM on May 31, 2006

If you determine that a ferret is too much work, you may want to consider a rat (dumbo rats are a favorite in my house).

Rats are playful and smell less strongly than ferrets; (which is why we have them, ferrets set off my wife's allergies something fierce.) They have fairly simple dietary requirements (read as: will eat anything) require less space than a ferret and can be purchased for considerably less money.

They primary downside is that they are fairly short lived (2 to 3 years.)

(no more parentheses for me today :)
posted by quin at 11:17 AM on May 31, 2006

The ferret you describe, mimi, sounds like it had some serious and unattended to health issues and, frankly, behaved in a way that a neglected ferret might.
The medical problem was managed as well as it could be with melatonin; she was near the end of her natural life span when it developed, and surgery was quite expensive. She did get a lot of attention and play, and was quite cuddly. I'll agree with you in that I don't think that she got all that she needed, and I certainly don't think that he knew what he was in for when adopting her.

It sounds like there are some people who know a lot about ferrets and how to keep them so that everyone is happy -- which is great! They can be quite charming, especially if they belong to such people. Unless the poster's daughter, however, is of that ilk, and has the time and comittment to give and her parents don't mind TWO LITTER BOXES in every room the ferret can get into, and spending $1000/year in vet bills, and the stank, well... maybe a nice Betta would be a better start.
posted by mimi at 11:49 AM on May 31, 2006

thanks so much for the advice guys...I neglected to mention that we already have a 6 year old chocolate lab...she might be freaked out by the ferret and I don't want any animal wars
posted by sandra194 at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2006

I neglected to mention that we already have a 6 year old chocolate lab...she might be freaked out by the ferret

If your lab has any hunting instinct, I saw that my dad's old German Shepard was fine with cats but went after the ferrets with all get out. Something akin to raccoon chasing.

(My dad had two ferrets when I was in junior high. I quickly lost interest in them when my dad gave up interest in keeping them un-smelly.)
posted by Gucky at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2006

I'll chime in here to say that I was the proud owner of two ferrets for their 8-year lifespan, and just about everything here, the good and the bad, is true in some degree. I loved my little Millicent and Maximillian, but, now 10 years after I had them put to sleep for tumors, I haven't sought to replace them, and likely won't. They're wonderful creatures, but more trouble than I want to put up with for the foreseeable future.

One thing I'll add is that a screened-in porch is just about a perfect place to keep a ferret cage. I was in Georgia at the time, and left them out there year-round. They're wild enough to adjust to the changing temperature, though I did put a heater out there on the coldest nights. To see the male go from a slender 3 pounds to a roly-poly 6 was quite remarkable, and their winter fur is quite mink-like. Just be sure you give them plent of time to acclimatize.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:27 PM on May 31, 2006

I will simply observe that although Ferrets scent doesn't seem to bother some people, even unscented the little monsters make some of us quite nauseous with their stench.
posted by Megafly at 4:05 PM on May 31, 2006

what she doesn't know is that she really wants a black squirrel.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 6:55 PM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

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