FAQ (Ferretly Asked Questions)

Here are a few questions you might have about ferrets. If you have others, ask them on our Q&A page.

What’s a ferret?

Ferrets are not rodents, like mice and rats, but mustelids, the same family as minks, skunks, otters, weasels, and even wolverines. “Ferret” comes from the Latin for “stinky little thief.” They are highly intelligent (some studies have ranked them above cats and dogs), curious, and bond with both each other and their human companions. They are also called “catsnakes,” “boneless noodles,” “floof noodles,” and many other endearing terms.

Wait, “stinky?” You mean they smell?

Ferrets do have their own particular musky odour, which some people hate, and ferret lovers generally love (Boo! reminds us of corn chips). This comes from the oils on their skin, and a good diet, and weekly bedding changes, do wonders to manage it.

As well, ferrets can “poof” like their cousin, the skunk. A poof is a rather smelly discharge designed to repel enemies. However, it doesn’t smell anywhere near as bad as a skunk, and is an odour, not a liquid spray, so it dissipates quickly. Most North American ferrets, coming from ferret mills, are descented, and so they can’t do this. European ferret owners, and North American rescues and private breeders, generally consider descenting an unnecessary mutilation.

What about the “thief” part?

Ferrets love to “stash” things, taking anything and everything that catches their interest, and hiding it away. What they stash is particular to each ferret. Wren, for example, loves plastic bags, and we have to get the Saturday paper before she does. Azula is quite taken with cloth slippers. They will also move things about, carefully rearranging their stashes.

Aren’t they wild animals?

Ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are referred to in Greek and Roman literature, and the Greeks and Romans kept them as pets, and for rodent control, much as people kept cats.

What’s with all the “business” jokes?

Just as we talk about a “gaggle of geese” or a “pride of lions,” a group of ferrets is a “business.” An earlier English spelling of business was “busynesse,” meaning “a lot of activity.” Although ferrets nap hard, when they are awake, they are very, very active.

Do you keep them in a cage, like a hamster?

No! Ferrets are very intelligent, and keeping them caged would be like keeping your cat or dog in a cage. While they sleep a lot (18 – 20 hours a day), they need at least 4-6 non-consecutive hours of play time, to run and interact. And even with other ferrets, they are very interested in what their “hoomans” are up to, and need daily human interaction, too.

Azula, Wren, and Boo! have a cage they sleep in at night so they don’t get into too much mischief. We usually restrict them to a room when we are out, for the same reason. Otherwise, they are allowed to “free roam,” with some exceptions (bathrooms, laundry room, furnace room, etc.). However, letting them do so has required careful “ferret proofing.”

Ferrets are agile, curious, intelligent, and mischievous, a fun but dangerous combination! We have blocked off the underside of the stove and fridge, put screening over the freezer motor, etc. The dryer vent has screening over it, lest they get into the laundry room (ferrets, not ours, thank goodness! have escaped through dryer vents many times). If ferret proofing isn’t possible, then ideally they should have a dedicated room with tubes and toys for them to play in.

Can you take them outside?

Absolutely. Azula, Wren, and Boo! all have their own harnesses, and we usually walk them daily, spring through fall. Or, more accurately, they walk us. All three are very well-behaved on their leads, but in the end, you go where the ferret wants to go. But that’s just part of the adventure!

They’re so cute! Where do I get one?

We agree, but they are also require a lot of time and expense (ferrets are “exotics” and exotics vets are few and far between). And each has its own personality. The ferret you imagined cuddling with might not enjoy cuddling. Ferret rescues are filled with poor fuzzies whose owners quickly found they weren’t for them. If you want to share your life with a ferret, please do your research. We suggest:

  • Buy and read Ferrets for Dummies
  • Ask questions: Of us, of the rescues, on Facebook ferret groups (not of pet stores, most really don’t know anything beyond what the mill tells them)
  • Be committed. A pet is for life
  • And if you are still certain: Adopt! Unlike pet stores, the shelters will help you prepare for ferret ownership, and be there to advise you after.
  • If you aren’t certain: Consider becoming a foster. Fosters are desperately needed, the rescues will help educate you, and it’s a good way to “test” your compatibility.

Please see our Resources page; we’ll add to it as time goes on.