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Ferrets are carnivores. They belong to the mustelid family and are related to the mink, otter and badger. They are a true domestic species, being dependent on man for survival, having been domesticated for over 3000 years. Originally ferrets were domesticated to hunt small rodents and rabbits. Male ferrets are called HOBS and females are called JILLS. Young ferrets are called KITS and a group of ferrets is called a BUSINESS.

Ferrets are ideal pets for people who suffer from allergies or asthma as' their fur is hypo-allergenic.

Ferrets are descended from the European, polecat, with which they will readily interbreed if given the opportunity. Polecats are not present in Australia and ferrets do not pose any threat of becoming feral. Ferrets are a feral animal in New Zealand, where climatic conditions are much closer to those in Europe.


The breeding season for ferrets in Victoria is from August to March. Both jills and hobs have a clearly defined, breeding season, marked by the jill's vulva swelling up to about 12mm in diameter (it is ordinarily less than 2mm m length) and the hob's testicles descend into the scrotum. Mating takes several hours and appears quite violent to bystanders. Gestation time is 42 days, after which an average litter of 6-10 kits are born. They will be blind and deaf for about five weeks, weaning takes place, between 6 and 8 weeks.

Jills which are not mated stand about a 90% chance of developing "prolonged oestrus disease" which is a fatal form of aplastic anaemia. It is sometimes called "fading syndrome", as she may take 6 weeks to gradually lose condition and die. It can be easily avoided by having her speyed (i.e. desexed), by mating her with a vasectomised hob, or by giving her hormone injections that can be obtained from a vet. The latter two only solve the problem for a short amount of time, after which she will require mating again; if she comes into season again or more injections.

Ferrets are meat eaters and should be fed appropriately. Fresh uncooked meat, rabbit and chicken carcasses, dry cat food (if desired) and fresh cool water must always be available.

Ferrets need a cage which is regularly cleaned, waterproof and draught-proof in Winter and cool in Summer. A sleeping box is required with bedding material. Some owners use shredded newspaper, whilst others prefer old clothing. Care must be taken to ensure bedding does not become damp or soiled as ferrets need some where warm and dry to sleep. Victorian Ferret Society members will. gladly provide information about different cage types on request. Ferrets require about 1/2 to 1 square metre of floor space each. Housing for ferrets must be secure so that they cannot escape and to prevent others animals from attacking the ferrets.

Ferrets are often used for hunting rabbits. This involves placing nets on the rabbit holes, putting the ferret into 1 of the holes and waiting for it to drive the rabbits out into the net. The key to success with rabbit hunting in this way is to be very quiet and to have reliable, even tempered ferrets. A well handled/trained ferret will not bite its owner and will come when called. The rabbits will not bolt when, they are aware of people up above, so this makes the ferret's job very difficult. Under these circumstances the ferret will often "lay up" resulting in a long delay for the owner. The use of a 'Ferret Finder" greatly assists the owner in locating their ferrets.

Apart from their extensive use in hunting, ferrets have become very popular and endearing pets. This is shown with the fad they are the 3rd most popular pet in America. They are especially good as pets where space is limited such as fiats and will readily adapt to a litter tray.

Ferrets only need to vaccinated against distemper, in Australia there is no distemper vaccine manufactured for ferrets. So the DA2 is used which is active against distemper and canine adenovirus. Also as ferrets only get one fifth of a canine dose get together with other ferret owners to make up five ferrets.

Health Problems
Sometimes ferrets pick up external parasites like fleas and mites. Fleas are often caught when ferrets are used for rabbiting, and although they are present in large numbers, fleas rarely stay for more than a day or 2. There are no ferret fleas in Australia and fleas are usually species specific.(i.e. they only live, on one host species) They can be removed by using kitten flea powders if they persist, or a natural herbal remedy.

Ear Mites:- Ear mites sometimes cause problems. If ferrets have brownish scurf in their Cars or are scratching their ears persistently, a few drops of ear canker lotion should be used, according to the instructions on the bottle. This is available from pet shops or your vet.

Mange Mites:- Mange mites can be a big problem with ferrets. They cause a disease called "footrot" by some owners. If the ferret develops sore, scabby feet, this is a sign that it has become infected. Dirty cages and warm damp conditions increases the chances of this becoming a problem therefore, a mesh floor is preferable to a solid floor in the food and toilet area of cage. Trim the toenails if they are too long and apply Benzyl Benzoate lotion (available from vets and pet suppliers), another treatment is to take the ferret to the vet for a course of Ivermectin.

It is wise to burn all the old bedding, sterilise the cages with disinfectant to prevent the infection, from spreading.

Further Information
If you want more information on any aspect of ferret care, please ask a member of V.F.S. We conduct shows/displays, ferret races, regular meetings and we also produce a monthly newsletter.

Further Information

  Telephone one of the committee members.
Victorian Ferret Society Inc.
P.O. Box 378,
Woodend 3442.
Mr. R. Murphy : 03 9842 7060

  Books - The Guide to Owning a Ferret

Victorian Ferret Society Inc.

Last Update: 13/03/07 21:24 Views: 23975

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