Cost of Caring for a Ferret

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 29, 2016

by Matt Soniak

While ferrets seems like a less expensive pet than a dog or a cat, that isn’t always the case. All pets, ferrets included, require a significant investment of time, effort and money. Before bringing a ferret into your family, you’ll want to learn more about the kind of financial commitment you’ll need to give it.

Find out how much ferrets cost and what you’ll need to properly care for your ferret. 

How Much do Ferrets Cost?

Ferret purchase prices vary greatly depending on where you get them, said Mary McCarty-Houser, director of the Pennsylvania Ferret Rescue Association and shelter chair of the American Ferret Association. Ferrets can be found in shelters, in pet stores, and from reputable private breeders (which will charge the most for their ferrets). 

Adopting a ferret from a shelter can cost around $100, but many shelter ferrets are up to date on their vaccines, saving you the cost of those. Plus, McCarty-Houser says, shelter staff will work extensively with their ferrets to get to know their personalities, do any behavioral training (if necessary), and understand what type of home environment would be best for them.

“[Shelter staff] are also a lifelong resource to the new owner for questions and help with problems,” McCarty-Houser added.

Pet store ferrets generally cost more (up to $300), depending on the area, but come with no prior veterinary care, creating additional costs on top of purchase price for owners to get their ferrets vaccinated, tested for any diseases, and examined by a veterinarian, McCarty-Houser said.

Reputable private breeders who put a lot of time and effort into tracking family lines and socializing their animals generally sell ferrets from $275 and up.

“Privately bred kits [baby ferrets] go to the owners with health and temperament guarantees and lifelong support of the breeder to the owner,” McCarty-Houser says. “They are usually given their initial canine distemper vaccine, sometimes their rabies shot, and are Aleutian Disease Virus (ADV)-negative guaranteed.”

The new owner will be responsible for additional distemper vaccines, as well as the spaying/neutering of the kit at an appropriate age.

What Kind of Supplies Do Ferret Owners Need?

You’ll need to purchase the following items to make sure your new ferret is outfitted with the proper environment and care:

  • Food: Like cats, ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means that the only food from which they can get the nutrients they need is meat. “They require a diet high in meat protein (40 percent or higher) and fat (20 percent or higher),” McCarty-Houser said. Fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates can actually be harmful to a ferret's health, as some people believe they may be associated with the development of insulinomas, a tumor of the pancreas. Food pellets made specifically for ferrets are best, but most high-quality kitten foods can also work, said Dr. La'Toya Latney, an exotic animal veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • A cage or crate: Ferrets require a safe place to stay when they cannot be supervised by their owners, McCarty-Houser said. Cages very in cost, but she says that if you can't afford a new one, many shelters offer gently used cages for much less.
  • Litter box: While a family of humans can get by with one toilet, a single ferret requires multiple litter pans. McCarty-Houser recommends two for the cage and a few more for their play area, as ferrets won’t do you the favor of running back to their cage to do their business. For litter, McCarty-Houser cautions against the clumping or clay litter used in cat litter boxes, as these can cause respiratory issues for ferrets. “We use pelleted litters that are safe and inexpensive,” she said. Think recycled newspaper pellets or even wood stove pellets, which come in 40-pound bags for around $5 at many hardware stores.
  • Bowls: Ferrets like to dig in and move their bowls around, and can be especially messy with their water bowls, McCarty-Houser said. Stick with a bowl that attaches to the cage and won’t move.
  • Bedding: What you use for bedding in your ferret’s cage can very greatly in cost and materials, and can be purchased from a number of suppliers or made at home from fabrics such as fleece or flannel. Some ferret owners even make and sell their own custom bedding, cage ramp covers, and hammocks.
  • Toys: How much you spend on toys will vary based on your budget, but are a must to keep your ferret stimulated and happy. “There are some great toys out there that you can buy, or things you can make yourself,” McCarty-Houser said. For example, she says you can take an old pill bottle, put a small bell or a few popcorn kernels or pennies in it and secure the lid to make a jingly toy. Ferrets will also love “toys” you probably already have around the house, including paper bags and cardboard boxes. “Ferrets are like little kids,” McCarty-Houser says. “Most times they would rather play in the bag or box that the toy came in than with the actual toy.”

McCarty-Houser estimates these items to cost a minimum of $200, with food and litter being additional year-round costs. 

Average Medical Care Costs for Ferrets

“We recommend regular check-ups once yearly for young ferrets (up to two years old) and wellness exams twice a year for older ferrets,” Dr. Latney said. Ferrets also need annual vaccinations against rabies and canine distemper virus. Check-ups can range in cost depending on where you life, while the vaccines generally cost between $15 and $20 each.

Ferrets will also require commitments of time and effort to remain happy and healthy throughout their lives. A ferret’s litter pan should be changed every day and its cage cleaned once a week.

Washing its bedding at least once a week will help keep any odors in check. “The oils from their skin gets on the bedding, so washing the bedding instead of the ferret is a much better way to control odor,” McCarty-Houser said. “Bathing a ferret strips the oils from their skin, making them itchy and giving them a stronger odor as the body works rapidly to replace those oils.” The American Ferret Association recommends a bath no more than once a month.

Ferrets need at least four hours outside of their cage every day, and McCarty-Houser says that you should be actively interacting with your ferret for at least half of that time. Many ferret owners split playtime into an hour in the morning before work and a few more hours in the evening. If you have two ferrets, you won’t need to spend as much time playing with them because they’ll keep busy playing with each other, she added.

Image:  / Shutterstock

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