Ferret Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Sep. 11, 2023
Ferret on leash

In This Article

Species Overview

Ferret Species Overview

As intelligent and social animals, ferrets can make great family pets. With time and patience, pet parents can teach their ferrets to roll over, fetch, and perform other simple tricks! 

Pet ferrets need daily handling, playtime, and exercise outside their enclosed habitat. Ferrets must always be closely supervised when outside of their habitats. Pet parents should only allow their ferrets to access “ferret-proofed” spaces that are free from wires, cables, and other objects they can chew. Ferrets also have an instinctive need to dig and forage. You should keep houseplants out of their ferret’s reach and ensure that no plants kept in the house are toxic.

Ferrets are not rodents— they are members of the mustelid family, along with weasels, badgers, and otters. Ferrets are usually nocturnal or crepuscular (most active around sunrise and sunset). Although ferrets are known to be highly active while awake, they also need a lot of rest. Most ferrets will sleep for at least 14 to 16 hours a day. 

Most domesticated ferrets are “de-scented” shortly after birth, meaning their anal glands are removed surgically to reduce their odor. De-scented ferrets will retain a natural, musky scent that bathing will never remove. Pet parents should only bathe their ferrets once a month. 

It’s illegal to keep ferrets as pets in some areas of the United States. Be sure to check your local laws regarding ferret ownership. 

Ferret Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Intermediate; pet parents will need to devote time to socializing their ferret 

Average Lifespan 

Up to 8 years, with proper care 

Average Adult Size 

15 inches long 



Minimum Habitat Size 

24” L x 24” W x 36” H for a single adult; multiple levels recommended 

Ferret Supply Checklist

To keep a ferret happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat 

  • High-quality ferret food 

  • High-protein/low carbohydrate ferret treats 

  • Bedding 

  • Untippable food bowl/water bottle 

  • Hideaway place 

  • Ferret-safe toys 

  • Hammock 

  • Litter pan/litter 

  • Indoor playpen 

  • Harness and leash 

  • Soft brush/comb 

  • Nail clippers 

  • Ferret-safe shampoo 

Ferret Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

A single adult ferret should be housed in a wire-based enclosure that’s at least 24” L x 24” W x 36” H. The spaces between the cage’s bars should be 1 inch apart or smaller to prevent the ferret from escaping or getting stuck. Look for a habitat with ramps, shelves, and multiple levels to climb and perch on. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Habitats should be well-ventilated, escape-proof, and lined with solid flooring to prevent pressure sores from forming on the ferret’s feet. Glass and plastic habitats are not recommended, as their solid walls block air circulation. 

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Ferrets also need a spacious, escape-proof pen for daily playtime outside of their usual enclosure. Pet parents should only allow their ferret to access ferret-proofed spaces that are free from loose objects, wires, cables, and other objects they can chew. Ferrets must always be supervised when outside of their enclosed habitat. 

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Ferrets are comfortable in average household temperatures, no greater than 80 F. Ferrets are sensitive to extreme temperature changes, so habitats should be kept in a draft-free area that’s not close to an air conditioner or in direct sunlight. Make sure the habitat is kept off the floor and is not accessible to other animals, like curious cats and dogs. 

Habitat Mates 

Ferrets are highly social creatures that can be kept in pairs or small groups if they are raised together or introduced to each other gradually. Ferrets that have not been spayed or neutered should not be housed together, as they will breed.  

If more than one ferret is to be housed in the same habitat, they must be introduced to each other properly. Introductions should be done slowly, in neutral territory, and under close supervision to ensure the ferrets are compatible. If two ferrets fight, separate them. Never keep different species of animals in the same habitat. 


1–2 inches of high-quality, paper-based bedding should be placed in the habitat; bedding can be made of either an absorbent shredded or pelleted paper material.

Paper-based bedding should be used instead of wood bedding, like cedar shavings, because paper is digestible and will not obstruct a ferret’s gastrointestinal tract if ingested. Cedar bedding products also contain oils that can irritate a ferret’s respiratory tract and cause illness. 

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Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, but the litter material must be different than the ferret’s usual bedding. A ferret-safe, paper-based or pelleted litter product for small animals is recommended. 

Avoid scented and clumping litter. Do not use sand or silica-based cat litter. Ferrets love digging their noses into their litter box, and both materials can cause trauma to their sensitive nasal passages and respiratory systems. 

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Décor & Accessories 

Hammock: Adding a hammock to a ferret’s enclosure will create a comfortable and cool place for them to hangout and rest. 

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Hideout box: Pet parents should provide each ferret in a habitat with at least one hideout box for privacy. Ideally, hideout boxes should be made from hard-to chew yet easy-to clean materials, such as hard plastic. 

Plastic hideouts should be removed from a ferret’s enclosure if the animal begins to chew on it. The broken plastic pieces can obstruct a ferret’s gastrointestinal tract if ingested and cause serious injuries. 

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Toys: Ferrets love to play! Pet parents should give their ferret an assortment of enrichment toys to reduce boredom and encourage physical exercise. Ferrets particularly enjoy tubes and tunnels to run though. 

Toys should not have small pieces or rubber parts that a ferret can chew on and ingest. 

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Ferret Cleaning & Maintenance

Pet parents should spot-clean their ferret’s bedding daily, removing any soiled material and uneaten food. The entire habitat and its contents should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week (or more often if multiple ferrets are housed in the same enclosure). 

To clean a ferret’s habitat, take these steps

  1. Move the ferret to a pet-safe temporary enclosure and remove any old bedding or litter from the habitat. 

  1. Use a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure that the surfaces are properly disinfected. If using a commercial habitat cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells of the cleaning agent or bleach solution. 

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new bedding and clean accessories into the enclosure. 

  1. Return the ferret to the clean habitat. 

Ferret Diet & Nutrition

Like cats, ferrets are obligate carnivores that need a diet high in animal protein. Pet parents should feed their ferrets a high-quality pelleted diet designed for ferrets and small amounts of lean, cooked meat. High-protein, low-carb treats can be offered on occasion.   

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a ferret consists of

A high-quality pelleted food formulated for ferrets; pellets should be high-protein, moderate-fat, and low-carbohydrate.  

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Small pieces of lean cooked animal protein, such as chicken breast or cooked eggs are recomended. Domesticated ferrets should not be offered raw diets. A ferret’s gastrointestinal tract is not designed to handle the bacteria in raw meat (such as salmonella), so raw foods can lead to life-threatening infections that can possibly transmit to humans.  

High-protein, low-carbohydrate treats, offered in limited quantities (no more than 10% of the ferret’s daily diet). 

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Fresh, clean water should be changed daily and offered in a shallow bowl or chew-resistant water bottle. Pet parents should regularly clean and thoroughly rinse their ferret’s water bowl or bottle to prevent bacteria from forming. 

Water bottles should be checked regularly for clogs or leaks. Make sure that bowls are tip-resistant and sturdy enough to not be knocked over by an excited ferret. 

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Ferret Feeding Guidelines 

Healthy adult ferrets should be fed twice a day. Ferrets with constant access to food and little physical/mental stimulation will eat all day out of boredom, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. 

Pet parents should moisten all food given to ferrets under 16 weeks of age to ensure they stay hydrated and easily consume their mealsFood no longer needs to be moistened once a ferret has grown all its adult teeth, provided that the animal is drinking enough water. Adult ferret teeth erupt between 7 to 11 weeks of age on average.

Do not allow ferrets to consume chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as they are all toxic and can cause death or serious illness. Sugar and high-fat treats (including raisins and other dried fruits, nuts, and seeds) should also be avoided because they can cause digestive upset. 

Ensure you feed your ferret a ferret-specific diet. Typically, pelleted food specifically formulated for their species to ensure their nutritional needs are met.

Ferret Grooming & Care

Adult ferrets should be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year for a routine checkup and vaccinations. Depending on the pet parent’s location, younger ferrets will need distemper vaccinations at 8, 11, and 14 weeks of age and rabies vaccinations between 12 and 16 weeks old.  

Young ferrets may be carriers of epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE or “green slime diarrhea”), a viral disease that can be deadly without proper treatment. Pet parents should practice caution when introducing new ferrets to their home, as the animal may not show any signs of illness but still spread it to other ferrets in the household. Affected ferrets can become sick within 3 days to 2 weeks after exposure. Pet parents must seek immediate veterinary attention if they suspect their ferret has ECE. 

Middle-aged and older ferrets are prone to developing pancreatic tumors, called insulinomas, which cause the pancreas to produce too much insulin and lower the ferret’s blood sugar. Insulinomas must be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. 

Ferrets shed fur twice a year, in the spring and the fall. During shedding cycles, ferrets are more likely to develop hairballs, which can lead to life-threatening gastrointestinal obstruction if left untreated. To minimize hairballs, pet parents should brush their ferret’s fur daily using a fine-toothed comb or soft-bristled brush. A hairball laxative, such as the Marshall Lax for the Prevention of Hairballs in Ferrets, can be used along with daily brushing to keep hairballs from forming. 

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Ferrets groom themselves and will only need to be bathed once a month. Pet parents can bathe their pet ferret using water and ferret-safe shampoo. Do not bathe a ferret more often than monthly, as frequent baths can cause skin dryness and irritation. Bathing will not remove a ferret’s natural, musky smell. 

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Ear Care: Pet parents should use a cotton ball and ferret-safe ear cleaning solution to remove waxy debris from a ferret’s outer ears. 

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Nail Care: Most ferrets need a nail trim every 2 to 3 weeks. To prevent injury, nails should be trimmed by a veterinarian or someone trained to trim a ferret’s nails. If bleeding occurs, use a styptic powder to stop the bleeding quickly. 

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Dental Care: Pet parents should teach their ferrets to accept daily teeth-brushing at a young age by using a small finger toothbrush and meat-flavored toothpaste formulated for ferrets or cats. 

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Ferret Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Ferrets should be examined by a veterinarian once annually when young and twice annually as seniors (after about five years of age). They can be transported in a cat carrier, just be sure to bring pictures of their enclosure, food, and bedding packaging. It is also best to bring a fresh fecal sample with you to the annual appointment.

Signs of a Healthy Ferret

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean ears

  • Clean nostrils

  • Intact, long, relaxed whiskers

  • Trimmed, intact nails

  • Lean, flexible body with a smooth, shiny, intact hair coat

  • Clean urogenital region

  • Bright, inquisitive personality

  • Good appetite

  • Clean, intact teeth

When to Call a Vet

  • Eyes that are cloudy or have discharge

  • Debris or discharge in ears

  • Nasal discharge

  • Excessively broken whiskers or whiskers held constantly close and bunched to the cheeks

  • Broken nails

  • Hair loss

  • Urine or fecal staining or diarrhea

  • Lethargy

  • Inappetence

  • Broken teeth

Common Illnesses in Ferrets

  • GI (gastrointestinal) foreign body

  • Adrenal disease

  • Insulinoma

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Lymphoma

  • Splenomegaly

  • Coccidiosis

  • Trauma

Ferret FAQs

What should you not do with a ferret?

Do not feed your ferret an inappropriate diet designed for another species (such as cats) or keep them in an inappropriate enclosure. Be sure their housing isn’t one they can get out of, and do not let them roam a room that isn’t secure. Do not leave a ferret with other pets or small children unsupervised. Do not skip annual examinations and vaccinations for your ferret.

Do ferrets cuddle with humans?

Ferrets tend to struggle with keeping still, especially when young or if they’re female. That being said, ferrets love to interact with people and crawl over them and depending on personality, sex, and age, will almost certainly love cuddles at the right times.

Are ferrets high maintenance?

Ferrets can be high maintenance. They need a lot of physical and mental stimulation, a special diet, and regular cage cleaning to control smell. Veterinary care can also be tricky since you’ll need to establish yourself with a veterinarian in the area that treats exotic pets like ferrets and be prepared for specialized medicine level veterinary bills. Many pet insurances only insure pet cats and dogs and not exotic species.

What is toxic to ferrets?

Grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, chocolate, avocado, and xylitol are all toxic to ferrets.

Why do ferrets smell bad?

Ferrets have scent glands that are removed at the time of their sterilization, before they’re adopted, in the U.S. The reason they continue to smell is because their sebaceous hair glands, whose job is to help grow healthy hair, also produce their signature musky smell. Occasional baths, and more importantly regularly cleaned bedding, can help limit this smell on the ferret and in the home.

Is ferret pee toxic?

Ferret pee itself isn’t toxic but ferrets can spread salmonella through their fecal matter. The recommendation from the CDC is to be careful handling and cleaning excrement from ferrets.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Andrew Linscott

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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