If you want to set a trend get a ferret.
It’s reckoned that there are Three million ferret owners and more than three million ferrets in the USA.
The interest in ferrets here has led the Wall Street Journal to dub these members of the family Mustelidae as “the trendiest pet in the US”
In the United States ferrets are kept as household pets whereas in Britain they are still viewed mainly as fearless working animals, used for hunting creature’s ranging from rats to rabbits.
So why have ferrets proved so popular as household companions in the USA? It is partly because they are receptive and responsive creatures.
They can be kept in environments where it would be impossible to keep a dog satisfactorily, yet they share many of the dog’s traits.
Ferrets were actually introduced to the USA from Europe around 1700. A large number of colour forms have since been developed as domestication has continued
Perhaps the best known is the polecat ferret.. This has a dark mask and similarly marked feet while its body is buff in colour. An albino form has also been developed. This is characterised by its red eyes and pale fur, which is yellowish rather than pure snowy white in some cases, as a result of secretions from skin glands.
Silver variants are also popular. For show purposes, the International Ferret Association recognises no less than 42 colours and patterns.
Ferrets are easy characters to accommodate, living happily both indoors and out. Indeed, a spacious rabbit cage can prove a means of accommodating them without difficulty.
They are reasonably adaptable animals in terms of temperature but they dislike freezing conditions. At the other end of the temperature range, ferrets will show signs of distress if this rises much above 32 degrees C (90 F). This is because they have relatively few sweat glands, and so have difficulty in regulating their body temperature.
Another anatomical feature of significance to the pet owner is the presence of anal glands
which secrete an unpleasant musk scent. This pungent odour would normally serve to deter potentially, predators. The secretions tend to be most noticeable in females when they are in breeding condition.
While it is possible for these glands to be removed surgically, special deodorising products can be purchased to deal with this difficulty. Most ferrets sold in American pet shops are already neutered and de scented at the age of six weeks.
Ferrets are very clean animals using just one corner of their hutch as a dirt area, and they can even be house-trained to use a litter tray. Most ferrets will appreciate having a nest box where they can sleep.
Dry cat food is widely used for pet ferrets, rather than raw meat
They require a “complete” diet, with a minimum Vitamin E level of 10mg per day.
One of the major advantages of feeding a prepared diet of this type is that the risk of food borne diseases is virtually eliminated.
A ration of this type contains all the necessary ingredients to keep a ferret in good health. A diet of meat alone is often deficient in various vital components, such as calcium.
If a dry ration is to be used, breeders will soak this in water beforehand, when there are young ferrets, known as “kits” in the nest.
Ferrets are not difficult creatures to handle and generally do not attempt to bite, unless they have young or are in pain.
However, never simply grab a ferret, but allow it to sniff your hand first as with a dog.
If it does attempt to bite it will not be able to cause much damage with the hand in this position.
If all appears well gently lift the ferret by placing a hand over
its shoulders, with a supporting hand beneath, keeping the head loosely restrained with the thumb and forefinger on each side of the neck.
It is possible to wear gloves when handling a ferret, but most seem to resent this approach, although there obviously are cases where it may necessary to do so.
As with dogs, there are certain diseases which can be serious for ferrets. In fact, one of the most common is canine distemper.
Ferrets should be inoculated against this infection, which is invariably fatal for them. Evenwell in a ferret living on its own is at risk, since the virus can be spread via the owners clothes or footwear for example, and survives the environment. Boosters are usually recommended even two years.
There are certain forms of human influenza virus which can affect ferrets
And have similar symptoms to distemper, although the ferret will recover in most cases from this type of infection.
Ferrets can also suffer from feline pan leucopenia, one of the causes of cat “flu. This again can be prevented by vaccination.
Ferrets are normally very healthy animals, however, and can live for well over a decade.
When breeding, the female or “Jill” needs to mate for the release of eg
gs and can remain in heat indefinitely if mating does not occur. It is usual to have them neutered, unless they are specifically required for breeding purposes.
A typical litter is comprised of about eight kits, born after a gestation period of 42 days.
They grow quickly and by 16 weeks old, the male or “hob” will be about twice as large as a female nest-mate.
David Alderton’s Article from the Brighton Evening Argus. 26 November 1997