The word "ferret" means "little thief" in Latin. This is an omen. Your living quarters are about to be reduced to an endless series of ferret hidey-holes that conceal smuggled goodies like your smelly socks, car keys, pencil erasers, underwear and ferret poop balls. So if your way-too-orderly life needs a giant dose of disorder, then a ferret is the perfect pet for you. Here's how to do it.


First and foremost, a ferret owner needs a sense of humor so that when the little rascal discovers that toilet paper is a great toy, you're more likely to say, "Aw, how cute! He destroyed my bathroom!" than to say, "Die, furball!" So here are a few questions you can ask yourself before bringing the little terror in the pet store window into your home.

  1. Are ferrets legal where I live? Just because your local pet store sells ferrets doesn't mean you're allowed to have one. Some counties allow the sale of ferrets, but not the ownership of one (yes, it's "fuzzy logic" to us too). Look at this list of Ferret Free Zones to see if your county bans ferrets. If it does, write a petition to your local government officials.

  2. Will my ferret be allowed out of the cage for at least four hours a day? Ferrets aren't hamsters; they are extremely active and need lots of time to run free. Your ferret will also need at least a half hour of quality time with you a day. So if you work very late hours or go away on weekends often, get yourself a goldfish instead.

  3. Can I afford the expense of having a ferret? Between the cage and accessories, food, treats, vitamins, litter, and playthings, your ferret's grocery list will cost a huge chunk of change. Plus you'll have to put aside about $100 a year per ferret for an annual checkup and a booster shot at the vet's.

  4. Is my apartment ferret-safe? If you live in a house or apartment with gaping holes in the walls and temperatures above 80 degrees or under 50 degrees, then you live in a dump and should probably move. But even if your house/apartment isn't condemned, you should crawl around on all fours throughout your living quarters, keeping in mind that ferrets can fit into small (2" by 2") holes, get crushed in reclining chairs, and open your lower cabinets with their cute little paws. Duct tape over the holes and Velcro strips on your cabinets should help, but remember that your ferret will show you what you overlooked, so watch him carefully when he first comes home with you.

  5. Will a ferret conflict with my other pets or my children? Children under the age of seven should always be supervised with your ferret to make sure it gets handled properly. Also, ferrets do not get along with small animals like birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, or rabbits. Some dogs get along great with ferrets, while others treat them like chew toys. If your dog likes to chase squirrels, then getting a ferret might not be the best idea. Cats usually display haughty tolerance towards ferrets. They might show some interest in the ferret at first, but generally, your cat will avoid the annoying new addition.

  6. Am I willing to deal with the never-ending search for my missing socks, keys, underwear, sister, etc.? You MUST be patient with a ferret. These animals are delicate creatures that only live 5-10 years, so you can't do a half-assed job. Sorry to sound so preachy, but if you kill a ferret, we'll hate you.


Before you bring your new fuzzball home, spend about a week preparing for his arrival (let's assume it's a boy). First, read as much literature on ferrets as possible, and especially check out Pamela Greene's ferret site. There are a lot of medical FAQs and ferret troubleshooting tips there that will be useful later on.

Second, get everything you will need for the basic care of your ferret before you bring him home, including:

  1. Food. There are some great brand name ferret foods out there, and high quality cat foods like Iams or Science Diet (not any cheapo brands) are also sufficient. Keep in mind that a well-balanced diet will cause your ferret to eat less (saving you some money in the long run) and live a healthier life. DO NOT feed your ferret dog food. Or elephant food or emu food or kangaroo food. Only ferret and cat foods provide the necessary nutrients. Make sure you supplement your ferret's diet with daily vitamins (Ferretone and Linatone are available at most pet stores).

  2. A cage. Get a wire mesh cage, because 1) aquarium-type enclosures don't provide enough ventilation and 2) wire is easy to clean. If your ferret will be in his cage more than 8 hours a day, you'll need a cage that's at least 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet. A smaller cage is OK (no less than 1 foot by 2 feet by 1 foot) if your ferret will only be in the cage at nighttime. Of course, luxury cages are best, so we recommend that you get the nicest cage you can afford.

  3. Cage Accessories. You'll need to get a very heavy food bowl so that it can't be tipped. The same goes for a water bowl unless you prefer to use a water bottle. Ferrets love to sleep in old sweatshirts and pant legs, but you should also provide a small basket or cardboard box in case your ferret doesn't like sleeping on the floor. A triangular-shaped corner litter box works well in cages as a toilet. Other than that, your ferret's home décor is up to you. Hammocks provide a great place for a nap and make the cage more spacious. Ramps and tubes can be fun, but your ferret will most likely get bored in the cage and sleep most of the time, so let him out whenever you can.

  4. Toys. Don't spend too much money on toys because your ferret is more likely to enjoy wrestling with a sock than with a $10 ferret ball. You'll know fairly quickly which of your possessions are now your ferret's toys - just make sure they don't have tiny parts, or he'll swallow them.

  5. Litter. Do your nose a favor and get a high quality litter. Clumping litter, while easy to clean, might get clogged in your ferret's butt, as some ferrets have a habit of dragging their rears after they've done their business. Other than that, a good cat litter should do the trick. You MUST clean the litter box every day or your apartment will smell like ferret ass. That's not good.

You should also learn how to perform ferret grooming, such as clipping his nails, give him a bath, and clean his teeth and ears. He'll treat you like an abusive parent while you're doing these things, but you can placate him with a treat. They're stupid that way.

Feel like you're bringing home a new baby? Well you are. Except it's a baby with fur that poops in a box and will only live for about 8 years.


There are four questions that you should ask yourself when picking out a ferret:

Where should I get my ferret?
How old should my ferret be?
Should I get a male or female ferret?
What else should I be on the lookout for?

Where should I get my ferret?

Yes, many pet stores do sell ferrets, but some of these ferrets are separated from their mothers too early and are not socialized enough with humans. You may get lucky, but obviously, these ferrets are more likely to need special care and patience. So our advice is that you stay away from pet stores. Instead, check the classifieds to see if breeders in your area have ferrets for sale. These ferrets are usually kept with their mothers and have constant interaction with the breeder, so they grow up to be well-socialized ferrets instead of bitter Gary Coleman ferrets.

Don't overlook the benefits of getting a ferret from a local shelter. Shelter ferrets are usually a little older than kits (that is, babies) from a pet store or breeder, but the adoption cost (around $50-$100) is cheaper than the purchase of a kit (around $150). A shelter worker will know the full details of each ferret's personality, and shelter ferrets are more likely to be litter-box trained and nip-trained. As we said earlier, there are so many ferrets out there that need good homes, and adopting a lonely shelter animal can be much more rewarding than training a baby ferret. Check out this list to find a shelter near you.

How old should my ferret be?

Yes, tiny baby ferrets are as cute as a pre-bitter Gary Coleman, but you're guaranteed to suffer through litter box training and nip-training (with the baby ferrets, not with Gary Coleman). Older ferrets are usually trained, but they may come with some bad, hard-to-break habits like pooping in the middle of the floor. So spend time with any ferret before bringing him home to see if his true colors match yours. Also, keep remembering that ferrets live 5-10 years, so if you buy a 9-year-old ferret, don't expect him to accompany you to Shady Pines.

Should I get a male or female ferret?

There are no set personality differences between male and female ferrets. Un-neutered males can be more aggressive, but most people get their ferrets neutered, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Males are generally larger (2.5-5 pounds) than females (1.5-3 pounds). Some owners prefer the petite sizes of the females, while others like the bulkiness of the males.

What else should I be on the lookout for?

Check for clear eyes, a healthy coat, strong whiskers and teeth, and an alert and inquisitive nature. While kits haven't developed their full personality at 8-10 weeks, you'll get a taste of things to come. If a kit likes to cuddle, chances are he'll always be a bit of a couch potato. If a kit is a squirming bundle of energy, it's likely you're bringing a cute dose of trouble into your home.


There are three basic training hurdles that you have to overcome when you bring a new ferret into your home, especially if your ferret is young:

litter box training

Litter box training

Ferrets aren't drawn to their litter boxes instinctively like cats are, so you need to use treat reinforcement to keep mistakes to a minimum. Here's how to train him:

  1. Start your ferret out in a small space, such as his cage.

  2. Whenever he does the "ferret-potty dance" (spinning around and backing his rear into a corner), put him in the litter pan.

  3. After he has done his duty, give him a treat immediately.

  4. Once he gets the general idea and starts using the litter pan in his cage, place a few litter pans throughout the room where he will play. Ferrets have short attention spans, so the more litter pans, the better.

  5. If your ferret continues to use a no-potty zone, try putting some ferret food or some slept-in ferret bedding there. If the area smells more like a bedroom or a kitchen, your ferret is less likely to use it as a bathroom.

  6. Even the best-trained ferret will have a mistake here and there, so clean it up with some vinegar (the mess, not the ferret).


Almost all new ferrets will nip (bite) people, including you. First of all, know that your ferret probably isn't biting you out of anger or to hurt you. Ferrets have extremely tough skin and they play rough with each other. But if your new ferret bites you, then you have to begin nip-training immediately. Anyone who tells you to nip-train your ferret by flicking his nose or by giving him a light smack should be hung by his/her toes and subjected to Chinese water torture.

Instead, use these acceptable alternatives:

  • Spray him with a water bottle
  • Blow in his face
  • Make a loud, high-pitched "YIP!" sound (it mimics the ferret "ouch" sound)
  • Cover his face
  • Use bitter apple spray on your hands (tastes gross)
  • Give him a time-out in his cage

Never put your ferret down when he bites you. This teaches him that biting you will make you let him go. Most importantly, reward your ferret when he behaves well.


Plain and simple, ferrets love to dig. Training methods listed under nip-training might work with dig-training as well. However, we have a few more tips for some specific digging problems.

  1. Digging in the couch or bed. Ferrets can easily rip through the fabric under your bed and couch. You can try stapling a sturdier sheet under the bed or removing the bottom legs on your couch so that your ferret can't dig his way up underneath. If he insists on digging under the cushions, try wedging a long wooden board under there. Unfortunately, ferrets usually eventually outsmart their owners, so a lot of people give in and just get a futon that doesn't have an inside to dig at.

  2. Digging in food or water. If the ferret is constantly splashing around in his water dish, try using a no-leak water bottle. Food digging can be lessened by putting less food in the bowl at a time (your ferret will be less likely to play with his only meal) or use a bowl that angles inward.

  3. Digging in the litter. This is really disgusting, so you have to stop this immediately. When you go to change the litter, only put some fresh litter in the pan, and leave the rest of it dirty. Your ferret is less likely to dig in his litter if it's been used.

  4. Digging in your plants. How do you stop your ferret from digging in your plants? Take away the plants, fool! Most household plants are poisonous to ferrets, so take the plants to another room (placing them on a shelf only provides a climbing challenge for your little monkey).

Digging usually comes from boredom, so play with your ferret more if he digs excessively. You could also try providing him with some acceptable digging material like old carpet pieces or a small sandbox that he can play with in the bathtub.

Still got a problem child? Remember that patience is a virtue, and be persistent and consistent with your training methods. Like we mentioned before, never, EVER hit your ferret or flick him on the nose like some bizarre ferret manuals suggest. You don't want your ferret to fear you or to associate you with terrible things. So if you return to your bedroom to find that your ferret has dug a hole in the carpet, flick yourself on the nose and say, "I will not leave my ferret alone where he can meddle."


We've come up with a pledge that you must take on behalf of your ferret the day he comes home with you. So get up on the table, place your hand over your heart, and repeat after us:

  1. I will give my ferret lots of treats. Don't overindulge, but also don't save the treats just for training purposes. Most pet stores sell ferret treats, but you can check out this page for more treat ideas, most of which you'll already have at home.

  2. I promise to watch where I walk and sit. Ferrets have extremely flexible bones, but they can be broken easily. So shuffle when you walk, and don't step on any lumps under the carpet. Make sure your ferret isn't napping on the couch, bed, or armchair before you plop down. Put your ferret away if you have visitors in your house/apartment so he doesn't get trampled or scared when your grandma chases "that big rat she saw under the bed." If your ferret does get smushed, get him to a vet immediately, even if he doesn't show any signs of pain.

  3. I won't let my ferret lead a monotonous life. Ferrets get bored easily, and a really cool game or day excursion every now and then can keep your pet happy. Take him to the park and let him dig in the dirt. If you do so, be sure to keep him on a harness leash, and make sure he's had his yearly booster shot. Ferrets don't sweat, so stay in the shade and keep water handy if it's hot outside (don't ever take him outside if it's over 85 degrees or under 50 degrees). If it's snowing, dump a bucket of snow in your tub for some digging fun. Stay innovative and your ferret won't be lost to the Dark Side.

  4. Even if I get another ferret, I will give each of my pets an equal amount of attention, no matter how cute the newcomer is. Don't play favorites, or they won't send you a card on Mother's Day.