Here at Ferrets and Friends, we have been hard at work training our two newest ferret recruits how to get along with people. Pabu and Abu have just turned seven months old. At this age, young ferrets are gaining more impulse control so they become easier to train. It's important to remember that ferrets tend to play rough so it is part of their nature to be rough with their human friends. Ferrets can be gentle and affectionate pets, but it is our responsibility to teach them how to best communicate with us. We have put together some of our top tips to help with the communication process.
Reduce Opportunities to Learn Bad Behaviors
Like most young mammals, young ferrets have a tendency to explore the world with their mouth. New objects are sampled with their teeth. In their excitement, they will nip at stuffed animals, pillows, furniture, electrical chords, shoes, and even their human caretakers. Their mouth-first approach at life will lesson as they get older and many ferrets naturally grow out of their nippy phase. However, if they discover that a nip at an ankle will produce of fun game of tag with their human companion, then that's something they will not outgrow. To minimize bad behaviors, keep unsocialized ferrets away your face, neck, and elbows. Wear long pants and use whatever foot coverings are the least interesting to your ferret (some may chewing socks, while other find endless entertainment in shoes). Gradually expose your ferret to other interactions at times when your ferret has the best chance of success. For example, towards the end of play time when your ferret is most calm, you may snuggle your ferret near your face or allow your ferret to sniff your feet. These interactions should be brief and followed up with positive reinforcement when your ferret shows calm non-biting behavior.
Look for Good Behaviors and Reward Them
Communication is a two way street. As much as we would like to simply tell our ferrets "don't bite me!", we also have to pay attention to their interests and desires. Ferrets tend to be very quiet pets so it is easy to miss some of their cues for our attention. If your ferret is biting your feet in order to get your attention, chances are that you have already missed several other cues that they have tried which caused them to resort to biting. To avoid problem behavior, look for the behavior that you want to see and respond to that behavior. If your ferret walks over to you and looks up at you, acknowledge their presence and offer your attention. If your ferret appears to be in a playful mood, encourage your ferret to play with toys instead of nipping your hands. Reward good behaviors before they figure out that bad behaviors work better. If your ferret has already developed a biting habit, you can reduce this habit by gradually working backwards towards more acceptable behavior. For example, you can teach your ferret to move from biting to lighter nipping, to licking, and eventually to just sniffing. This is done by rewarding the more tolerable behavior and putting a ferret in a time out for the more severe behavior. As your ferret learns, you continue to move the bar closer to the type of interaction that you want to have with your ferret. This technique has worked well for us with more anxious ferrets. If you have a nippy ferret who gets punished every time they bite you, your ferret may interpret these punishments as you not wanting to interact with them. By rewarding your ferret for more tolerable (but not ideal) behaviors, this teaches your ferret what direction to move towards rather than confusion about your interactions.
Find What Works Best for Your Ferret
Every ferret is different. For some ferrets, scruffing their neck and a soft hiss easily communicates that a nip was unwanted. Others may get more excited and bite harder! Time outs can be effective deterrents for some ferrets, while others may take the opportunity for a nap. It is equally important to find what motivates your ferret. Some may be motivated by treats, while others enjoy a shoulder scratch, or a chance to play with their favorite toy. Each ferret has an individual personality and has different things that motivate them. It is also important to look at the context of a biting behavior. Ferrets that bite while being held may be trying to communicate that they would like to be put down. Some ferrets may bite when they hear high pitch sounds (such as squeaky toys) or smell certain chemicals. These distress bites should be recognized and appropriate changes should be made to their environment (getting rid of squeaky toys or not wearing strong smelling cologne when handling your ferret). Ferrets are quick learners so if you do not see improvement within a week or two of working with your ferret, try a different tactic. For best results, make sure at least one part of your training involves positive reinforcement.
Ferrets and parrots have many traits in common. They are both highly intelligent, social animals and are great pets for people who are not able to have cats and dogs (whether by allergies or living situations). It is understandable that many people who would be interested in owning a ferret might also have an interest in parrots or vice versa.
A preliminary search on the internet may tell you that letting both of these species in your household could be ill-advised. Ferrets are well documented to have injured or killed pet parrots to the horror of their owners. Ferrets are members of the weasel family and, like their wild relatives, they are incredibly skilled predators. With only 2,500 years of domestication, their predatory drive and instincts have not been dulled to the same degree as dogs and cats. Although they make sweet and loving pets to their human companions, there are many considerations and precautions necessary for those who would like to own ferrets and other "prey" type animal companions.
Our Feathered Friends
Many people may focus on the issues surrounding the mammalian part of this multi-species household equation, but it is also important to consider the parrot's health and behavior. Smaller parrots may recognize ferrets as potential predators which could cause them to become stressed at the sight of them. Other parrots may interpret ferrets as a curiosity or a nuisance. Parrots will become stressed if they feel trapped and unable to escape the view of potential predators. Parrots also tend to defend their territory, food, and favorite people which may cause them to try to attack the ferret instead of retreating from it (which would arguably be the safer option for the bird). Parrots with clipped wings not only lack the ability to fly away from a threat, but will be more likely to act aggressively towards an animal that causes them fear. Parrots that act in a fearful manner (screaming, fluttering the wings, flying, or trying to bite) will appear more interesting a ferret and are more likely to trigger the ferret's predatory reflexes. This does not mean that a calm parrot is safe around ferrets.
Parrots have fragile bodies when compared to ferrets. Even if it appears that your ferret and parrot want to play together, this should not be allowed under any circumstances. Even strong parrot beaks can be punctured by ferret teeth. There is also concern about gram negative bacteria (which ferrets, cats, and people carry) that can be harmful for parrots. Many owners show caution about sharing drinks with their parrot as some of this bacteria can be found in saliva. Parrots should not be allowed to sample ferret food as ferret food will be very high in protein and this can cause health problems for your parrot. While birds do not tend to have strong olfactory systems, parrots are one group that are found to have some sense of smell. While this plays a role in helping them locate food, it is unknown to what it extent they might use it to avoid predators. It is possible that ferrets' infamous odor may bother your feathered friend, but using certain types of air fresheners could be hazardous to your parrot's health. For ferret owners considering adding a parrot to their home, they should consider what methods they use for odor control as these may need to changed with the addition of a feathered friend.
Our Ferret Friends
While the risk of injury or death may be lower for your ferret, there are other ways that parrot ownership may impact your ferret's life. As obligate carnivores, most of what your parrot eats will be incompatible with your ferret's diet. Parrots have a tendency to share their food by flinging it everywhere. Especially harmful are fruits that are high in sugar. Food that falls to the floor and is consumed by ferrets may cause diarrhea. If it is routinely consumed, it may contribute to the develop of other illnesses.
Parrots also tend to be quite vocal and most of their vocalizations are within a ferret's hearing range (even some sounds that we can't hear!). Some of these vocalizations can be distressing to your ferret in the same way that they become distressed upon hearing a squeaky toy. There is debate whether this is due to a trigger of their predatory drive or if the sound mimics the cries of baby kits or injured ferrets. Neither of these interpretations are good in a home with parrots. For our ferrets, we keep a white noise machine running in their room so that they are not distressed by our flocks' communication throughout the day.
Finally, ferrets have an exceptional sense of smell. Some individuals may have a high predatory drive and could become frustrated if they frequently smell the presence of a prey animal and are unable to access it. However, most ferrets can become accustomed to the smell and largely ignore the presence of parrots in the home.
Ramona (ferret) was able to climb to the top of Missy's cage when a cat scratching post was left within ferret-jumping distance from the lower portion of the cage. Thankfully she made it with all her toes intact! Ramona was only discovered when Missy continued to show agitation about her unwelcome visitor.
If you decide to share your home with both of these animals, we recommend that you plan for at least three barriers between them when they are not supervised. For example, the ferrets might be kept in a cage in a room with the door closed, while the parrot resides in its cage in another part of your living space. A parrot's cage is not ferret-proof. These cages were designed to contain your bird, not to keep ferrets out. Many bird cages do not have locking mechanisms for the small doors that allow access to food and water bowls. Trays that slide out at the bottom of the cage often have very little to keep a determined ferret from wiggling their way in. Bar spacing that is larger then three quarters of inch is more than enough space for a some ferrets to squeeze through. Anywhere a ferret's skull can fit, they can fit. Even some doors designed for people have enough room for a ferret to slide under!
If your parrot's cage has bar spacing of one inch or greater, we would advise having at least four barriers since the parrot's cage cannot be considered an effective barrier. Add extra locks to cage doors and trays. We find that using a pellet type cage lining at the bottom of our parrot cages makes the trays too heavy for the ferrets to push. Alligator clips work well to secure the smaller doors for our smaller parrots. Cages for larger parrots tend to have locking mechanisms on all the doors as larger species of parrots are often smart enough and strong enough to figure out how to open their own doors. If these precautions seem extreme, keep in mind that the only thing keeping your ferret from hurting your feathered friend is time and access.
Once you have done everything to make sure there are sufficient barriers in place, it is time to figure out a schedule for your pets. If your parrot's cage is in any area that your ferret can access during their play time, you may want to temporarily find another play area for your ferrets while your parrot adjusts to its new home. If your parrot is the established family member, you may want to slowly expose your ferret to its presence as it will likely be excited and overstimulated by the new environment. You will want to figure out a schedule in which there is adequate supervision whenever the number of barriers are reduced. If your household has other adults or children, it is extra important to communicate about when each animal will have its social time.
After some time, you might gradually reduce number of barriers during supervised out-of-cage time. If your ferret has access to your parrot's cage and seems to ignore your parrot, please do not assume that your ferret is not interested in your bird. Your ferret may have been desensitized to the smell and sounds of the parrot, but it does not mean that your ferret is not interested in your bird. Ferrets are extremely near sighted and so it's unlikely that they can see and recognize your parrot while it's in its cage. Being able to see the parrot is guaranteed to renew interest in your bird and can trigger their predatory response. Ferrets can move very quickly and it only takes a second for your ferret to potentially injure your bird.
Introductions between these species should only be attempted by professionals or those who are highly experienced with both animals. Please do not attempt this "just to see what will happen" as it has very high risk for both your ferret and your bird. Videos in which ferrets and parrots are seen calmly interacting or co-existing are likely created after a long process of behavior modification and training. Even with this training, the predatory instinct of a ferret can never be completely extinguished.
If you would like to see cute interactions between these species, please enjoy the work of professionals and prioritize the safety of the animals in your own home!
Many people have the false assumption that with a ferret's smaller size, they should be less expensive than owning a dog or cat. While that might be true in regards to food costs, it certainly is not the case with their veterinary care. Ferrets require rabies vaccines and annual exams just like dogs and cats. Canine distemper vaccines are also recommended for ferrets by many veterinarians, although opinions vary. A typical lifespan for a ferret is five to ten years, although some may live up to ten years. Unfortunately, they are prone to a variety of diseases such as adrenal disease, insulinoma. Ferrets are also mischievous and can easily get into trouble which might cause a costly emergency vet visit. All of these factors add up! To help give potential ferret owners an idea of their future costs, we have broken down the costs by year for three of our ferrets.
Sophie passed away in February 2017 at the age of six years old. Gambit and Samson are still with us. Gambit is currently six years old and was diagnosed with insulinoma earlier this year. Samson is currently five years old. When ferrets are younger, an annual and well visit can cost between $50 and $75. As they get older, it is recommended that they have their blood work done which can increase the cost by $140 or more. Surgeries are often extremely costly. In 2014, Samson got access to a screwdriver and decided to chew on it. He knocked out one of his fangs at the gum line and had to have surgery to remove the remnants of the tooth. Samson had a second surgery in 2017 when he had strange bumps on his toe pads and also had his spleen aspirated as it has been enlarged, which is common for older ferrets.
In 2016, Sophie started showing health problems which required treatment. In 2017 she was euthanized when her quality of life decreased to a point that it was unlikely that she would recover. It was believed that she had contracted the ferret version of FIP which can happen to some ferrets who are exposed to ECE and then the virus mutates to something similar to FIP.
Since Gambit's diagnosis of insulinoma, it costs roughly $130 per month for him to have his glucose level checked and to have his medications refilled. This cost may increase as the disease progresses. For some ferrets with insulinoma, surgery may be an option. At six years old, surgery seems to be an unnecessary stress on his system.
With multiple ferrets, the health costs will be higher. Here at Ferrets and Friends, we think our ferrets are worth every penny!
Bearded Dragons can make excellent pets for those who want a lizard that can be handled, but also have enough space for larger tank or enclosure.
So your child has expressed interested in a scaley friend or perhaps you are hoping to get into the reptile hobby yourself! Undoubtedly, you've heard someone mention "bearded dragons" as a good beginner pet. While they are very common in the pet trade, they have their own pros and cons.
One of the difficult aspects of the reptile-keeping hobby is maintaining the right environment for your pet. This is typically measured in terms of temperature and humidity. For example, an animal that is native to the rainforest would need to have that environment mimicked in its enclosure in captivity. For most people, recreating a rainforest inside their own home can present a daunting challenge. Since Bearded Dragons are native to the woodlands and deserts of Australia, new owners can focus on getting the correct temperatures for their pet without the added complication of higher humidity requirements.
Additionally, Bearded Dragons have a naturally more docile temperament. Active youngsters can become calm and mellow adults with regular handling. All young lizards will tend to be flighty, but hatchling bearded dragons are relatively calmer compared to young water dragons or iguanas. At a typical pet store, baby bearded dragons will be easier for a novice to handle than baby leopard geckos. However, leopard geckos may make better pets for those who want an animal that has less demanding space requirements or those who tend not to be home during the day.
You may have seen the cute baby lizards that look like the picture on the left. These pictures are of the same lizard! Most will reach adult size within the first year.
A Bearded Dragon's size can be a pro or a con depending on what someone is looking for in their pet. On one hand, their size makes them a more interactive pet. It's much easier to supervise a free roaming adult bearded dragon when they are easier to catch and cannot fit into impossibly small spaces like an anole or a gecko. They also are not as large as other lizards such as tegus and iguanas that could easily cause harm to people or other pets. Of course, these medium-sized lizards will need larger enclosures than other typical beginner species (such as the leopard gecko mentioned earlier). An enclosure that is four feet by two feet might be a good home for a bearded dragon that is also allowed time out of its enclosure for exercise. This is not the type of habitat that can be easily fit on top of a bookcase and blend in with the room's decor. While it is common practice to keep bearded dragons in a 40 gallon glass tank, this might not work for every lizard. Some will be too large or active and others may be stressed by their own reflection.
Bigger lizards also mean bigger appetites! Baby bearded dragons can certainly run up a feeding tab. Most of their diet will consist of crickets, mealworms, and roaches. As they get older, they may show more of an interest in fruits, carrots, and other leafy green vegetables. It's not uncommon for a baby bearded dragon to eat $20-$40 worth of food in one week! They will need to be fed daily and will need their meals to be dusted with calcium (with D3) to support their bone growth. Adult bearded dragons may only need to eat every few days, but you can still expect to spend about $5-$10 per week on food. Bearded Dragons are diurnal which means that they are only active during the day. It is best to feed them after they have had a chance to warm up in the morning, but not too late in the day that their bodies will not have the heat necessary to digest their food. Food that is not consumed should be removed. People who have busy schedules during daylight hours may find it difficult to find a good feeding time for their lizard.
A Bearded Dragon may be a great addition to your home, but make sure to do your research first! These lizards typically live 10-15 years, so they are no minor commitment. It is not uncommon for owners to become "bored" with their pet. Never release a pet into your surrounding environment. Not only is this harmful for your pet, but it can also be harmful for the local ecosystem. There are many methods for re-homing or surrendering a pet that is no longer wanted. Please research these options for your area. If you are considering a new reptile pet, make sure that you have the physical and financial resources to care for your new friend. As exciting as it may be to see a baby grow into an adult, consider contacting your local reptile rescue to find out if they have any bearded dragons that are up for adoption.
Pet lizards have become more popular in recent years and the Bearded Dragon may have had a significant contribution to this rise in popularity. Their unique appearance and calm temperament make for great handeable pets as long as they have owners that are willing to meet the requirements for their care.
People often ask us “do ferrets make good pets?” Like most subjective questions, the simplest answer is “well, it depends.” Ferrets can be great pets for people who value a small, quiet, and interactive pet. However, ferrets are not great for those who want a low cost pet that doesn’t require much time or energy.
Unlike many of the animals that we present in shows, ferrets are actually domesticated. As dogs are to wolves, ferrets are to their wild counterpart, European polecats. They have been domesticated for roughly 2,500 years. They were originally used to hunt rabbits and other small rodents. Their domestication process is more similar to dogs than to cats in that they were bred for their ability to cooperate with humans while hunting (Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-made World by Richard C. Francis). By nature, ferrets are more social than cats, but less social than dogs. Their body language tends to be more expressive than that of a cat, but they are still considerably more aloof than a dog.
Individual ferrets have a range of personalities and temperaments. Here, at Ferrets and Friends, we have a five year old male, Samson, who will frequently request to be held, get his back scratched, and his belly rubbed. Our four year old female, Ramona, will show curiosity about human activity, but she mostly prefers to seek out her own adventures which include hiding toys. Our newest addition, Riley, is about four months old and full of energy. She spends most of her time chasing after people, jumping and tackling their legs or feet, and playing with whoever finds her antics amusing. The level to which a ferret wants to engage with people varies greatly with each individual.
Even though ferrets are domesticated, an untrained ferret can be a bit too “wild”. Ferret skin is actually tougher than people skin, so young ferrets must be taught what level of biting is acceptable for their human friends. Ferrets naturally play very rough! Most kits can be taught to be gentle and to not nip faces, ears, or ankles. An adult ferret who was never taught good manners with people can be trained, but it may take more work as this behavior has likely been unintentionally reinforced throughout its life.
The Challenges of Ferret Ownership
Can ferrets be housebroken or litter-trained? Most ferrets can be trained to a certain extent. As they naturally prefer to go to the bathroom in corners, placing a litter pan in the corner may be sufficient for some ferrets to learn the desired behavior. Other ferrets will be very stubborn, even “faking it” when their owners place them in the litterbox so they can go eliminate where they originally wanted. Ferrets have a very fast metabolism and need to eat every 4-6 hours, which means they will eliminate just as frequently. That’s a lot of mess for a small animal! As a carnivorous mammal, their excrement is closer to a cat’s or dog’s, which means that it cannot easily be swept up as is the case with rodents such as rabbits, chinchillas, or guinea pigs.
While many stores will advertise ferrets as being a “caged” pet, cages do not allow ferrets adequate stimulation or exercise. Here, at Ferrets and Friends, our ferrets have their own room and are also allowed supervised play outside of their room for a few hours per day. If ferrets are kept in a cage, they should have at least four hours per day of out of cage time (preferably broken into two separate sessions). Providing ferrets with a safe play area can be one of the most difficult parts of ferret ownership as ferrets are able to get into EVERYTHING. Anywhere their skull can fit, their squirmy bodies can follow. This can mean under cabinets, inside furniture or appliances, under doors, into walls, and anywhere you could imagine. There are few commercial pet gates or baby gates that ferrets can’t either fit through or climb over. Some ferrets are known to chew cords or scratch carpet. Their intelligence can become a hazard as they learn to pull open sliding doors or unzip purses and bookbags. Ferret-proofing an area is an act of constant vigilance and creativity. The larger the area in your home that your ferrets have access to, the more you’ll have to factor in your ferrets’ penchant towards mischief in your decisions about furniture and furniture placement. In this way, ferret ownership can become a lifestyle.
The cost of ferret ownership will be similar to that of a dog or cat. They require annual vet visits and vaccines for rabies and distemper. There are also several diseases that are common as ferrets get older which will require costly treatments. With their unending curiosity, even in a ferret-proofed home there is still a risk for an emergency vet visit. A vet bill of $500-$1500 is not unheard of for pet ferrets and is likely to occur at some point in your ferret’s lifetime.
If you haven’t been dissuaded by these factors, chances are that you may be the kind of person who would enjoy sharing your life with a ferret. While their ability to create messes is outstanding, ferrets are generally very clean. Regular nail trimming is usually necessary about once per month and a bath may only be necessary every few months. Bathing your ferret too frequently can actually increase their smell as their bodies produce more oil to compensate. Ferrets only shed twice per year as they change their seasonal coats. Allergies to ferrets are very rare and are usually unrelated to a person’s allergies to cats or dogs.
Owning a ferret can be compared to having a puppy or kitten that doesn’t grow up. They tend to sleep most of the day, but when they are awake it’s time to play! Sometimes that play can involve digging up houseplants or stealing items from the laundry hamper. If you have a good sense of humor and you’re looking for a small pet to bring some excitement into your life, ferrets may be for you! Just be sure to put some money aside and stock up your cleaning supplies.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!