Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ferreting Out the Facts About a Popular Pet

(MS) - Are you thinking of adding a pet to the family? While cats, dogs and birds are certainly popular companions, have you ever considered a ferret?

Domesticated ferrets can make wonderful pets. However, due to misinformation and general lack of knowledge about these animals, they're often passed up at the pet store.

Here we debunk the myths about ferrets, leaving you to discover whether these furry creatures might be just what you're looking for.

Myth: Ferrets are rodents like rats and mice.

Truth: Ferrets are not rodents. They're related to minks, weasels, skunks, and otters. They're actually scientifically classified somewhere between dogs and cats.

Myth: Ferrets are wild animals and do not make good pets.

Fact: Domesticated ferrets are known by the name Mustela furo, and have been domesticated for thousands of years. There are wild versions of the ferret, but pet ferrets are of the domesticated variety and cannot survive on their own without human intervention.

Myth: Ferrets are entirely independent and do not interact well with people.

Fact: Ferrets range in disposition just like any pet. Some can be very friendly and provide great companionship. Others may be more aloof. Generally speaking, ferrets like to spend time with their human friends, travel with them and play together.

Myth: Ferrets pose a serious rabies danger.

Fact: Studies have indicated that it is very difficult for ferrets to catch rabies. If they do, they tend to die rather quickly, reducing the risk for infecting someone. Also, there are ferret rabies vaccinations available.

Myth: Ferrets attack babies often and are terrible pets for children.

Fact: There are far fewer reports of ferret attacks on children than dog or cat bites/scratches. Children excite more easily and generally exhibit fluctuating behavior patterns that could make any pet uneasy. Therefore, children should always be supervised with any pet. If a child is responsible, careful, not too rough, and old enough, a ferret could be a good pet.

Myth: Ferrets should be the only pet in the house.

Fact: Most ferrets don't get along with birds, fish, rabbits, rodents, and lizards. Through patience, they can become acclimated to dogs and cats, provided the dog or cat isn't known for being a predator or having strong hunting instincts.

Ferret Care

Now that some of the misconceptions about ferrets have been cleared up, it's time to learn about ferret care.

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, so they require less maintenance than a dog. Experiment with the type of litter box your ferret likes as well as litter.

You will need to ferret-proof the home because ferrets are active explorers and love to squeeze into small holes and crevices. They are also known for "stealing" small items and hiding them around the house. Ferrets are also good climbers and jumpers.

Ferrets have a natural musky odor to them. Scent glands by the tail can be removed to avoid "spraying" when frightened, but the ferret will always excrete natural oils on the skin that smell musky. Resist the urge to wash a ferret frequently to remove the scent. This will only cause the ferret to produce more oil to compensate for the loss. Rather, change bedding and other cage items frequently to reduce the smell if bothersome.

Ferrets have bursts of energy followed by long resting periods. They generally will be content to stay in a cage most of the day and allowed roaming time if you don't want your ferret to constantly have run of the house. Put some sort of bedding (old T-shirts or towels) into the cage because the animal won't want to sleep on the floor of the cage. Don't put in wood shavings or chips because they can cause respiratory problems or allergies. Ferrets will also need food and water bowls in the cage. Because ferrets have a tendency to play in water bowls, consider a drip water supplier used for rabbits and hamsters instead.

These frisky animals like to play and should be kept amused. Cat toys work well for ferrets, provided there are no small pieces that can be swallowed.

Most people feed their ferrets high-quality cat food, such as Iams, Science Diet, or ProPlan. Choose the dry variety of foods because they contain more protein and can help remove plaque from the ferret's teeth. Ferrets require a lot of protein, so choose "kitten or growth" formulas. Ferret experts say there is food marketed specifically for ferrets, but most is just slightly modified cat food that's priced higher.

You may also want to purchase a leash for your ferret to take him on short walks. A bell on a collar is a good way of keep track of your ferret as well.


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