A Little Ferret History – Pet Ferrets are No Fuzzies Come Lately

Guest Post by Michael Hearing

Do you know your ferret history? Many people consider owning pet ferrets a fairly new fad. But ferrets have a long history as domesticated pets. You’ll be surprised at the illustrious history of your woozle.

Ferret Varieties

The ferret is, of course, a mammal belonging to the Mustelidae family. The most common is the Mustela putorius furo. Wikipedia notes that the ferret “is a very close relative of thePanda Ferret and Albino Ferret in Ferret Bed polecat, but it is as yet unclear whether it is a domesticated form of the European Polecat (Mustela putorius), the Steppe Polecat (Mustela eversmanii), or some hybrid of the two.” Polecats and ferrets often interbred, and there are even wild colonies of these hybrids that have damaged native plants in New Zealand.

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) looks a lot like the domesticated ferret, but the black-footed ferret, in addition to the black markings on its feet and tail, also has a black mask. While the black-footed variety is native to the US, it is illegal to own one. It is endangered because settlers have pretty much eliminated prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret’s main food source. (If you come across someone who owns a black-footed ferret, you should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Ferret History

Ferrets have been used since the days of ancient Greece and Rome to control rats and other vermin. They are cited in the biblical book of Leviticus among the “unclean” animals the ancient Hebrews were not to eat. (Some Bible translations specify “weasel” instead of “ferret.”)

In addition to destroying vermin, ferrets have also been used to chase rabbits from their burrows.  Although ferrets were formerly able to survive in the wild, the domesticated variety has become so dependent on us that it cannot survive alone in the wild and would likely die within a short time.

Ferrets once played a vital role in European life. In some areas of England, they were known as fitchets, from the word ficheaux. They were so valuable that settlers brought ferrets with them when they came to the colonies. Farmers and hunters found them effective tools for controlling pests and sniffing out small food animals. Once chemical pesticides became available, the use of ferrets for pest control died out. Today, it is generally illegal in the US to use ferrets for hunting purposes.

Just as humans don’t always have the most impressive pedigrees, so it is with ferrets. There’s a reason that the term “ferret” is synonymous with “thief.” Ferrets are the compulsive thieves of the animal world, so never be surprised if your keys, coins, treats, and other items suddenly turn up missing.

Cultured Ferrets

You can also find many depictions of ferrets and references to ferret history in Western art and literature. No less a personage than Leonardo da Vinci painted La dama Con L’ermellino in the late fifteenth century. While the title describes the animal in the subject’s arms as an ermine, a symbol of purity and incorruptibility, animal experts say it is actually a ferret. (An ermine, a wild animal, would be too difficult to capture and pose for a painting. What’s more, the animal depicted is too large to be an ermine, but is about the right size for a ferret.)

Writer Virginia Woolf once called playwright Noel Coward as “clever as a bag of ferrets and trivial as a perch of canaries.” Speaking of playwrights, William Shakespeare himself has the character Brutus describing Cicero as possessing “looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes as we have seen him in the Capital being crossed in conference by some senators” (Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2).

In more modern literature, Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wrote a series of short novels called the Ferret Chronicles. (They are now available in one volume called Curious Lives.) Each novel treats ferrets involved in human-like adventures. The recently deceased author Brian Jacques referred to ferrets in The Outcast of Redwall in his Redwall series, which recreate medieval times, albeit with animals as the main characters.

Scientific Ferrets

Ferrets have been important in more than vermin-control and art history. For example, ferrets played an important part in the study of human illnesses such as swine flu, influenza, SARS, and cystic fibrosis. They continue to be used in construction projects that require cables to be inserted in pipes too small for humans to enter.  Ferrets were used, for example, to help lay the television cables needed to broadcast Prince Andrew’s and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding in 1986.  In a more recent royal wedding, ferret races were among the festivities in Kate Middleton’s hometown of Bucklebury, England, the day she married Prince William in 2011.

Modern Ferrets

Experts estimate that there are now about four million ferrets in the US, making them the third most popular pet, behind dogs and cats. Several celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Madonna, have had pet ferrets, mainly because the animals are so sociable and easily carried.

While ferrets probably didn’t come over on the Mayflower and Shakespeare didn’t write any sonnets to his favorite fuzzy, it’s rather interesting to know that ferrets are not exactly newcomers in the world of domesticated pets. Without a doubt, pet ferrets have a long and illustrious history with humans. Found out more about our fuzzy friends in Getting Started with Pet Ferrets.

A Pet Ferret’s Favorite Ferret Toy – And Some Ferret Games to Play

Ferrets love toys. We all know that. But what is your fuzzy’s favorite toy? Go on . . . guess.

Well . . . it’s you.

You’ve probably realized that for pet ferrets (as with children), play time is really work time. Ferrets learn a lot about their world when they play. For example, exploring games satisfy your ferret’s instinctive need for stimulation. Likewise hide-and-seek and chasing games hone a ferret’s predatory skills. Tug-of-war games fill a ferret’s need to conquer. Digging feeds a ferret’s tunneling instinct.

Just in case you didn’t notice, when your ferret is nipping at your shoes and your pants leg, it’s trying to tell you that it’s play time. It’s time to get down on ferret level and have a blast.  Here are some great games you can play with your ferret.

Exploring Games for Ferrets

  • Take your ferret for a “magic-carpet ride” by pulling it around on a blanket as it watches the world go by.
  • Create a maze by lining up a multitude of boxes. Hide a treat inside and watch your ferret go.
  • When your ferret is harness trained, take him for a walk outside.
  • Twist a ferret-sized flexible hose into any configuration and let your fuzzy go wild.
  • When you’re finished wrapping presents, let your ferret play with the left-over cardboard tubes and the scraps of wrapping paper. (But make sure your ferret doesn’t try to eat the scraps.)

Hide-and-Seek Ferret Games

  • Hide a treat in a shirt, a shoe, or a blanket or in your ferret’s dig box.
  • Fill an old suitcase (including all those nifty pockets), with toys and treats. Then let your fuzzies help you unpack.
  • Wrap a “present” for your ferret by putting a treat inside a box and then wrapping it in old newspaper. Like anyone else, your ferret will love to get a gift.

Chasing Games

  • Chase your ferrets up and down the stairs, and let them chase you back.
  • Let your ferret sniff a treat you’re holding in your hand before you toss it away. Then watch the chase. (This is especially fun to do with several ferrets.)

Tug-of-War Games

  • Dangle something over your ferret’s head so it will “attack.”
  • Play tug of war with your ferret. When it has a good hold on the towel or blanket, gently drag it around the room.
  • Bat some ping-ping or tennis balls or cardboard tubes at your ferret and watch the reaction.
  • Roll a ball of yarn toward your ferret and see what happens. (And if you have any readily accessible yarn balls, your ferrets will make a tangle of them anyway.) You decide whether you want to continue to hold the end of the yarn or not.

Digging Games

  • Fill a box with Ping-Pong balls or even wads of newspaper (or both!).
  • Loosely cover your fuzzy in several blankets and watch her work her way out.

Just-for-Fun Games

  • Hang a basket low from a plant hook (no more than two feet off the ground). Let your ferret climb in and help him swing back and forth.
  • Stack some boxes or some paper cups, and let your ferret knock them down.
  • Dance with your ferret. When she does her little war dance, mimic her moves.
  • Lay a blanket loosely across your bed and gently place your ferret on it. GentlyBook on Ferret Care and Ferret Health bounce your bed for a trampoline. (For even more fun, use a large sheet or blanket and add more ferrets.)

Of course, this is only a small sampling of all the possible home-grown ferret games your pet ferret can play with you. Who ever heard of a toy that could do so many things? What a bargain. Now, go see what your ferret wants to do with his favorite toy – you.

Pet Ferrets and . . . Warts!?

Here’s a new one for you ferret lovers. Someone recently asked me this question: “DoFerret Playing in Tube System ferrets cause warts?”

No, my friend, ferrets do not cause warts. But – and this is something a lot of people don’t know – ferrets can get warts. And through some research, I found that ferrets cannot pass warts to humans.

Warts on a human are skin growths caused by a virus in the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) family. This virus causes rapid growth of a hard protein (called keratin) in the top layer of skin, which then results in warts.

After doing some research and talking to veterinarians, I found that the “warts” on our little fuzzies are actually Subaceous Epitheliomas, wart-like tumors that are usually benign. If your woozle has anything like these, you should take your fuzzy to the vet. You should never take a chance with your fuzzy baby!

So, the answer to the original question is: “No, pet ferrets cannot pass warts to us, their human parents.”

Find out much more about ferret health and ferret care in Getting Started with Pet Ferrets.


Introducing New Pets – Pet Ferrets and a Puppy

Rikki and Possum just got a new baby brother, a seven-week-old puppy. His name isPet Ferret and Puppy Samson.

They weren’t too sure what to make of him when they were first introduced. And Samson sure didn’t know what to think of Rikki and Possum.

At first, they all did the smelling of one another. Then, Rikki decided she wasn’t very interested in Samson and decided to do her own thing and go play.

Samson figured out pretty quickly that Rikki and Possum were just about his size and tried to play with Rikki. His way of playing was to try and get Rikki’s tail. Well, Rikki definitely didn’t go for that. She showed Samson that, although he was a little bigger, she could still whip up on him.

Samson decided he didn’t want what Rikki was dishing out, so he tried to get Possum to play with him. And Possum decided to accommodate him.

(I tried to take pictures to record the introduction of our new puppy and my little fuzzies, but that didn’t work out very well. I was laughing too hard to get any good pictures!)

Possum was jumping at Samson and doing the ferret happy dance. And Samson was trying to jump and do the happy dance too! Because he’s just a baby with not-so-good coordination, Samson kept falling over . . . with Possum then jumping on him.

Finally, Possum decided he didn’t want to play like that anymore and started playing with Rikki in their ferret tube system. And Samson, of course, wanted to play in the tube with them. But that didn’t work out very well because he’s a little too fat for it. So he decided to jump on the tube instead. Rikki and Possum really liked that – and the games began again.

They ran in and out of the tube, and Samson raced after them. When Rikki and PossumFerret Playing with Puppy dashed into the tube, Samson jumped onto the tube and tried to get to them that way. Of course, he was a little too slow for my quick woozles. While he was still looking for them in the tube, they would already be under my dresser with their heads sticking out and watching Samson make a fool of himself. It was great fun watching them.

I made sure to run interference in case Samson caught up with the fuzzies – just to make sure he didn’t get too rough with them. Since he’s just a puppy, he doesn’t realize that he could hurt them.

I do advise that when you introduce new pets to your ferrets, always make sure to supervise and never leave them alone together. If you don’t supervise the introductions, an accident could happen.

Welcome to the family, Samson!

A Richard Simmons Ferret?

I’ve been seeing several searches lately for “exercising ferrets” and “ferret exercise.” I haveFerrets Playing and Exercising to admit I laugh when I see these.

I’m not laughing at the search itself. What I am laughing at is the picture that pops into my head every time I see the search terms.

What pops into my head is an image of Possum (my panda ferret) in tiny red shorts, a yellow tank top, tennis shoes, and a bandana tied around his head. If you only knew Possum, then you’d understand why that picture is so hilarious. Actually, it should be Rikki (my VERY active albino ferret) in the red shorts, yellow tank top, and bandana. But, somehow, Possum is the one who comes to mind.

Possum is my laid-back, cuddly ferret who is a little on the chubby side. The way I try to make sure he gets his ferret exercise is to let him and Rikki out of their cage to play at least 2 to 4 hours every day. Ferrets are very playful critters and do not like being caged up.

In fact, my bedroom is actually my pet ferrets’ room. I just sleep there. Rikki and Possum have complete run of my room. I have made it completely ferret proof and escape proof.

Sometimes, for variety in their exercise, I let them run around in the TV room. But I do that only if I can be in there with them to supervise.

I also take them walking outside occasionally. I do have to admit that I don’t take themAerobics Man outside as much as I should. I am, however, trying to get better at this because ferrets need sunlight.

When it comes to ferret exercise, the main thing is just to get them out of the cage and letthem play to their hearts’ content. Or you can put little tank tops and shorts and tiny tennis shoes on your pet ferrets, tie bandanas around their fuzzy heads, and let them get to exercising to some music – just like we used to do back in the ’80s.

Trucking Ferrets

Have you ever heard of a fuzzy going trucking? I have to admit I never had . . . till the otherTrucking Ferrets night when I was talking on the phone with my brother, who is a long-haul truck driver.

Like me, my brother is a big animal lover. He has a 10-year-old Basset hound named Petey. This dog is his buddy, and if he weren’t so old, my brother would take Petey on the road with him.

Anyhow, while we were talking on the phone, I was trying to clean Rikki’s and Possum’s cage and litter boxes. And, as usual, I was getting a lot more “help” from them than I needed. My brother kept hearing all this noise and asked what in the world I was doing. So I told him what I was doing and how Rikki and Possum were trying to dig the clean litter out of their boxes and getting it on the floor.

That started the conversation about him seeing truck drivers with their various pets on the road. My brother then told me about the time he was at a truck stop filling up his truck with diesel when another truck pulled up beside him to refuel.

He said a big burly guy got out of the truck and was talking to someone or something. My brother didn’t see anyone else in that truck and he saw the driver lifting something out, so he figured he was talking to a pet, most likely a dog. Then he saw the driver walking something around the truck with him while it was filling.

My brother told me that at this point he couldn’t keep from laughing. Around the truck came a big guy holding the end of a leash. And at the other end of the leash – my brother was expecting to see a great big dog – was a ferret!Albino Ferret in Purse

Yep, you read it right, a ferret. Up to that point, my brother thought he had seen just about everything on the road. But he had to admit that wasn’t the case until he saw this great big tough-looking guy walking his pet ferret at the truck stop.

Now, we know that fuzzies like to go trucking too!

For more information on how to travel with ferrets, take a look at Getting Started with Pet Ferrets, a comprehensive guide for new ferret owners.

Theft – Is it a Ferret Problem in Your House?

Do you have a problem of thievery in your house? Well, I do! And the little thieves are named Rikki Tikki Tavi and Awesome Possum.

Actually, Rikki is my biggest thief. Possum is my little clown. I actually should say PossumFerret Stealing is my “big” clown. He is at least twice as big as Rikki, both lengthwise and weight-wise.

I’m a barefoot person when I’m in the house. I kick my shoes off in my bedroom and then go do whatever I need to do. When I decide to go outside, I go into my bedroom, and – behold! – my shoes are not where I put them. So the shoe hunt is on! Most of the time, they are under my bed – but not all the time. Then it can take me almost an hour to find them.

Not only do I have to worry about my shoes (and this is embarrassing to tell, but I also haveFerret Looking for Something to Steal to hunt up my bras. Yep. My bras! The little fuzzies get into my dirty-clothes hamper and dig them out, cart them to my closet or stash them under my bed, and then sleep in them. (I told you it was embarrassing. But, I have to admit, it’s also funny.)

I think ferrets must be kin to pack rats. They really aren’t, but they should be because they hide about everything! They even hide their favorite toys.

Rikki has a plastic frog that used to be my grandchildren’s bath toy. (As you can tell, it’s not now though.) Rikki hides that frog so we can’t get it.

Possum’s favorite toy is a cat toy that was given to him and Rikki by a very close friend. Well, Rikki never gets to play with it because Possum hides it from her. And when Rikki finally does find it . . . Possum hides it again in a new hiding spot.

If you don’t want anything of value taken, don’t put it where little thieves can get it. If you ever watched The Beastmaster, then you remember that the little thieves who stole clothes were Podo and Kodo, two ferrets. And in case you didn’t know, the name “ferret” comes from the Latin word “furonem,” which means “thief.”

So, a warning to all ferret owners: we are doomed to suffer thievery!

Cute Ferrets in Their Ferret Costumes for Halloween

I hope all the little fuzzies out there have had a great Halloween!

My ferrets didn’t have anywhere to go, but they dressed up anyway. Rikki was a Lady Bug, and Possum was a Bee.

Of course, as with all children, it was a struggle to get their costumes on them. They were having too much fun hiding my shoes and getting into things they aren’t supposed to get into. But finally – after getting my shoes out from under my bed, picking up my scattered belongings, retrieving Rikki from one of the purses in my closet, and getting Possum out from under my bed – I got them dressed in their ferrety Halloween costumes.

And then, like any proud parent, I got out the camera! Then Rikki and Possum had to put up with being posed for cute pictures – which they didn’t really want to do.

Then, after the picture taking, they had to wait for me to text and send their pictures to everybody I know. I don’t know how many “Oh, how cute!” responses I got. But I do want to brag and say I probably had the cutest Trick or Treaters this year.

So here they are . . .  Rikki the Lady Bug . . .

Albino Ferret in Costume


And Possum the Bee . . .

Cute Panda Ferret in Costume


Now, I can’t wait till Christmas so I can get them in their Christmas outfits.

My Ferrets Starring in Their First Video

I have a new YouTube channel! I’m really excited. Ferrets make great video stars – they may not be a Kardashian but they are just plain cute. The first video is below, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of my two cuties.

And here’s the link to my brand spanking new YouTube channel – I’ll get more videos of my little furballs up there soon. http://www.youtube.com/user/TheFerretZone

Cleaning a Ferret Cage with “Helpful” Ferrets

Guest Post by Michael Hearing

Last winter my wife was gone for about two weeks. We live in a fairly remote rural area, and she was snowed out. So it fell to me to take care of her two pet ferrets, Rikki and Possum. I found it a lot harder than she led me to believe.

Oh, giving them food and water and letting them out to play weren’t much trouble (well, thatFerrets in Pirate Ship Bed is, except for finding them and getting them back in the cage afterward). The headache-causing chore was cleaning litter boxes and cleaning the cage. And the biggest problem was that her ferrets are so very, um, “helpful.”

A cage-cleaning session would usually go something like this . . . 

  1. I get out the litter scoop and the plastic bags for the soiled litter and set them beside me on the floor.
  2. I next take the ferrets out of the cage and let them run loose.
  3. I reach for the scoop and bags – and find them gone. The ferrets – most often Rikki, Karen’s albino ferret – have fallen back into thievery and taken my ferret cage-cleaning tools.
  4. So, at this point, I stop my ineffectual efforts and retrieve the bag and scoop from under the bed.
  5. I begin scooping out the poop and clumped litter and then TRY to dump the scoop’s contents into the plastic bag – but most of it goes on the floor. Why? Because of the unwanted “help” I’m getting. Rikki and Possum – because they are ferrets and so incorrigibly curious and inquisitive (but maybe “nosey” is a better word) – keep putting their little ferret feet and ferret noses onto the scoop and into the bag’s mouth.
  6. So I get about a thimble full of litter into the bag and the rest on the carpet. And the next (unplanned) step in the cleaning process is vacuuming.
  7. Now, it’s time to clean the cage. So I get out my supplies – spray bottle containing cleaning solution, paper towels, and small trash can – and arrange them around me on the floor.
  8. I spray the floor of the cage with the cleaning solution and then reach for the paper towels. But guess what? There are no paper towels. So I dive back under the bed to retrieve them from where the “helpful” ferret thieves have stashed them.
  9. So, I’m finally able to give the cage a first wiping down and then deposit the dirty paper towels in the trash can.
  10. And then when I turn back to the cage, there sits Possum (who at the time was young and more than a little chubby) in the middle of the cage floor I need to clean. And he doesn’t want to move. I finally manage to get him so I can continue cleaning.
  11. I spray the cage again for a thorough cleaning, wipe it down, and reach for the trash can. But it’s not there. It has been turned over, and the contents scattered all over the floor.
  12. So I pick all that up and try again and again and – well, you get the picture.

And so it went, time after time, until my wife FINALLY was able to come home and rescue me.

Karen thinks the best solution for ferret-challenged people like me is to get the Ferret Nation cage. With it you can close off one section, thus protecting yourself from “helpful” ferrets, while you clean the other section. And this sounds like a pretty good idea to me.