11 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Ferrets

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Our little fuzzies bring us so much joy, I cannot begin to explain. I wouldn’t change them for the world. But what I will say is that I often wish I knew certain things about them before I got them, because I would definitely have considered it more carefully.

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Siri-bear

Smells

1) They have a distinct smell.

It’s natural for ferrets to be a little on the smelly side. When I was introduced to our first fur-kid, Buckley, I had no idea what ferrets smelled like; it took me a while to get used to the distinct, musky odour that emanates from their skin (or more specifically, the oils produced by their skin). Now I barely notice it unless I’m away from the house for a while and then come back.  In fact, if I pick them up and cuddle them, sometimes I find it comforting to actually take a good long sniff of them. Pahaha. I have no shame.

2) They have the capacity to release some pretty rough smells from their anal glands, too.

Did you know ferrets are part of the mustelid family? That’s the same family as skunks. And you know what skunks are famous for? Yeaaahhhh. Well, ferrets have the capacity to release an utterly revolting smell from their anal glands too – it’s known as ‘poofing’. It’s kind of like farting but worse. It’s more pungent if they haven’t been neutered. Thankfully ours have, but boyyy is it still intense. Buckley, Millie and Siri’s poofs smell like a bizarre mixture of rotten garbage, cigarette smoke, poo, farts, vomit, some kind of acid, and death. You do not want to be hanging around in a room where a ferret has just poofed, although I will say we’re more used to it now than when we first got them. Archie’s poofs, however, have a special kind of blue cheese smell added into the mix which makes them even more rough. We actually have to vacate the room when he’s let one go.

3) You need to clean their cage regularly.

This may be obvious but it’s worth repeating. You need to wash their bedding around once a week because after that it starts to become discoloured and smelly (I think because of their skin oils).  It’s useful to have spare bedding for when the other bits and bobs are in the wash. More importantly, though, you must clean the litter trays regularly. I would say these need to be done *at a minimum* once every other day. If you leave them for longer than that, especially in the summer, it’s extremely unhygienic and smelly. You’ll get flies and the smell will be really overpowering. Their poos aren’t too bad, but their urine smells very strongly of ammonia.

4) To other people, your house will probably smell ferrety.

Much like for many dog-owners, your house will probably end up having a distinct smell. As mentioned previously I don’t tend to notice it unless I’ve been away for a while, but it’s just worth being mindful of if you have friends who are sensitive to such things – I was pretty mortified on one occasion where we had a friend over and he commented on how strongly it smelled. We have two air purifiers, a couple of reed diffusers and we burn incense every now and again, and even this is not enough to keep the smell at bay. If you’re extremely house-proud, this might bother you. I know it does me.

All of the above tends to set off my otherwise-relatively-under-control OCD, so if you suffer with anything similar, it’s worth really thinking about this for the sake of your wellbeing.

Behaviour

5) They are nosey little gits.

If you have anything – and I mean ANYTHING – valuable in your house, you may want to remove it, ferret-proof it or re-consider getting a ferret entirely. Honestly, their curiosity is one of my favourite traits but it can also end in things going missing or being chewed/ broken. Buckley has a fetish for anything rubbery and has eaten some of my earplugs and subsequently vomited them up; he has also chewed through one diving mask, two pairs of swimming goggles, and plenty of rubber O-rings. Millie is extremely agile and keeps finding ways to climb higher and higher in the house, and recently she managed to knock a bottle of wine off a kitchen counter. She also likes nesting in things, and she has made homes underneath the fridge AND in the back of a speaker. She is ridiculous. Generally speaking, they are like naughty, nosey toddlers – if they could talk I think all they would say is “what’s that?”, “oooh what’s that? Can I sniff it?”, “is this edible? I’m going to try eating it anyway”. They can often be found with their heads in my handbag.

6) They like to be “helpful” with housework.

In a similar vein to above, it’s very difficult to do chores without them getting involved! They are always finding ways to get into our piles of clean washing, on which they proceed to rub themselves (because theirs now, obviously). Or they’ll come and “help” you empty the dishwasher (by which I mean they will climb into it, sniff everything, and lick up the water on the bottom of the machine). Buckley enjoys climbing into the washing machine and chewing on the rubber seal; Archie loves chasing and biting the vacuum cleaner which is hilarious and adorable but also kind of impedes my ability to clean the floor; Millie likes to chase and bite my hand while I’m wiping up their toilet-related presents.

7) They like digging. A lot.

Our sofa is basically ruined. They are constantly playing on it and digging at it to the point where there are loads of loose threads sticking out. Their digging is SO cute, but they do sometimes also do it on doors they want to get into/ out of, and the sound can be irritating. Repeatedly moving them and/ or scruffing them should sort this out, but they can be pretty persistent.

8) They are little thieves.

In case you didn’t know, ‘ferret’ is derived from the Latin ‘furittus’ which means ‘little thief’. Most appropriate name ever. One day, Millie got up on to the kitchen counter and stole a load of chocolates which she then stashed under the sofa. She must have taken each one individually because she couldn’t have managed them all at once. They plan this shit, I’m telling you. Also, one time they stole a Galaxy bar out of my bag and I was finding squares of it all over the house for months. When she made a nest under the fridge, she took a load of socks and tea towels with her to make it super cosy.

9) They probably won’t use toys you buy for them, but they will definitely play with things that aren’t meant to be toys.

There are some toys that they play with once, purely for the sake of “claiming” them and hiding them in their “stash”, and then they’re never touched again. Unless you move said item, in which case they will retrieve it and put it back where it “belongs”. Toys they do like? Furniture, cardboard boxes, any valuable items.

10) They can be a bit bitey.

When we first got Buckley and he was quite nervous, he bit my other half on the hand really badly. Ever since then he’s been good as gold and has not seriously bitten us, but you should still be cautious as they will play-bite. If you stick your face in Buckley’s, he will most likely bite your nose (serves us right, I suppose). Millie in particular is an absolute devil for biting. She does it to instigate play, but it does hurt and it is annoying. If you scruff her to try to teach her it’s not okay, she actually gets even more excited and comes back and bites you even harder. She loves climbing up your back and sniffing your head, licking it, and then biting it. She’s bitten me behind the ear, on the boob, and almost on the va-jay-jay but I jumped out of the way quickly enough to avoid it. Monster.

11) They are difficult to litter train.

It’s not impossible by any means, but it is very difficult, especially if you have several fur-kids. Ours have a habit of (deliberately, I’m sure) pooping next to litter trays. They often do it while they’re staring at you, as if to say “lol I’m just shitting next to the litter tray and it’s too late for you to do anything about it”. If you notice JUST as they are squatting you might be able to pick them up in time to move them to a litter tray (and subsequently reward them), but often it’ll be too late: you either miss the opportunity entirely, or you pick them up mid-poo/pee and get poo on yourself. They are also hella stealthy about it sometimes – you won’t notice they’ve done it until you’ve stood in shit or a puddle of pee in the middle of the kitchen. They tend to gravitate towards corners to do their business, but sometimes they’ll mix it up a bit and do it in the middle of a floor just to catch you by surprise.

So in summary, they are quite a handful. They are mischievous, bitey, poopy, stinky monsters. There are a lot of things you should consider before you decide to adopt a ferret, and you need to make sure you can spare the time to look after them adequately. But they are wonderful and they will bring you so much happiness if you do decide to open your home to them. Watch this space for ferret care tips and another post about why they’re actually the best pets ever 😉

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“I’m so innocent” – Archie the vacuum-chaser

 

The Author

Bristol-based artsy liberal feminist. Mama to three ferrets.

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