Pet ferrets are so much fun to have, so once you bring one home, you will certainly want to keep him around for as long as possible. The good news is, there are definitely some things that you can do to help your ferret live a long and healthy life, including minimizing stress, taking your ferret for regular health checkups, and making sure your ferret gets a proper diet.
In the wild, ferrets typically live for only one to three years. However, they can live significantly longer in captivity. Most live for at least four to six years, but some live even longer. The oldest ferret on record lived to be fifteen years old. While that long is rare for a ferret, with the proper care your pet ferret may live to be seven or nine years old before he passes.
Throughout the rest of this article, we are going to go over the different stages of a ferret’s life, starting from birth through old age. You are also going to find a thorough explanation of the different things that you can do to help increase the lifespan of your pet ferret, including proper diet, exercise, health checks, accident prevention, and socialization. All of these things will help ensure that your ferret has good physical and mental health.
How to Make Sure Your Ferret Lives A Long Life
1. Give your ferret a proper diet
Despite their appearance, in the wild, ferrets are actually predators and obligate carnivores. They will hunt small rodents like mice and rats along with other small game such as snakes, frogs, and even birds. When Blackfoot ferrets hunt in the wild, they eat their food whole, including meat, bones, tissues, fur, and anything that the prey may have digested recently, which allows them to extract nutrients from the whole of the prey.
In private, while you do not necessarily have to mimic the live or even raw food diet that ferrets eat in the wild, you will need to ensure that your ferret gets plenty of nutrients and calories as ferrets have extremely high metabolisms for their size. If you want to feed your ferret pellets, there are special ferret foods that you can get that are high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates and fiber.
On the other hand, you could choose to go with a more natural diet. You can feed your ferret raw meats, or you can even teach your ferret to eat live prey such as feeder mice. Whatever you choose, your vet should be able to give you recommendations to help you ensure that your ferret gets all the nutrients he needs.
2. Plenty of exercise is key to a healthy ferret
Active ferrets that exercise regularly tend to live longer than inactive ferrets. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, regular exercise is important for your ferret’s health. You will want to provide your ferret with toys for exercise in its enclosure in addition to getting your ferret out to play and socialize for at least four hours every day.
Your ferret will need to run, dig, scratch, climb, play in tunnels, and more. When you allow your ferret to do all these different activities, not only will your ferret be healthier, but he will actually be happier. There is evidence that happier, less stressed ferrets tend to live longer.
In addition to typical play and running around, you might want to get your ferret a small water feature/kiddie pool to swim and splash around in. Of course, you should always supervise your ferret when in the pool, but he will certainly have lots of fun.
3. The importance of health checks
Of course, your ferret’s overall health is a crucial part of your ferret living a long life. Ferrets are relatively low-maintenance pets that have relatively few health problems. However, there are some health issues that ferrets are particularly prone to that you should know to look out for, including adrenal cancers, heart issues, respiratory problems, parasites, and dental problems.
By taking your ferret to regular vet checkups, they will most likely be able to catch any of these problems early on. Your vet will also be able to provide your ferret with the necessary regular vaccines for things like distemper and rabies, along with providing other important health advice.
As mentioned earlier, ferrets are much more likely to run into health problems when they get older. As your ferret ages, you will need to take him for more regular vet check-ups. You will also likely want to get regular blood work and other tests done to catch any health problems early on. Your vet may also choose to put your ferret on some preventative medication.
4. Prevent silly accidents
One of the reasons that ferrets have a shorter lifespan in the wild is that they get hurt or attacked or have some other form of accident. A benefit of being a domesticated ferret living in captivity is that he does not have to live with the same risk of regular harm or injury. However, accidents can still happen if you are not careful.
There are a couple of different things that you can do to help prevent accidents. First, you should try to always be around when your ferret is out of his enclosure exploring. You should also be sure to supervise closely if your ferret is allowed around other household pets or small children that could prove dangerous for your ferret.
You should also be sure that the enclosure where you keep your ferret is safe when you are away. The cage should be metal rather than plastic so your ferret cannot chew it up and escape or, worse, get plastic caught in his digestive system. You will also want to make sure all toys and hammocks in the cage are safe for your ferret.
As mentioned previously, a happy ferret is much more likely to live a long life than an unhappy or overly stressed one. One way that you can ensure that your ferret stays happy is to make sure he is properly socialized.
Your ferret will love to spend time with other ferrets or with humans. If you are going to be gone more often than not, you will want to be sure that you own multiple ferrets so they can keep each other company in their enclosure. However, if you are going to be home a lot, your ferret will also be perfectly happy socializing with your or even other animals in your house, such as cats or dogs.
The Stages of a Ferret’s Life
1. Kits: the First 12 Weeks
When ferrets are first born, they are only about two inches long and weigh less than half of an ounce. They are also extremely dependent on their mothers as they are born deaf, blind, without teeth, and with very fine hair. They remain very dependent on their mothers until they reach about three weeks old when they start to develop ear canals, open their eyes, and grow some teeth.
After about three weeks, the process begins to speed up tremendously. By four weeks, they start playing with each other, by six weeks, they start eating solid food, by eight weeks, they can pretty much function without their mothers, and by twelve, they are ready to go to a new home.
2. Adolescents: 13 weeks to 12 months
Ferrets typically reach sexual maturity at a very young age: somewhere between eight and ten months. From eight months to about a year, ferrets are still considered to be adolescents, also referred to as teenagers by some. During these months, ferrets still have the energy and spirit of a young ferret, really start to develop their personality, and have the ability to start mating (though this should only be done by trained breeders.)
3. Adults: 13 months to 4 years
Years two to four are considered the prime years of an adult ferret’s life, especially in captivity. They tend to still be active and healthy during these years but usually have lost some of the destructive habits that mark their young lives. As far as physical changes, you might start to notice that the ferret’s coat has started to change color. Additionally, you may notice that your ferret loses weight in the summer and gains it in the winter.
4. Mature: 5 to 10 years
From your ferret’s fifth birthday to the end of his life, your ferret is considered elderly or mature. Some ferrets will even get gray hairs as humans do. As your ferret ages, you will likely notice that he becomes much less active. He may start to sleep more and play less.
The elderly years of your ferret’s life are also when you are much more likely to run into health problems. For this reason, you will need to take extra care of your ferret as he gets older.
Resources and further reading:
- Update of ferret adrenal disease: Etiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment, Cathy A. Johnson-Delaney
- How to Make Sure Your Ferret Lives A Long Life
- The Stages of a Ferret’s Life