1. Home
  2. Companion Animals
  3. Other Pets
  4. Ferrets
  5. How should I care for my ferrets?

How should I care for my ferrets?

Ferrets’ name in Latin means ‘little thief,’ a group of them is called a ‘business,’ a female is called a ‘jill’, a male is a ‘hob’, and a juvenile is a ‘kit’. People have been keeping ferrets for more than 2,000 years, starting as a hunter’s aid to flush out rabbits and increasingly becoming pets living inside our homes. However, ferrets as pets have unique needs and the key to keeping them healthy and happy is to meet these needs and provide an environment that allows them to thrive.

The following provides some general advice about ferret care with links to more detailed articles on specific topics.

Are ferrets the right pet for me?

There are some important things you should consider if you are thinking of bringing ferrets into your family:

  • The average lifespan of a ferret is 5-7 years and, although many live longer, a ferret who reaches 8-9 years is quite old. They will not be with you as long as some other pets.
  • An active and inquisitive species, ferrets need as much space and entertainment as possible. The cage where your ferret sleeps should be as large as you can manage, allowing them at a minimum to stretch their body out fully, walk around comfortably, and easily turn around in the cage. They will also need plenty of room to play and explore – some people dedicate a whole room for this, others use a large enclosure and their imagination to create a ferret playground. Left alone or unsupervised in the house, ferrets will explore and chew random objects which could quickly put them in a dangerous situation (which is why they should stay in a large cage or ferret-proof room unless directly supervised).
  • They are carnivores and will do better eating a premium quality ferret food supplemented with raw meat and bones. If you do feed meat or bones to your ferrets, these should be human food grade and stored and prepared correctly to reduce the risk of food borne disease (which can affect humans, as well as animals).
  • They can be a little nippy – often completely unexpectedly, and sometimes accidentally! They might be teething, playing, hungry, or angry when they decide to take a nip. That’s part of having ferrets!
  • They smell! They have a strong earthy, musky smell, emanating from the oil glands in their skin (these are not the anal glands, and so removing the anal glands does not remove the smell). The smell is worse in adult ferrets who have not been desexed. This smell is something that most ferret owners get used to – and eventually don’t even notice – but sometimes the stink is a bit worse than it should be, suggesting it might be bath time!
  • Pet ferrets require annual health checks and preventative health care as much as any other pet. Considered geriatric by four years of age, ferrets need regular check-ups with their veterinarian to monitor for signs of dental disease and other chronic diseases. They require vaccinations, particularly as they can get some of the same infectious diseases as dogs, and they need flea, worming, and heartworm preventative treatments.
  • You must keep them away from other small animals in the same household (such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and kittens), as they have been known to prey on smaller pets. They are a natural predator, and you cannot train them out of that.
  • Ferrets sleep a lot (approximately 12-16 hours a day, sometimes up to 20 hours!) but when they are active, they tend to be active during the daytime. Young ferrets tend to be constantly in motion when awake, whereas older ferrets tend to be calmer and will often love to rest in their favourite human’s lap!
  • They are very clean creatures and can easily be litter trained. They are also smart and can be taught voice commands, learn to ask for treats, or even use harnesses to go for a walk.
  • They usually love to interact with people and play with toys, explore their environments, and they can be taught lots of things. Ferrets are typically independent, but family-oriented pets. They often bond with their owners or other family members and may recognise their human family when their people come home. It is not uncommon to see a ferret greeting their owner at the door by making a happy sound.

So, if you feel you have space, time, and love for a ferret, they can be the delightful pets! They are smart and can be very interactive and affectionate! If you have never had ferrets as a pet, you may be in for a very nice surprise.

One ferrets or two (or more)?

Ferrets are a social species and must have companionship, ideally from other compatible ferrets. Talk to your veterinarian about reproductive control before housing ferrets together. See this article for more information on how to socialise your ferrets with people and other ferrets and this article on reproductive control in ferrets.

Where can I own ferrets?

Ferret ownership is a complex issue in Australia, with different laws and regulations governing the possession of these small, carnivorous mammals in different states and territories. In some parts of the country, it is completely legal to own a ferret as a pet, while in others it is illegal or regulated.

One of the main factors that determines the legality of ferret ownership in Australia is the risk of ferrets escaping and establishing populations in the wild. Ferrets are not native to Australia and could potentially pose a threat to the country’s native wildlife if they were to escape and breed. This is one of the reasons why ferret ownership is heavily restricted in some parts of the country.

State/TerritoryStatus of ferretsReference
Queensland You are not allowed to keep ferrets as a pet in Queensland. Penalties apply for keeping them in Queenslandhttps://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/biosecurity/animals/invasive/prohibited/ferret
NSWLegal, with no licence required https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/questions/animals-allowed-as-pets-nsw
VictoriaLegal, with no licence required https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/other-pets/caring-for-your-pet-ferret
TasmaniaA controlled animal in Tasmania, it is an offence to allow ferrets to go free in the state. There are currently no restrictions on keeping, breeding, or selling ferrets within Tasmania, but they are a prohibited import and must not be brought into Tasmania from other Australian states and territories. https://nre.tas.gov.au/invasive-species/invasive-animals/invasive-mammals/ferrets
South AustraliaLegal, no licence required https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/energy-and-environment/environment-and-natural-resources/animal-licences-and-permits
Western AustraliaLegal, but it is an offence to release them https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/pest-mammals/ferret-animal-pest-alert
Northern TerritoryIt is illegal to import or keep ferrets in the NThttps://nt.gov.au/environment/animals/wildlife-permits/prohibited-wildlife
ACTYou are required to hold a license for ALL animals, dead or alive (whole or parts thereof) except for those on the Exempt List. (Ferrets are not on the Exempt list)https://www.environment.act.gov.au/parks-conservation/plants-and-animals/licensing-of-plants-and-animals/what-animals-can-be-kept-in-the-act

Information current 5 July 2023 — the information presented here is not intended to be relied on for legal advice and you should seek advice from the relevant authority and/or a lawyer about your individual circumstances.

Where should I get my ferrets?

If you are purchasing ferrets, you should always try to make sure that you are getting them from a reputable source. Reputable shelters and rescue groups will ensure their ferrets are vaccinated and given an overall health and behaviour assessment prior to being available for adoption. Check out the RSPCA website Adoptapet to see ferrets who are available for adoption.

Where possible, an animal should be acquired directly from the place where they were born and/or reared. This minimises stress to the animal and allows prospective owners to assess factors which impact the animal’s welfare such as how the animals at the property are kept (including the condition and behaviour of other animals present), and to learn about the specific needs of the species or type/breed of animal. Where this is not possible, the animal should be acquired from a reputable shelter or rescue organisation.

Prior to purchasing your ferrets, it is important to note of how they are kept and cared for and the potential impact of this on their welfare, such as the environment that they are living in. Their hutches or runs should be kept in an appropriate area, and they should be clean, dry, and not overcrowded. There should be appropriate food and clean, fresh water readily available. Ask about vaccination histories, medical problems, and veterinary care. If you have doubts about the seller, it may be best to go somewhere else. For more information, see this article.

What does a healthy ferret look like?

Before purchasing your ferrets, you should take the time to have a close look for problems. Settle your new ferrets on your lap or a table, and observe the following:

  • The spine and pelvic bones should not be prominent, nor should the ferrets be overweight.
  • The eyes should be clear and bright, with no discharge, puffiness, excessive blinking, or cloudiness.
  • The nostrils should be clean and dry, with no evidence of discharge. Watch and listen for any sneezing.
  • There should be no abnormal swellings on the cheeks or jaws, nor should there be any drooling or problems chewing.
  • Brush the hair and part it to examine the skin. Look for flaking, bald patches, fleas or flea dirt, or fur loss or thinning. The nails should not be too long, and the foot pads should be soft.
  • The teeth should be clean.
  • General behaviour – the ferrets should be inquisitive, alert, and moving freely.

Care of your new pet ferrets should start with a thorough examination by a veterinarian with ferret experience. Not all veterinarians are comfortable seeing ferrets, so check first and find a veterinarian near you who is happy to see them. The veterinarian will examine your ferrets for any signs of illness and provide you with detailed information on husbandry such as what to feed your ferrets, how to house them, and preventative health tips to keep them happy and healthy.

Preparing to bring your ferrets home

Before getting your new ferrets, you must put some time and thought into caring for them and having everything set up ready to go before the ferrets’ arrival. Things to give some thought to, and prepare for, include:

Where should I keep my ferrets?

Ferrets are usually housed indoors – in fact, some owners recommend having a ferret room, rather than an enclosure! This is to give them more space and opportunities for ferret fun.

There are some basic considerations for housing, and then special factors that depend on the location where the ferrets are housed. These are discussed in this article.

What should I feed my ferrets?

Ferrets are considered ‘obligate carnivores’ which means they should only eat a meat-based diet. Good choices for them are a mix of a commercial ferret food, fresh raw meat, and the occasional raw meaty bone. If you do feed meat or bones to your ferrets, these should be human food grade and stored and prepared correctly to reduce the risk of food borne disease (which can affect humans, as well as animals).

Ferrets are always active, running, climbing, and exploring. This energy demand requires a high metabolic rate, which must be fuelled by access to food at all times. Remember that clean, fresh water should always be available for your ferret, ideally in heavy bowls to avoid spills.

Be careful of leaving objects around the home that might inadvertently be chewed by your pet ferret.

For more information on feeding your ferret, see our diet guide.

How can I use environmental enrichment to provide opportunities for my ferrets to experience good welfare?

Environmental enrichment describes the provision of physical and social opportunities to promote ferret behaviour that is important, valuable, and specific to them. It encourages and allows ferrets to do things that matter to them, resulting in positive experiences based on their individual interests, which underpins good animal welfare.

A key concept in environmental enrichment requires is that we know what ferrets like to do, also referred to as ‘species‐typical’ information. Then we can select enriching strategies that are behaviourally relevant and physically feasible for the ferret. Designing an enrichment plan that is incompatible with the animals’ normal behaviour, physical attributes or their existing environment may not improve their wellbeing and could also cause frustration and potential harm.

Appropriate environmental enrichment helps to meet your ferrets’ physical and mental needs, optimise their welfare, and prevent behavioural and physical problems that can develop when a ferret is not adapted well to their environment and/or has an environment that does not meet their needs.

There is a tendency to think that environmental enrichment means just providing some toys or other distractions. This is only a small part of the process. For suggestions on how to enrich your ferret’s life, see here.

How will I keep my ferrets safe against household hazards?

Most ferrets are kept indoors, with a room of their own or even free range of the whole house, but unsupervised activities can put your ferrets at risk. They will explore every nook and cranny in their environment and pick up any object they find. Ferrets are great chewers, so some of the most dangerous household hazards are things that they can chew on and hurt themselves, such as electrical cords and toxic plants, and soft plastics that can be a choking hazard. Other dangers are not immediate, but they can cause health problems for your ferrets over time.

For more information, see this article.

General care of ferrets


Ferrets should have regular positive contact with humans from a young age. Ferrets who have been well socialised generally really enjoy spending time with their human companions and are usually happy to be picked up and cuddled. But, if they’re frightened or accidentally hurt, ferrets can give you a nasty bite. Getting them used to being handled and picked up when they’re young is important. If they’re handled from an early age, ferrets will usually be laid back, enjoy your company, and love being picked up for cuddles. See this article for more information on how to socialise your ferrets with people and other ferrets.

Any interactions between children and ferrets must be supervised for the safety and welfare of both the child and ferrets. All interactions with younger children must be at ground level. Only adults and older children who are responsible and have been adequately taught how to handle ferrets should be allowed to pick up a ferret and this should be closely and carefully supervised.

See this article for tips on handling your ferret.

Litter training

As ferrets are true carnivores, their poop can smell quite strongly. And, with their constant eating and high metabolic rate, they need to go to the toilet a lot! When these facts are combined, the result can be a lot of very smelly piles of poo all over their enclosure, room, or house!

Fortunately, ferrets can be litter trained. Unfortunately, they may not learn to do this easily. You can’t be sure that both you and your ferret will be 100% successful in teaching and learning litter training.

It is important to only use positive reinforcement and clean up accidents as soon as they happen to avoid making the situation worse in the future. See this article for more tips on litter training your ferret.


Regular grooming will help to keep your ferrets in good health. It includes bathing, drying, nail trimming, coat brushing, ear cleaning, and teeth brushing. See our article on grooming here.

Preventative health care

Ferrets can live as long as 10 years provided they are well cared for. Part of this care includes regular annual veterinary check-ups. At this time, your veterinarian can check your ferrets’ general health, vaccinate them as required, check their teeth for signs of dental issues (which are common), and discuss your ferrets’ care and husbandry. In addition, you should take your ferrets to the veterinarian if you notice any signs of a problem such as poor appetite, lethargy, weepy eyes, sneezing, diarrhoea, or any scratches or cuts. Remember, ferrets have a rapid metabolic rate and even a day not eating can severely compromise them or even lead to their death.

It’s essential that you register with a ‘ferret-savvy’ veterinarian even if you have no immediate need for one; you can never predict when an emergency will arise. Veterinarians in training generally spend less time learning about ferrets than they do cats or dogs. Ferret medicine is often taught alongside “exotic species,” as ferrets are also quite different from cats and dogs physiologically, behaviourally, and anatomically. Veterinarians who are keen to treat ferrets usually must organise additional training outside their course, often in their own time, and at their own expense. These individuals are truly dedicated to providing your ferrets with the best possible care. So, it is important to choose a veterinarian who has specific knowledge of ferrets. Talking with other ferret owners is often the best way to get recommendations for a knowledgeable veterinarian.

Preventative health care includes reproductive control, vaccinations, and parasite control.

Reproductive control in ferrets

Ferrets reach sexual maturity at an early age (4-8 months). In female ferrets (jills) who are not pregnant, persistent oestrus (being on heat’) can lead to life-threatening oestrogen-induced bone marrow suppression and poor immune function, hair loss, bleeding, anaemia, and potentially death. This means that some form of reproductive control is essential to protect the health of jills, if they are not being bred.

Reproductive control in both males (hobs) and females (jills) can have significant benefits, including the following:

  • It prevents persistent oestrus (being on heat’) in jills which can be life-threatening due to oestrogen-induced bone marrow suppression.
  • It stops unwanted pregnancies.
  • It can reduce the strong musk-like odour of many ferrets (especially hobs).
  • Sterilised ferrets generally socialise with each other (and with people) better than non-desexed ferrets.
  • Sterilisation can also reduce certain behaviours such as aggression and urine marking.

The decision about if, and when, to surgically sterilise ferrets is more complicated than in many companion animals as, in both sexes, surgical sterilisation can be associated with hyperadrenocorticism (a condition where there are abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol), especially if performed before puberty. This can lead to problems such as hair loss, itchiness, and urinary blockage.

Given the importance of reproductive control and complicated associated considerations in ferrets, it is important to discuss how to balance the benefits and risks of all the options with your ferret savvy veterinarian to decide what is the right approach for your ferrets. See this article on reproductive control in ferrets (including desexing) for more information.


Ferrets can contract canine distemper virus and if they do, there is no specific treatment – however, vaccination provides good protection against this deadly virus. Ferrets should generally have an initial juvenile vaccine course (8, 12 and 16 weeks of age) and then be given booster vaccinations annually. Talk to your veterinarian for more information about vaccinating your ferrets.

Parasite control

Ferrets are prone to a variety of external parasites, including ear mites, fleas, and scabies mite. They are also susceptible to heartworm (most commonly seen in dogs).

Young ferrets can also suffer from intestinal parasites such as Giardia and coccidia.

This article discusses parasite prevention in ferrets.

This article was authored by:
Bob Doneley BVSc FANZCVS (Avian Medicine)
Professor, Avian and Exotic Pet Service
Registered Specialist in Bird Medicine

Also Read

Updated on January 29, 2024
  • Home
  • Companion Animals
  • Other Pets
  • Ferrets

Was this article helpful?