Ferrets Ferret
        Banoffee Pie

This page last updated: 9 August 2020.  See also the FerretCam.

This page starts with a general introduction and continues with our ferretty activities, most recent first.

Introduction

Why ferrets?  That's what most people ask or, if they don't ask it, they probably think it. Well, after Ramone passed away back in 2016 we were looking for another pet and Rob's hairdresser, Jacqui, mentioned that a ferret was the best house pet she had ever had.  We questioned her, thought about it, checked the animals out on-line, bought a book, bought a cage and, finally, went to visit Wendy at Essex Ferret Welfare where we selected Padmé and Luke, our first ferrets.

Wendy had 80 ferrets in her ferret shed.  Quite something.

We had told Wendy on the phone that we wanted to adopt a single ferret and we were lucky enough that she had a single rescued ferret that had not been socialised with the group.

Given this, and given Wendy's clear desire to be two rather than one ferret down from her stock of 80, we decided to go for two.  And that led to...

Cage 1 We went for a sort of mother and son pair.  Padmé is not Luke's biological mother; she is roughly 6 months older than him and suckled him when he was young.  So they knew each other.  She had been "done" and he was done shortly after we acquired him.  We housed them in a large wire cage indoors, where we learned...
  • Lesson number four: ferrets are clever.  Within a few days they'd discovered how to escape from their cage.  By rattling the base back and forth they'd dislodged the catch holding it in place and roamed the house very happily, discovered later that day sleeping on some cushions.  And they don't stop being clever; they don't know that a door is a door until you open it for them, but once they've seen it opened they know it can be opened and take a much greater interest in it.
  • Lesson number five: ferrets are utterly in your hands.  You can pick them up, play with them, harness them, all without complaint.  They have been bred to be handled by humans and you should make a point of handling them.

  • Lesson number six: ferrets sleep a LOT.  They are crepuscular (look it up) and will happily sleep during both day and night.
  • Lesson number seven: ferrets are planar creatures.  They know the ground, they aren't easily aware of much above the ground and so a ~40 cm high table/stool is enough to raise the pots of your delicate house plants out of their reach.
  • Lesson number eight: ferrets don't have much of a stomach.  Put something in one end and pretty shortly something will have to come out of the other end.  Don't feed them when you want to avoid that happening.
We'd been told, of course, the obvious points:
  • Don't let a ferret out of the house, you will never see it again.
  • Ferrets smell: a strong aroma exuded from several scent glands.
  • Ferrets should not be around young children as the ferrets can nip and scratch.
Padme being heldLuke being held
Given lesson number two, house training was not going to be possible and their escape attempt plus general noisiness in a wire cage meant that in-house ferret keeping wasn't going to work.  So we bought cage number two, a large rabbit hutch, placed it outside the back door, made a 10 cm hole through the wall of the house (like a dry cleaner exit hole) and constructed a closable flap so that the ferrets could be allowed in and out.

We were starting to get our head around ferrets, and them around us.  Padmé is sweet and cuddly, with soft fur and a very attractive white bib.  Luke is about twice her size, with white, rather more wiry, fur and a tendency to bite.  When they play he is the bruiser, she runs away.  However, when they do something they should not (e.g. scratch at some carpet, try to get in a bin or underneath the cooker), he can be trained with a rap on the nose accompanied by a disapproving growling noise; she tends not to listen.  But then again, she's less likely to do such things in the first place, so it balances out.
Cage 2House entry flap
But, they do need mucking out each day and it is not so pleasant to have their muck outside the back door.  Plus, they'd learned to scratch on the flap over the entrance into their house, which was annoying.  And the large rabbit hutch wasn't really large enough for them.  Which led to cage number three: one of those designed to sit on the lawn, open to the grass, to house chickens or rabbits.  We picked a size just right to sit on top of an Ikea outdoor table.  It was not attached to the house this time, instead having a liftable roof section to one side so that the ferrets can easily be taken out without having a chance to escape.  An aluminium, cleanable, tray was made to put inside it and toys were purchased.  This is now their permanent home and it works pretty well.  They are brought in every evening to play in a specific area of the house which has little carpet.  While they are playing their cage is cleaned and food is replenished.  More things we have learned:
  • Ferrets don't nibble power cables.  It just doesn't seem to occur to them.
  • Ferrets won't do naughty things if you occupy them with new toys; saved cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, packaging, rags, something novel for them to investigate.
  • Ferrets love tubes/tunnels/holes; flexible aluminum ducting available from DIY shops is ideal.  You may think some holes are too small for a ferret, that they might get stuck; don't worry, ferrets can take care of themselves.
  • Ferrets can be taken on walks with appropriate harnesses and a lead.  Think of the walk more as a smell-o-tour, though, because the ferret will be solely driven by the scents it picks up.
Cage 3
They can be trained but it takes time and patience. Lots of patience. You need to be firm: in the worst case scruff them (meaning hold them up by the skin at the scruff of their neck, just behind their head; their head will drop to a submissive position), otherwise tap them on the nose with your finger and accompany this action with your disapproving noise. Soon you will only need your disapproving noise and, when finely tuned, the threat of your disapproving noise. UPDATE: we found that scruffing has absolutely no effect on Padmé but load noises scare her; chose your weapon to match your ferret.

They do still nip, or at least Luke does, but you learn to hold him so that he can't do that and, above all, you keep him interested in stuff. As planar creatures they learn quite quickly that you carrying them around gives them access to sniffs of the Other Dimension and so will be very happy not to nip you provided you carry them to those oh so sweet smellable places. Food-wise:
Padme
                in a box                  Luke in a box                  Luke in an octopod
                plaything
  • Ferrets will eat/drink sweet stuff but don't give them more than a lick or two, it is not what they're meant to eat; meat is what they're meant to eat.
  • Ferrets will not eat cooked food.  Meat must be raw.
  • Ferrets love whole portions of offally creature.  Roadkill or game is ideal, a bird quartered with all the feathers etc. on.  But if you can't get that then chicken gizzards, chicken hearts or chicken livers from the butcher will do.  Try to arrange to visit the butcher at 16:00 on a Saturday for a bargain.
  • Ferrets can live quite happily on James Wellbeloved's Ferret Complete, a form of small dry biscuit food that you can buy in convenient sacks.
  • It is good ferret bonding to feed them multivitamin ferret paste, squeezed into a 5 cm strip, off the palms of your hands on a regular basis (in our case every day when they come into the house).
Oh, and while they can, in theory, be housed by catteries or managed by pet-taking-care-of-people, in practice that's for your singleton ferret.  We return the ferrets to the safe hands of Wendy when we need to go away.
Multivitamin feeding
So, what do we think of ferrets now?  Well, it is a different experience to what we had originally intended but that's through us chosing many ferrets over one.  In the "many" form they are not house pets.  They are not like cats and dogs but, though you might assume that means they are wild, they are also very happy to be handled and played with.  It is true that we could do without the mucking out, that bit is not so pleasant, but creatures that are of such intense playfulness, and are also both inquisitive and clever, make for immense fun.  We are never going to be ferret freaks like Wendy and Alan but we fully enjoyed our time with Padmé and Luke and then kinda just continued.

Ferretty Activities

Below find our ferretty activities, most recent first.


Stainless Steel It is
9 August 2020

Well, that didn't last long.  A few weeks ago, thankfully after the installation of some new patio doors and hence the net curtains were not yet re-fitted, a white shape was spotted outside darting across the decking just before feeding time.  It was Samson.  Again, not running away, more running towards the house, though he would have beebled off given time.  He was scooped up and an examination of the tunnels revealed Delilah doing here best to follow him through the hole in the ceiling of the tunnel, between the metal spiral, that he had created.  Digging up the tunnel showed that the plastic had been breached in several places.  Time for better defences.

Ferret escape tunnel 2
The damage

We went back to https://www.ductstore.co.uk/ and this time purchased a few hundred quid's worth of stainless steel 100 mm diameter ducting sections, 45 degree angles plus lots of male and female short connectors to join them with.

Stainless steel ducting
                sections
Installation
Installation
Installation complete

Temperatures are approaching the mid 30's C again this week so the ferrets need those tunnels.  As soon as the tunnels were opened Delilah began dragging out the old bedding to make way for new; very organised.

A remaining worry is the length of flexible UV-safe plastic tubing leading from the main ferret home to the tunnels.  That needs to be able to flex around various barriers and so would be difficult to replace with stainless steel, which would also need supports.  As a transit tube, they have so far not to wanted to attack it.  Famous last words of course.  We will wait and see.


Lesson Number Nine: Never Underestimate A Ferret
6 June 2020

A few weeks ago at ferret feeding time it was curiously quite in the ferret home.  Shortly before there had been the usual sounds of scratching but no more.  Then there was a scuffling amongst the pot plants: maybe a hedgehog or a rat?  No, of course, it was Delilah.  And there was Samson underneath the decking, to which thankfully there is only one entry/exit.  They weren't trying to run away, just beebling about and exploring.  They were retrieved and moved into the house while an investigation was undertaken.  Their handiwork:

Ferret escape route

They had peeled away the edge of the aluminium ducting, which is made of a closed spiral of aluminium strip, just where it joins the plastic ducting, and then dug their way out of the ferret tunnel.  A ball of aluminium was found inside their home.  Buggers.  The tunnel was closed off and a temporary fix made but we were worried that their level of metal working skill was now too great; plus Samson was still looking dirty around the nose and claws.

Some re-work was in order.  The tunnels were closed off again and rather more expensive ducting, similar to the flexible transparent ducting used for the entrance/exit to the tunnel but not UV safe (since it will be buried) was purchased.  It has a spiral of steel wire running through it.  The aluminium ducting was dug up and removed, this new ducting laid in its place.  Some considerable care was taken at the joins with the solid plastic ducting to ensure that the flexible plastic edge was not visible to ferrets that might be tempted to go to work on it.

More ferret proof ducting
New tunnel in position

Were we being paranoid?  Examination of the aluminium ducting as we were throwing it away revealed this roughly 2 cm wide hole they had been working on:

Tom, or
          Dick, or Harry

Never underestimate a ferret.


More Cheap Play
3 May 2020

As Samson has become older he has also become a lot more agile, literally throwing himself at things, all four paws out, in the hope of climbing from leap-height upwards.  He can climb chairs, onto tables, onto kitchen work surfaces, etc.; in fact he can climb Leo and bite his ears (Leo's ears, that is).  One of the places we actually allow Samson to stay is inside the dry recycling bin where he can do no harm.  Leo took this video of him in the bin.
 

Organised Ferrets
18 April 2020

The structure we use as a ferret house was originally intended to house chickens. It has a roosting area that sticks out of the side, split into two bays.

Roosting bays

Into these bays we have fitted aluminium trays, to make them easier to clean, and on top of the trays we place two cuddly bedding thingies that fit snugly into the bays.  It looks neat to us.  However, the ferrets have other ideas.  Every night they generally remove both snuggly things, lay one of the bays with spare blankets and use the other as an "en suite".

Ferret bay organisation

Fair enough, it is at least easy to clean.

But they also don't really like the aluminium surfaces that we find so easy to clean, a bit hard/cold on their little feet we expect.  As the weather has warmed up, they have started to sleep outside of their bedding area in the open section of the structure in order to take advantage of a cool breeze in some shade.  This brings them into contact with the main aluminium floor.  Ever resourceful, they've decided that the two sheets of newspaper we put down in the area they are meant to (and generally do, in addition to the en suite) use as a toilet are completely wasted there.  The first thing they do when they return to their home of an evening is to move the two sheets of paper into their outside sleeping area and rip the paper into shreds: hey presto, bedding.

Ferret paper bedding organised

Delilah has also been spotted gathering the shreddings in her arms and dragging them down into the ferret tunnel.  Ferrets are very organised creatures, at least where sleeping is concerned.

Normal Behaviour
30 January 2020

We've never really posted a video of perfectly normal ferret behaviour.  Here's one, annotated to describe their outward signs of emotion.



Cute Samson Pictures
25 January 2020

Samson has posed for some cute pictures recently. Excuse the fuzziness on the waste basket one, otherwise they seem to have come out surprisingly well for ferret pictures.

Samson in the sleeve of
                  my ferret jacket
Samson in the waste
                  basket
Samson in octopod
Samson stepping out of
                  octopod

Similar to this one of Luke from January 2016:

Luke in octopod


Christmas With Ferrets Again
9 January 2020

We tried Samson and Delilah with a Christmas tangerine but Delilah showed no interest and Samson played football with it but was uninterested in its flavour.  Much more to their taste was the dry recycling: given the gap in bin collection over Christmas and the prevalence of packaging we had a pile of this and they loved getting amongst it, particularly the egg cartons and Pringles tubes.  Just tip it out for them to play in: what could be simpler?

Dry
                  recycling
Samson in Pringles

A Practical Lesson In Being A Ferret
15 November 2019

Two days ago, Samson was taken to the vet to be "done".  On his return late in the afternoon Delilah wanted to kill him.  She chased and bit him until he squealed and tried to hide.  This happened three times over the following 24 hours: she just wanted to kill him and, in the end, we had to find a way for them to be separate in their house as we feared for his life.

This evening we managed their meeting more carefully.  We held her close to him but not such that she could bite him.  She smelled/licked/nibbled his ears, smelled his armpits and realised that yes, this was Samson.  Suddenly she was all happy and playful again, though he remains wary of her.

Plainly losing one of his most recognisably smelly bits made him appear to be an intruder who she was chasing away.  A practical lesson in how another animal perceives the world.  We're very glad that's over.

Incidentally, Samson is now a huge (1.5 kg) furry, gentle, bundle of fun.  Delilah is more edgy but after an "incident", where we had a bit of an argument and I lost physically but gained morally, a slight tendency to nip at fingers that she was developing has been curbed. They are brought in daily and given goat's milk mixed with an egg plus four day-old chicks every evening. They've been out for walks on their leads/harnesses and seem to have found it rather exciting [bog-brush tails triggered].  They do now choose to sleep in the same bed. All is on track in the Meades/Ferret world.


Samson And Delilah
28 September 2019

Having refurbished the ferret home and constructed the SFC we went to Wendy's and selected two new occupants: Samson and Delilah.  Samson, an albino like Luke, is just 14 weeks old and already much larger than lovely little polecat-features Delilah who is a one year old mother (though obviously not Samson's mother).  They have been handled regularly by Wendy and hence are not bitey at all, much less so than Padmé and Luke.  Really friendly interesting creatures. Now to the long haul of house training them both.

Samson
Delilah

Unlike Padmé and Luke, Samson and Delilah don't seem inclined to sleep in the same bed; Samson particularly likes sleeping in the SFC.  They have been fed on meat and aren't too interested in ferret biscuits so we're going to try feeding them dead chicks (four a day) since Samson is very much a growing lad.

Samson in the SFC


No Ferrets But SFC
August 2019

No ferrets.  Luke passed away mid last year: he was a little lethargic one evening, dead the following day.  Padmé was killed by the extreme 38.7 C heat, the record temperature recorded in Cambridge a few Thursdays ago.  We had frozen bottles of water in the fridge but didn't have a fresh one for that day.  We are, effectively, these animal's jailers (same with marine fish and lizards); we need to do better.  Wendy has a heavy-duty fan and a portable air conditioning unit in her shed.  She also provides her creatures with water baths to dive into if they wish.

We decided to have another go, with young ferrets this time, but to give them some fun and some cool space we built an underground run to attach to their usual outdoor accommodation:

Ferret
            tunnels

It is made of:

A hole was cut for the Osma access hatch in the 150 mm-diameter ducting, the hatch base cut so as not to protrude too far into the ducting, and then securely Araldited into place. The bits on the right-half of the picture were then fitted together, glued and taped to make sure that no water would get in, and buried in a shaded flower bed near the ferret home. A FerretCam was built into the lid of the Osma access hatch, details of the construction of which can be found on Github; this is FerretCam.

The lot was finally buried around a tree in a flower bed.  It was christened (by some work colleagues of Rob's) the SFC: Small Ferret Collider.

Channel dug
Tunnels in channels
Nothing to see here

Christmas And Ferrets
10 December 2017

We decided to try the ferrets with snow.



We gave them a nice dry towel and some milk & egg afterwards as compensation for the hassle.

A Tangerine And Ferrets
8 January 2017

A good plaything for a ferret at Christmas time, if you don't mind cleaning the floor afterwards.




Pen
11 September 2016

While at the Fenland Fair, we saw that the ferret people there had an outdoor ferret pen, a Marshall Small Animal Play Pen.  It looked perfect, and can be purchased with a base and cover and (at the time) a carry case.  We bought the lot and tried it out on the lawn today.

Marshall Small Animal Play Pen

It is sufficiently heavy that they'll never be able to lift it to get out.  The cover isn't really necessary as it is too high for them to climb out, however it does ensure that they get shade.  We're happy to leave them in it relatively unsupervised and so get time to clear out their cage properly.

Fenland Fair
29 August 2016

It is the Fenland Fair this weekend so we decided that we should give the ferrets an outing.  To enable this, we've knocked up a quick ferret carrier.

The ferret carrier

It consists of:
  • A standard soft fabric cool-bag, modified to have a wire mesh window on the front, bolted to some thin MDF for strength.
  • A thin MDF floor.
  • On both ends, a pair of standard plastic ventilation panels bolted to each other through the material (the bag material cut away within) to improve air flow.
  • Some random bits of plastic scrap attached to the ends of the bolts to stop the ferrets impaling themselves.
  • A hole drilled at an angle through the material and MDF on the front to support a removable water bottle.
  • Some shreddings inside for the ferrets to snuggle in and to soak up any emissions.
Carrier, inside
Carrier with bottle fitted

Here it is in action and being checked by Padmé and Luke:

Carrier in action Carrier being checked

We took the ferrets to the fair in it and all went very well. They didn't seem concerned at being carried in it and were happy to be got out or put back as necessary.  There was some biting/scratching damage:

Where Luke got into the
                lining

...which allowed Luke to climb into the lining but that was fine, he could never escape.  Good enough for now.


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