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The Advantages of Adopting Older Ferrets


By Pamela E. Troutman

Most first time ferret owners get their ferret at a pet shop. People who buy from a pet shop have several advantages as well as disadvantages.

The pluses are:
  • The ferrets are cute little babies, called kits;
  • The kits are already neutered and descented.
The disadvantages are:
  • Ferret kits need training not to bite, on how to use the litter box, and other socialization;
  • Kits are at their “terrible two’s” stage from 8 to 12 weeks of age, the prime time they are in the pet shop;
  • Ferret kits are expensive, costing anywhere from $100 to $200 (not including cage and equipment);
  • Kits still need two more distemper shots after purchase, and it is required by several states to have them inoculated against rabies;
  • The pet shop may not be knowledgeable in ferret care and behavior, and may give misleading information.
Where can a person get all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of a pet shop purchase?



There are over one hundred privately owned and operated ferret rescues in the United States, and many in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Unfortunately, wherever ferrets are popular, there also comes the problem of what to do with unwanted pet ferrets when people move, get transferred to ferret prohibited areas or housing, or the interest level wanes. Ferrets found wandering and not claimed also make up a small portion of residents in shelters. VERY RARELY is a pet ferret turned in for behavior problems like being aggressive.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of ferret adoption.

Ferrets are cute little babies at the pet shop.
Kits grow very quickly, and are considered adults at six months of age. This gives the new owner four months of babyhood to “enjoy”. At least a month of this is dealing with the bratty stage of ferrets where, if the kit is not handled and trained correctly, it becomes more difficult to break bad habits. Yes, kits are adorable, but the spell becomes broken easily with all the work required if the owner is not an experienced ferret person.

According to Shelters That Adopt & Rescue (STAR*) Ferrets, a network of ferret owners, clubs, and shelter operators, 96% of ferrets in shelters were placed in 1996 by ferret rescues. STAR* did annual surveys to determine other information as well. The average age of the ferrets at a rescue is just over two years, which is still young in the life span of a ferret. Especially for first time ferret owners, it is HIGHLY recommended to get an adult ferret as your first pet ferret.

Kits are already neutered and descented.
STAR*’s survey indicated that 80% of the ferrets arriving at shelters come in already spayed and neutered, with the rest being altered BEFORE adoption. Again, people are not required to undergo one of the major veterinarian fees in the first half of a ferret’s life.

Ferret kits need training not to bite, on how to use the litter box, and other socialization skills. Furthermore, kits from 8 to 12 weeks of age are in the “terrible two’s” stage, the prime time they are in the pet shop.
The young adult ferrets at shelters are usually already trained not to nip, to use the litter box in their cages, and are very social to people and most other household pets. If they need to be worked with, most shelters will not adopt them out until they have better manners.

Ferret kits are expensive, costing anywhere from $100 to $200 (not including cage and equipment).
Again from STAR*, the average fee for a ferret aged from one to three years was $63.00 in shelters in 2000. Many shelters also offer used cages or sell ferret supplies at a much-reduced cost. Also, many adoptees come as a “pair”, meaning they have a companion that they want to be placed with. Many times, the adoption fee for a pair is very reasonable to help keep playmates together.

Kits still need two more distemper shots after purchase and it is required by several states to have them inoculated against rabies.
Many shelter personnel give adult ferrets their canine distemper inoculations. This ensures that they are up-to-date on this shot for at least the next year. Since distemper is fatal to ferrets, this is a very important inoculation. If a state or county requires rabies inoculations, then many shelters will see to that shot before adoption as well. Some shelters are even participating in a microchipping program to help reunite lost ferrets with their owners or at least the shelter.

The pet shop may not be knowledgeable in ferret care and behavior, and may give misleading information.
Ferret shelters are loaded with free care sheets and knowledgeable people who want their adopters to educate themselves BEFORE getting their ferret. Whether it is a family’s first ferret or their fifth ferret, shelter personnel try to make sure that the ferret is going to a permanent home.


So, you have decided to give a homeless ferret a new start. Excellent. Now, where does one find a ferret to rescue?

Go to your local pet store and pick up the latest issue of FERRETS USA. This magazine offers space for shelters to list their services. Also check the Internet. An excellent and long established ferret site is Ferret Central.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  See Ferret Care - Ferrets as Pets on our site for a list of ferret shelters on the internet.]

If there are no ferret specific shelters in your area, you might have to drive a few hours to visit one. Please call ahead of time to set up an appointment. Most ferret shelters are in private homes and only take visitors by appointment.

If you can’t locate a ferret shelter near you, you might want to give your name to local animal rescue groups. You can let them know you will take in any ferrets that come their way. This is one way to “adopt” a ferret, but you will not have the benefit of an experienced ferret person to evaluate the animal for health, temperament, and training. You can also look for pet ferrets at


Every ferret shelter is unique. That is because ever ferret owner is unique. This description will cover the basic setup and interview that you can prepare for.

The first thing is to make a phone call to the shelter. The shelter operator will probably ask several questions:
  • What are you looking for in a ferret?
  • What type of housing will you and the ferret be living in?
  • Do you have any knowledge about ferrets?
  • Does your veterinarian see ferrets?
  • .... and so on.
If you rent, please make sure that your landlord does not have a problem with ferrets. If you are under 18 years of age or are still living at home with your parents, please make sure this is a family decision regarding this pet and that the ferret will be welcomed by all.

What appear to be strange questions to you are perfectly normal to ferret people. A prime example is, “Do you have a recliner or sofa bed?” You may be thinking, “Why, do they need to stay the night to see how the ferret behaves?” Actually, many ferrets meet an untimely death in the mechanics of recliners and sofa beds. Shelter operators want to know if you are going to allow the ferret access to the rooms with this furniture. At some extremes, shelter operators will ask if you are willing to dispose of this furniture before getting a ferret. They are serious, too!

Another odd question may be, “How old are the children in this household and are you planning on having any more children?” You tell the shelter person the ferret is for your eight-year-old daughter, not your two-year-old son. The shelter operator will then explain that ferrets are escape artists and may find themselves in a situation where the toddler has access to the ferret. Small children do not know their own strength, and may mishandle a small pet unintentionally. Regardless of how friendly the ferret usually is, it may defend itself, even through a cage, and take a nip at the “attacker”. Overreactive mothers have led to the old wives’ tales of ferrets as infant attackers when, in truth, what responsible parent would leave a small child unattended with any pet?

So, you pass the phone interview, and are given an appointment to visit the ferrets. You arrive at a person’s home and find it looks a lot like a daycare facility in the area where the ferrets are. You might be asked to fill out a questionnaire. You will definitely be watched to see how you react with and handle the ferrets. If you have any questions, no matter how silly they seem to you — ASK! You are there to learn first and to select a ferret second. If you are not the right type of person for ferrets, you will be told so and why. Possibly, the right ferret for you may not be at the shelter right now, but you could be put on a list and when the right pet comes in, you will be called. When you are matched with the right ferret, you will have to sign an adoption contract. Expect a phone call after adoption or a follow-up card or visit.


Older ferrets are already full sized, so you will know what holes they will and will not be able to fit into for ferret proofing. Older ferrets will still be playful, much like kittens. They don’t really slow down until 5 years or so. Older ferrets are more willing to be held than kits, and do not view fingers as treats to nibble on. Older ferrets can still be taught tricks — no ferret is ever too old to learn! If you are not careful, they will teach you a trick or two as well.

To put adult ferrets in the proper perspective, let me relate this story as my closing:

I knew a woman who had always taken in other people’s pets. She had owned ferrets for over eight years, and still had several ferrets in her household. She contacted me as a breeder because she wanted her first ferret kit. I knew her reputation for always putting the animals first in her home, and they always received the best of care. I was delighted to sell her a baby ferret. She called me a week after picking up her new ferret. “I never knew they were this much work! This ferret has so much energy! It is getting into EVERYTHING! I can’t keep up with it — when will it slow down? Don’t get me wrong, I love her, but I really was not prepared for this. I’ll never get a kit again!”

Authored by Pamela E. Troutman.  Original article published 1998 in Critters USA magazine and 2000 on The Pet Project website. The article has been modified slightly for its appearance here. Article Copyright Pamela E. Troutman, Used with Permission.

At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to locating a pet, protecting your pet’s well-being and health, and maximizing your pet’s quality of life. If you have an interest in pet ownership that goes beyond pet ferrets, check out Pet Adoption & Rescue. If you already own a pet, whether a pet ferret or another type of pet, you may be especially interested in Pet Care & Pet Health and, for ferret pet supplies, Pet Products & Supplies.

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