Your Ferret, a Lifetime’s Commitment of Care
First Things First!
The purpose of this publication is to acquaint you with some of the costs of owning a ferret. It is not meant to take the place of a good reference book on ferret care or your veterinarian’s advice. Before making a decision to get a ferret, you should make an honest appraisal of your own lifestyle and personality. Ferrets are rather unique animals and some people find them adorable in the store, or at a friend’s, but then find that they are not compatible after all. MaFF strongly recommends that you first learn as much about general ferret care and personality as possible. So, to start with, you can expect to spend between $15 and $25 for each book you buy about ferret care. Some titles we can recommend are: A Practical Guide to Ferret Care by Deborah Jeans (Ferret Care: 1-800-988-0988), The Pet Ferret Owner's Manual by Judith A. Bell, DVM, and The Ferret Owners Manual by Dick and Joan Bossart (4 L'il Paws Ferret Shelter, 1 Blair Road, Merrimac, NH 03054). Others we can recommend include the ferret care books by Wendy Winsted, and by E. Lynn Morton. Another excellent source of ferret information (and fun and products!), is Modern Ferret magazine (PO Box 338, Massapequa Park, NY 11762). Modern Ferret is also available via first class mail in a plain wrapper in the US (for subscribers who live in areas where ferrets are not yet legal.) Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Free Stuff
We highly recommend that you visit the Website called Ferret Central. There you should obtain a document known as the Ferret FAQ ( Frequently Asked Questions). This is a rich resource on ferret care and personality and is available free from the folks at Ferret Central. There are many, many other resources linked to Ferret Central as well–chat rooms, forums, personal pages, vendors, information and literature, even veterinary information. Take a look!
Yet another source of good information on ferrets via the Internet is the Ferret Mailing List (or FML), which is a daily mailing containing postings from ferret owners all over the world. The FML is free, and you can subscribe to it by sending an email message to its moderator, Bill Gruber, email@example.com, or you can subscribe automatically by sending an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following command in the body of the email message "SUBSCRIBE FERRET "
MaFF would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Karen Purcell, DVM. This publication on the costs of ferret care is intended as an aid in your decision to buy or adopt a ferret. All the costs described here are based on MaFF’s and Dr. Purcell’s experience with the general costs you may expect to see associated with your ferret throughout its life and the prices are based in general on New York and New England area prices and veterinary fees. Prices will vary among animal hospitals, so whenever there is a question, we urge you to discuss treatments and costs with your veterinarian ahead of time, and be aware that some veterinary practices can suggest sources for funds or assistance. If a procedure or treatment seems particularly expensive and your resources cannot cover the costs in the near term, we suggest that you discuss the possibility of a payment plan with your veterinarian rather than delay or forego any particular treatment.
General Expenses in Ferret Care
Before you even bring your ferret home, you can expect a few expenses to arise. In the process of examining and possibly modifying your home and/or furnishings to remove possible ferret hazards (often referred to as “ferret-proofing”), you will probably incur some costs. MaFF recommends that you learn as much as you can about ferret care before you even consider getting a ferret. There is good advice to be had regarding what modifications may be needed in order to make your home safe for ferrets.
Of course, unless you are given the pet, you can expect your ferret to cost something! Adoption is probably the least expensive way to get a ferret and has the added benefit of giving a loving home to an animal who really needs you. See MaFF’s publication titled So, You’re Planning to Adopt (or Foster) a Ferret! for more information on the “Adoption Option” as well as foster care. Adoption fees vary from shelter to shelter, but will probably average about $50 to $75. If you purchase a ferret at a pet store, you can expect to pay anywhere from about $50 to $350 for your pet. Purchase from a private breeder is also an option, but MaFF does not make specific recommendations of breeders. We suggest that you talk to other ferret owners, call a veterinarian, or check the Internet.
Basic (essential!) items you will have to purchase for your ferret include:
- A good cage (see your ferret care book, or consult a veterinarian or other ferret owners for details and advice). Suitable ferret cages range in price from about $85 to $200, and up for custom cages.
- Litter boxes and “kitty litter” (non-clumping). Litter boxes and kitty litter can be purchased from a grocery or pet store for just a few dollars. You will probably need more than one litter box, as your will be placing them in both your pet’s cage and in a few strategic corners in your home. We can recommend the following litters for ferrets: Bioflush (about $8 for a 10-lb. bag), Yesterday’s News (pellets made from recycled newspapers, at about $20 for a 26-lb. bag), Stove Chow Wood Pellets (about $4.00 for a 40-lb. bag), Johnny Cat ($2 to $4 / 10-lb. bag), Ferret Litter (made from newspapers by Petco, at about $10 for an 8-lb. bag), or Care Fresh (also made from newspapers, at about $15 for a 50-lb. bag).
- Water bottles (cat/guinea pig/ferret water bottles that hang on the side of the cage work far better than a dish for ferrets!) Pet water bottles cost between $4 and $15. We recommend attaching two water bottles to your pet's permanent cage, so there is always a backup bottle, since occasionally the bottles can have flow problems.
- Heavy food dish (or one that attaches to the side of the cage itself is even better). Separate food dishes can be purchased at your grocery or pet stores for just a few dollars. Some of the attaching ones can run to about $10 each, but are a good investment. Some ferret owners use two or three food dishes, with a variety of foods in them.
- Bedding materials (old shirts of flannel or cotton, sweats, tee-shirts and towels work well, although terrycloth must be monitored and removed at any sign of unraveling). “Retired” items from your own home are probably your best bet, and will probably be your pet’s most inexpensive need, short of water!
- A pet carrier for transporting your ferret to the veterinarian, or other places out of your home. A small-animal size carrier usually costs between $10 and $30. This item is essential for the safe transport of your ferret. Never carry a ferret loose in your car unless it is absolutely necessary (such as accident or dire emergency) and the carrier is not the driver!
- Collars / harnesses / leashes. We recommend that you accustom your ferret to wearing a harness (rather than a collar, which they are quite adept at getting out of), and that you also get a leash. MaFF requires that all ferrets be on leashes for admission to our events, and you will find a harness and leash indispensable when you take your ferret out for a stroll, or remove it from a carrier for any reason when you are out in the open. Harness and leash combinations are available at pet stores for about $10 to $20.
- Food! Consider a good-quality food for your ferret. Ordinary grocery-store cat foods are not the best for your ferret, because they were formulated for cats, not ferrets, and ferrets have very specific nutritional needs different from other species. There are more foods formulated specially for a ferret's dietary needs coming onto the market all the time. MaFF can recommend the following brands: Totally Ferret (about $50 for a 20-lb. bag; $16 for a 5-lb. bag), Iams Kitten (about $8 for a 4-lb. bag; $15 for an 8-lb. bag; $30 for a 20-lb. bag), Science Diet Growth (about $8.50 for a 4-lb bag; $20 for a 10-lb. bag), Ultrablend (about $9 for a 4-lb. bag; $18 for a 10-lb. bag), 8-in-1 Ferret Food (about $6 for a 2-lb. bag), Kaytee Ferret Food (about $7 for a 3-lb. bag; $13 for a 5-lb. bag; $50 for a 25-lb. bag), and Shepherd & Green Ferret Food (about $13 for a 5-lb. bag). A 20-lb. bag of ferret food will generally feed 5 ferrets for up to 3 months. Many of the premium ferret foods can be rather expensive, so some ferret owners mix the more expensive brands with high-quality kitten foods such as Iams.
Other ferret maintenance items required include:
- Pet Nail Clippers. You will need to get a pair of pet nail-clippers (clippers for bird’s nails work just fine). The cost for these averages to about $5 and they last for years. Nail trimming is recommended once a week or so. See your ferret care books for advice and techniques.
- Furball Medication. You will need to have a tube of hairball remedy (laxative), such as for cats. Check your ferret care books for dosage, or talk to your veterinarian. We can recommend Laxatone or Petromalt, at a cost of about $3 to $6 per tube, which lasts 4 to 6 months of dosing, even with multiple ferrets. Of course, a hairball remedy will be used up more quickly if dosing is daily for a time, as during the shedding season.
- Ear Cleaning Supplies. Some people clean their ferret’s ears on a regular basis. Others do it only infrequently. Check your ferret care books and with your veterinarian for advice on how to clean and how often. Ear cleanings can be done with a simple combination of Q-Tips dampened with warm water. Special ear cleaning solutions are available, but are not really necessary for healthy animals. One such solution, called Oticlens, costs between $3 and $6 a bottle, and can last a single ferret from 6 to 12 months with twice-weekly cleanings.
- Vitamins / Coat and Skin Supplements. There are a few ferret vitamin and nutritional supplements available in well-stocked pet stores. Consider Ferretone (a vitamin / coat supplement that comes in a squeeze bottle at about $11 for a 6 oz. bottle), FerretCoat (about $7 for an 8 oz. bottle), FerretVite (a vitamin and calorie supplement paste that comes in a tube for about $5 or $6 for a 4.25 oz. tube), and/or VitaSol (about $4 for a 4 oz. bottle). These make great treats, too, for most ferrets, but should be carefully dosed. Some ferret owners cut the vitamin oils in a 2 to 1 ratio: 2 parts plain peanut or olive oil to one part vitamin oil, to prevent overdosing and to reduce cost per dose.
- Bathing Supplies. Some people bathe their ferrets regularly. Others bathe them only rarely, or if the need should arise. Bathing is a matter of personal preference. You should not bathe your ferret too often, because skin and odor problems can actually be exacerbated by this. Occasional bathing (no more than once a month) should be fine. Special ferret shampoos and conditioners are available with costs ranging from just a few dollars to $10 and more per bottle. Check your pet store or mail order source for prices.
- Teeth Cleaning Supplies. You can get little tooth brushes that fit on the end of your finger and pet toothpaste at a well-stocked pet store, but the corner of a soft, dampened cloth works fine. Pet toothpaste costs about $4 to $7 per tube and should last for some time. Only if you are well-practiced or trained by an experienced person should you consider scaling your ferret's teeth. Your veterinarian can perform this procedure for you and you can expect to pay between $50 and $100. Frequency of this procedure normally varies from annually to once every 3 years, and depends on the condition of each individual animal's dental health. Your veterinarian will advise you.
- Treats. There are many new ferret treats coming onto the market now. Just because a treat is marked as “for ferrets”, it does not mean your ferret will like it! Ferrets are very individual in their tastes and some will refuse nearly every treat you bring home. Be patient and try different things. And, be sparing in the giving of treats. We find that many of them contain lots of sugar or wheat flour, etc., and are not very nutritionally sound. Many treats are available to you at the grocery store! Raisins, bananas, dried apricots, and other items make good treats. Read your ferret care books about treats, and, again, be sparing with them!
- Toys. Scan the shelves in a well-stocked pet store with a section devoted to ferrets and you will see an ever-growing assortment of toys. More and more ferret toys are now also becoming available through mail order or via the Internet. You can spend a lot on toys and accessories or you can spend a little. MaFF cautions all ferret owners to examine ferret toys, bedding, and accessories very carefully. We find that some items, despite being specifically marked for ferrets on the packaging, are completely unsuitable for them. Cost bears no relationship to the suitability (or “fun factor”) of a ferret toy. This is one case where reading your ferret care books is very important. The more you know about ferret behavior and personality, the better you will be able to make your own evaluation of toys. In addition, we have seen variation in ferret behaviors and response to toys. Some toys are harmless to some ferrets, but can become a hazard for others. When it comes to toys, you may be able to come up with most of them on your own at very little cost. An empty shoe box, a paper bag, the legs cut from an old pair of trousers, even a simple dish towel, can make excellent ferret toys! It’s a well-worn ferret joke that goes, “I bought my ferret the greatest (read: most expensive!) toy, and all he wanted to do was play with the box it came in!” Know your ferret. Watch your ferret. And monitor all toys for replacement at the slightest sign of damage or hazard.
- Miscellaneous. There are any number of other items which you may need during your ferret's lifetime. One of these is “Duck Soup”, which is a blend of foods, supplements (usually Nutrical or Sustecal, which are liquid food supplements for humans), and Pedialyte (a water and electrolyte solution for infants recovering from diarrhea), fed to convalescing ferrets. You mix this yourself, and the recipe is available now in some of the ferret care books, as well as from Ferret Central on the Internet. Other needs may include specially formulated medications and prescriptions from the veterinarian for various conditions ranging from skin problems to cancers or heart problems. Antibiotics are also prescribed for infections or diarrhea, etc. All of these costs will have to be dealt with as they arise and cannot be predicted. They can come up quite suddenly and unexpectedly, or be carried on for long periods of time. This is one important reason for our recommendation that you maintain an emergency fund for your ferret's care.
Many dog and cat medications may be used with ferrets. However, some are dangerous. Always read the label carefully and ask someone experienced in ferret care before trying a product not specifically made for ferrets.
Heartworm Meds Can Be Deadly! Please take a minute to click on the link and read about the deadly effects one particular heartworm medication has had on some pets, particularly dogs. If you are giving or considering giving heartworm medication to your ferret, we would suggest that you print the article and bring it to your vet. http://cbs4boston.com/reports/local_story_061205218.html
Your Ferret’s Office Visit. Normally, if you bring your pet in for its first visit, such as in the case of an adoption or purchase, you can expect to pay a basic office visit fee of between $20 and $45. This basic fee will also apply to each regularly scheduled veterinary visit throughout your ferret's life and additional medications or treatments performed during a visit will be added to this cost. Some vets charge more for exotic office visits and a ferret is often classified as an exotic pet. MaFF recommends that you find a veterinarian by referral, by talking to other ferret owners or by calling to find a veterinarian experienced in ferrets specifically.
Ferret Vaccinations–Rabies and Distemper. Each instance of a ferret distemper vaccine will range in price from $8 to as much as $22. Ferret rabies vaccinations also fall into the same price range. All ferrets need to be vaccinated against both distemper and rabies, so expect to receive both. Once the initial series is completed when a ferret is a baby or comes to you with an unknown history, these vaccinations are performed annually. Some veterinarians will also include an antihistamine medication (either by mouth or injected) to forestall possible reactions to these vaccinations when they are administered. You should expect to wait a minimum of half an hour at the veterinarian’s office following these vaccinations to make sure that your pet does not experience any adverse reactions. Also, be aware that just because a ferret did not have a reaction to last year's vaccination, does not necessarily indicate that a reaction will not occur this time!
Ferret Emergencies. Emergency care for your ferret can run to hundreds of dollars. Your best preventative is to be watchful of your ferret's health. Have your ferret seen by a veterinarian regularly and read all you can about ferret care and personality. If your ferret should need a hospital stay for observation, post-operative care, or intensive care, the costs can add up very quickly. MaFF recommends that you maintain an “emergency fund” for your ferret in the amount of $500 minimum ($1,000 is better). A sudden emergency trip to a clinic or hospital, followed by emergency surgery, intensive care, post-operative care, treatments, medications - all this can easily reach $1,200 within a few days. So, if you want to avoid having to make a heart breaking decision forced by economics alone, an emergency fund is your best protection.
Ferret Surgeries. Ferrets will encounter a need for a surgery probably at least once in their lifetime of 7 to 10 years. Some ferrets will undergo two major surgeries. Except for a few basic procedures, some of the surgeries listed below are for conditions that appear to be relatively common in ferrets and which breeders are working on breeding out of American pet ferrets. In the meantime, however, you should be aware of the fact that your ferret will probably encounter one or more of these conditions during its lifetime. Note that some veterinarians charge extra for surgery on exotics, so it makes sense to talk over these possible surgeries with your veterinarian even before they are needed to ensure that you will be informed should the occasion arise.
Common and Basic Procedures
Neuter / Spay. Of course, if your ferret was acquired from a pet store, or from a shelter, you should be aware of whether the ferret has been neutered or spayed (fixed) before you bring it home. Most pet store ferrets have already been neutered or spayed at a very early age. For a ferret spay of a female (not in heat), expect to pay between $80 and $150. It is very important that you have any female ferret spayed unless you are a licensed breeder. This is because the females MUST be spayed, or they can die of numerous complications (infections, aplastic anemia) associated with remaining in heat too long without either being bred or receiving hormone injections to bring them out of it. They do not spontaneously come out of this state. Occasionally, too, a spay is not complete, or an animal might have been accidentally skipped during a breeder’s spay procedure, so you should still read the sections in a reliable ferret-care book on what to look for when a female is going into heat. Sometimes, the female heat symptoms can be indicative of other conditions, so it is good in any case to know these signs, and to be able to describe them as such to your veterinarian if you should observe them.
For a ferret neuter, you can expect to pay between $45 and $120. Unneutered male ferrets can present some problems of odor and/or behavior, so it is highly recommended that your male ferret be neutered unless you are a licensed breeder. Occasionally, there can be slightly more involved procedures required. Occasionally, a male ferret will have a condition called Cryptorchid (where one or both testicles is still in the abdomen and has not descended). If this is the case with your ferret, you can expect to pay between $75 and $120 for the neuter procedure.
De-scenting. Many ferrets are de-scented in addition to having been neutered by the time they appear in a pet store. Others may come to you (from a breeder or adopted) having never been de-scented. It is a matter of personal choice to have your ferret de-scented. A ferret does not need this procedure in the sense that a skunk would need it. De-scenting is not absolutely necessary and MaFF notes that it can be avoided unless medically indicated. For some owners, it enhances the companion quality of the animal, but be aware that de-scenting is surgery and as such does carry some risk, including fecal incontinence. To have your ferret de-scented, you can expect to pay between $100 and $200. Again, often this procedure has already taken place at a breeder’s. Unusual odor or onset of a scent that has not been present before may be an indication of a serious condition, so if your ferret has been de-scented and has had no history of odor problems, but suddenly acquires an unfamiliar odor, you should check with your veterinarian.
Adrenal Tumors. These are relatively common in older ferrets, so you can expect that your little pet is likely to undergo this procedure during its lifetime. An Adrenalectomy (unilateral or bilateral) costs between $100 and $900. Check with your veterinarian on the likelihood of this procedure and what the charges might be. Part of the diagnostic procedure for determining if a ferret has adrenal problems is a blood test referred to as the Tennessee Adrenal Panel. For this test, you can expect to pay between $60 and $120.
Insulinoma. This is yet another common condition in older ferrets. Insulinoma surgery can cost between $100 and $500. Some veterinarians manage insulinoma medically (medication is given throughout the animal's life) rather than surgically. Talk to your veterinarian about the costs for a long-term prescription.
Yet another blood test, often given when there is a suspected insulinoma (a condition which causes persistent low blood sugar), is the blood glucose value. Per test, you can expect to pay between $8 and $20 for this screening.
Routine Blood Testing. Often to help with a diagnosis or to monitor a ferret’s general health, blood testing can be of help. For a routine CBC / chemistry panel blood test for your ferret, you can expect to pay between $35 and $80.
The Rainbow Bridge
In the ferret community, the loss of a pet has come to be referred to as “crossing the Rainbow Bridge”, after the title of an anonymous poem about pet loss. Your ferret may reach a stage where, in consultation with your veterinarian, it is decided that humane euthanasia (putting the pet to sleep) is the best course of action. For euthanizing a ferret, the cost is generally rather low–usually no more than about $25 on average. When your ferret crosses the Rainbow Bridge, you can, of course, simply bury your pet in a special place of your own choosing. If your ferret dies at the veterinarian's or in hospital, leaving the ferret with the veterinarian is one option or you may take your ferret home and bury it on your own. Burial and cremation services are also available for pet ferrets.
If you choose individual cremation, be aware that it takes a few weeks to get the ashes back. Costs can range from about $35 to $125 for cremation of a ferret-size animal–this cost is based on what your little fuzzy weighs. Urns to contain the ashes are at an additional cost, ranging anywhere from $7 up to $90, depending on what materials the urn is made of. Alternatively, you can simply receive the ashes and scatter them as you wish, or place them in an urn or container of your own. Ashes come carefully packed and are not difficult to handle. You can have the ashes shipped to you via UPS, or you can pick them up personally. Some pet crematories will permit you one or two small fabric or paper items to be cremated with your ferret, so if you want to write a special little note to your fuzzy, or wrap them in a favorite blanket, that can be arranged.
Private burial at a pet cemetery is also an option. Costs for a private burial begin with caskets which start at about $70, and the basic fee for a small plot ranges from about $300 to $500. Plaques of granite, cast aluminum or bronze are available with lettering and even an option to include a photo image of your pet. Metal plaques can be mounted on concrete or granite, with or without a little attached bronze or aluminum vase for flowers. The cost for plaques ranges from $90 to $180 and up for bronze mounted on granite, for example. Care of the plot falls under "annual" or "perpetual" care, for an additional fee. In general, private burial in a pet cemetery costs an average of about $600 altogether.
The MaFF would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Mitch Selnick, President and Director of the Pet Memorial Park, Foxboro, for his help in compiling this information. Private burial and individual cremations are offered at the Pet Memorial Park (with offices open on weekdays, and voice messaging available 24 hours at 1-800-477-5044). It is suggested that you call for more details. Thanks also to Angel View Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Middleboro (1-800-287-0066) for providing additional information. MaFF suggests that you check with your veterinarian for referrals or call and compare services. Look in the yellow pages under pet cemeteries or cremation and/or burial services for what is available in your area. One small piece of advice: get clear directions when it comes time to bring your pet in, because you won’t feel like stopping to look at a map. Always call first to find out about costs and options.