Ferrets have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, but for most of this time they have been kept as utility animals, rather than as pets. They have been used to hunt rabbits and rodents in Ireland for centuries, for pest control as well as for “sport”.
Ferrets originally came from the Mediterranean area, being introduced across northern Europe by Roman Empire expanded. Most people who are not used to ferrets find them frightening. They have long, slinky, snake-like bodies and rat-like heads with small eyes and sharp front teeth. Everyone worries about being bitten, but the truth is that a typical ferret is no more likely to bite you than an average dog. Of course there is a risk of being bitten, but it’s only a small risk, and it’s only likely to happen if you handle the ferret inappropriately, perhaps accidentally hurting them or giving them a fright. Most ferrets have no interest in nibbling on human skin.
In Ireland until recently, ferrets were only kept as hunters. They were trained for this, learning to go into burrows in search of rabbits and rats. Their handlers set up nets at the exits to the burrow, catching their prey as they rush out to escape the ferret. Nowadays hunting ferrets wear radio-emitting collars, so that if they go missing, their handlers can pinpoint their location underground so that they can be retrieved. But even then, the popularity of ferrets as hunters has waned.
It’s only in the past twenty years that ferrets have been popular as pets in this country. They are still just a minority interest pet, but people who have them tend to be very enthusiastic. Ferrets are small, easy to look after and they have very entertaining personalities. If you are looking for pets that are different, then it’s well worth while considering a pair of ferrets.
Many people expect ferrets to have a strong, rat-like smell, but if male ferrets are neutered when young, and if their bedding is changed regularly, there’s hardly any noticeable odour.
Ferrets tend to be healthy pets, as long as they are kept in the right sort of environment, with the correct type of diet. A vaccine against Distemper is recommended if they are going to be out and about at all, but most ferrets are kept in their owner’s home, in isolation, so the risk is low.
Jordan, with his sisters Kim and Leigh, started out with two ferrets over a decade ago, and they have enjoyed looking after them. But Rolo arrived into their lives nearly seven years ago in a random way: one rainy evening, they opened the front door, and there he was, sitting on the front doormat, looking up at them. He was obviously a friendly creature who was used to being handled, allowing them to pick him up and pet him. They had no choice: they could hardly ignore him. So they took him in, and he joined their other two pets as part of their “ferret family”.
Jordan’s family lives in an area that’s a long way from any other dwellings. So the big question was: where had Rolo have come from? Ferrets don’t generally roam around the countryside, travelling from house to house. And it would be a bizarre coincidence for a ferret to randomly turn up on the doorstep of a family that already owned two ferrets.
Jordan’s best guess is that somebody had taken on Rolo as pet when he was a youngster, and that as he had grown older, they had realised that he’d need to be neutered. This can be a pricey enough operation (over a hundred euro) and they may have decide that enough was enough. They may have wanted a new home for him, and using a bizarre type of logic, where better than a local family who already owned two ferrets? The truth is that there are animal rescue groups that are able to take rescued ferrets in, and this would be a far safer, kinder option
The family, of course, felt that they couldn’t turn Rolo away. They took him in, they had him checked by the vet, and they had him neutered. He settled in well with their original two ferrets, and when they passed away from old age, Rolo was left as the only remaining resident ferret. He lives in a hutch outside, cloaked with insulating duvets in cold weather, and they often bring him indoors to play. He gets on well with their dogs and cats, and has become well known in their household as a charming and comical character.
Rolo rarely needs to visit the vet: his only health issue has been his nails, which need to be clipped regularly to stop them from becoming too long and sharp. Jordan has learned how to do this himself: Rolo doesn’t like being held still for long, but he puts up with it.
He’s now an elderly ferret: a typical life span is 7 to 10 years. Older ferrets are prone to problems with the adrenal glands and the pancreas, including cancer. If they do fall ill, investigations and treatments can be carried out just as they are with dogs and cats. Again, the price of these workups sometimes puts people off, but if you want the best for your ferret, there’s no easy, cheap way to look after them. Owning a pet involves a financial commitment, whether it’s a dog, a cat or a ferret.
In any case, Rolo is in great form at the moment, with no sign of any illnesses. Long may his good health continue!