The Skinny on Rats and Ferrets

The Skinny on Rats and Ferrets

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 by hannah



Ferret Basics

Ferrets make good pets for people who want a small, quiet and playful animal that is very responsive and loving toward its owner. Ferrets do require behavioral and litter training, lots of attention and high quality food. Because of their small size and curiosity, ferrets can get into everything and make quite a mess. Ferrets also live up to their name, which comes from Latin, meaning “little furry thief” — they have been known to steal keys, wallets, and socks and hide them.

Ferrets generally live seven to nine years. They can be trained to use a litter box, come when called, and other tricks.

As with any pet, people should read up on what ferrets are like and how to care for them before making a decision to get one. The Internet is an excellent source for learning about ferrets. One site that is very helpful is Ferret Central at

Ferret Environments

Ferrets are not cage animals. They need to be able to run around, explore, play, and interact with you everyday. Owners must ferret-proof each room in which the ferrets are allowed, to keep their pets from escaping and to remove any hazards that could injure the ferret. Most owners find that caging ferrets when they are away or sleeping helps to keep their animals safe and out of trouble. A cage provides a safe and secure “bedroom” for the ferret.

However, keeping ferrets caged for days at a time without outside playtime will have a bad effect on their health and temperament. Ferret cages must be large enough for each animal to stretch, roll around, and stand up on its hind legs, and to keep the eating, sleeping, and litter box areas well separated.


Ferrets have a slight musky odor. Frequent bathing, however, is not recommended and will actually stimulate the production of a strong musky scent, some owners bathe their ferrets once every 4-6 months unless otherwise needed. Ferret owners can reduce odors by cleaning litter boxes daily. Providing clean bedding and high quality food, and keeping the ferret’s ears clean.

Things You'll Need When You Adopt a Ferret

  • A good cage
  • Litter boxes. We recommend using recycled newspaper pellets or wood stove pellets for litter
  • Water bottle
  • Heavy food dishes or the type that will lock onto the cage. Ferrets like to rearrange their cage and dump over food dishes sometimes.
  • Bedding material, such as tee shirts, sweatshirts, and flannel baby blankets. Ferrets love hammocks and fleece sleep sacks that can be made or purchased at most pet stores.
  • Pet carrier for transporting to the vet or other places outside the home


Ferrets need a diet high in protein and fat. Read the labels of the food you plan to purchase. High quality KITTEN foods can be used because they have a high protein and fat content. Some recommended foods for ferrets are: Totally Ferret, Iams Kitten, Eukanuba Kitten, and 8 in 1 Ultimate.

Ferret Fun Facts

  • Ferrets became legal to own as pets in Massachusetts on March 7, 1996. The law requires owners to spay/neuter their pets and keep them current on their vaccinations for canine distemper and rabies.
  • Ferrets are domesticated animals and, therefore, cannot survive in the wild. They are totally dependent on humans for their survival.
  • Many Europeans used ferrets to flush rabbits from their warrens into hunters’ snares. European immigrants brought the same practice to the United States and it had a devastating effect on native rabbit populations and the wild carnivores that depended on the rabbits for food. In order to halt “ferreting,” Massachusetts and other states banned individual ownership of ferrets shortly after World War I.
  • Ferrets continued to be used for ratting aboard ships until the introduction of chemical poisons during World War II. They were also used in the aerospace industry to run electrical wiring through airplanes, in the fur trade, and as laboratory animals.
  • Ferrets only became popular as pets in the United States in the 1970s. When a rabies vaccine was proven to be effective for ferrets in 1990, many states in which ferrets were previously banned changed their laws at the urging of responsible ferret owners and veterinarians.


Rat Care and Adoption


The RAT Review

Rats are very intelligent and very friendly animals. Many people are afraid of rats, mainly because rats are often portrayed in a dim light in literature and movies. However, domestic rats are clean, friendly, and very social.

Rats interact beautifully with people. They love to be held, petted, and loved. Rats have a great deal of fun climbing up on people’s shoulders and arms. If you are looking for a small mammal that will want to spend time with you, rats are a wonderful choice!

The Rat’s Domain

Rats require a good size cage to live in. It is best to have a wire cage that has more than one level to it. Rats love to climb and explore, so two or three levels is perfect for a single rat. The best type of cage is a wire cage because it provides plenty of ventilation and allows your rat to see out of the cage clearly.

The only thing to be careful of with a wire cage is the ramps leading to the other levels. Rats can get their legs caught in the wiring on the ramps. To prevent this from happening, place cardboard strips or paper towels on the ramps. In any case, make sure the padding on the ramps can be removed in case it gets dirty.

Don’t house your rat in a glass aquarium- they don’t provide enough ventilation. Also, feces and urine can get caught on the glass, and if the glass is not cleaned on a regular basis, this build up can lead to infections in your rat. Never house your rat in a habitrail (plastic house with tubes). Habitrails are not designed to house rats and do not provide enough ventilation. There are not enough openings in the tubes or in the base to provide proper airflow.

Also, rats are just too large for them and they can easily escape from a habitrail by chewing through the plastic. Habitrails are also too hard to clean — urine and feces build up in the tubes, making it difficult to clean the tubes properly. 

Rat Recreation

Rats like to make nests to sleep in, so you should provide many different textures for your rat to nest in. Rats like to sleep in hay, shredded paper, tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, and ripped up pieces of cloth. They also like hideaways to make their nests in. Some fun things are: wooden boxes, empty oatmeal containers, shoeboxes, empty tissue containers, wicker baskets (not treated with dyes, glues, or chemicals), cardboard tubes or empty cardboard cracker boxes.

Rats are also wonderful tight rope walkers, so if you can tie a piece of rope across the top of your rat’s cage they will use it to climb on.

NEVER offer a hamster exercise wheel to your rat. His long tail can get caught in the wheel and get injured.

The best way to set up your rat’s cage with these materials is to layer the bottom part of the cage with newspaper and then add hay, shredded paper, fun toys, and houses.

NEVER use cedar shavings because they will cause liver disease or respiratory problems in any small mammal. It is also best to avoid pine shavings because they contain a high level of oils that can cause skin problems. If at all possible, avoid all shavings.


Rats do not require any inoculations from the vet, so the most critical way to keep them healthy is to keep their cage clean. Rats produce a lot of feces and urine so it is necessary to clean their cage every day. Improper cleaning can cause medical problems for your rat. A build up of feces or urine can cause infections in your rat. Remember, cleaning is one of the most important things you can do for your rat and once you get your system down it will only take you a few minutes a day.

Rat Food

The best kind of food to feed your rat is rat blocks. They are found in most pet supply stores. The rat block is good because your rat will get 100% nutrition with every bite that it takes. This is important since rats will pick and choose what they want to eat if you offer a dried fruit mix, which can lead to health issues. It is also important to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to your rat. This diet will provide your rat with the proper vitamins and minerals it needs.

Some good treats for rats are: tomatoes, strawberries, apples (no seeds, they contain arsenic), bananas, romaine lettuce, papaya, mango, kiwi fruit, pineapple, raisins, grapes, carrots, and coarse cut oatmeal. Timothy hay is also important for your rat. Timothy hay keeps a rat’s digestive system working smoothly, as well as the rest of its body. Make sure that you have plenty of timothy hay available at all times for your rat. Your rat will find hay a wonderful bedding as well.

Holding your Rat

It is important to handle your rat for at least a half hour each day. Consistent handling will make your rat a lot more responsive to people, and it will give them added exercise away from their cage.

NEVER hold a rat by its tail because it can injure the rat. Pick the rat up securely by the body or by cupping your hands and scooping it up. You will quickly learn that your rat loves to be held and will greet you at the cage door in the hopes of being held.