By Michael Arbeiter
Just about any animal lover can tell you the average lifespan of your typical dog or cat, but the question gets a little murkier when it comes to ferrets. Though not quite as common to the American household, ferrets can nonetheless make just as wonderful pets as puppies and kittens do. This is especially true for families seeking a new four-legged companion that’s not quite as large as a Labrador and slightly more playful than a Persian. But anyone considering adopting a ferret should have a fair understanding of how long the jovial critter will be in his or her life.
How Long Do Ferrets Live?
Unfortunately, such information is a bit more difficult to nail down than it may be in the case of some other popular pets. “There are books out there that tell you that ferrets live for ten years, but that’s not happening anymore,” said L. Vanessa Gruden, executive director of the Ferret Association of Connecticut. According to Gruden, the lifespan of the modern American ferret is substantially shorter than that of its 1980s counterpart, which when the species, indigenous to Europe, first gained popularity in the United States.
When the ferret craze first took off in the United States, the only option for eager owners was to import their prospective critters from across the Atlantic. “Since [Europe is] where ferrets started out, that’s where they tend to live longer,” Gruden said. Today, domestic breeders are hardly unusual, though perhaps not the best source for healthy critters.
Vickie McKimmey, office manager of the American Ferret Association, stresses a similar inconsistency among ferrets. “[A ferret’s lifespan ranges] from five to nine years,” she said. “[It’s] a pretty large gap and it’s mainly because the ferrets in pet stores live on a shorter time frame, whereas if you get a ferret from a breeder … you get a longer age range.”
According to McKimmey, the lifespan difference between a ferret purchased from a breeder compared to a ferret purchased from a pet store may have to do with how early the ferret was spayed or neutered. “Ferrets in pet stores are fixed before they go into the pet store, so you’re looking at the ferrets being fixed at like five weeks of age, whereas a breeder will recommend you wait until a ferret is at least a year old. That way, it’s had all of its hormones fully developed,” she said.
Keeping Your Ferret Healthy
No matter where your ferret comes from, there are many things an owner can do to ensure that his or her pet will stay as healthy and happy as possible, including feeding your ferret quality, ferret-formulated food that is high in protein and keeping up with annual veterinary visits, vaccinations and diagnostic testing (blood and urine tests, x-rays, etc.) as recommended, Gruden said. Dental cleanings are also important to consider as your ferrets age, as they can be predisposed to dental disease, among other conditions (like adrenal disease and lymphoma), as they age.
Of course, emotional health is just as important for any animal as physical. Mental stimulation in the form of toys, interaction with people and interaction with other animals is key to keeping your ferret healthy, Gruden said. This includes supervised playtime and plenty of time out of their cages (at least four hours per day), according to McKimmey.
If you want to add one of these critters to your family (make sure it’s legal to do so before you do), there are options to ensure that you get a healthy animal and plenty of ways to keep it healthy throughout its life.