Most people are aware that pet ferrets live until somewhere between 5 and 10 years of age. When you think about it, 5 years is a serious margin for an animal that lives so few years. That’s double its life!
The reason for this is that there are many factors impacting a ferret’s longevity. Some of it is due to genetics, but how you care for the animal also plays a big part in its life expectancy.
So, how can we determine how long our ferrets will live? More importantly, how can we ensure they will live a long and happy life?
Determining a ferret’s life expectancy
Neutered too early
If you have decided to get your ferret from a pet store rather than directly from a breeder, your dooker could have been de-sexed a little too early.
Ferrets reach sexual maturity at 4 months, and many people assume that they can be safely neutered shortly after that. This is not really so.
In the case of pet stores, usually, a ferret would have been neutered before it has even entered the store (which happens at around 6 months). Many of the developmental hormones that ferrets need to build a strong immune system may be missing.
Most good breeders spay their ferrets only when the animals have reached their first year. The ferrets are given time to develop.
Similar to humans, “sexual maturity” in ferrets does not mean the end of their development. We reach that stage at around 13-14 years of age, but our bodies grow further after that. Something similar happens to our pets.
If you have the option, you could opt not to get a ferret from a pet store. Just make sure that you are dealing with a competent breeder. How a ferret has been bred can also affect its lifespan and the strength of its immune system.
With breeders, you can also inquire about a ferret’s parents and their genetic make-up.
Genetics and breeding
Ferrets’ longevity is highly dependent upon their genetics. If you have a rough idea of how long a ferret’s parents have or will live, you’d know what to expect of the said ferret.
Many genetic illnesses could have been passed down also, including any immunodeficiencies. Ferrets often suffer from those as a result of their lineage. This can significantly shorten their lives.
Furthermore, healthy ferrets bred improperly can produce offspring with those genetic disorders. If the ferret has been made through inbreeding, there’s a chance that its immune system will be weaker. On top of that, if the ferret parents have been made to breed during winter through light manipulation, their kits could have some life-shortening issues.
Such ferrets are, consequently, more susceptible to non-genetic illnesses as well.
Female ferrets may die at an earlier age
Due to how ferrets’ bodies function, female ferrets are actually at a greater risk. How they are kept and treated may be the difference between normal, 6-7 year-long life, or very early death.
The problem is that if they have not been neutered, their bodies will produce and hold estrogen. The build-up of this chemical can result in a serious illness and even end in death.
In the wild, those hormones are released after the ferret has had sex. One good way to help a non-neutered pet ferret is to let her mate with a vasectomized male. She will not get pregnant, but her issue will be solved.
Female ferrets that stay in heat for too long will develop aplastic anemia by the first month. By the second month, your girl could have already died.
Aplastic anemia, amongst other things, messes with the production of red blood cells in the body. Internal bleeding can also occur with this disease, damning a ferret to a slow and painful (early) death.
This is an obstacle you’d have to help your girls overcome if you’d like them to have a longer life. Options to deal with this include, as mentioned above, neutering, vaccines which you can ask your vet about and, of course, some good old-fashioned mating.
Extending a ferret’s life expectancy
Ferrets lifespans are dependent upon their genes, though the quality of life can make a difference. A dooker with good genes who have been treated poorly and have suffered from many debilitating illnesses will be less likely to live longer than a ferret who has started worse off but has led a happy and healthy life.
So, here are a few of the things you’d want to keep in mind when caring for your ferret.
Vaccinations, health issues, and vet check-ups
Most health issues ferrets face are well-known and have easy treatments if caught in their early stages. That’s why you should do regular check-ups with your vet.
Ferrets enter their “midlife” and begin having midlife issues around the age of 3. Older ferrets should be examined by a veterinarian more often as they are more likely to get sick.
There are many serious illnesses ferrets can get, so make sure they are vaccinated as well. In a lot of cases, you will not only prevent them from dying but also ensure that they have an active lifestyle. This is essential to every long-living ferret.
Diet and lifestyle
Ferrets are, in short, energetic carnivores. A properly fed and exercised ferret is likely to live longer.
Ferrets feed on meat, they are sustained by animal proteins. Choose their food and their treats carefully. If you can, don’t pick a cheap cat or dog food. Some of those can be insufficient or even dangerous for ferrets.
Ferret needs an active lifestyle. They need to play and exercise to stay healthy and live longer. Take them out of their cage for at least 4 hours a day and play with them at that time.
Exercise is vital for a ferret’s mental health as well.
Death, relationships and mental health
It will certainly be a sad occasion when you have to part with a loving pet. However, you need to know that you may not be the only one weeping for the loss. If you have multiple ferrets and one of them dies, the others may begin mourning the passed.
Try cheering them up. Distract them and play with them more. Don’t let their mental health deteriorate. They can become sickly, sluggish, or stop eating. This will shorten their lives, as well.
Another way a ferret’s life may end is if it’s lonely. If, after death, you are left with only one ferret, consider getting another one or learning how to take care of a lone dooker.
A ferret’s life expectancy falls within a seemingly large margin, but that’s because it depends on almost every aspect of the pet’s life, from birth and genetics, through vet visits and physical ailments, to lifestyle and mental health.