How Long Do Ferrets Live? A Guide To Ferret Lifespan

Last Updated : November 30, 2021
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This is one of the most common questions we get asked about ferrets.

It’s pretty obvious why.

A responsible owner needs to know how long of a commitment they’re signing up for when they bring one of these wonderful little animals home.

And while any animal lover can quickly tell you the average lifespan of a dog or cat, it’s not so clear-cut when it comes to ferrets.

These playful critters are far more mysterious. Just think that ferrets have been domesticated animals for over 2,500 years, yet they still don’t even have an emoji! 😕

And on top of that, they’re banned in several cities and countries (like New Zealand and New York City).

That’s not fair, and it’s one of the reasons we decided to write this post and shed some light on these fantastic, misunderstood pets.

So read on and find out all about a ferret’s average life expectancy.

You have the choice between two answers — a short one and a long one — feel free to pick the one suited to your interest level and amount of free time!

brown ferrets in front of white background

How Long Do Ferrets Live – The Short Answer

Domestic ferrets enjoy an average lifespan of around six to ten years.

But if your pet ferret is particularly longevous, they could make it to the ripe old age of fifteen.

We know it doesn’t sound like much when you compare it to the number of years dogs and cats live…

BUT it’s awe-inspiring if you consider that other small pets (like hamsters, gerbils, and rats) only live for a maximum of two to five years

Ferret Lifespan – The Long Answer (That New Ferret Owners Should Definitely Read)

You guessed it…

There’s a lot more to answering this question than just mentioning a number!

Many factors influence the age most ferrets can live to, including genetics, care, diet, lifestyle, and health issues.

Let’s discuss them.

Typical Lifespan and Breeding Factors (Pet Store vs. Breeders)

We’ve already mentioned that pet ferrets live between six to ten years on average, but we left out that their life expectancy depends heavily on where you got them from.

According to Vickie McKimmey of the American Ferret Association, the wide range in a ferret’s average lifespan is caused by a substantial difference between ferrets raised by specialized breeders and those sold in pet stores.

The former tend to live far longer than the latter.

Why?

Firstly, more careful breeding.

Secondly, they aren’t desexed prematurely.

Most ferrets destined for sale in a pet shop are neutered or spayed at a very young age before becoming sexually mature. This has health and developmental complications, and it’s not recommended by breeders or vets.

The ideal age is between eight and twelve months of age after their hormones are fully developed.

So before getting any young ferrets, make sure to ask your breeder or pet store if and when they were desexed!

Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) lying on a white background
Ferret (Mustela Putorius Furo)

Keeping Your Pet Ferrets Healthy

But no matter where you got your ferrets from, you need to take extra special care of them to ensure they live as long (and as happily) as possible.

What should you do?

Follow these five tips:

1. Ensure Proper Housing

Ferrets are adorably mischievous critters with a knack for:

  • Stealing small items,
  • Putting anything they can find in their mouths,
  • Hiding in nooks and crannies, and
  • Sleeping between 14 and 18 hours a day.

All four of these typical ferret behaviors explain why you need to get a proper cage.

Well-designed wire cages keep our little buddies out of harm’s way when we’re not looking and also provide them with a cozy place to lounge, nap, and sleep.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved (except your wallet, but luckily, it’s a one-off cost)!

We suggest you order the MidWest Ferret Nation or the YAHEETECH Small Animal Cage. Alternatively, you can drop by a local pet store and pick the best option with multiple levels.

Once you’ve brought a cage home, be sure to:

  1. Place it in a location that’s free from drafts and away from direct sunlight.
  2. Put one litter box in the cage, and several litter trays around the house, filling them with unscented cat litter or wood shavings. And yes, ferrets can be litter trained!
  3. Add some fun accessories like hammocks, a sleeping pod, and a bunch of toys.

And always remember that a happy, mentally stimulated ferret is a healthy animal that’ll live longer!

2. Feed Your Ferrets a Healthy Diet

Like humans and other popular pets, a healthy diet is paramount to a ferret’s health.

But what’s healthy for a ferret?

Since they descend from the European Polecat, they’re natural-born hunters and obligate carnivores.

Said in plain English, you need to feed your ferret friend a diet high in meat and protein.

What healthy ferret food options are widely available in most pet shops?

  1. Ferret-formulated food that contains all the nutrients they need (either wet or dry food)
  2. Live prey animals like rats and mice — not one for the faint-hearted!
  3. Premium cat or dog food that’s at least 36% protein (according to the American Ferret Association)
  4. Occasional treats like whole raw eggs (which they also enjoy breaking) and cooked meat/fish.

And what foods should you avoid?

  • Processed meats (like ham or salami)
  • Milk-based products (ferrets are lactose intolerant)

Important note:

Don’t forget that healthy ferrets eat constantly because they have a fast metabolism and short digestive tracts!

This means it’s pivotal to give them regular access to ferret-friendly food and fresh water.

3. Give Them Loads of Opportunities to Exercise

ferret in the grass, getting exercise

To stay healthy, both physically and mentally, ferrets need to spend a few hours a day exercising outside of their cage.

It’s non-negotiable.

But don’t worry if it seems like too much…

Ferrets love to play with their owners, and before you know it, you’ll be the one complaining that play time is over and you have to get back to work.

And by the way:

Only let them exercise in a ferret-proofed room (i.e., no dangerous items, no escape routes) to ensure they don’t get hurt!

4. Be Aware of Potential Health Issues

Despite being hardy animals, domestic ferrets are still prone to a range of health problems that could cut their lifespans and cause you plenty of restless nights.

Knowledge is the best way to stay ahead of ferret diseases and disorders.

This way, you can be proactive and head straight to your trusty, ferret-savvy veterinarian as soon as you notice something wrong.

The earlier your vet diagnoses an issue, the better your pet’s chances of recovering.

What common problems should you do some background reading on?

  • Adrenal disease
  • Dental disease
  • Fleas, ticks, and ear mites
  • Ferret cancer
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Digestive disorders
  • Aleutian virus

It’s also crucial to preventively schedule annual checkups with your vet and get your ferrets vaccinated yearly against potentially fatal diseases like distemper.

5. Desex Your Ferret

Ferrets should be desexed at around eight to twelve months of age — you already know this from earlier on, but what you don’t know yet is why.

Let’s explain.

Desexing a ferret is important for both male and female ferrets, but for entirely different reasons.

Male ferrets can become violent during breeding seasons towards humans and other ferrets.

This isn’t behavior you want to see in your home.

On the other hand, neutered males are friendly and relaxed (including with other males), as well as far less stinky due to the procedure reducing their natural musky odor.

It makes perfect sense to neuter a male ferret.

However, it isn’t a question of life or death like it is for female ferrets.

Incredible but true — females can literally die from a lack of sex.

Why?

Because they’re at risk of developing fatal aplastic anemia if they don’t breed while they’re in heat.

Ouch.

So do your female ferrets a huge favor and get them spayed!

Final Considerations

If you get your ferret from a reputable breeder and you follow our five tips for a long and healthy life, you’ll get to enjoy up to fifteen years with your lovely ferret.

That’s more than enough time to find out why we think they’re ideal pets for everybody (except those with young children).

And one other thing:

If you want to learn all the details about keeping ferrets as pets, check out our in-depth guide!

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