‘Breeding faster than we can rescue’: responsible UK ferret owners wanted

two ferrets
Chris Stoddard
Chris Stoddard

Animal welfare groups report an influx of stray or abandoned ferrets. They can make great pets – but do your research first.

The Guardian reports that when Angela Taylor was called to assist with three pregnant ferrets abandoned in a crate in a stranger’s garden, one was already in labour.

“Her kits didn’t survive,” says Taylor, who has run Chase Ferret Rescue in Derbyshire for more than 20 years, “but the other two had six babies, which is a lot of mouths to feeds and then find homes for.”

Now the summer breeding season is here, animal welfare groups report a huge influx of lost, stray or abandoned ferrets, often pregnant jills (females) whose owners can’t cope with extra kits, or hobs (males) who have marshalled their notorious escapology skills to go in search of a mate. Inevitably, the impact of lockdown on pet ownership is also being felt: “They are breeding faster than we can rescue them,” Taylor sighs.

Last week, the Scottish SPCA issued an appeal for potential ferret owners, after an influx of the fluffy mustelids to its rehoming centres.

There are at least 50 ferret welfare and rescue organisations across the UK, many run by a few committed individuals who rely on local fundraising, and they are “full to the brim”, warns Caroline Hornberger of the Heart of England Ferret Association in Droitwich.

“They are amazing animals, but they are not for everyone,” says Hornberger, who spends weekends visiting galas and fetes to educate the public about ferrets and their ownership. “We always advise first time owners not to buy kits, but to get adults from a rescue centre where they have been socialised and handled.”

In lockdown there was a spike in breeding, she says, with owners recognising demand and needing a source of income – but selling kits for a tenner each perpetuates the notion that ferrets are a “throwaway commodity”.

These days, far fewer people keep working ferrets for the likes of hunting rabbits, says Mick Quelch of the National Ferret Welfare Society, but there remains a class of dedicated enthusiasts who attend the shows and races that are now gearing up for their first summer events since the pandemic. “They delight in the silverware and the rosettes, they are genuine specialists who want to get rid of that myth of the smelly, biting, up-your-trouser-leg ferret, and show how lovely they are when they are looked after properly.”

A significant challenge of ferret ownership is how best to manage them in breeding season: these animals are induced ovulators, which means that unless they are mated or given hormonal medications, they aren’t able to come out of season, which can be fatal. During the pandemic, “jill jabs” as they are known, were hard to arrange, while there are concerns that neutering may increase the risk of adrenal disease, all against a backdrop of escalating vet bills.

Robert Morrison, an animal care assistant at the Scottish SPCA’s Aberdeenshire centre, and currently marshalling nine resident ferrets, including a jill that has just had a litter of seven, remains a staunch advocate for ownership: “It’s just about doing the research first.

“Yes they smell but if you keep on top of it, it’s OK. They are used to being in groups so getting a pair is great, but make sure they have space to climb in tall, wide cages: they love exploring and going through tunnels.

“Ferrets make brilliant pets; they are really sociable and very smart and they thrive on interaction with their owner. Learn to handle them well and they won’t get nippy. And after a play they will happily snuggle up on your lap.”

(Story source: The Telegraph)

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