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I have had both cats and dogs as pets at different times of my life over the years. But at one time my daughter had this incredible animal that brought great joy to me and my family. Sadly Felix died of natural causes and was greatly missed by all. If you are considering getting a pet, then I would like to offer the following as a viable alternative to a cat or a dog.

Felix was a ferret, but please, do not dismiss this out of hand. Read on and I will try to explain why ferrets make better pets than cats or dogs; then you decide which is best.

Ferrets are members of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, stoats, badgers and otters. They are thought to have been kept as pets by the Ancient Egyptians over 3000 years ago, and were brought to Britain almost 2000 years ago by the Romans, originally for the control of vermin. Ferrets are a domesticated species of the polecat, and come in a variety of colours, from albino, through sandy and silver, to the darker polecat markings.

Like dogs and cats, ferrets have many appealing characteristics that make them interesting and lively pets.

Like dogs, ferrets are social animals, and mix freely with other ferrets, as well as cats and dogs. Although their boisterous behaviour soon has cats running to the safety of higher ground (like the top of your kitchen cupboards). However, ferrets do not see themselves as leaders so will not try to take over your roll of leader in your own home ... so no dog conflict.

Ferrets should be handled gently but firmly. Pick your ferret up behind his front legs and support his bottom in your other hand. Like puppies and kittens, ferrets tend to ‘test’ things with their teeth. They are not vicious, but can make one or two experimental nips. If your ferret nips fingers at first, try not to alarm him by quick movements or loud shouts, but take things slowly, stroking him gently and offering titbits ... As with dogs, bribery will work wonders.

Contrary to the silly image some people have of ferrets, if handled frequently when young, they are not aggressive or dangerous. They are intelligent creatures and will answer to their name, and unlike cats they will come to you. A well treated and cared for ferret will make a loyal and loving companion.

Ferrets are extremely playful. When excited they ‘dance’ sideways, twisting and jumping, their mouths open and making soft hissing sounds or ‘chuckling’. Some even turn somersaults as they throw themselves around. Ferrets love to chase your feet, and given half a chance will nip your toes ... if you aren’t quick enough to get out of the way of their sharp little teeth! Dangle a piece of cloth above them, watch as they jump up to catch and “kill” it. Some also enjoy chasing objects that roll, such as balls or bottle tops, while others like to ambush each other (or you if they can get away with it) from behind furniture ... so much more fun than a cat and less strenuous than throwing a stick for a dog to retrieve.

Ferrets also enjoy running through tubes, rummaging around in boxes or bags, and occasionally paddling in water. An old pillowcase makes an excellent plaything, providing something to climb in, and ambush from. Suspended by all four corners, it can be made into a hammock, which many ferrets enjoy playing or sleeping in. However, they don't jump on kitchen work surfaces and tables like cats.

Ferrets don’t bark ... that’s one up on dogs; or eat much ... so are much cheaper to keep than dogs ... or cats.

Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they spend 14–18 hours a day asleep, so they will play when you want to and sleep when you are too busy to play. Felix used to like nothing better than crawling into the sleeve of my coat and going to sleep ... while I was wearing it. If you are out at work all day, they will curl up and sleep until you get home and then they can give you their full attention. You will also be required to give them yours! ... You can’t say that about a dog.

Ferrets are naturally clean animals and use only one area for toilet purposes. They are very easy to house train. Cat litter trays can also be used but be warned that ferrets adore throwing cat litter about. But then cats also scatter cat litter all over trying to cover their business.

Ferrets smell no worse than cats or dogs once neutered ... would you let an un-neutered tom cat live with you? Americans generally remove some of a ferret’s scent glands; but this is cruel and unnecessary.

Rodents, birds and reptiles will be seen as prey by ferrets, so they should be kept apart, unless you too see them as vermin. In days of yore, the ferret would have been used as a highly efficient and ruthless vermin catcher. They will rid your garden of moles and rabbits given half a chance, and unlike your cat, they will not play with mice then tire of them, but they will eat them whole, including fur and bones ... that’s one up on your cat or dog. Although, realistically, they are more likely to be found rummaging around in your sock drawer.

Ferrets are tough little animals and it is not hard to keep them fit and healthy. They have a small body size, with manageable exercise requirements. The average length is 20 inches including a 5-inch tail and they weigh two to four pounds. Ferrets readily take to being walked on a harness, providing great mental and physical stimulation for the ferret and much amusement for neighbours and passers-by. Although the walk will be more of an amble really, sniffing everything along the way ... far less strenuous than walking a dog.

Ferrets travel really well, and will even go and lie in their pet carrier if they think they are going somewhere ... and no barking or howling in the car while you are trying to drive.

Bathing is not necessary unless your ferret gets filthy on a walk; then by all means wash it. Unlike dogs and cats, a bath is yet another source of fun and play for a ferret. They have rich fluffy coats in winter and smooth, glossy sleek coats in summer. Brush them regularly, which they enjoy, it also conditions their coats and only takes a couple of minutes every week or so ... far less maintenance than a dog or a long haired cat.

So, to summarise ... if you want a pet that doesn’t take up much room, gives lots of love and affection and requires little maintenance, a ferret is a good alternative to a cat or a dog.

So there you are ... you decide.
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