The popularity of ferrets as pets continues to grow. In fact, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, the number of U.S. households that own a ferret grew by almost 73 percent between 2004 and 2012. This trend has understandably increased the demand for products designed specifically for these mischievous little critters, but what may be more interesting is how the pet humanization trend has trickled down from dogs and cats to impact the variety of ferret products being offered for sale in pet stores today.
Take the ferret nutrition category, for example. Just as the grain-free movement has driven much of the product innovation taking place in the dog and cat food categories, it is also taking hold in diets formulated for ferrets, which are consummate carnivores. According to Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem, her company is one ferret food manufacturer that has bought into the grain-free concept, adding this type of diet to its more traditional fare.
“We have two ferret foods,” she says. “Our premium ferret food has been around for a long time. It is 40 percent protein, 20 percent fat, corn-free and made with chicken and egg. It is highly palatable. We also have a completely grain-free food that really helps those ferrets who have trouble digesting some of the carbohydrates that you find in other brands. It also has four protein sources, and although one of those is chicken, there is less chicken than other brands, so some owners report a better result with ferrets that are allergic to chicken.”
While many ferret owners understand the unique nutritional needs that must be met in a ferret’s diet, Shepard says that there is plenty of room for improvement in this regard. “One of the biggest issues we still see is ferret owners feeding kitten food because it is cheaper and more readily available,” she explains.
According to Shepard, retailers must explain to customers that ferrets need a different nutrition balance than kittens. For example, kitten food contains more fiber than most ferrets should have. “Ferret owners need to be feeding a formula made just for ferrets,” she says. “Before ferret diets were widely available, the average lifespan we were seeing in ferrets was only about six or seven years. Now, with ferrets getting the proper diet, we’re seeing them live much longer.”
While some manufacturers are improving the nutritional profile of diets formulated for ferrets, others are focused on making the ferret habitats better suited to both pet and owner.
“Odor control and cage cleaning are primary concerns in ferret care,” says Dave Hitsman, director of Ware Manufacturing Inc. “So, our new Clean Living cage series includes popular features such as a pull pan to make cage cleaning simple and easy, and clear scatter-proof guards to eliminate messes around the cage.”
In addition to making its ferret habitats easier to keep clean, Ware Manufacturing is also making them more accommodating for interaction between the pet and its owner. “It is also very important to be able to reach into the ferret home to interact with them on a daily basis,” says Hitsman. “A large doorway provides this access, and also ensures that even a large-sized litter pan can be easily installed and removed from the cage.”
According to Hitsman, while practical features are a priority when designing a ferret habitat, that does not preclude manufacturers from adding a fashionable element to these products. “We have updated the colors [of our habitats],” he says. “No more old-school blue and white. We now have a new color combination for each model featuring pewter, a color that is more home-décor oriented.”
To complement its lineup of habitats, this year Ware Manufacturing introduced a line of bedding, including sleepers, tunnels and hammocks under the Bad to the Bone label. Made with extra-durable denim on one side, the other side features a new modern design of a black and white skull and cross-bone pattern.
Take Them Along
In line with the pet humanization trend, more ferret owners than ever are taking their pets with them when they travel. Luckily, companies like Sandia Pet Products, Inc., make collars, harnesses, leashes and couplers to make such travel safer.
According to owner and president Sandra Alexandra, the company focuses on two areas when designing these ferret-walking products. First and foremost, of course, is safety—a concern that can largely be addressed by finding products that fit properly. “Our products are sized for both regular and petite ferrets to ensure a perfect fit,” says Alexandra.
Sandia Pet Products also strives to design products that fit pet owners’ aesthetic preferences. “A designer leash with a matching collar or harness is a great way to highlight your ferret’s personality,” says Alexandra. “We especially enjoy using a great variety of bright-colored webbing to make matching collars, harnesses, leashes and couplers to emphasize their playful personalities. We also make a variety of designer products with beautiful and whimsical ribbon patterns sewn onto the webbing. Our product line is constantly evolving as new colors and patterns become available; so there is always something new for shop owners to include in their displays.”
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and is the author of The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.