Sunday, August 28, 2011

How To Tell When Your Ferret Is Getting Old

Miette when she was a little old ferret.

I usually have at least one elderly ferret and two younger ones amongst the Spring Rock Menagerie.  When one of an older pair of ferrets sadly dies I contact the Ferret Welfare Association of New South Wales and put in an emergency request for two young rescued ferrets.  After spending its life with a friend, I find that older ferrets lose interest in going on with life without another ferret to play and share nefarious deeds with.  Bringing in two younger ferrets has always renewed their interest in life and they get over the loss of their friend while making new friends.  Ferrets only live for a very short time - six or seven years - far to short a time for such beautiful little creatures.  So over the years I'd had plenty of opportunity to study the aging habits of ferrets.

Horton has begun showing signs of old age and while giving him a cuddle a few days ago I stopped and considered the signs of aging in a ferret.  They aren't quite the same as for dogs and cats although the greying around the muzzle and eyes often happens.  Horton is a white ferret so there's no greying to see.  He is showing his age in other, peculiar to ferrets ways.

1.  Old ferrets like to have long cuddles.  By long cuddles I mean all of a few minutes, but in the life of a busy ferret that is a very long time.  Young ferrets don't have time for anything but a quick cuddle and even then they are constantly on the move climbing up your chest to sit on one shoulder and then the other while looking for more adventure.  You have to get your pats and cuddles in as quickly as possible because young ferrets have places to be and thimbles to steal.  Old ferrets stop what they are doing, walk over to your feet and gaze up with that look that says, "Cuddle please." They then snuggle in your arms for a few minutes while lapping up the pats and attention.  To tell the truth I think that it's a face saving strategy so the younger ferrets don't realise the old ferret has run out of puff.  "You lot go on without me for a while," the older ferret says.  "I feel the strange need to cuddle with my human for a bit."  Once the old ferret has caught its breath and recharged its batteries it will start to climb down to rejoin the mayhem on the floor.

2.  Old ferrets get careless about hiding their stash.  Young ferrets will stash anything they can get their mouths around and seek out a well hidden, secret hiding place.  As soon as they pick up the new treasure they get a shifty look on their face, slink low to the ground in an effort to become invisible and head for their wherever they have hidden their stash.  Ferrets hide their stash from both other ferrets and humans.  This hiding place is usually set up early in life and grows over time unless discovered by the humans and cleaned out.  Treasures include a diverse range of items including, but not limited to cotton reels (unravelling of course), grapes, banana skins, orange skins, thimbles, small items of clothing such as socks left on the floor, small toys and much, much more.  It's fair to say if they can pick it up it's a ferret treasure.  Old ferrets don't lose interest in amassing treasure, they still get the shifty look and slink low to the ground once they've picked up their new treasure but they just find the trips back and forward to their old hiding place rather onerous.  Horton has begun to stash his treasures on the lounge room carpet in full view of everyone.  He's always miffed when I retrieve whatever he's appropriated of mine from his stash or the other ferrets steal his grapes or fruit peels. to place in their stash.

3.  Older ferrets make me think twice about sliding them across the kitchen floor.  Ferrets both young and old love this game.  I sit on the kitchen vinyl floor and a ferret will present itself to me for the game.  I lay the ferret on its side and give a push to send the ferret zooming across the floor. once the slide comes to an end the ferret will right itself and scamper back to me for a repeat performance. Soon there is a line up of ferrets all wanting to join in the fun.  These days when Horton presents himself I worry about old bones and only give him a small push.  Horton just can't figure out why he doesn't travel as fast and as far as he used to.  

4.  Old ferrets often find younger ferrets very trying.  Just like the older generation of any species, older ferrets find the fun and games of younger ferrets too much to take at times.  Don't get me wrong, 90% of the time the older ferret is right there in the middle of the ferret chaos enjoying every minute, but occasionally the boisterousness of the younger generation just gets to be too much.  Older ferrets then either have shrill words to say on the matter or decide it's time for one of those cuddles mentioned earlier.  Younger ferrets don't know what's happened when told off by an elderly ferret.  After all they were just being normal active ferrets.  I can almost see them shrug their shoulders before getting back to the game while  the older ferret removes itself from the game to go commune with its human.

So you see, Horton is showing all these classic signs of ferret aging.  He's still fit and healthy and enjoying life to the full in his own old ferret way.  Jocie will be the next one to start slowing down, but she assures me she has many young years ahead of her.

That's the thing about a ferret getting old.  It seems to sneak up on them when they least expect it and suddenly the need for a long cuddle hits them.  It's the downward slide to old age from there.