Ferret Shows 101

Ferret Shows 101: A Beginner’s Overview to Showing Your Ferret

By Kym Costanzo, Vice President & Director of Shelter Operations, The Pennsylvania Ferret Club & Shelter

I hear it all the time. “Ferret shows? Are you serious? What do they do, make the ferrets do tricks or something?” Every time I tell someone new that I’m going to a ferret show, I get utterances of disbelief. I’ve been showing my ferrets since 1993, you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

The fact is, ferret shows do exist and are held in many states year-round, and there are even some ferret shows held internationally in places such as Japan, England, and Australia. They are competitions in which ferrets are judged on a number of different criteria, including structure, color, coat condition, temperament, and grooming. While shows are primarily centered around the main event, the judging; they are much more than just a place were ferrets can win ribbons. Ferret shows are also an excellent way of educating the public about ferrets, and providing education to ferret owners about proper care and maintenance of their pets.

The first thing that someone interested in showing his ferret should know is that ferret shows are for everyone. These are not private events held only for the elite, or for prize-winning fancy-bred ferrets. The ferret that you bought at a pet store, or adopted from a shelter, has just as good of a chance at taking the blue ribbon as another ferret that’s been showing since it was a kit. There are no prerequisites to showing, and anyone can enter.

Banish the image you have in your mind of the Westminster dog shows or the snooty cat shows that you see on TV. Ferret shows are down-to-earth events with down-to-earth people in attendance. People of all ages and from all walks of life attend ferret shows.

So, you’re interested in showing, but you don’t know the first thing about how to do it? The following is an overview of the show system – more than enough information to get you started on the addictive road to showing your ferrets!

What to Expect at a Show

For most ferret owners who have never attended a ferret show, it’s a lot like the proverbial “kid in a candy store” feeling when you walk in the door. Until you attend your first ferret event, you probably feel like you’re the only ferret owner in the world and that nobody else has discovered the secret wonderful pet that you own. But when you arrive at the show, you’re surrounded by hundreds of people and hundreds of other ferrets – and finally, you’ve discovered that there really are other people that understand how you feel about your special pet!

As you walk through the show hall, you will see tables set up all around the room with ferret-related products for sale and ferret information. There are vendors that are selling everything from ferret treats and food to leashes, toys, and mounds and mounds of ferret bedding… hammocks, blankies, and sleep sacks in patterns you’ve only dreamt about. Many tables are manned by ferret shelters from all over the United States who are selling items to raise money for the ferrets in the shelter. You can also find lots of items for ferret owners – from tee shirts and tote bags to jewelry and books.

Every show is different; some shows have seminars and other educational events taking place throughout the day. Others have fun events such as the “best dressed ferret” competition or the “best kisser” competition. But of course, they all have one thing in common – the judging. All throughout the day there are classes of ferrets being judged and ribboned. So exciting!

How to Find Shows

Ferret shows are held year-round all across the country. The PFCS maintains a listing of all shows that are made aware to us that you can check; you can also find information about upcoming events in Ferrets Magazine, which is available in pet stores and book stores.

Hosting & Sanctioning

Ferret shows are hosted by the organization that coordinates the event. In most cases, the host is a ferret club or organization whose members have done all of the work to put the show on. Some shows are also sanctioned, that is, they are held under the guidelines and rules of a sanctioning organization. In some cases, shows are hosted by an organization that sanctions shows.

For example, the American Ferret Association, a national ferret organization, is an organization that sanctions ferret shows. The AFA hosts their own shows several times a year, and, of course, their shows are held under their own sanctioning guidelines. But organizations other than the AFA that wish to host a ferret show may contact the AFA and request to be sanctioned by the AFA – meaning, they will follow the rules and guidelines established by the AFA for ferret shows, and judges trained by the AFA will be used.

Sanctioning by an organization does not mean that the show is necessarily a better show than any other, but it does establish some standards that show exhibitors can expect from show to show. It also means that the judges are trained in the rules of the sanctioning organization, and exhibitors can expect the same standards of judging from one show to the next. Furthermore, in the case of Championship shows, the points earned are tracked and carried over from one show to the next by the same sanctioning organization.

Championship versus Specialty Classes

There are two categories of classes held at ferret shows. Some shows are “All Specialty” shows, and others are “Championship” shows. All shows offer specialty classes – the difference between Championship and All Specialty shows are whether championship classes are offered.

In Championship classes, ferrets are judged most heavily on their body structure, conformation, muscle tone, temperament, maintenance (how well the owner takes care of the ferret), and, to a lesser degree, their color. At most shows, Championship classes are made up of three “rings” – meaning, every ferret entered in the championship class is judged separately by three different judges and has the chance to win up to three ribbons in the class. At most shows, ferrets earn points in each championship ring they are judged in, and these points are recorded and held over from show to show and are put towards “titles” that ferrets can earn over time.

There are usually three or four Championship classes offered. In shows sanctioned by the American Ferret Association, for example, four different Championship divisions are offered: the Adolescent Championship class (open to all ferrets under one year of age); the Breeder Championship Class (open to all ferrets that have not been “fixed”); the Alter Championship class (open to all ferrets that were altered, or “fixed,” later in life – that is, not pet store ferrets that are altered as babies); and the Companion Pet Championship class (open to all ferrets that were altered under the age of 12 weeks – typically, any ferret purchased from a pet store or adopted from a ferret shelter).

Specialty classes are those that are open to ferrets that fit in a specific category – usually by their color or pattern. For example, if your ferret is sable in color, he or she can be entered in the Sable Specialty class, and will be judged against up to 20 other ferrets of the same color. Judging in Specialty classes is weighed heavily on color and coat condition, and less heavily on body structure and conformation. Owner maintenance is still important here, though.

Other Specialty classes may be offered that are not color-specific. For example, some shows offer a Senior Specialty class (for ferrets over a certain age), or a Handicapped Specialty class (for ferrets with a physical handicap). Points are not earned for Specialty classes.

In every show’s entry packet is a listing of the Championship and Specialty classes that are being offered at that particular show, with a description of what the hosting organization defines each class to be. Simply read this information in the show packet to determine which classes your ferret can be entered into.

Entering a Show

For first-time show exhbitors, filling out the show forms can seem a little intimidating, but don’t be afraid! All of the information that you need can be found in the show packet for the show you’re entering. Be sure to read the show packet thoroughly so you know what requirements the hosting organization have for exhibitors.

Important! Most shows require that your ferret be current on vaccinations and most shows require that your ferret has been tested for ADV (Aleutian’s Disease) to enter the show hall. This information will be clearly stated in the show packet. You will be required to bring proof of vaccination and ADV testing and you won’t be allowed in the show hall if you forget to bring your records. Carefully read these requirements in the show packet! You can ask your veterinarian to provide you with proof of vaccination – if your ferret is up to date on shots, simply call your vet and ask if they can print out a record of your vet visit when you had your distemper and rabies shot administered. Ask your veterinarian to note on the record what type of shot your ferret received (i.e., IMRAB-3 rabies and usually either Fervac-D or PureVax Ferret distemper) and sign the record. Instructions should be provided in the show packet for how to have your ferret tested for ADV; most show hosts do not allow a record from your vet stating you’ve tested; generally, actual test results from an ADV testing lab on the lab’s letterhead is required. For testing information, you can check out the American Ferret Association’s website section about ADV.

Filling out the show forms is actually pretty easy. The hardest part is generally deciding which classes your ferret fits into and which ones you want to enter your ferret in. Again, simply read the description of all of the classes to determine which ones your ferret belongs in. On most show forms, you will be asked to provide some information about your ferret, such as:

  • Ferret’s name
  • Age: it’s okay if you don’t know the exact age; you may estimate as close as you can. I strongly suggest if you estimate the birthdate that you to write this estimated birthdate down, so for future shows that you enter, you always use the same date
  • Sex
  • Whether the ferret is altered (“fixed”) or not; note that some show forms will ask if your ferret is a hob, gib, jill, or sprite rather than asking for “sex” and “altered.” A hob is an unaltered male; a gib is an altered male; a jill is an unaltered female; and a sprite is an altered female.
  • Breeder: if you purchased your ferret from a private breeer, no doubt you know who that breeder was. However, if you purchased your ferret from a pet store, or adopted it from a shelter, you may not know. Most ferrets that originally were purchased from a pet store are from one of two commercial breeders in the U.S. – Marshall Farms or Path Valley. There are a few others, but odds are, your ferret is from one or the other. If you look in your ferret’s ear and find two blue dots (sometimes you can only see one of them), your ferret is a Marshall Farms ferret. If you cannot find evidence of a blue dot, the chances are your ferret is a Path Valley ferret. When filling out the forms, you can indicate that the breeder was Marshall Farms (if blue dots are apparent), and if not, you can indicate Path Valley, or simply write “unknown” for breeder.
  • Sire/Dam: A ferret’s father is his Sire and the mother is the Dam. If you did not purchase your ferret from a private breeder, simply indicate “unknown” for Sire and Dam.
  • Vaccination Date: Some show forms ask for the date of last vaccination. Simply contact your veterinarian for this information. If you have not yet gotten your vaccinations, but intend to by the cut-off date, you can write in this space “appointment made” or put the date that your appointment is scheduled. This way you can get your entry forms in early. Just be sure that you do get the vaccinations done, and that you bring proof of them!

The remainder of the show forms should be self-explanatory. If at any point you have any questions, you can always contact the Show Registrar, whose contact information should be listed in the show forms.

Preparing for a Show

A significant portion of your ferret’s score at the show may be determined by the maintenance of your ferret. That is, the judges are looking for ferrets that are not just a nice color or well put-together, but also ferrets that have been well taken care of throughout their life. Ferrets need regular routine maintenance to remain healthy. Ears should be cleaned regularly; nails should be trimmed at least every 2 weeks; teeth should be brushed regularly to prevent build-up of tartar. Bathing is not needed nearly as often as many ferret owners think; twice a year should be sufficient. Over-bathing your ferret is uncomfortable for him, and not necessary. When you bathe, essential oils are removed from the coat and skin. Ferrets will over-produce these oils once they are stripped by bathing, and this can actually cause your ferret to have a stronger odor than if you bathe less frequently.

When you are preparing for a show, you should bathe your ferret the evening before or the morning of the show. Be sure the nails are trimmed a 2-3 days before the show (you should not wait until the day of the show to trim the nails; they will be sharp and may scratch the judge. Nails done a few days before the show will ’round out’ a little). Ears should be cleaned at the time of bathing, but you should check your ferret’s ears the morning of the show again to be safe. If you find that your ferret has some tartar on his teeth, they may need to be scaled. If you don’t know how to scale your ferret’s teeth, do not attempt to do this yourself. Many rescue/shelter organizations at each show have the tools on hand to scale teeth and will be willing to teach you how to do this. Simply ask if someone will help you, and then be sure to begin regularly brushing your ferret’s teeth from now on.

When getting ready to travel to the show, be sure you pack your ferret’s vaccination and ADV test records. Also bring the confirmation papers you should have received in the mail from the show host. For your ferret, you will want to pack extra food, and it is advised that you also bring a bottle of water from home – if you need to give your ferret water while you’re on the road, “foreign” water can upset your ferret’s stomach. Also bring some extra bedding, in case yours becomes soiled.

If your trip to the ferret show involves an overnight stay, or longer, you may want to consider transporting your ferret in a small cage or something larger than a regular pet carrier. For a one-day trip, a carrier may be sufficient, but anything longer than that can cause your ferret to feel cramped and can be stressful for him or her.

Travel Cages from Martin's Cages
Travel Cages from Martin’s Cages

Tip: Experienced, frequent show-goers have found that travel cages from Martin’s Cages are ideal for transporting ferrets to shows. They are not much larger than typical carriers, but they are more open and airy and have plenty of room for a litter box and food dish. Also, unlike pet carriers, these cages make it easy to hang a hammock. Two popular Martin’s carriers are the barn carrier and the F-400 travel cage, both pictured here. The barn is suitable for travelling with one or two ferrets, and the travel cage is ideal for travelling with one to three ferrets. At the time of this writing, the barn costs $35.00 and the travel cage is $51.00 in PVC-coated wire (I highly recommend PVC coating – it lasts forever and is easy to clean). For more information about Martin’s Cages, visit their website!

Showing Your Ferret

Before you know it, the big day will arrive! Your ferret will be freshly bathed and groomed, and ready for the fun! Be sure to arrive at the show hall during the check-in time that was listed in the show packet. Upon check-in, you will be given a packet that contains information about the show. You will also receive tags or some other numbering system – your ferret will be given a number which will be called when it’s your ferret’s turn to be judged.

Be sure to purchase a show catalog if you did not order one at the time you registered. In the show catalog will be information about how to show your ferret, along with other helpful information. Every show is different in the procedures for showing your ferret, so be sure to check the catalog for these details. But, most shows follow a general procedure as follows:

Specialty Class Judging: Listen carefully throughout the day for announcements about which classes are being judged. Specialty classes are held all day long. If your ferret is entered, for example, in the Albino specialty, you will want to listen for the announcer to announce that ferrets in the Albino class are being judged. When that announcement is made, bring your ferret to the judging area (there are usually signs on each judge’s table indicating which class is being judged at which table). Chairs will be set up in front of the judging area; take a seat with your ferret and wait for the judge to call your ferret’s number.

When your ferret’s number is called, bring your ferret to the judge and hand your ferret to the judge. Some judges prefer that you hand your ferret to the judge rear-end first, so the ferret is facing you when you release the ferret. Ferrets are less likely to nip a judge and are not as startled by the judge if you do this. After you hand your ferret to the judge, return to your seat. The judge will spend a minute or two looking your ferret over, and he or she will make notes. When the judge has finished, he will call you back to the table to retrieve your ferret. That’s it! You may return to your seat to watch the rest of judging, or you may go back to your exhibitor table to put your ferret back in his cage. Once all ferrets in the class have been judged, an announcement will be made that ribboning will take place. At that time, you should return to the judging area again with your ferret, where you will hopefully win a ribbon! (Most shows give ribbons to all ferrets that show in Specialty Classes; a few shows ribbon only First through Tenth place).

Championship Class Judging: Championship class judging is held similarly to Specialty, with one major difference: your ferret will be seen by three judges, not one (assuming the show is a three-ring championship show, as most are). Now, the procedure for how your ferret is judged depends on the show. All American Ferret Association shows employ the “carrier style” judging system for the Championship rings. That means that you must bring a carrier (the small pet-style carriers are ideal) in addition to the cage that your ferret is travelling in. Your ferret was assigned a number for the Championship classes. Listen for announcements that the Championship class that your ferret is entered in is beginning. Usually, ten to fifteen ferret numbers are called at a time to be judged. When your ferret’s number is called up for Championship judging, put your ferret in the carrier and take him or her to the judging table for the Championship class he is entered in. Simply leave the carrier, with your ferret’s number on it, on the table. Judges’ stewards will take the carrier and place it safely behind the judging area. When the judge is ready to judge your ferret, he or she will remove the ferret from the carrier, and will replace the ferret when judging is complete. Since your ferret will be seen by three judges, the carrier will remain behind the judging area until all three judges have seen your ferret. After that, your ferret’s carrier will be placed on a table where you may then pick him or her up and return to the exhibitor area.

Shows that do not use the “carrier style” judging system will be held in the same manner as specialty classes are; you will wait in the area in front of the judging area until your ferret’s number is called by one of the Championship judges. At that time, you hand your ferret over to the judge just as you do in Specialty classes. Make sure you stay in the judging area until your ferret is seen by all three Championship judges (if the show is a three-ring show). Once your ferret has been seen by all three judges, you may return to the exhibitor area until ribboning is announced.

Unlike Specialty classes, not all ferrets will win ribbons in Championship classes. Oftentimes, there are many, many ferrets entered in Championship classes. Only the top ten ferrets are ribboned in Championship classes. Once all of the judging is complete, a “callback” announcement will be made for each of the three rings in the Championship class. Listen closely to these announcements! They will call ten ferrets’ numbers for “callback” – these are the ten lucky ferrets that will receive a ribbon. If your number was not called, you did not place in the top ten. If your number was called, congratulations! Take your ferret back up to the judging area to receive your ribbon – and be VERY proud! Championship judging is very competitive, and with as many ferrets as are entered in the Championship rings, earning a top ten placement is very commendable! Remember to listen to callbacks for all three rings, as your ferret has the chance to ribbon in each of the three “rings” he or she was judged in.

As you read all about how to show your ferret, you may feel a little overwhelmed, but truly it is not difficult to show your ferret and there is no need for anxiety. At every single ferret show there are people who are showing for the first time. There are show stewards and assistants all around the show hall available to answer any of your questions. You will most definitely meet many people at the show, and chances are, the person sitting next to you in the exhibitor area has shown ferrets in the past and can answer any of your questions. Showing your ferret is fun! Give it a try!

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