Ferrets are intensely curious animals. For their protection and your peace of mind, it is important that your home, or where ever you allow your ferrets to play, be ferret-proofed. When looking for potential dangers, remember that ferrets will try and get into everything. The cardinal rule is "if the head fits, the body will follow". Never assume that any hole is too small. Unfortunately, you cannot tell them that some of their explorations will lead to dangers like furnaces, electrical wiring or a crushing mechanism inside a sofa bed. Ferrets also like to hide themselves in hard to reach areas and if injured or in trouble, cannot call out for your help. it is up to you therefore, as a responsible ferret owner, to make your home safe for your ferret.
Reclining Chairs and Sofa Beds
Being crushed in the mechanism of a reclining chair or a sofa bed accounts for 50% of ferret deaths under five years of age. You cannot keep ferrets out from under them, or expect guests or children to remember not to sit in them. If you own a ferret and a reclining chair, the only safe thing to do is to get rid of the chair. Never open or close a sofa bed unless you are absolutely certain where your ferret is.
Ferrets must not be allowed behind or under refrigerators and stoves, where they can be injured by the fan, chew on live wires or choke on insulation. Be very careful when opening or closing refrigerator and freezer doors - your ferret could accidentally be locked inside. Never turn on the dishwasher until you are absolutely sure that it is ferret free. Check your dryer vent installation. Many ferrets have availed themselves of a loose or cracked tube to escape.
Ferrets love to burrow in cushions, rugs, blankets and piles or clothing and laundry left on the floor. Be very careful - a lump under the rug could be a sleeping ferret. Always check your laundry before putting it into the washing machine or dryer. We know of more than one ferret who has died in a washing machine. Ferrets are known to scratch their way through liners on the underside of couches. An easy solution is to staple chicken wire to the bottom of your couch.
Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets
Ferrets are extremely clever in figuring out how to open cupboard doors. Use child-proof latches or magnets (place around the bottom corner of the door if they are not solid wood) to secure cabinets, especially those containing cleaning products.
Ferrets are natural diggers and if plants are accessible, you are asking for trouble. A simple solution is to place large smooth stones on top of the soil. If this does not work, then relocate the plants to a place which is inaccessible to the ferret. Don't blame the ferret if you find a favorite plant dug up, it's only natural.
Ferrets rarely chew on wires but if you have one that does, the best way to solve this problem is to pick the ferret up while it is chewing and spray the wire with bitter apple. Return the ferret to the wire and it will not like the taste. You may have to do this several times before it learns to stay away. Never spray bitter apple on your ferret.
Open Doors and Windows
We cannot stress the importance of being very careful when opening and closing doors. A ferret can be outside in a split second with the door closed behind it. Ensure that the door catches work and that the doors are closed properly each time you open them. This is especially important if you have children who are constantly coming and going. One solution might be to put up a barrier at areas of entry leaving enough space for people to enter. Windows should be kept secure and screens checked for holes. Some ferrets will climb up window and door screens and can fall and injure themselves. Some screen doors you can reverse the screen portion and the glass so that the screen is actually on the top. This idea is even good for the small two-legged kids. Remember, if you ferret gets out you may never see it again.
Ferrets love to keep souvenirs from their expeditions. They will usually make off with all manner of items such as shoes (they are especially fond of insoles), eyeglass cases, car keys, vinyl cheque books or anything made from vinyl, rubber or soft chewy items such as foam and rubber. Keep erasers, balloons, rubber gloves, sponges, rubber bands, styrofoam, etc. away from ferrets. They love to chew on such things and can ingest them with often fatal consequences. Intestinal blockages are far too often a cause of death. Rubber toys that are suitable for cats and dogs are not suitable for ferrets. Only purchase latex rubber toys.
Note Re: Intestinal Blockages: If your ferret becomes listless, will not eat or drink, tries to vomit repeatedly but cannot and has not had a bowel movement for several hours, you must take it to a vet immediately. It is important that your veterinarian has experience with ferrets. Intestinal blockages are very serious and can lead to death. Remember, it is better to be safe than sorry - the longer you wait, the less chance your ferret has of surviving. These symptoms can of course, be indicative of other ailments, but an intestinal blockage should never be ruled out, especially in the case of younger ferrets.
Do not keep ferrets in wood chips of any kind. Wood shavings are harmful to ferrets and can cause respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders due to ingestion and eye irritations. Bedding should consist of soft cotton blankets (old sweatshirts are a favorite). Be careful when using towels as they can easily get their nails caught in the loops or fraying.
Ferrets make wonderful pets. If you look at your home from a ferret's prospective, you can easily prevent your ferret from accidentally harming itself. Do not expect your ferret to keep out of things. You must make things and places that your ferret is trying to get into inaccessible, or safe (or just remove the source of temptation). Remember that the curiosity of a ferret's behavior is natural and prepare accordingly. Your ferret will then be a happy, safe and special companion.
One of the allures of owning a ferret is that it is comprehended to be a low maintenance pet. This is true ONLY if you do the initial training up front, like teaching the ferret not to nip and use the litter box. The number one mistake most people make are told or assume is that ferrets are like cats and will naturally use the litter box. This is not true. Ferrets are caged and separated from their mothers very early at the ferret farms. Because of this, they miss the important stage of mom teaching them to use the "latrine".
First off, remember, a ferret is NOT a cat. Yes, they can eat dry cat food and can receive a rabies shot, but they do not return to the box every time to relieve themselves. Ferrets have to have several boxes in a confined area and then at best, a 90% hit rate can be achieved. The good news about ferret accidents is that they are small, do not penetrate the carpet or floor, and if left to dry, their stools are odorless and dry in 24 hours. A ferret's philosophy is this, "Oh - I see a litter box, do I have to go potty? Yes, then I will use the box." or "Oh - I need to go potty - I don't see a box. I guess this corner will do just fine." Fortunately, very few ferrets leave presents in the middle of the floor.
Like a small kitten, a ferret needs to get used to a small area and become good at using the box, before expanding their play and roam area.
1. Avoid clumping sand and scented litters until the digging stage is over. Place a little bit of soiled litter back into the clean pan to discourage kits from using the litter box as a sand or play box. DO NOT USE CEDAR OR WOOD SHAVINGS IN A FERRET'S CAGE.
2. Use a litter box in the cage which covers at least two corners, and secure it in place so the ferret can not rearrange its location or tip it over.
3. Make sure the ferrets are using their potty in the cage well before giving them free run of a room. Place litter boxes in their chosen corners or use newspapers in hard to reach or smaller areas.
4. When you get them out to play, wake them up and cuddle them for five minutes, put them BACK into the cage and insist that they use the potty. Watch carefully - sometimes ferrets will go through the motions and not really do anything, in a hurry to get out.
5. Allow free run time to be in two hour stages. Put them back in their cage to rest and use the facilities, then let them out again if you wish.
6. Use a newspaper where the litter boxes wont work (under furniture, beds, behind doors, etc.) Paper training your ferret is a little easier than box training outside the cage, and it is easy to pick up and dispose of in a jiffy.
7. If you have a cat in the house, try paper training outside the cage for the ferrets. Otherwise, the cat will use the ferret boxes and you will have more to clean up in more places. Furthermore, ferrets wont always use a box after a cat has blessed it. Cats wont usually use paper.
8. Clean the litter boxes with detergent - nothing harsh! Always save a little of the old litter to put back in a clean box if the ferret is still in the digging stage.
The diet of a ferret will pass from intake to output in about three to four hours. The higher the meat protein in the ferret's diet, the less waste it will produce. A ferret cannot process vegetable protein, hence feeding low grade foods will just result in larger bowel movements. Suggest to ferret owners that they buy cat diets with chicken as the first ingredient and a minimum of 32% protein. Avoid ferret diets containing fish meal.
Traditional training aids for cats and dogs do not work with ferrets. Rewarding the ferret with some run time or a treat is the best way to reinforce good litter habits.
The number one cause of premature death in ferrets is intestinal blockages. Ferrets love to chew on rubber and other small objects. This is extremely dangerous because swallowed bits can become lodged in a ferret's intestines. Intestinal blockages are very serious and can lead to death unless surgery is performed to remove the obstruction.
The most commonly ingested items (but not limited to) are:
latex or rubber pet toys
foam rubber insoles of shoes
rubber bath or sink plugs
styrofoam or packing material
vinyl cheque books
doll hands and feet
anything made from vinyl, rubber or plastic
A blockage can occur in several ways. In some cases an item will float in the ferret's stomach and will lodge and dislodge at the opening of the intestine. This will cause serious illness and eventually the ferret will die. Other items will become totally dislodged in the intestine and although the ferret may still have a bowel movement, the excrement will simply be that which is after the blockage, further down the intestinal track.
Because a blockage is often caused by soft material, it cannot always be defected with an x-ray. Often a series of barium tests are performed to confirm the presence of a foreign object. However in most cases, especially in younger ferrets, the best course of action is to have surgery performed immediately. The longer you wait, the less chance your ferret has of surviving.
Warning signs of a possible blockage:
loss of appetite
will not drink
ferret goes in the litter box often but does not have a bowel movement
vomits after eating
vomits after drinking
pawing at mouth (can be a sign of nausea)
drooling (can be a sign of nausea)
If your ferret has any or all of these symptoms, you must take it to a veterinarian immediately.
Note: If your ferret vomits once, it may have eaten too quickly. However, a ferret who vomits should be put in a cage and watched closely. Measure the amount of water you put in the bowl and count out a certain number of pieces of food. If the ferret eats and drinks and passes a stool, then it probably does not have an intestinal blockage. If the ferret vomits repeatedly, a trip to the vet is strongly recommended.
Note: These symptoms can be indicative of many other ailments, but an intestinal blockage must never be ruled out. It is important to ensure that your vet has a lot of experience treating ferrets.