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Special Considerations for Ferrets

By

James K. Morrisey

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Service, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Last full review/revision Jan 2020 | Content last modified Jan 2020
Topic Resources

Ferrets can quickly get into dangerous situations. They are intensely curious, nearly fearless, highly persistent, and have the ability to squeeze into very small openings. These traits may lead to serious injury or death. Ferrets also like to chew on soft or plastic objects such as foam, pencil erasers, rubber bands, buttons, and other objects commonly found around the home. These objects can pose a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage. An intestinal blockage can be fatal and usually requires emergency surgery.

Table
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Ensuring a Safe Environment

Area of Concern

Hazard

Prevention

Appliances—washers, dryers, stoves, dishwashers, and refrigerators

Exposure to electrical wires and moving parts, as well as entrapment inside a machine. Ferrets have been known to fall asleep in the laundry and end up in the washer or dryer. They also have crawled into refrigerators and stoves while the door was open and been trapped inside.

Seal all holes larger than 1 inch. Lower appliances to the floor and block access from all sides. Always check inside refrigerators, dishwashers, and stoves before closing the door or running the appliance. Examine clothing before placing it in the washer or dryer. If possible, restrict access to the laundry room at all times.

Air ducts

Entrapment, leading to starvation and dehydration

Seal all holes larger than 1 inch where ductwork passes through a wall or floor.

Open railings

Falls

Enclose railings or restrict access to only the lower level of the home.

Electrical wires

Electrocution

Use a plastic wire protector. Apply bitter-tasting spray to discourage chewing behavior.

Open doors or doors with gaps

Access to outdoors, where the ferret may become lost or injured

Locate and possibly restrain ferrets before opening doors. Attach a door sweeper or weather stripping to the bottom of a door with a gap.

Cabinets

Exposure to cleaning supplies, medications, and other toxic materials; entrapment

Secure doors using sturdy, childproof locks. Seal any openings between the cabinet and floor or baseboard.

Windows

Falls; access to outdoors

Ensure screens are free of tears and fit securely. Because ferrets can tear holes in screens, it is best to keep windows closed.

Reclining furniture

Crushing injuries when position is changed; entrapment in wires or clamps

Remove from home or modify to a stationary chair.

Couches, overstuffed chairs, rocking chairs

Suffocation or serious injury from being sat on; being killed by chair rockers

Supervise ferrets around couches, chairs, and similar furniture. Staple a carpet protector or sheet pulled tight to the underside of the couch, or consider replacing it with a futon. Inspect cushions before sitting.

Houseplants

Possible poisoning hazard

Remove from the home or place out of reach. (Remember that ferrets are excellent climbers.)

Box spring mattresses

Possible crush injury when someone lies on the bed

Staple heavy fabric pulled tight or a plastic carpet protector to the bottom of the box spring.

Rugs

Crush injury while hiding or tunneling underneath

Remove rugs or be careful when walking on them.

Spongy, chewable household objects, including pencil erasers, balloons, Styrofoam, rubber bands, door stops, and tennis shoes

Intestinal blockage, choking

Keep items out of reach of ferrets, either locked up or in areas that they cannot reach. Do not overlook waste in trash cans. Keep phone numbers for your local veterinarian and poison control hotlines accessible (ASPCA Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435; Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661).

Bathrooms—toilets, bathtubs, sinks

Drowning

Keep toilet lids down, and possibly use a child lock. Do not leave tubs or sinks filled with water unattended.

Before obtaining a ferret or ferrets, it is essential to “ferret-proof” your home (see Table: Ensuring a Safe Environment). Seal all holes larger than 1 inch in walls, floors, or ductwork and in appliances such as televisions, refrigerators, stoves, and washers. Use wire mesh rather than tape, which ferrets can remove. Put away anything small enough to be swallowed. Do not overlook toxic items, such as houseplants. Lock drawers, cabinets, and doors; be aware that childproof locks may not stop a ferret. They are very good at manipulating objects with their front paws and have been known to open zippers and untwist bottle caps. Get down to ferret eye level and look for small spaces behind furniture and around fixtures such as radiators and pipes, especially those that narrow and taper, where a ferret could become lost, stuck, or suffocate. Recliners and sleeper sofas also pose a hazard. When they cannot be adequately supervised, ferrets should be confined.

Biting

Biting is part of the natural behavior of ferrets. They may bite to get attention or as part of play. This is particularly true of young males 3 to 4 months of age that have spent most of their lives in a pet shop with other ferrets but little human interaction. Ferrets may play with humans in the same rough manner they play with other ferrets. If your ferret nips at you, return it to its cage for a brief “time-out” period. Done consistently, the animal will learn that biting is not appropriate behavior.

The “tunneling” instinct has also led to ferrets being stepped on while under rugs and sat on in couches. It may be helpful to provide ferrets with ready-made enclosures to satisfy the tunneling instinct. Consider flower pots, blankets, large piping, or rugs. Do not use items that might unravel or be chewed up.

Ferrets can be kept as pets in all states in the United States except California and Hawaii. However, some cities, such as New York City, prohibit owning ferrets. You should check with your local fish and game or wildlife department before purchasing a ferret.

Special consideration should be given to households with young children. Ferrets bite and scratch as a part of play and to protect themselves if handled roughly (see Biting). Rough handling may also injure the ferret.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding management of ferrets.

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