Posted: September 1, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT
Signs Of Stress In Ferrets
Some of the following signs can also be the result of other problems, too, so don't hesitate to take your ferret in to see your veterinarian if any of these symptoms are present, especially the last two.
1. Your ferret hides a lot, especially from other ferrets or pets.
2. Your ferret hisses frequently.
3. Your ferret cowers away from people or other pets.
4. Your ferret trembles when people or other pets come near.
5. Your ferret is not using its litter box, especially when other ferrets are near.
6. Your ferret has runny stools.
7. Your ferret has black or tarry stools (a sign of ulcers).
I Want To Be Alone
Having one ferret is fun! Having more ferrets should be even more fun, right? It may be for you, but not always for your pet. Some ferrets are loners and get stressed if they encounter other ferrets or even other animals. Most members of the weasel family are solitary creatures, except during mating season or if the jill is raising her kits.
Ferrets that are raised together will usually get along, but introducing a new friend to an established pet is not always a welcoming experience. Some ferrets are afraid of a newcomer or consider it to be an intruder. This can stress the ferrets quite a bit. Some ferrets may run away from a newcomer and others may attack it. If you are determined to keep both ferrets, give them plenty of space so they can get away from each other and socialize them slowly. You will probably need to cage them separately for a while.
Some people take the attitude of “toss them together and let them work it out.” If there is just light scuffling or hissing, that might be OK to try. If the animals are actually going after each other and fighting, then a slower introduction is warranted. Ferrets that are pushed into an unwanted relationship too quickly can develop stomach ulcers and intestinal problems, such as loose stools.
Some ferrets never learn to get along with other ferrets and just have to have human interaction for company. Fortunately, most ferrets eventually get along. They usually establish a pecking order, and as long as everybody knows their place, there is peace between them.
Another cause of stress can be the opposite of the above situation. A ferret that has been with other ferrets or other animals its whole life and suddenly finds itself alone can become stressed. For instance, a ferret that has had a lifelong companion may grieve and be stressed if the companion passes away. Or if your roommate or sibling moves out and takes his or her ferret with them, your ferret may miss the other ferret. Your ferret may also grieve at the loss of a cat or dog that was a companion to it or even the other person.
Don’t automatically assume that the surviving ferret will rejoice if you bring another ferret home to keep it company, though. The surviving ferret may think that the new ferret is the cause of its friend’s disappearance. Introduce them slowly, and hopefully they will adjust to each other.
If you are lucky enough to have ferrets that get along, know when to stop. Even ferrets that get along in groups have their limits. Most ferrets tolerate groups of five to eight ferrets. In other words, the size of an average ferret litter. After that, the stress kicks in.
If you have a larger group, you may notice that one or two ferrets in the group get picked on by the others or they don’t play as a group and wander off from each other. This is their way of dealing with the stress of being crowded. You may want to break your ferrets into two groups and let each group play in a different room. Switch the rooms each day so they have someplace new to explore. Variety can help reduce stress and boredom, too. Plenty of toys and tubes to play with help ease tension.
Physical stress can cause emotional stress, too. Stress on the body creates stress on the mind.
Adjust The Thermostat
Extreme temperatures can be stressful to your ferret as well as life-threatening. While ferrets can tolerate cool temperatures for extended periods of time, a ferret that has been kept indoors cannot adapt immediately to living out in the cold. With the exception of short playtimes (a few minutes for instance), a ferret should not be taken outside without a blanket or towel if the weather drops below freezing.
If you want your ferret to experience snow, take it outside to let it explore, but don’t stay out there too long. Your ferret might be too excited to realize, but the chill will set in. This can stress your ferret’s body and make your pet more susceptible to the flu. You are better off bringing a cake pan full of snow into the house for your ferret to explore.
Heat is very dangerous to ferrets. While a ferret can survive for several hours outside in the cold, it can die in minutes from excessive heat. Ferrets do not have well developed sweat glands and cannot cool themselves by perspiring. Ferrets can get heatstroke at temperatures as low as 85 degrees if they don’t have a way to cool themselves off. Heat-related stress can cause lethargy and even death.
Don’t take your ferret outside on hot days, if possible, and never leave your ferret in a car unattended. Even on relatively cool days, the temperature inside of your car can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The general rule to remember is that for every 10 degrees of air temperature, your car will be about 40 degrees hotter. On a 70-degree day, your car can reach 110 degrees even with the windows “cracked open.”
Handicaps And Injuries
Handicaps and injuries can stress your ferret, too. Ferrets are stoic little animals and generally put on a brave demeanor, so you may not realize that they are feeling stressed. They know that they are not at their best and the pressure is on to fool those around them.
If you have a ferret with a recently acquired handicap or that is recovering from an injury or surgery, show it a lot of love and make sure that other pets in the house don’t pester it or pick on it. Likewise, a ferret that is sick or on medication may also want to be left alone from its usual play group.
If your ferret is shying away from its buddies or is unusually aggressive toward them, give your pet a space where it can be alone for a while if it wishes. Depending on the injury or surgery, you may even need to keep your ferret caged separately from its friends for a while to avoid additional trauma caused by the other ferrets walking on their injured comrade.
Ferrets are very complex creatures and what stresses one ferret may not affect another ferret at all. Get to know your ferret, and find out what causes it stress so you can eliminate as much of it as possible and help it live a long and happy life.
Mary Van Dahm has worked with exotic animals for more than 40 years, and she has specialized in ferrets for 22 of those years. She currently shares her home with three ferrets, three sugar gliders and her husband, Kurt.