By Amy K. Hooper
Posted: December 11, 2012, 7:20 p.m. EST
Courtesy of Erika Vornehm
Will your ferrets sleep soundly during all the holiday hubbub?
In early December, before your winter festivities kick into high gear, take six minutes to sit on the floor of your home and really look at everything from your ferrets’ point of view. Imagine the decorations that will be strung and placed, the visitors who will come through your door, the food and drink that will be relished, the joyful noise that everyone will make — and then think of how your ferrets might react to all of that.
Keep Temptations Out Of Reach
Holiday decorations dazzle our eyes and certainly catch ferrets’ attention, too. While you’re sitting on the floor, consider the height of a ferret-safe zone, and then place all decorations above that level. Tinsel, artificial snow, Christmas tree ornaments and lights, plants and other festive additions have to stay out of paws’ reach.
You want to make sure that your inquisitive pets cannot eat objects that can block their intestines and create medical emergencies, said Katrina Ramsell, PhD, DVM, of Northwest Exotic Pet Vet in Beaverton, Oregon.
"My first and foremost recommendation is to try to prevent ingestion of foreign objects or toxic substances over the holidays,” Ramsell said. "Young ferrets especially have a tendency to chew on and ingest rubbery objects. Children's toys are a big culprit, but so are things like tinsel, cherry pits, and nuts and shells.”
If your ferret suddenly loses its appetite or begins to heave or vomit, Ramsell said to immediately take your pet to a veterinarian. "These are signs indicative of a likely gastrointestinal foreign body,” she said.
Ramsell noted that your curious housemates might do their best to eat nuts and other holiday fare in your home. Make sure that you keep an eye on them and the location of any uncovered edible items, preferably above the ferret-safe zone.
Winter And Your Ferrets
Plan Ahead For Party Guests
While celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas and other holidays, we often invite family and friends into our homes. Again, while sitting on your floor, think of your ferrets’ reactions to the additional noise and the unfamiliar humans in their midst. The hands-down best way to de-stress your pets: Move them and their cages away from the hubbub, and refresh their food and water supplies.
Amanda Zail and her husband always moved their ferrets’ two-story cage into the bedroom.
Reduce Your Stress, Too
As cute as ferrets are, they do not make good Christmas tree toppers. That’s what Amanda Zail and her husband learned while not closely watching ferrets Loki and Phoenix.
"Loki climbed up to the top of the tree while we didn’t pay enough attention, and he knocked it over,” she said. "From then on, we always put the tree on the kitchen table or kept it out of their reach.”
Fire also has to remain out of reach. "We discovered almost the hard way that ferrets are fascinated by fire,” Zail said. "The ferrets went nose-to-nose with a candle. After that, whenever we lit candles or the fireplace, we had to put the ferrets in their cage.”
Before guests came over for parties, Loki and Phoenix enjoyed lots of playtime and then went into their cage. "They’re like kids; they’ll wear themselves out,” Zail said. "Then they’d go to sleep for hours. It made it easier when people wanted to see them; we could say, ‘No, they’re sleeping.’”
"We needed to do that a day ahead of time, so that Phoenix wouldn’t be stressed about that change on top of all the noise when people came over,” she said.
To counter that noise, Alicia Drakiotes suggests playing music at a low volume. "Play a radio softly, maybe a National Public Radio station,” she said. "It will buffer the din of a celebratory crowd and keep them feeling there is a presence in the room.”
The calming noise can prove especially helpful if your crowd includes children. "Keep ferrets separated from rambunctious youngsters,” Drakiotes said. "The screeches of joy may become defensive triggers to alarmed ferrets.”
With her ferrets safely in their own room, Dena Arellanes also provided physical comforts via lots of FerreTone and their stuffed toys. Zail sometimes covered the ferrets’ cage to give them privacy, darkness and even more of a respite from "people noise.”
With your pets contained in a quieter location, they’re also less likely to become stressed by all the ground-level activity, such as vibrations and constantly moving feet. Plus, your guests might keep their eyes up while walking and lack ferret awareness, Zail said. "They’re not safe out when you have people over who aren’t used to looking straight down,” she added. "They kind of have a kamikaze mentality where they try to get under your feet.”
Another huge bonus of caging your ferrets during shindigs: You greatly reduce the chances that they can escape your home. Ramsell suggests that owners remember to shut doors tightly and offers a word of caution about injuries sustained during an escape attempt. "I’ve seen ferrets that have been slammed in doors,” she said.
Ferrets that escape outdoors in regions with colder climates quickly can become vulnerable to illness. The lower and freezing temperatures will stress the animals’ long bodies, which lose heat fairly quickly. Frostbite also becomes a concern; if your ferrets spend any unattended time outdoors in snow, immediately check for red nose, ears, paws and tail. If those signs are visible, you need to take your pets to a veterinarian immediately.
Ramsell says some ferret owners feel guilty about keeping their pets in their cages during the holidays, but she thinks it’s for the best. "Keeping them safe is of the utmost importance,” she said. "It is difficult to enjoy the holidays if something happens to one of your little friends.”