Posted: July 23, 2019, 9:30 p.m. EDT
Rooming with a ferret is a bit different than sharing your living quarters with a human, but there are a lot of similarities, too.
Your Ferret’s Space
Boundaries must be set for both man and beast. Your ferret needs a safe area to run and play where he won’t be underfoot and doesn’t require constant supervision. A spare empty room with a barrier across the door is ideal. Your ferret can enjoy his privacy, but you can stop by and visit him frequently, too. Your ferret can rearrange his "furniture” (toys and bedding) as he wishes without compromising the overall aesthetics of your house or apartment.
If your ferret can’t have his own room, then the largest cage that you can afford is the next best thing. Even if your ferret has his own room, have a cage or large carrier on hand. The cage can be used while you clean his room, to fast your ferret for blood work or, in case of an emergency, as a temporary home.
Some ferrets are mess-monsters that leave a room looking like a tornado hit it, and some are neat-freaks that find a place to put everything. This may also include some of your things if you aren’t careful! Just like a human roommate, your ferret may hog the TV remote, even if he has no clue about which programs are on that night. Your ferret also may borrow your car keys, even if he can’t drive the car. Your wallet, purse or other personal items may also go missing. We won’t call it stealing since your pet is such an amiable fellow, but his slight-of-paw can be frustrating if you are in a hurry to go somewhere. You must define and claim spaces of your own. Keep temptation out of your pet’s reach.
Keep Ferrets Out
Your bedroom and kitchen should be off-limits to your roomie. Your ferret won’t whip up a soufflé for two or even a box of Hamburger Helper, so your four-footed roommate doesn’t need access to the kitchen facilities. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of tragedies I personally know of that have befallen ferrets in a kitchen.
Death by dishwasher is common. Electrical deaths and injuries due to stoves, refrigerators and other appliances can also happen. Many ferrets have gotten trapped inside of refrigerators or freezers with deadly results. In older stoves with pilot lights (a flame burning constantly), ferrets have been known to get their whiskers burned off or worse.
Gaps in the walls behind stoves, sinks and cabinets are also hidden dangers. Once your ferret falls between the walls, he may not be able to get out again, and if you don’t know where he is, you may not know where to look until it is too late to save him. It’s easiest and safest to just ban your ferret from the kitchen altogether.
Check your bathroom wall behind the sink for holes, too, if the sink is set into a cabinet. Chemicals stored in lower cabinets can pose a danger. Many ferrets are smart and determined enough to open cabinet doors — especially if they see you do it. The use of baby locks can help, but some ferrets are even smart enough to figure those out.
Ferret-proof all rooms in the house, whether you plan to let your ferret in them or not. Ferrets are smart and can learn to get over some barriers and under some doors. Block off small spaces under stoves, refrigerators and cabinets, and plug up the holes in the walls. If your ferret manages to get into a room where he doesn’t belong, this additional ferret-proofing gives you a chance to grab him before he gets into trouble.
Areas You Share With Your Ferret
Shared space is important to your relationship with your roommate, too. Save time each day to let your ferret out to explore areas outside of his room. Ferrets are curious and intelligent beings that need mental and physical stimulation. Because they can’t read a book or go to the movies, ferrets need you to provide them with some entertainment. This can be as simple as you sitting on the floor and letting them climb on you or bouncing a Ping-Pong ball for them to chase (they rarely fetch, though, so be prepared to get up and get the ball yourself!).
Any mutual territory must be ferret-proofed. Tangles of cords behind electronic equipment, such as TVs, stereos or computers, can be a tempting place to play for a mischievous mustelid. Not only might your ferret ruin your equipment, he might electrocute himself if he chews on the wires or sticks his paws where they don’t belong. Reclining chairs are also a big no-no when a ferret moves in. Many ferrets have lost a limb or even their lives when the reclining mechanism has closed on them. Sofa beds and rocking chairs can also be dangerous to your roommate due to the "crush factor.”
Do you like houseplants? So do ferrets, but not to admire. Digging and flinging dirt is a ferret specialty. If a plant happens to be in the way, no problem. A ferret simply digs out the plant, too! Your ferret may also try to be helpful by watering and fertilizing your plants. Dirt, sand and gravel look a lot like litter to a ferret, but some potting soils contain chemicals that can make a ferret very sick. Like cats, some ferrets chew on plants. This can be more than just a nuisance, because some plants are toxic to ferrets. If you choose to have plants in your house, select ones that are non-toxic and keep them up high where your ferret cannot reach them.
© Courtesy Kristen and Chris Gruber
No matter whether your ferret lives in a room, a cage or exercise pen, these pets thrive when given regular out-of-habitat time and interaction with you.
Keeping Ferrets Comfortable
Ferrets are light and heat sensitive. A cool room with a low-light level suits them best. If possible, give your ferret a room with either a north or east exposure. Ferrets have poorly developed sweat glands and can’t perspire to keep themselves cool. Some ferrets develop heat stress at temperatures as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and prolonged temperatures exceeding 90 degrees can be deadly.
Ferrets are naturally crepuscular. This means they are normally active during the early morning and evening hours. Excessive exposure to light affects their estrogen and testosterone levels. Even neutered ferrets are affected, but because their reproductive organs can no longer produce hormones like intact ferrets, the adrenal glands kick in to try to compensate. It is theorized that this is one reason why so many pet ferrets develop adrenal gland disease. If your ferret is in a sunny room all day, and then you come home and turn on a lot of artificial lights at night, you might be predisposing your ferret to adrenal gland disease later in life.
Whether you’ve decided to use a cage on a regular basis or just occasionally, keep your ferret’s cage away from windows. Most ferrets are good climbers, especially if the smells and sounds of the outdoors motivate them. If your ferret’s cage — or any other furniture for that matter — is near the window, it may be able to climb up to the sill and get out. A window screen is no match for the claws of a determined ferret.
Your ferret’s cage must suit his needs. If your ferret must be caged more than six hours a day, get the biggest cage that you can. Make sure that it is appropriate for ferrets. If the bars are more than 1 inch wide, your ferret is likely to squeeze out. The basic rule is: If a ferret’s head fits, his body will follow.
Get a cage that is also appropriate to the physical capabilities of your ferret. A young ferret with a lot of energy and agile limbs may do best in a multi-level cage so it can climb around and work off excess energy. An older ferret may be better off with a single-level cage or a multi-level cage with gently sloping ramps to help him get up or down more easily.
Whether your ferret is young or old, avoid steep ramps. Some cages have ramps that go almost straight up and down. Your ferret may be able to climb up, but getting down could be difficult and cause a fall that might injure the ferret. Cages with full floors or at least a half floor for each additional level are ideal.
Cage flooring is important, too. A solid floor is best. If you have a wire floor, make sure that the spaces between the wires are 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch. Anything bigger may allow your ferret’s foot to fall through and injure a leg. Cover the floor of the cage with a cage pad or a piece of blanket. Towels can be used, but make sure your ferret’s nails are regularly trimmed. Long nails might snag on the towel and rip out a nail, which can be very painful. Ferrets that are constantly forced to walk on wire floors are prone to splayed toes and sore footpads.
If you are strongly against caging your ferret, it’s still wise to restrict his living area at night or while you are away. In a sudden emergency, you won’t have time to go looking all over the house for your pet. If you know your pet is in his room, he has a better chance of escaping with you on short notice.
If your ferret has his own room, storing his stuff shouldn’t be a problem. Just place any items in the closet and close the door, right? Wrong! As I mentioned before, ferrets can often squeeze under doors, even if it seems to be a tight fit. Many can also climb into dressers and climb up through the inside to reach the upper drawers.
Large plastic totes are great for storing ferret gear. Place these on top of the cage or anywhere else in the room and most ferrets can’t get inside, as long as you snap the lids down securely. You can get one for extra bedding, one to store food and treats, and one to store litter.
Your ferret may even like a tote to sleep in. Just cut an opening or two at the base of the tote, put some bedding in and it becomes a snug hidey-hole. Another option for storage is to put up some shelves and put your ferret’s stuff on those, out of your ferret’s reach.
Approved Food And Treats
Your new roommate counts on you to shop for both of you, but where do you draw the line concerning what’s your food and what’s your pet’s? Obviously the bag of ferret kibble that you bought is your ferret’s. But what can you two share?
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they must have a meat-based diet. Even their kibble should be high in meat protein and fat. For treats, you can offer small pieces of boneless cooked meat, fish or egg. Stay away from pork, though. In my experience, some ferrets have a difficult time digesting pork and might suffer the runs.
As a rare treat, offer your ferret tiny pieces of cucumber, finely chopped apple or fresh melon with the skin or rind off. Your ferret cannot digest these foods, so limit these severely — 1/2 teaspoon once a week is plenty. You don’t want treats to fill your ferret’s tummy and prevent him from eating the foods he needs to get proper nutrition. Some people believe that fruits and vegetables should never be offered to ferrets, so discuss this with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your ferret.
Do not feed your ferret sugary or starchy foods. A ferret’s pancreas is very sensitive to sugar. Pancreatitis, diabetes or insulinomas can develop if your ferret consumes too many sweets. Also stay away from hard foods that don’t soften in water. Foods such as dried fruit, nuts, carrots and other hard fresh fruits or vegetables can get caught in your ferret’s intestine, causing a blockage that may need to be surgically removed.
Chocolate is a big no-no, too. Chocolate contains theobromide, which can affect your ferret’s liver. Onions also contain chemicals that can affect your ferret’s liver. If your ferret begs for a treat, offer him a piece of ferret kibble. Sometimes just the fact that you gave him something is all that your ferret wants.
For liquid refreshment, stick with plain water. If your ferret is healthy and is on a good diet, he doesn’t need any vitamin or flavor additives in his water. Keep your ferret away from soda, juice, coffee and alcohol. Even milk is not recommended, because it can upset a ferret’s stomach. If you are simmering a chicken for homemade stock, you can offer your ferret a little broth (before you add vegetables or seasonings) or soak a couple of ferret kibbles in the broth and offer these to your pet.
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