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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

* This is the Veterinary Version. *

Special Considerations for Ferrets

By James K. Morrisey, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Service Chief, Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Service, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

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.

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 the 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 sofa-sleepers also pose a hazard. When they cannot be adequately supervised, ferrets should be confined.

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, dish-washers, 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 the lower level of the home only.

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 bottom of a door with a gap.

Cabinets

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

Secure doors using sturdy, child-proof 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; killed by rocking chair rails.

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 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.

Any 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 the National Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) accessible.

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.

This “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 out of protection if handled roughly (see Biting). Rough handling may also injure the ferret.

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* This is the Veterinary Version. *