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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 Oct 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.

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Before obtaining a ferret or ferrets, it is essential to “ferret-proof” your home (see Table: Ensuring a Safe Environment Ensuring a Safe Environment 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... read more ). 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 Biting 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... read more ). Rough handling may also injure the ferret.

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