Bringing any pet into a home is an unspoken contract that you will care for the pet for the rest of its life. Caring for a pet includes providing food, water, a clean and comfortable place to live and sleep, and giving the pet attention and love. The responsibilities of a pet owner also extend to keeping their pet safe from dangers and harm.
Perhaps no animal is as high-risk for getting injured, lost, or accidentally harmed as a pet ferret. By nature obsessively curious and for the most part fearless (particularly if they are deaf), ferrets are notorious for getting themselves stuck in tight corners, wedged into drainpipes, stuck under sofas or caught in the gears of reclining chairs. They are often underfoot when out of their cage, and like cats, they like to be right at their owner’s feet whenever there’s something interesting going on. They sample new foods with careless abandon and often chew at or dig at things they shouldn’t. Added to all this is their tendency to let their curiosity lead them into trouble if they are ever lost or escape outside their home.
Ferrets are a joy to have as family members, but their extreme desire to play with forbidden objects, gnaw on dangerous toys, and wander away from home means that ferret owners must be alert and vigilant when their ferrets are out and about. In the hope of educating ferret owners to the dangers that lurk everywhere for curious ferrets, we have prepared this brochure with some detailed hints at keeping ferrets safe, healthy, and happy.
Daily Ferret Danger
Cages: Ins and Outs:
A ferret’s cage should be his castle, full of warm bedding and comfy swinging hammocks. But a cage can, on occasion, pose a serious risk to a ferret’s safety.
Sharp Edges: Cages have been known to have sharp edges, even store-bought cages, but especially homemade cages. Run your hands carefully over the surfaces that your ferret’s feet and body will come into contact with, and file down or cover sharp places.
Bars: Ferret feet can get stuck if the wire of the cage is not small enough. The cage floors should not be larger than 1/2 by 1/2 inch wire. Ferrets have lost toenails by catching their claws in the tiny spaces between the cage floor and cage sides. Check carefully to ensure a perfect fit. If a cage looks shoddy, don’t buy it. Better to buy a more expensive cage once than to pay vet bills several times when the ferret gets hurt. And when a cage starts showing signs of wear that can’t be repaired, it’s time for a new cage.
Interior Décor: The bedding in a ferret’s cage needs to be material that he cannot catch his nails in and pull them off, and do not use any material that he can chew and swallow. Terry cloth or towels are poor bedding choices – the loops can catch toenails and rip them off. Old sweatshirts, denim for flooring, old sheets and pillowcases make fine cage bedding.
Home and Hearth:
Ferrets love exploring their home environment. They will cruise the room, sticking their noses into any little spaces, climbing couches and chairs, and if there is any small opening that they can squeeze into, rest assured they WILL find it!
Recliners and couches have long been deathtraps for ferrets. Reclining chairs have crushed ferrets that climb inside and nose around the gears. Ferrets love to weasel their way underneath sofa cushions and lie flat, then get squashed when someone unknowingly sits down on top of them.
Keep ferrets away from recliners! Examine your couch carefully to determine if the ferret can get inside. If there are any small openings or pockets that might lead to the inside of the couch, board or sew them up.
Ferrets have been able to escape through openings such as dryer duct openings and heating vent openings – a ferret needs only a hole about 1 inch by 1 inch to squeeze through. Their bodies are capable of compressing so that if their head can fit into a hole, their body can usually follow (and in the cases where it can’t, the ferret persists anyway and winds up getting stuck). Keep ferrets out of rooms that have possible escape tunnels! Board up or close off small openings.
Fireplaces and hearths are a siren song to curious ferrets. Ferrets have been known to enjoy tunneling into leftover ashes and snorkeling through the remains of a fire. The ashes can and will cause respiratory distress, and the ashes contain carcinogens. Fireplaces are off-limits for ferrets.
Ferret Toys and Treats
Ferrets love to play. They will play with a ball, a shoe, a bag, each other, and you. They will also play with anything else that interests them, that they can dig in, drag away, or sink their teeth into.
Ferrets are notorious for loving to chew on soft objects such as foam rubber or soft latex rubber. This is the worst thing they could chew on; small pieces of foam or latex can easily be swallowed, where they will lodge in the ferret’s intestines and form a life-threatening blockage. There are even some ferret toys on the market made of foam and rubber, but they are not safe for any ferret. Keep away from any toy that can potentially be chewed into pieces and swallowed.
Ferrets love to play in boxes and paper bags. A few holes cut into a box provides a fun house for ferrets to chase each other and hide. Paper bags are also fun to run in and out of and to jump on to surprise the other ferret hiding inside!
Ferrets love paper towel and toilet paper tubes but have been known to get their heads stuck inside them and suffocate if they are not discovered in time. Larger cardboard tubes, like the ones used for large posters or lengths of carpeting, work better and are sturdier and safer for playing. Any tube needs to be at least 4 inches in diameter.
Ferrets have a notorious sweet tooth, and always seem to come out of the woodwork as soon as you sit down with a treat! They love to taste new foods and will beg for a drop of whatever you’re having.
Ferrets should not be given sugar, especially in excessive amounts. Ferrets are prone to insulinoma, a cancer of the pancreas that alters their blood sugar levels, and sugar in their diet may help this progression. Ferrets will beg for chocolate, ice cream, and soda, but a better treat is a raisin every so often, or even a bite of their own kibble (if you give it to them, they think it’s a treat!). Some “ferret treats” on the market are not really good for ferrets at all. Avoid treats that contain mostly fruits and vegetables and lots of sugar, corn or flour.
Ferrets will get into cleaning products, and many animals have been known to lap at bleach because it smells sweet. Make sure your ferret cannot get into cleaners or chemicals that he may taste or get on his skin. Ferrets have gotten very bad burns from being splashed with bleach; one ferret lost all her fur and it never grew back. Childproof locks, the kind that does not allow the cabinet to open at all without some force, work well at keeping chemicals in and ferrets out!
Outdoors and Escaping
The Great Outdoors:
Many ferrets love to romp outdoors, dig in real dirt, uproot a few plants, and explore the yard and garden. With a little caution, exercise outside can be a great experience not only for the ferret but also for the people who get to watch!
Ferrets should be kept away from any grass that has been sprayed with fertilizers or chemically treated. They’re lower to the ground than dogs or cats, and any chemical residue on the grass will rub off on their sides and belly, where it will be licked off later. Steer clear of lawns outside of businesses and restaurants; usually, they’ve been chemically treated. Stick to your own lawn and grass that you know is safe.
Ferrets are quick; any ferret roaming around outside needs to be on a secure leash. The harness-type leashes work best; the figure-8 leashes can be hard to strap on, uncomfortable for the ferret, and ferrets seem to have an easier time getting out of the figure-8 leash. A harness and leash set, buckled snugly around the ferret’s neck and shoulders, prevents escape when walking or playing outside.
Ferrets can be fearless when it comes to other animals. Do not let the ferret approach a strange dog or cat, even if it’s an animal you know to be normally friendly. Trustworthy animals can still attack a creature they’ve never seen before. Keep them at a safe distance from animals they do not know.
The Great Escape:
Because they’re so curious, ferrets tend to slide through a hole or opening and then decide if it was a good idea! Most “escapee” ferrets didn’t really mean to run away; they slipped through an open door or air vent and suddenly found themselves in a world of new sights and smells that quickly led them away from the safety of their home.
Make sure that you have a toy with a loud sound that your ferret responds quickly to; a squeaky toy or a rattling toy. If a ferret is lost outside, immediately alert neighbors for several blocks – a curious ferret can wander surprisingly far. Notify the dog officer, local vets, as well as the police, in case someone calls and reports seeing “a large rat” (it has happened!) Make sure any local shelters have a picture of your ferret and your name so that they can call you if they hear of your pet or it is brought in.
Leave some food outside and keep calling your ferret, squeaking or rattling the toy, and searching. Keep walking around the neighborhood so that the ferret will hear your voice. Listen carefully for any rustling in the grass or bushes. And if neighbors don’t mind, poke around the sides of houses and under cars and sheds – ferrets are likely to stick close to or underneath buildings, especially if they are scared.
Keep asking neighbors, dog officers, and vets if they’ve heard of your ferret being spotted or brought in. Don’t give up! Ferrets have been lost for days or weeks and still, in the end, found their way back home!
Because they are often underfoot, ferrets sometimes get stepped on or have things dropped on them. Ferret owners eventually develop a sort of shuffling walk when their ferrets are out, to avoid stepping on their slinky friends!
Ferret love to climb, but not all are coordinated enough to play safely on high places. Ferrets can fall, and because they are small even a shortfall can injure them. They do not land on their feet like cats, and if they fall on their back or sides they can seriously injure themselves.
Keep your ferret’s playthings low to the ground. Don’t give them anything high to climb, and make sure there is lots of padding in the cage in case they tumble sleepily from their hammock onto the cage floor.
Ferrets do get stepped on, they do fall, and things that they push or dig at sometimes fall over on them. If your ferret has an accident that may have resulted in trauma, check the ferret carefully for signs of injury. If your ferrets have a fall or are stepped on hard, don’t let them run away and hide – you may miss an important clue as to how badly they are hurt.
If, after an accident, your ferret shows any signs of listlessness, pain, or seems to be favoring a paw or licking at an injured spot, get them to a vet. So often, injuries are on the inside, and only the vet can tell for sure whether the ferret has internal injuries.
The most important step toward keeping a ferret-safe in the home is diligent, ongoing ferret-proofing. Before a ferret even comes home with you, small openings need to be sealed off, dryer vents need to be out of reach, and cat and dog toys need to be kept away from ferrets if they are made of thin latex rubber or have feathers or beads which could be chewed off and swallowed. Check baseboard heater to make sure a ferret cannot get inside them. Make sure fireplaces have sturdy screens to keep ferrets out, especially if there will be ashes in the fireplace. Keep ferrets out of rooms such as home offices which are likely to have staples, tacks, and tasty rubber bands lying around on the floor!
Ferret-proofing must also be an ongoing effort. Ferrets are intelligent animals who are always formulating new ways to get into mischief! If they can’t get up onto the kitchen table today, don’t worry – they will probably find a way to get up onto it tomorrow! Your ferrets will constantly amaze you with their ability to learn new tricks and find their way onto and into places you thought they couldn’t get to!
Please feel free to contact us if you need any help!
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