Ferret Friendly Facts and Advice by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

 Back to Article Index

Ferret Friends

 and Foes

These articles and images are copyrighted and may not be reprinted, re-used, reposted, copied, or otherwise distributed without permission from the author.

You should not rely on the veterinary advice or information provided on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any specific situation. Always consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the medical condition or treatment of your own pet or animal.

Ferret Friend or Ferret Foe?

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

Ferrets can get along great with some pets, and are potential disasters with others. The key is constant human supervision during the pet interactions—and knowing the personality and behaviors of all your critters.

Ferrets belong to the scientific order Carnivora, which means they're meat eaters. Wild ferret cousins (like weasels, mink, and marten) eat birds, eggs, insects, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles. Like house cats, domesticated ferrets instinctively hunt and chase anything that is potential prey. After thousands of years of domestication, this behavior often translates into playing, but ferret play is rough and could hurt other pets.

Bad matches
In general, any bird or reptile is a bad match for a ferret, and the two should not interact. Birds can make noises that agitate ferrets because the sound is in the same range of a shrieking kit (or a squeaky toy). Ferrets will naturally go after the noise to silence it. Even a quiet bird can attract a playful ferret with its movements, and small birds are in danger of being killed. Larger birds, with their strong beaks and lightning-fast movements, could harm the ferret, as well.

Reptiles are viewed by ferrets as either enemies or tasty snacks. When my Bobbin was a kit, she found a baby garden snake and began to eat it immediately. Little Bear decapitated a 3-foot blacksnake that had the bad fortune to climb in an open window. Ferrets have also been known to fatally injure large iguanas while trying to play with their new friend.

Ferrets are also not a good match with pet mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and rabbits. Ferrets will give chase, and smaller rodents may get killed, even if by accident. You wouldn't let your pet cat play with your hamster, so don't let your ferret! Larger rodents, such as chinchillas and rabbits, may not get killed, but they can become very stressed.

Chinchillas, in particular, do not respond well to ferrets even being in the same room. Some ferrets get along well with rabbits, but many find it fun to "ride the rabbit" by chomping down on the rabbit's neck and hanging on while the rabbit races around trying to get rid of the rider. Even if nobody gets hurt, I think this is too stressful for the poor rabbit.

Ferrets and Fido
Ferrets can get along with some dogs, but it will take plenty of effort on your part. Some dogs are instinctive hunters and not a good match. These include terriers, who were bred to kill rats and other small prey, and guarding dogs, who may be more likely to bite if provoked. Retrievers seem to do well with ferrets. It's always up to you and the individual personality of your dog—there are always exceptions.

To get along with a ferret, a dog needs low prey and chase drives and plenty of bite inhibition. The dog should be well trained to respond unfailingly to your commands. TooToo, an Alaskan Malamute I knew, had many obedience training sessions before ever being exposed to a ferret, and an additional command of "No bite!" was taught.

You must establish where the ferret fits in your family pack. Put the dog in a crate that a ferret cannot climb into, and let the dog watch your human family play with the ferret. This helps to establish pack membership. You'll also need to establish the ferret as a "superior" pack member by always feeding treats to the ferret first and the dog second.

After several sessions with the crate, hold the dog firmly while letting the ferret explore the dog. Consider using a muzzle, and don't let the ferret nip the dog. When you feel comfortable, try the dog on the leash, but make sure the ferret has an escape route or hiding place.

Patience, training, and supervision is key. No matter how good things get, never ever leave your dog's toys, treats, or food around. A dog will rightfully protect what is his, and ferrets love to steal rawhide bones and toys (which can cause intestinal blockages if ingested) and eat dog food (which is bad for ferrets).

Here, Kitty Kitty!
Ferrets get along best with cats. My ferrets find cats intriguing and want to play with them (although Zodiac is scared of cats). In fact, most ferrets annoy cats because the ferrets don't want to quit playing! Most cats just jump to a place where the ferret can't get. Others will bop the ferret on the head as a warning (which most ferrets ignore or take as an invitation to play more).

Again, supervision is key. An angry or cornered cat may unsheath her claws for the next head bop and cause some damage. I know a ferret who suffered eye damage from a cat-clawing episode. Cats may do better with ferrets if they are introduced to ferrets as kittens. Often they grow up playing and sleeping together, and will even use the same litter box. Some cats work to bury the ferret additions to the litter box, too!

For first-time introductions, hold the cat and the ferret and let them sniff each other a few times a day for a week or so. If things go well, gradually let each animal have more freedom to check the other out. When you first let them have complete freedom in the same room, make sure both the ferret and the cat have an escape route or a place that the other pet can't get to.

As a responsible pet owner, you'll need to make the decision of which ferret friends you want in your household. You'll also have to decide whether to keep your ferrets and other pets separate or to spend the time training your cats and dogs to get along with your ferret. Hopefully, you'll have a peaceful animal abode!