Creating A Happy Pet Family

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Discover which animals get along best with fuzzies, how to introduce ferrets to other pets, and which pets should never be kept with ferrets.
by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.
Ferrets USA
Volume 6, 2001 Annual
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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 Foes: Here are some other critters that are NOT good combinations with ferrets

  • Rodents: including mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, chinchillas, guinea pigs, most rabbits
  • Birds: including parakeets, parrots, finches, canaries, birds of prey
  • Reptiles and Amphibians: including all kinds of snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs

Ferret Friends: Here are some other pets that could potentially be ferret buddies

  • Many cats
  • Some dogs
  • A few rabbits
  • A few hedgehogs (co-existence, not friends)


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. Because many ferret owners also have other pets, it’s important that you know as much as possible about these interactions.


Ferrets belong to the scientific order Carnivora, or meat eaters. That means their diet consists mostly of meat, and meat products make their mouths water. Wild ferret cousins (like weasels, mink, and marten) eat birds, eggs, insects, rabbits, rodents, and reptiles. Like housecats, domesticated ferrets instinctively hunt and may 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. Some ferrets have more hunting instincts than others, so it is important that you know the personality of your ferret. One of my ferrets, Thor, has no desire to chase anything, and watches with benign interest if a cricket crawls across the floor. On the other hand, Little Bear is half European Fitch, and will take down anything that moves and try to eat it. Last year, a three-foot long nonpoisonous blacksnake had the misfortune of slithering into the kitchen to explore. Although blacksnakes are extremely fast-moving snakes and my nearsighted Little Bear weighs a mere pound, it was apparently no match. When I got up in the morning, I saw Little Bear with her blood-covered chin, war-dancing around her decapitated kill. Many of my other ferrets took little interest in the snake. Because the poor snake was no longer moving, it was no longer an interesting toy.


In general, any bird or reptile is a bad match for a ferret and the two should not interact. Reptiles are viewed by ferrets as either enemies, toys, or tasty snacks. When Bobbin was a kit, she found a baby garden snake and began to eat it immediately (by the tail – indicating that a few hunting instincts were missing!). Tigger’s hobby is to catch and eat frogs on the back porch. Many of the wild geckos and chameleons around our house are missing their tails because Stevie loves to chase these lizards and pounce on their tails. Ferrets have also been known to fatally injure large iguanas while trying to play with their new friend. And in a few cases, the ferrets have been severely injured right back by the iguanas’ defensive biting or tail whipping. Reptile bites can cause serious infections, and some reptiles potentially could carry the salmonella bacteria, which ferrets are susceptible to. Because ferrets and reptiles aren’t particularly good for each other, ideally they should not be kept as pets in the same household. If they are in the same household, they should be housed in separate rooms and not be allowed to interact. Always wash your hands in between handling any reptile and handling the rest of your pets or family.

Birds can make noises that agitate ferrets because many bird sounds are in the same range of a shrieking kit (or a squeaky toy). The most agitating sounds come from the shrieking or squawking of the parakeet/parrot family. Ferrets will naturally go after the noise to silence it.  I once witnessed a ferret who had waited for two years to capture her foe, a noisy Quaker parrotlet named Sammy. Although the two were let out at separate times, Sammy escaped from his cage and set off to explore the house while Sweet Pea was loose. Sweet Pea managed to capture and kill Sammy, and the owner found the normally angelic ferret crouched over the bird, savagely plucking out feathers. A larger parrot (like a Cockatoo or Macaw), with their strong beaks and lightening-fast movements, could harm or kill a ferret. Unfortunately, larger birds are often housed on platforms or in cages with bar spacing large enough to permit a ferret to get to the bird. 

Even a quiet bird can attract a playful ferret with its fluttering movements, and small birds are in danger of being killed.  In any case, the mere presence of a predatory ferret could easily stress out a smaller bird. If you have birds in the household, make sure that birds and ferrets live in different areas and don’t have access to each other. Be doubly cautious about escape-proofing both the ferret and bird quarters. Keep bird cages hanging from the ceiling or a stand a ferret can’t climb. Ideally, birds and ferrets should not even be able to see one another. 


For households with aquariums, for the most part there is no problem with a ferret. However, some ferrets find aquariums and fish fascinating. There are a few stories about ferrets capturing guppies, mollies, and other small fish from tanks and eating them. Another ferret I know liked to swish goldfish out of the bowl because it was so fun to watch them flop around out of the water! In any case, most ferrets seem to love to drink the fish water. Fish water could contain giardia protozoa, which can cause severe intestinal upset for the ferret and is difficult to cure. Ferret interference could certainly stress out the fish and upset the balance of the tank. At least one ferret has drowned in a fish tank. So keep your aquariums covered, secure, and out of reach of Flipper Ferrets!


Ferrets are 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. If you wouldn’t let your pet cat play with your hamster, don’t let your ferret. Think of the ferret as having the same hunting instincts as a cat, and let this be your guide around mice, rats, gerbils, sugar gliders and hamsters.

Larger rodents, such as chinchillas, guinea pigs (cavies) and rabbits may not get killed, but become very stressed. Chinchillas in particular do not respond well to ferrets even being in the same room. Appetite loss and fur loss are just some the problems Chinchillas experience when they sense the presence of a ferret. 

Some ferrets get along well with rabbits, but many ferrets 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. Wild cousins of the domesticated ferret kill rabbits by administering a neck chomp, so the “play bite” of the domesticated ferret is really sending a death signal to the poor rabbit. Even if nobody gets hurt, I think this behavior is extremely stressful for the rabbit. Rabbits may righteously defend themselves with a bite or kick. A kick from a large rabbit has the potential to break ferret bones.

Similar chasing and neck-chomping behavior can be seen with guinea pigs, who have less ability to defend themselves because they are less quick and agile. However, a terrified cavy can certainly administer a strong bite. Ferrets can and do attack guinea pigs, and guinea pigs seem to die of shock, not injuries. The high-pitched cavy whistle may be especially intriguing to ferrets.

There are always a few exceptions to the no-rodent rule. I know of a ferret that lived with a guinea pig in the same cage for several years. There are also some ferrets who seem to have absolutely no hunting instinct and a low aggression level during play. These ferrets have bonded with their bunny buddies or cavy cohorts and everyone seems to enjoy playtime. These ferrets were introduced slowly (and on a leash/harness) to their new rodent friends and are only allowed to play under human supervision.


Ferrets and hedgehogs seem to be acceptable housemates, only because hedgehogs can roll up into a spiky ball and defend themselves. Ferrets find hedgehogs a bit too challenging to play with and usually wind up ignoring them after a while. Many ferrets enjoy competing with hedgehogs for cricket or mealworm treats, so be sure your hedgehog is eating properly. Ferrets find hedgehogs curious at first, and they may “worry” the hedgehog. If you notice your hedgehog eliminating from fear, stop the interactions. A ferret could potentially harm a hedgehog (especially one that gets too fat to roll up into a koosh ball).

The few incidences of ferret-hermit crab interaction I have read about ended with the ferret eating the hermit crab food, playing with the hermit crab, and finally eating the hermit crab. Pet insects also make good ferret snacks. Ferrets have consumed pet tarantulas, giant cockroaches, and even scorpions. Keep in mind that some of these bugs could also harm the ferret, so keep pet insects out of reach from ferrets.

Ferrets seem to enjoy other types of livestock, such as pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and horses. However, these animals are usually too large for a ferret to play with and the potential to harm the ferrets is high. A friend of mine had a horse and a ferret, and the ferret loved to chase the horse’s tail, until the ferret was accidentally stepped on and got his back broken. Although the ferret is now healed, he no longer chases horses! I introduced my Misty ferret to a tall Thoroughbred by allowing them to sniff each other. Misty viewed the large horse nostril as an inviting tunnel and popped right in! She was immediately blown out with a startled snort (and a large quantity of horse snot). That was the end of ferret-horse introductions!


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, such as terriers who were bred to kill rats and other small prey, or guarding dogs who may be more likely to bite if provoked. Retriever dogs seem to do better with ferrets. Friendly, outgoing dogs that like to play, share their toys, and grew up with other animals do better with ferrets. Dogs with physical handicaps or age handicaps (hearing and seeing problems) may not be such a good match. But it’s always up to you and the individual personality of your dog – and there are always exceptions. You really need a dog that has a low prey and chase drive and plenty of bite inhibition. After you know the dog’s personality, you then can progress to a well-trained dog that will respond unfailingly to your commands. Obedience training may be necessary before you even try out a ferret-dog interaction.

TooToo, an Alaskan Malamute, had years of advanced obedience training sessions before ever being exposed to a ferret, and an additional command of “No bite!” was taught. We even practiced with stuffed ferrets for several months, knowing that this was a dog that would usually instinctively “hunt” a ferret.  TooToo was never left unsupervised with a ferret, although she was very patient with them. If the phone rang, the ferret got picked up or the dog put out before the phone was answered. TooToo valiantly put up with ferrets nipping at her feet, hanging by her tail, ears, or jowls, and stealing leftover dog food kibbles. When she got tired of their antics, she would put her paw on or sit on the offending ferret, so the ferret could not move. Then she would howl for a human to take the irritating creature away.

After knowing you have a very obedient dog, 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 play helps to establish pack membership and that the ferret is a part of the family. 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. Pay plenty of attention to your dog so there’s no jealousy, but be firm in establishing the pack superiority of the ferret. After several sessions, hold the dog firmly while letting the ferret explore the dog. Have the ferret in a harness and on a leash. Consider using a muzzle and harness on the dog, 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 are 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 if ingested can cause intestinal blockages), and eat dog food (which is bad for ferrets).

Ferrets seem to have a fixation with dog’s ears, and your dog may not like his ears being nipped, tugged on, or sniffed in. Ferrets also invite dogs to play by nipping at their feet. While the ferrets find it extremely amusing to have a dog respond quickly to such an invitation, the dog may not. Always look for signs of aggression or hostility on the part of the dog, and separate the dog and the ferret. Again, dogs and ferrets should not be left together unsupervised, no matter what your prior experience has been with their interaction.


Ferrets seem to get along best with cats. Cats seem to understand that a ferret is another predator and not another form of rodent prey. My friend Jill was terrified to bring her black Persian, Alex, to my ferret household. Jill insisted that Alex was the best hunter on earth and would kill anything else that moved. But Alex was completely taken aback by the ferrets and did not chase them at all. He was quite puzzled and very cautious during his ferret introduction. In fact, when enough ferrets started crowding curiously around him, he leaped to safety – on top of Jill’s head. While Alex stayed at my house, he shared the ferret’s litterbox and disgustedly covered up for them each time a ferret left a deposit in the box.

Slow and patient introductions are the key, and ferrets are not very patient about meeting new friends! Most ferrets find cats intriguing and want to play with them or mock attack them at once (although my Zodiac is scared of cats). Let the cat get used to ferret smells by exploring the ferret carrier. Let the cat sniff ferret scent on your hands. For first-time introductions, hold the cat and have someone else hold 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 each 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.

In fact, most ferrets annoy cats because the ferrets don’t want to quit playing! Cats usually just jump to a place where the ferrets can’t go, so make sure there is such a place (or the cat may end up on your head). Other cats will bop the ferrets on the head as an “enough!” warning (which most ferrets ignore and just want to play more). Again, supervision is important, because the cat swat is the first aggressive step. 

Read your cat’s body language. Agitated cats lay back their ears, swish their tails, squint their eyes, and even growl. Under these conditions, the cat may be a danger to the ferret.

An angry or cornered cat may unsheathe her claws for the next head-bop and cause damage. I several ferrets who suffered eye damage and blindness from cat clawings and bitings – the ferrets just wouldn’t stop nipping the cat to ask it to play!

Cats may do better with ferrets if they were introduced to ferrets as kittens. Often they grow up playing and sleeping together, and even will use the same litterbox (with cats often “cleaning up” after the ferrets). Some older, territorial cats with high prey instincts may never make good ferret companions. In this case, make sure your ferret has a cat-proof cage in a safe room.

Avoid letting your ferrets and cats share each other’s food. Ferret food can cause cats to become obese, and cat food often has too much fiber and not enough fat for ferrets. Also, many cat toys are potentially dangerous for ferrets (especially anything with rubber, latex, or small parts that could be eaten). High cat towers can be lethal to ferrets that follow the jumps of their cat friends.


One way to foster a lasting friendship between your ferret and your other pet is to start with predators (dogs and cats) and start with young ferrets. Ferret kits grow up best when they start out with kittens or small-breed puppies. Large-breed puppies may unintentionally hurt a ferret during play because they cannot yet control their motor skills. On the other hand, starting out with baby rodents or reptiles (prey) may just ensure an instant snack for a ferret!

As a responsible pet owner, you’ll need to make the decision of which ferret friends you want in your household, whether to keep your ferrets and other pets separate, or whether to spend the time training your cats and dogs to get along with your ferret. Ferrets seem to want to play with anyone you introduce into your household, so make sure it is a good combination. Hopefully, you’ll have a peaceful animal abode!