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

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Hammocks and Sleep Sacks

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World-Class Snoozers Need Top-Notch Nap Spots

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

Ferrets love to sleep, and they're experts at it! Adult ferrets may sleep 15 hours a day (kits are more active). Of course, they'll wake up any time of the day or night to play with you, but between play sessions, ferrets need comfortable beds.

Ferrets need two types of beds: sleep sacks and hammocks. Having a choice allows them to regulate their body temperature. If they're chilly, they can snuggle up in a sleep sack to keep warm. And if they're warm (ferrets are very sensitive to heat), they can snooze comfortably in a hammock.

Sleep sacks (also called nap sacks) are typically cloth bags with fleece lining. They come in various sizes, from sacks that fit a single ferret to ones that hold a pile of four or more. You'll find unlined versions as well as variations like tubes and tunnels (longer sleep sacks with two open ends). You'll also see ferret sacks with a “crinkle” liner that makes noise, but these are more of a toy than a sleep sack.

Hammocks are designed to be suspended from the cage, forming a “dimple” that the ferret curls up in. Ferrets love hammocks—this is the preferred sleep place of my fuzzies. And hammocks are great because they add more usable space to a cage. They also can be strategically hung to provide “steps” to a higher level and prevent long falls in a multistory cage. Like sleep sacks, hammocks may be lined with fleece or other soft material, or unlined.

There are also clever “pocket” designs that allow the ferret to either sleep on the outside or tunnel into the interior of the hammock. These sleep sack–hammock combinations are quite versatile.

An important discovery
How did humans figure out that ferrets needed these accessories? Sleep sacks are a natural deduction. The critters that domesticated ferrets descended from are burrowing animals, and a sleep sack provides a warm, dark, comfortable, protected place to hide. In the days before sleep sacks, people would give their ferrets old T-shirts, towels, or pant legs, and the ferrets would happily burrow down in the cloth. However, old clothes can be dangerous, as snags and frays can catch toenails or tangle a ferret. A sleep sack provides the advantages of safety and comfort, with strategically placed seams and limited ability to twist and tangle.

The history of hammocks is less clear, as no wild ferret cousin would dream of climbing up a tree and sleeping out in the open! Rumor has it that a female ferret owner of ample proportions suspended her old bras in her ferret cage and the ferrets loved to sleep in the cups. Improvements on this early experiment, the story goes, led to today's hammocks.

As for why ferrets like hammocks, I have some (unsubstantiated) theories of my own:

  • The hammock naturally puts the ferret in his favorite sleeping position: the “doughnut.”
  • Being suspended reduces the pressure on points (like joints and bones) that otherwise would have contact with a harder surface.
  • Ferrets are naturally clean animals and like to sleep as far away as possible from their food and litter-box areas.
More hammocks, please!
So how many hammocks and sleep sacks does a ferret need to be happy? The rule of thumb I use for hammocks and sleep sacks is to take the number of ferrets, multiply by 1.5, and round up to the nearest whole number. The result is the minimum number of sleeping areas your ferret needs (a combination hammocks and sleep sacks). For example, one ferret should have one sleep sack and one hammock (1 x 1.5 = 1.5; round up to 2). Two ferrets need three sleeping places to choose from, such as one sleep sack and two hammocks. Three ferrets could use two sleep sacks and three hammocks.

Remember, this is the minimum number of sleep areas, and your ferrets will appreciate additional choices. Some ferrets like to share sacks (they often sleep in a pile, unless they're too hot), but some are territorial. At my house, nobody shares a sack with Flower, and Lizzie once took over a 5-foot-long tube designed to hold about six ferrets!

After the basics of hammocks and sleep sacks, there are also tunnels, tubes, tents, cubes, futons, playhouses, and other varieties of sleeping areas that will delight your ferrets!

What to look for
When shopping for hammocks and sleep sacks (and other cage accessories), keep these things in mind. First, make sure that anything you purchase is machine-washable. (For odor control and to prevent potential spread of disease, wash hammocks and sleep sacks every week or two.) The fabric should not have “loops” (like terry cloth does) that could catch a toenail. A tightly woven fabric is preferred, because there is less chance of fraying or seam separation. A final fabric consideration is colorfastness: Some of my ferrets' bedding is now pink after I washed a red sleep sack with the rest.

My ferrets prefer lined (or double-layered) hammocks and sleep sacks to unlined ones, perhaps because they are more cozy. And even in Florida, where it is quite warm, my ferrets prefer fleece lining to summer fabrics. I'm guessing that the fleece provides more cushioning and allows for air circulation.

Consider ferret comfort over color. Ferrets have limited color vision (they see only some reds), so they really won't care how you choose to decorate their cage. Still, there are a variety of fabrics, patterns, materials, and colors on the market, so you'll have lots of choices to suit your personal tastes. Select hammocks and sleep sacks that are safe and soft, and then see what colors you can get.

Hardware is another important consideration for hammocks, because they have to be hung. Some hammocks have grommet holes in the corners, and you supply your own hardware. You can suspend these hammocks with shoelaces, small bungee cords, or shower-curtain clips. Because you have to take hammocks down for laundering, use something you can easily remove and reattach. Some hammocks come with spring hooks or clips for hanging. Whatever type of hanging hardware you use, make sure a ferret can't get a foot caught in the metal parts.

A high-quality sleeping accessory has sturdy fabric, safe hardware, the ability to withstand many washings, and double stitching at the wear points and hardware-attachment areas. Even so, it is up to you to be vigilant and check for worn fabric, holes, frays, separated seams, and other dangerous conditions that inevitably develop over time. If you can't repair the problem, replace the item before your ferret gets hurt, and remember: When in doubt, throw it out.

Happy snoozin' to your ferrets!