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

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Slinky, Thor, & Stevie are fascinated by fireplaces
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© Erika Matulich 
Imagine fifty ferrets dashing wildly through the house, with ferret owners in hot pursuit to rescue stolen goodies, break up squabbles, and find new hiding places! This frenetic frenzy of ferret parties has given me a wealth of experience on holiday season ferret challenges. Let's explore these issues in more detail.
Company’s Coming!
Extra guests invite opportunities for ferrets to escape outdoors, be stepped on, or be over-handled. Too many people and too much attention can stress out your ferret! Cranky ferrets can behave unexpectedly around guests, so protect your ferret family by keeping them quietly in their cage or room when company arrives. Keep the door to the ferret room locked and only allow supervised ferret visits. Never let ferrets loose during a people party. Non-ferret owners don’t habitually look down to see where they are stepping or sitting, or who is zipping past their ankles when the front door is opened.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
Don’t be tempted to treat your ferrets with inappropriate people food. Nuts can cause life-threatening blockages, and salty snacks can disrupt a ferret’s electrolyte balance. Many of my ferrets don’t eat these treats, but politely accept them and run off to hide their treasure. A trail of ants once led me to a pile of hoarded cocktail shrimp behind a door! Many ferrets like the taste of alcohol (Sweet Pea begs incessantly for eggnog). Never let your ferret have access to beer, wine, or liquor. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause severe blood sugar regulation problems for a ferret.
Candy, Candy Everywhere
During the holidays we hang candy canes on the tree, exhibit decorator bowls of candy, or are given gifts of edible holiday treats. Don't be tempted to share holiday treats with ferrets – they don’t know the difference between holidays and celebrating life on an everyday basis. Not only does sugar cause dental problems, it can also contribute to insulinoma onset. And half-eaten treats embedded in your carpet and furniture are no fun to clean up! One ferret owner noticed candy canes disappearing from her tree, and found out her ferret was climbing the tree, sliding down each branch and catching the candy cane on the way to the floor. The ferret had stashed the sticky half-eaten treasures under the couch.
Chock Full of Chocolate
Chocolate is addictive to ferrets, and the holidays present enhanced chocolate-stealing opportunities. Chocolate contains a caffeine-like substance called theobromine that dogs are particularly sensitive to. No definitive studies exist at this time to determine how toxic theobromine is to ferrets. However, never give chocolate to a ferret with heart disease or who suffers from seizures (and the same goes for any stimulants or depressants, or licorice). It seems that for many ferrets, eating small amounts of semi-sweet chocolate does not cause problems, but to be safe, avoid chocolate.
Fired Up Ferrets
Unfortunately, ferrets find fires fascinating, and most feel compelled to investigate the action more thoroughly. Never assume your ferret will back away from heat. I have seen ferrets (my own Gizmo, for one) walk right over hot coals and into fireplace flames. The receptors in ferret skin take awhile to register pain -- enough time for your ferret to become burned before figuring out the fire was too hot! Make sure you have glass fireplace doors or a heavyweight screen that ferrets can’t climb or move. Ferrets also enjoy rolling around in ashes (especially Misty, who of course is a white ferret), and these can cause respiratory problems. Some ferrets have been reported to get stuck in dampers and flues.
Candles also pose hazards -- ferrets may try to bite or play with the flame. Other ferrets enjoy snacking on wax (scented candles are especially tasty). One ferret got particularly frustrated during Hanukkah when her family paid so much attention to the Menorah each night. By the seventh night of candle lighting, the ferret took a flying leap at the Menorah, knocking it over. The tablecloth caught on fire and hot wax splashed the carpet. Fortunately, the family was right there to handle the accident and the ferret was not hurt.
Holiday Lighting
Ferrets are fascinated by electrical mini-lights and may chew on light cords, which poses the possibility of electrical shock or fire. Try spraying cords with bitter apple or hot pepper spray. A ground fault plug may be a helpful addition. My ferrets seem especially attracted to flashing lights, and attack and bite the bulbs! No flashers in our house anymore! Supervise your ferrets when any sort of lights are turned on, or hang lights out of ferret reach.
Some holiday lights have special decorative covers, which the ferrets may steal and chew on. For example, my family decorated Southwestern red and green chili-pepper lights. Within hours, most of the plastic chili-pepper covers on the lower levels had been removed by a pair of industrious ferrets (Sasha and Stevie). Some of these decorator covers could cause serious blockages if ingested.
The holidays can be an enjoyable time. By taking some precautions, changing a few traditions, and using common sense, you and your ferrets can have a safe and happy holiday season.