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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.


© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.


A lot depends on the ferret. Overall, ferrets are less amenable than dogs to leash training. Some ferrets are scared of being constrained, or scared of the "great outdoors," and will not move when harnessed and leashed. Others will fight the leash. And there are those (some without any training) who enjoy taking their owners for a walk. There are a few ferrets who "heel" with their owners, but most want to go explore on their own terms, and the leash acts as a safety device for the ferret.


Leash training begins with harness training (no leash attached). You can start getting your ferret used to a harness as early as ten weeks of age. The ferret may fight the harness, or pretend to collapse, or spend a great deal of time trying to escape from the harness. Start by placing the harness on the ferret for a few minutes, and reward the ferret with a favorite treat. Increase the amount of time spent in the harness, and always accompany harness wearing with a reward. After a few weeks your ferret will get used to the harness. Do NOT leave a harness on a ferret when it is unsupervised or left in its cage. Note that as your ferret grows, a new, larger harness may be needed.


After a ferret is harness trained, leash training can begin. Start indoors, and let the ferret drag the leash around without you attached to it. Always supervise, because the leash will get tangled quickly! After rewarding your ferret for each leash session, hold onto the leash and follow your ferret around, giving the ferret its "head" or its own choice of direction. This time, add gentle restraint to the leash by tugging a little bit to teach your ferret about resistance. After several of these training sessions, try and add some directional guidance with the leash. Never jerk on a leash or pick your ferret up by the leash, except in an emergency.

Start your outdoor training close to home, a few feet from your door. Let the ferret find his way back to the door. Try walking around the perimeter of your building, and then go in the door. Keep coming back to the door and rewarding your ferret. Should your ferret ever get loose from his leash or harness, he will know how to get home! You can then adventure into things ferrets find fun – a pile of leaves, freshly cut grass, or some dirt to dig in. Let your ferret take the lead in exploring. Don’t try and direct the ferret down a straight line or a sidewalk, which is inherently against the exploratory nature of the ferret. Use the leash to restrict the ferret from getting into dangerous areas.


The harness is the first part of the leash that is most important. NEVER USE JUST A COLLAR ATTACHED TO A LEASH. The ferret will either choke, or slip right out of the collar. You must use a harness, which provides support around the neck and the ribcage. The harness should be made of a strong, flat material such as nylon webbing or leather. The nylon "cord" is painful for your ferret because they chafe and cut into the skin, and these harnesses are easier to escape from. H-type harnesses seem to work better than "figure-8" harnesses for ferrets. With figure-8s, one loop may be too loose, and the other may be painfully squeezing or even injuring the ferret. Even the figure-8s with an adjustment screw can break or become loose and choke the ferret. Plastic quick-snap clasps are best for outdoor use. Metal buckles are difficult to adjust (especially on a squirming ferret), can get hot in the sun, and can be painful to your ferret’s skin. For indoor use, harnesses with velcro tabs are great because they are easy to put on. However, a strong ferret can escape from a velcro harness, and the velcro can lose its clasping power over time, so velcro harnesses are recommended for indoor training, not for outdoor walks.

The area where the leash attaches to the harness should be strong. Nylon flat-web leashes are good for ferrets, and there are various types of "reel-in" leashes made for cats or small dogs that are suitable as well. Chain or leather leashes are often too heavy for ferrets to handle, and cotton leashes may deteriorate or break.

WarmFuzzy Rescue (610-926-9087 or makes an excellent velcro harness, and Marshall Pet Products (1-800-292-3424) and Hagen (don’t have number) make excellent H-type harnesses with plastic quick-snap connectors. Most manufacturers offer many colors and matching harness and leash sets, which is a plus. Check carefully on harness size, and note that ferrets change size throughout the year as seasons change.


This depends on the ferret, the ferret’s overall condition, and the weather. Some ferrets enjoy walks tremendously, and others are scared. Male ferrets seem to enjoy walking a bit more than females. Younger ferrets may enjoy walks more than an aging ferret, but will get more distracted and be more difficult to walk.

Ferrets who do not receive much exercise should not be expected to be in physical shape for a walk. Ferrets need conditioning for exercise just like humans do. The first walks should be just a few minutes. A lap around a back yard, or a few lengths up and down the sidewalk in front of your house will be enough for many ferrets. Over the course of a few months you can gradually build up. Most ferrets in peak condition cannot handle a walk longer than 15-20 minutes.

It is more comfortable for ferrets to walk on dirt or grass than on sidewalks. The rough surface of sidewalks and paths can make your ferret’s feet very sore. In the summer, sidewalks and streets may burn your ferret’s feet. When you walk your ferret, try walking barefoot at the same time to get an understanding of what your ferret is going through.

Ferrets do not tolerate heat well. A ferret should not be walked in temperatures above 85 degrees (including the humidity factor – check the heat index rather than just the temperature). The warmer the weather, the shorter the walk should be, because ferrets cannot sweat. Ferrets may be uncomfortable in weather below 40 degrees, although some enjoy walking and playing in snow. Check the footpads of your walking ferret frequently. If they are hot or reddish, your ferret has had enough.


Bring along water for your ferret to drink. Offer water to your ferret frequently, because they can easily dehydrate even in moderate temperatures.

Bring along another method for transporting your ferret – a shoulder sack, carry case, or some other way to carry your ferret when it gets tired. You may also need to put away your ferret if it is attracting too much unwanted attention, or dangerous animals are around.

Third, be constantly aware of your environment and hazards to your ferret, particularly dogs. Immediately pick up your ferret if a dog approaches. Besides having a natural instinct for grabbing small animals, dogs could potentially carry fatal diseases (canine distemper). Avoid having other people pick up and pet your ferret. If your ferret is tired, it may be cranky and nip a stranger.

At the same time, watch where you step. Ferrets may dart around your feet, or crisscross in front of you as you walk, so don’t walk on your ferret!

Make triple sure the harness is securely (snug but not too tight) adjusted, and the leash is well fastened. Check the fit of your ferret’s harness every time you take a walk. A bell and identification tag attached to the harness is a safety plus. Many harnesses come with bells, but it is easy to attach your own, along with identification.

Make sure your ferret is up to date on shots. Canine distemper is fatal to ferrets, and your ferret should have had an annual booster after the series of three shots as a kit. Canine distemper is airborne and transmitted by touch, so taking your ferret for a walk will potentially expose him to this disease. Rabies shots should also be current, usually for legal reasons.

Before you walk your ferret, check out your local animal control ordinances. Some areas prohibit ferrets from being outside a home. Others require that proof of rabies vaccination is attached to the leash or harness. Certain neighborhoods, gated communities, or apartment complexes may also have their own rules about walking animals.

After you walk your ferret, offer water, treats, and food. Check the feet for broken toenails, splinters, pebbles, or sore spots. Check the skin for fleas or ticks. Remember to take the harness and leash off, and wash these accessories (if needed) and put them away so your ferret does not hide them!