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Some animals can easily cohabitate with ferrets, while others wish you would evict their fuzzy roommate!
by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.
Volume 4, Number 5
September/October 2001
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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.

Recommended Roommates:
  • Many cats
  • Some dogs
  • A few rabbits
  • A few hedgehogs (co-existence, not friends)
  • Fish (if kept ferret proof)
Bad Buddies:
  • 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 iguanas, all kinds of snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs
  • Pet insects: beetles, spiders and scorpions



Ferrets are highly social creatures who love to play with their buddies and their toys. You, of course, are their best buddy, but what about other critters in your home? Ferrets can play well with some pets (notably cats and dogs), but can be a problem with others (rodents, reptiles, and birds). The key to friendly ferret relationships is constant human supervision, as animal behavior can sometimes be unpredictable! Let’s talk about who to make friends with and who to avoid (See Sidebar).
From the Ferret’s Point of View
Ferrets view humans, other ferrets, and other animals in a variety of ways. As a fun-loving creature, ferrets would first and foremost love to play with another creature. Ferrets can play very hard, and even with the best of intentions, could harm another pet. Small creatures such as hamsters or canaries are likely to be injured if treated like a ferret toy.
Another way ferrets see other animals is as a potential snack. Ferrets are meat-eating predators, and may instinctively hunt and chase anything that is potential prey. Like housecats, ferrets are likely to view birds, small rodents, insects, and reptiles as entertaining treats to eat.
Finally, some ferrets might see another household pet (even another ferret) as an enemy. Fearful ferrets will defend themselves if they feel cornered, which could hurt another pet. Alternatively, jealous ferrets might act aggressively to another pet if you aren’t paying enough attention to your ferret!
Personal Space
To help ease the introduction of any new roommate to the household (human baby, other ferret, or other pet), be sure your ferrets have their own territory. A good cage with the ferrets’ sleepsacks, litterboxes, toys, food, and water makes a safe haven for a ferret to retreat to. A sturdy cage may also prevent other animals from hurting the ferrets inside. Because you want all ferret roommate interactions to be supervised by you, keeping your ferrets safe in their cage when you are not around is the best option.
Starting Young
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 puppies. Keep in mind, however, that all youngsters may unintentionally hurt each other during play because they cannot yet control their motor skills.
Here, Kitty Kitty!
Ferrets get along best with cats. Most ferrets find cats quite interesting and want to play with them. In fact, your ferret may annoy your cat because the ferrets won’t quit playing! Cats and ferrets can grow up playing and sleeping together, and even will use the same litterbox. Some cats work hard to bury the ferret additions to the litterbox, too! Just make sure the litter you use is ferret safe (avoid powdered clumping litters and silica pearls, which are dangerous to ferrets). Ferrets also love to share cat food, but cat foods do not have proper nutrition for ferrets. Put the cat food where the ferrets can’t get to it! Another favorite is to share cat toys. However, some cat toys are not safe for ferrets because they have rubber parts or small items that can be ingested by the ferret. Be sure your cat toys are also good ferret toys.
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 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.
It’s important to read and understand the body language of both the ferret and the cat to make sure the interaction is going well. For example, when I introduced Tito the ferret to Mr. Mustache the cat, Tito bounced around the cat in a happy weasel war dance while Mr. Mustache playfully batted at him with a paw. On the other hand, when I introduced Zodiac to the same cat, Zodiac flattened her body out, hissed, and bottle-brushed her tail. Mr. Mustache responded with flattened ears, a growl, and showed off his claws. Obviously this was not a good interaction, and Zodiac is kept away from cats.
With extended ferret interactions, cats usually get tired of playing first and will jump to where the ferrets can’t get. Others will swat the ferret on the head as a warning (which most ferrets ignore and just want to play even more). Again, supervision is key. An angry or cornered cat may unsheath her claws for the next head-bop and cause some damage. Ferrets can suffer eye and skin damage from cat claws. In addition, if the ferret really annoys the cat, bites may be a problem. Cat bites can result in infection, and should be treated.
Ferrets and Fido
Ferrets can get along with many 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 well with ferrets. But it’s always up to you and the individual personality of your dog – 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 who will respond unfailingly to your commands. TooToo, an Alaskan Malamute, had many obedience training sessions before ever being exposed to a ferret, and an additional command of “No bite!” was taught to make sure the dog kept her mouth open! After obedience training, you must show the dog 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 interaction 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, hold the dog firmly while letting the ferret explore the dog. Consider using a muzzle on the dog, and at the same time, 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 between your ferret and dog, never ever leave your dog’s toys, treats, or food around for the ferret to access. 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 adore dog’s ears, and your dog may not like his ears being nipped, pulled on, or sniffed and sneezed 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 be too happy. Always look for signs of possible 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.
With lots of supervised playtime, ferrets and dogs can be best of friends. They can play together, follow each other around, and often sleep together. When TooToo got tired of playing with Gizmo, a particularly bouncy ferret, she would sit on Gizmo. One hundred pounds of dog is effective at immobilizing a ferret, but Gizmo did need to be rescued.
Hedging Your Bets
Ferrets and hedgehogs seem to be acceptable housemates, only because hedgehogs can roll up into a spiky ball to defend themselves. Ferrets usually find hedgehogs a bit too challenging to play with and wind up ignoring them after a few failed attempts at ferret friendliness. 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).
Living with Livestock
Many ferret folk also have horses, pigs, cows, sheep, and other domesticated “farm” animals. Normally, there is no reason for your ferret to interact with these other family members, but ferrets should get used to these animal smells, and even enjoy checking out the herd! Unfortunately, some ferrets view livestock as really, really big buddies, and try to chase horses, cattle, or sheep. These animals are simply too big to interact safely with a ferret, and could accidentally step on one. I once let my ferret, Misty, sniff nose-to-nose with my husband’s horse Charla-mane. With Misty’s limited vision, Charla-mane was just too big to comprehend – all she saw was a nice dark tunnel, and tried to crawl up the horse’s nostril. Charla-mane promptly snorted her out before any further explorations could take place!
Fishing Ferrets
For households with aquariums, for the most part there is no problem with a ferret, as long as there is a ferret-proof cover over the tank and filter. However, some ferrets find aquariums and fish fascinating. Most ferrets like to play in or drink aquarium water. Fish water could contain Giardia protozoa, which can cause intestinal upset for the ferret and is difficult to cure. Ferret interference could certainly stress out the fish and upset the chemical balance of the tank. There are a few stories about ferrets capturing small fish from tanks and eating them, or just having fun swishing them out of the water because it is so fun to watch the fish flop around out of the water! And in a worst case scenario, some ferrets have drowned in fish tanks. So keep your aquariums covered, secure, and out of reach of Flipper Ferrets!
Reptile Responsibilities
Reptiles are not a good match for ferrets because they are viewed by ferrets as either enemies or tasty snacks. When Bobbin was a kit, she found a baby garden snake and began to eat it immediately, tail first. Little Bear decapitated a 3-foot blacksnake that had the bad fortune to climb in an open kitchen window. And most of the little lizards living around our screened porch are missing their tails. Ferrets may also be attracted to the tasty crickets that are meant as reptile food. Ferrets have been known to fatally injure large iguanas while trying to play with their new friend. Larger reptiles will bite to defend themselves, which could give salmonella or other infectious diseases to your ferret. Keep ferrets and reptiles in separate rooms, and discourage all interaction with secure cages or tank covers. Wash your hands between handling reptiles and ferrets as well, to minimize the spread of contagious diseases.
Bye-Bye Birdie
In general, any bird is a bad buddy for a ferret and the two should not interact. Birds can make noises that agitate ferrets because the sounds are 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 lightening-fast movements, could harm the ferret as well.  In particular, large parrots and ferrets seem to be mortal enemies. Ferrets are often attracted to a parrot cage because of leftover fruit scraps. Unfortunately, these birds are often flight limited or live in cages with bars big enough for a ferret to squeeze through. When confronted with such a predator as a ferret, a large bird will defend itself, and with a beak capable of 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, can kill a ferret (after probably sustaining considerable damage from the ferret attack). Keep birds and parrots in separate rooms, and be ever vigilant for escapes or problems.
Rodent Regrets
Ferrets are not a good match with pet mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, guinea pigs, 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, either. Larger rodents, such as chinchillas 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 or smelling ferrets on your skin or clothing. A stressed chinchilla may lose clumps of fur and not eat properly.  Some ferrets get along well with rabbits and guinea pigs, 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. This behavior is instinctive, and related to how wild ferret cousins kill rabbits. The rabbits often run because they are instinctively in fear of their lives. Rabbits may also defend themselves with a strong kick that can break ferret bones, and cavies can pack a strong bite if defense is necessary. Even if nobody gets hurt, I believe rodent interaction is too stressful for a prey animal.
Roommate Responsibilities
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 friendly roommates, and lots of happy playtimes!