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

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Ferret Safety

Stevie exits after popping off the window screen
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Watch Out for That Ferret!

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

First-time guests to my house must wonder: Why is she always shuffling her feet and looking at the floor? These are just two of the many behaviors that have become second nature after years of living with ferrets. To keep your ferrets safe, there are some habits you need to acquire and some precautions you need to take.

First, make sure you have ferret-proofed your home. This includes blocking holes, barricading spaces around appliances, securing electrical cords and outlets, sealing the underside of furniture (with masonite or heavy fabric), and preventing cabinet access in kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms.

Look before you...
Looking down is an important ferret-owner habit. Ferrets love to be underfoot! For safety's sake, keep your shoes off, and shuffle your feet so you don't step on your ferret. Look down when opening and closing doors, cabinets, or drawers, to ensure ferrets aren't getting into an off-limits place or getting pinched or trapped. Don't step on carpet bumps or kick that towel aside—there may be a ferret snuggled inside! Ferrets love tunneling, so they may be hidden under a couch cushion, pillow, laundry pile, throw rug, bedspread, or bath mat.

Remember that your guests may not be in the habit of looking down. Keep your ferrets caged when company is over. Unfortunately, some ferrets make no noise when they are hurt. Ferrets have bones and organs that are easily broken or ruptured. If your ferret has been stepped on or crushed, take him to a vet immediately, even if he appears to be unharmed.

Being crushed in a recliner chair is the leading cause of accidental ferret death. There are also many heartbreaking stories of ferrets drowning in dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, bathtubs, and buckets. Ferrets cannot survive the clothes dryer. Ferrets can also jump into a hot oven and get severely burned.

Ferrets shut in the refrigerator can suffer hypothermia and death. I once accidentally shut Sweet Pea in my fridge, but she let me know by making a huge racket! When I opened the fridge door, I saw that within a few seconds she had spilled the milk, splattered pudding everywhere, and broken the eggs! If your ferret has access to the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry area, be especially careful.

Dangerous "treats" and "toys"
Be extra vigilant when storing dangerous substances. Ferrets will find and eat poisonous baits meant for rodents or insects. They can also get sick from insect sprays, household cleaning chemicals, glues, hair spray, nail polish, polish remover, paints, and automotive fluids. Many common plants are toxic to ferrets. Keep all plants out of reach, because ferrets like to dig them up anyway! Potting soil is another irresistible magnet for ferrets.

Ferrets love to play with common household items, but many are hazardous. Cardboard tubes from paper towel and toilet paper rolls can lead to choking or suffocation when ferrets get their heads wedged in these tubes. Many a ferret has eaten objects that cause dangerous (and sometimes fatal) intestinal blockages.

Favorite items are those made of rubber, foam, or plastic: pencil erasers, doorstops, rubber feet, pen caps, buttons from remote controls, packing peanuts, and the like. Some ferrets like to ingest fabrics items (preferably sweaty) such as socks, pantyhose, or drawstrings. If your ferret is vomiting, is lethargic, or has very watery diarrhea, feed her a cat laxative immediately and take her to a vet.

Escape artists
Watch carefully for escapees each time the door to the outside is opened. Ferrets have a knack for knowing when the knob is being turned, and can squeeze through the opening before you know it. Ferrets also love climbing out windows and can easily fall to their death.

Be sure to fit your ferret with a collar, bell, and ID tag. The bell will alert you to his presence, and the ID tag can be invaluable if he escapes. My ferrets are always belled when out of their cages so I can hear where they are. Ferrets can also be microchipped by your veterinarian so that they can be identified if the ID tag is lost.

For safety's sake, train your ferret to come when "called." A squeaky toy may be the easiest way to get your ferret to respond. Other noises (or a flashing light for deaf ferrets) may also work.

Your ferrets will certainly try to outsmart you, but with a little effort you can keep a safe and happy ferret family home!