Back to Article Index

In this article, a ferret helps us humans understand why sleepsacks and hammocks are so important in a ferret’s life.
by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.
Volume 5, Number 4
July/August, 2002
These articles and images are copyrighted and may not be reprinted, re-used, reposted, copied, or otherwise distributed without permission from the author and publisher.

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.



Hi! My name is Zodiac. I am a sable-mitt ferret who lives with my Mom and Dad and a ton of other ferrets. I am an extremely busy ferret with an agenda full of ferret fun, including climbing up curtains (to make sure the ceiling is still there), long-jumping (to get to the other side), and putting things in their proper place (why do things keep getting moved to the wrong places?) After a hard session of weasel work, the most important thing in my life is to sleep well and be rested up for the next session of dashing about. My Mom and Dad realize how important my beauty rest is and have been gracious enough to provide me with proper sleeping accoutrements. My Mom will help me tell you just how important sleepsacks and hammocks are in a ferret’s life.
Ferrets love to sleep – they are experts at it! After the kit stage, ferrets may want to sleep fifteen or even eighteen hours a day! Of course they’ll wake up any time of the day or night to play with you, but in the meantime, ferrets need comfortable beds.
Ferret Beds
My humans understand that I have specialized sleeping needs. For example, one of my daily tasks is to chomp on all the other ferrets, one at a time, to see if I can get them up to do their own work. For some odd reason, a few ferrets get irritated with me and chase me down! Then I know I must sleep in a sack so I have a safe, defensible position, in case an irritated ferret comes to find me. Another job I have is to race around the perimeter of all rooms in the house to make sure the pathways are clear. After this exhausting task, I am a bit warm, and would like to lie down in an open hammock and cool down while I rest.
Ferrets need two types of beds: sleepsacks and hammocks. Sleepsacks are typically some sort of cloth bag with one open end, often with a fleece lining. They come in various sizes, from fitting a single ferret to holding a pile of four or more. There are many variations in fabric, shape and design. One variation is in the form of a tubes or tunnel (a longer sleepsack with two open ends). The first fleece tube I ever bought was six feet long, and I gleefully thought about how many ferrets it could hold! However, Lizzie took it over, and would sleep right in the middle, only waking up to rush to either end to chase out any interloper.  There are also sleepsack versions that are unlined, but I find that my ferrets prefer the creature comforts of a snuggly, soft fleece liner. A few types have “crinkle” material liner that makes noise, but these are more of a play toy than a sleepsack. Only my deaf ferrets consent to sleep in a crackle-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 for my ferrets, especially in warmer weather. Hammocks are great because they add more usable space to a cage because you are hanging up another story. They also can be strategically hung to provide “steps” to a higher level and prevent long falls in a multi-story cage. Like sleepsacks, hammocks can come lined with fleece or other soft material, or unlined. There are clever “pocket” designs that allow the ferret to either sleep on the outside, or if cold, tunnel into the interior of the hammock. These sleepsack/hammock combinations are quite versatile.
Who Figured This Out?
Of course, we all know that ferrets are the smartest critters in the universe, so I am truly grateful that some human beings were smart enough to figure out how to cater to the sleeping needs of us ferrets! There are so many choices now of size, shape, pattern, fabric, and design – And I want them all! Busy ferrets deserve the best!
How did humans figure out that ferrets needed these accessories? Sleepsacks are a natural determination. Ferrets were originally burrowing animals, and a sleepsack provides a warm, dark, comfortable, protected place to hide. The single opening provides for a defensible position. Tito is a huge sable male who is terrified of tiny Zodiac. His best defense (he is no match in speed to the lightening-fast Zodiac) is to dive into a sleepsack. Then Tito can spin around with his face (and teeth!) at the opening and can stand Zodiac down.
In the days before sleepsacks, people would give their ferrets old t-shirts, towels, or pantlegs and their ferrets would happily burrow down in the cloth. However, old clothes and towels proved to be dangerous because snags and frays catch toenails or tangle up ferrets. A modern ferret sleepsack provides 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 led to today’s hammocks. A suspended hammock provides a cup shape for ferrets to sleep in, and ferrets love to sleep in “circles.” Perhaps the hammock allows ferrets to comfortably sleep in their favorite doughnut shape with no pressure points, as they are suspended in air.
What to Look For
Sometimes when I get a really special treat, like a grape, I like to carry it up to the top floor and eat it in my hammock. My hammock gets a little sticky! And the other day, I caught and ate a hoppy frog and it upset my tummy and the frog parts hopped right back out onto my hammock. Fortunately Mom just unhooked my hammock and took it away with the rest of the ferret laundry that she does every Saturday. Now my favorite hammock is as good as new. It will just take a few days of rolling around in it to get the fabric to smell right again.
Wash and Wear. When shopping for hammocks and sleepsacks, there are a few buying guidelines. First, make sure that anything you purchase is machine washable. Hammocks and sleepsacks should be washed every week or two! Doing ferret laundry is the easiest way to keep your ferret and your household odor free. It is much easier than bathing your ferrets! Colorfastness is also a nice feature (some of my sleepsacks are now pink after I washed a red tent with them). I make sure I wash the ferret laundry with a detergent free of dyes and perfumes, as ferrets have sensitive skin, noses and lungs. My mother once washed a load of sleepsacks with a heavily-perfumed detergent (to make the ferrets smell sweet), but the ferrets sneezed and snorted and found other places to sleep (the dishcloth drawer, the laundry hamper, and on the towels in the linen closet).
Every few weeks, Mom gathers me up and puts me in her lap, making sure all my feet are up in the air! Then I get lots of yummy “ferret oil” while she clips each of my twenty toenails. It’s so nice to have a personal manicure and pedicure along with treats at the same time! My cage buddy Morgan only has nineteen toenails. His first owner never clipped his nails and made him sleep on the floor on an old towel. One day Morgan caught his toenail on the towel and couldn’t get loose, and tore his whole nail out! Even though it’s less work for Mom to give him a manicure, I think I’ll keep all twenty of my toenails! That way I can climb better than Morgan!
Finicky about Fabric. The fabric on any ferret sleeping accessory should not have any “loops” (like terrycloth) that could catch a toenail. A tightly woven fabric is preferred, because there is less chance of fraying or seam separation. Separating seams and holey fabric could trap more than just a toenail – it could also trap a foot or head. Looser weaves also don’t stand up to repeated washings. My ferrets prefer lined (or double-layered) hammocks and sleepsacks to unlined ones, perhaps because they are more stable or more comfortable. And even where we live in Florida, where it is quite warm, my ferrets prefer fleece lining to summer fabrics. I’m guessing that the fleece provides more cushion and allows airflow. One of their favorite fabrics is Polarfleece, because it stays soft, but does not “pill” and become lumpy as some synthetic lambswools do.
Oooh, looky! Gramma bought me a new hammock! I know it is just for me! Anything new should automatically be mine, because I am the youngest and most important ferret in the house! Let me check this hammock out. What odd little clippies – I wonder if I can get them undone off this cage and move the hammock to my cage? Ouch! Help! My foot is stuck! Ow Ow Ow! Thank goodness, Dad has rescued me and taken some pliers and changed the shape of the cage clips so I won’t get my foot stuck again. Now if only he would move the hammock to MY cage!
Helpful Hardware Hints. Hardware is an 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 re-attach. Some hammocks come complete with hardware in the form of spring hooks or clips. For attaching hardware, make sure a ferret can’t get a foot caught in the metal parts. Removable metal parts are easier on your dryer, too. Keep an eye on any clips to make sure that if they become unclipped, the hammock won’t fall, or a ferret can’t poke their eyes.
Delightful Décor. In terms of decorating, choose ferret comfort over color. Ferrets have limited color vision (only some reds), so they really won’t care how you choose to decorate their cage. There are a variety of fabrics, patterns, materials, and colors on the market, so you’ll have lots of choices to fit your personal tastes. First select the hammocks and sleepsacks that are safe and soft, and then see what colors you can get!
How Many?
I just can’t have too many hammocks and sleepsacks. Let’s see, there is my personal favorite hammock at the very top of my cage for the early evening nap, the stripy sleep sack on the ledge for afternoon naps, the fleecy long one for watching mom type on her computer, and the plush sack in the corner that I have to keep kicking Thor out of. He just doesn’t get it! Those are MY personal sleeping places, and I don’t share. Well, unless I am cold. Then I’ll think about it.
The mathematical rule of thumb I use for hammocks and sleepsacks 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 both hammocks and sleepsacks). For example, one ferret should have one sleepsack and one hammock (1 x 1.5 = 1.5 ≈ 2). Two ferrets need three sleeping places to choose from, such as one sleepsack and two hammocks. Three ferrets could use two sleepsacks and three hammocks. Remember, this is the minimum number of sleep areas, and your ferrets will appreciate additional choices!
Possible Problems
Geez, Bobbin is such a stupid ferret! She just went and ATE part of her new sleep sack! That’s why she is not allowed to sleep with me! Hey, wait! Mom just gave her a new chew toy! Maybe if I chew a hole in my hammock Mom will give me something, too!
Some ferrets like to chew and eat the fabric from their hammocks or sleepsacks. Ingesting cloth could cause potentially life-threatening intestinal blockages. In these cases you may have to resort to a sturdy, nylon sleep accessory that is difficult to chew. Alternatively, you can provide your ferret with safe chewing alternatives. There are some cloth rope “bones” for dogs that are safe for ferrets to chew – the small threads are made of 100% cotton and are relatively safe to ingest. Many ferrets like to chew Velcro, perhaps because of the interesting texture. I provide my ferrets with strips of Velcro as a chewing alternative, and it helps to keep their teeth clean! There are also plenty of chew treats that could satisfy the chewing urge. You may also wish to try different laundry detergents or fabric softeners in case these are making the fabric taste good to your ferret.
Chewing aside, a high-quality sleeping accessory has sturdy fabric, double stitching at the wear points and hardware attachment areas, and the ability to withstand many washings. Even so, it us up to you to be vigilant and check for worn fabric, holes, frays, separated seams, and other problems that could be a safety issue and inevitably develop over time. Many ferrets like to “make their beds” and dig at their sleepers, which can cause faster fabric breakdown. If you can’t repair a problem, replace the item before your ferret gets hurt – “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Specialty Sleeping Selections
Ohboyoboyoboy! What is this keen new cave thing? It is soft and has a door and it’s dark inside and it is now mine, mine, mine! Hey, this is pretty keen! Mom calls it a tent and it has special sticks that keep the roof off me when I sleep! And just one little entrance so I can make sure only my bestest buddies come in and share!
After the basics of hammocks and sleepsacks, there are also many fun, specialized sleeping and play areas your ferrets will love! One category of sleep accessories stays on the floor. These include tents, igloos, and lodges. These typically come with “tent poles” or some other structure to keep the shape of the sleeping area. Another floor sleeping item is the blanket or cage liner. Fleece blankets can be placed anywhere for a convenient cuddle. Cage liners are fleecy “mats” that can be used to “carpet” the flooring of your ferret’s cage. These mats are far superior to carpet pieces because they are softer, denser (for safety), and can be easily laundered.
Other options are suspended sleepers. These can all be hung from the roof or walls of a cage and include playhouses, cubes, futons, tunnels, pouches, and tubes. There is even a model that looks like a hot-air balloon! More and more varieties of ferret sleepers are being introduced, so the possibilities of delighting your ferrets are becoming endless!
In the meantime, happy snoozin’ to your ferrets!
Thanks, Mom! I’ve had a busy afternoon watching you type. I just can’t wait until you have to look for your laptop power supply that I hid inside my new sleeping tent! I’ll be snoozing right next to it!