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

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Bear under a fallen Christmas tree
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© Erika Matulich
One of the biggest holiday challenges for ferret owners is the Christmas tree. Consider putting your tree up in a room not accessible to ferrets. If this isn’t possible, put your tree on a table that ferrets can’t climb. Some ferret owners do without trees altogether, and a few even suspend trees from the ceiling! However, for you ferret folk who have a traditional floor tree, let’s look at a variety of safety precautions.
Live Trees
If you have a live tree, don’t let ferrets drink the tree's water! Tree preservative water additives can be fatal if ingested. Even “just plain water” becomes a breeding ground for germs that make ferrets sick. Additionally, the tannic acid that leaches from the tree into the water can cause anemia and heart problems in ferrets. Ferret-proof your tree stand with wire screening, which keeps ferrets out but lets you have access for watering. Ferrets may also get pine pitch or sap stuck in their fur. Remove this sticky mess with a light vegetable oil or linatone/ferretone. Note that as a live tree dries out, needles become brittle and can cause injury to a ferret nose, eyes, paws or skin as the sharp needle ends pierce rather than flex. Vacuum often! Don’t have a flocked tree; the flocking produces gases that ferrets’ lungs are particularly sensitive to. Additionally, ferrets may eat the flocking, which is toxic. If you have a potted tree, screen over the dirt to prevent your ferret from digging up your holiday plant!
Falling Ferrets
Some ferrets may climb up Christmas trees, so make sure the tree will not tip if there is a ferret hanging from a top branch. Ferrets who fall are likely to get hurt because they don’t have the ability to right themselves during a fall like a cat. Weighting the tree stand with paving stones or cinder blocks may help stabilize the trees. Putting a squirrel guard partway up the trunk may prevent climbing past safe levels.
Decorations on the Tree
One memorable holiday x-ray was of my ferret Bobbin, who had lost her appetite. Her radiograph showed a sparkly load of tinsel. Fortunately, a large dose of Laxatone took care of this problem. Avoid tinsel and tinsel garland.
A few ferrets ignore trees and their ornaments, but usually holidays are a humorous nightmare as the ferrets turn themselves into living tree decorations or play with every ornament hung within ferret reach. Be sure that ornaments hung on the lower levels are not edible, breakable, or chewable. One year I tried satin-covered Styrofoam, thinking these were a safe alternative, but the ferrets shredded off the satin and ate the Styrofoam! Now only plastic and metal ornaments hang from lower branches. Avoid wire ornament hooks to prevent eye and mouth injuries; use soft yarn for hanging instead.
Decorations Under the Tree
Most ferrets love to tunnel under tree skirts; some owners have tried heavier fabric, safety pins or velcro to keep the skirt in place with some success. Small holiday decorations under the tree may appear to be treasures ripe for stealing to your ferrets. Thor religiously steals all barnyard animal figurines out of any nativity scene. Another ferret, Rachel, ends up with a sleep sack full of dreidels after Hanukkah celebrations. A bunch of bouncing ferrets can wreak havoc on train sets and miniature holiday villages. Moving parts, in particular, must be hunted down, so don’t expect to see animated skaters, sledders, or train cars to last for long around your ferrets.
Ferrets like presents too, but they can't read labels and think all gifts are for them! They remove ribbons and bows, spill confetti, shred wrapping paper, and steal smaller boxes to stash away. One couple once had a “mystery” gift exchange because their ferret had removed the nametags from every present. Consider putting gifts on a ferret-proof table instead of on the floor or under the tree. Additionally, ferrets may eat wrapping paper and gift decorations, which can cause life-threatening blockages if swallowed. Balloons are especially dangerous.
Unwrapped gifts can pose hazards as well. Piles of wrapping paper make great ferret hiding places. Don’t step on any paper unless you are sure there are no ferrets under it. Gift packaging materials like plastic or Styrofoam may also seem like a tasty ferret snack. Foam peanuts are highly sought-after treats for many ferrets, but should not be eaten. Desiccant packages are another potential problem. These are small packets of pellets or crystals that come with gift items to reduce humidity. Desiccants should not be consumed by ferrets! Finally, don’t throw away any trash without first knowing where all your ferrets are. You may accidentally throw out a gift box that has a ferret curled up in it!
Have a Tree-mendously Wonderful Holiday!
I hope these tree tips will help you and your ferrets have a safe and happy holiday! Be prepared for lots of laughs when your ferrets help you decorate your Christmas Tree!