For ferrets, entertainment is key

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2004

All pets require a tremendous amount of stimulation and interaction in their daily lives, and ferrets are no exception. In order to stay mentally and physically healthy, ferrets need more than just food, water, a litter pan, bedding and a bedroom. Of course, single ferrets also will need much more attention than a pair or a group of ferrets will need.

Toys, both store bought and homemade, are an important part of keeping ferrets busy. Cat toys work well for ferrets, though you need to be sure they don't have any small, removable parts or foam stuffing which might cause digestive tract blockages. Most ferrets are harder on toys than a cat would be, so choose accordingly. Take away any toy that starts to crack.

Tennis balls, golf balls, ping pong balls and other plastic balls, with or without bells, work well if they are not easily broken or swallowed. Soft rubber toys are OK, but not the spongy kind because they can easily be shredded and can then be swallowed. Hard rubber toys also work well, but be sure they can't get stuck in the ferret's mouth. Cat or dog squeaky toys are good if they're durable enough to stand up to a ferret's relentless chewing.

Most ferrets enjoy playing in a hammock made from old clothes, and the leg from an old pair of jeans can be fun for them to crawl through or nap in. Bathrobe belts can be hours of fun for them, as can rolled up socks.

Ferrets love to crawl through objects. Carpet-roll tubes and tunnels made of plastic pipe or black drainage tubing can be used, but a cheaper solution is to purchase the tubing or hose commonly used on the backside of dryers to vent heat. Avoid tubes from toilet paper or paper towels, though, because they're small enough that ferrets can get their heads stuck in them and choke or suffocate. Cardboard boxes can be a blast for ferrets to crawl through when they have several holes cut in random places. Old shoes also can be exciting toys.

Switch toys in an out of the ferret's environment regularly, as opposed to just leaving them until ferrets lose interest.

Ferrets, in general, rely heavily on their sense of smell. Olfactory stimulation can be as enriching to ferrets as playing with toys. Toys and other items can be spritzed with harmless types of aroma such as rose water and then hidden around the room for ferrets to discover.

Along this same line of thought, harmless kitchen spices such as basil, oregano or dill can be lightly sprinkled in areas frequented by ferrets to pique their curiosity. Catnip also can be used, although it doesn't affect ferrets like it does cats.

Ferret treats can be hidden in various locations throughout their enclosure for them to find. Treats made from meat sources that are high in protein and low in fiber are the best, since this will mimic the daily nutritional food requirements for ferrets. Small bits of roast poultry, lunch meat that has no preservatives or chicken or turkey baby food can be offered. There are numerous commercial ferret treats on the market, as well.

Out of the cage time is essential to ferret care and they should be allowed out of their enclosures for at least three to four hours a day. However, exercise caution and always supervise ferrets when loose in the house.

Ferret-proof the house by going through it to look for anything that could lead to mischief or danger. Remember ferrets can fit into spaces with openings as small as just an inch or two in diameter. They can open cabinets and crawl up into furniture, such as reclining chairs that can be deadly if positions are changed while the ferret is inside.

Keep anything that would be damaged with a little chewing, or that might hurt your pet, well out of reach. Electrical wires and house plants are common ferret targets.

Pet birds, rodents and reptiles can be seen as prey by ferrets, so the two should never have the opportunity to come into contact with each other. Cats, dogs and small children should also be monitored closely to be certain they don't attempt to hurt pet ferrets.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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