|This article is part of a collection of articles all about "Ferret Town." This portion of Ferret Town is the Realty Office, so you can learn all about ferret housing.||
WHAT TO LOOK FOR (and avoid) IN A FERRET CAGE
Welcome to Ferret Town! Please stop by and
visit Hurón Habitats , the local realtor, and learn all about ferret
living space. What sorts of ferret homes are available? How should they be
furnished? What happens on the outside of a ferret’s house? Your friendly
realty staff at Hurón Habitats will be able to answer all the questions
you might need to ask. Let’s review your questions about proper housing
Do my ferrets really need a cage?
Madeleine Martin, owner of the Pets Choice Retail Outlet in Merrimack, New Hampshire, says, “The most important thing to impress upon a ferret owner is that ferrets do indeed need cages!” Some people envision their ferret being a free-range house pet like a dog or cat. However, ferrets are highly intelligent and curious creatures that get into a lot of trouble if left to their own devices. A cage provides a safe and secure environment for the ferret when you cannot be there to supervise play. A cage can also be helpful for a ferret to rest and overcome illness. A small cage can also be used for transportation (although a carrier would be better).
How big does my ferret’s cage need to be?
Size is a critical factor for a ferret cage, and bigger is better. Ferrets require lots of room in a cage, for both exercise and all their furnishings. The longer period a ferret needs to stay in a cage, the larger it needs to be. The absolute minimum size for a single ferret that is caged only for a few hours at a stretch, or only overnight, is about 2 cubic feet (12”x24” bottom, 12” high). This size is often better used as an isolation, travel, or hospital cage. Larger, multi-storied cages are preferable. Even though you might want to save money and start with a small “starter” cage, it won’t be long before you will be trading up. Donna Wood, a pet product Retail Specialist says that “Ferrets are fun, social creatures, and most owners don’t stop at one ferret!” Plan ahead, or you will end up with several cages before reaching ideal capacity, and will have spent more money than you originally planned. Alicia Drakiotes is the founding director of Ferret Wise Shelter in New Hampshire. She loves to receive donations of the “outgrown” cages for the shelter, but says, “If you buy a larger cage in the first place, you will be a more satisfied ferret owner!” Hurón Habitats recommends cages that are expandable. Some cages have removable wire panels so another story can be attached to the top. Others use plastic tunnels to attach to an additional cage, thus allowing for easy expansion as the ferret family grows.
What is the best ferret cage design?
First, what not to choose for a cage. Avoid wood, which absorbs ferret odors and is difficult to clean. Glass aquariums (or any solid material that restricts ventilation) should not be used. Ferrets have extremely sensitive lungs and need plenty of fresh air. Many dog crates and parrot cages are unsuitable because the wire spacing is too large – wires should be no larger than one inch apart on the shortest side. Also, for a temporary cage or carrier, avoid the cardboard boxes. Ferrets can shred through the sturdiest of boxes, and the cardboard soaks up liquids, too, making a soft area even easier to dig out.
Fortunately, there is a wide variety of ferret-specific cages manufactured with the ferret’s lifestyle (and the convenience of the owner) in mind. Jason Casto, the Marketing Manager for Pets International, Ltd. in Illinois, points out that “Ferret cage manufacturers study the needs and behaviors of the ferret so they can design a safe and fun cage specifically for the ferret.” Mr. Casto also noted that cages made for other animals “do not mentally challenge the ferret and could have safety problems.”
Ferret cages are typically made of wire and plastic. Skip Martin of Pennsylvania stresses that “wire ferret cages should be nontoxic, have no burs or sharp edges, provide good ventilation, and be very secure because ferrets are great escape artists!” He also tells ferret owners to “look for cages that can collapse for storage, have a carrying handle, and a good-sized bottom pan.” All ferret cages should contain some sort of bottom tray that is easy to clean. Deeper pans mean less mess for the owner to clean out. Be careful! Some ferrets learn how to push out a slide-out drawer and escape. Ideally, the floor of the cage should not be wire mesh, because this can cause foot injuries and deformities for ferrets. If there is a wire bottom (or wire platforms higher in the cage), be sure to cover the wire. Fleece kennel mats designed for dog crates work wonderfully as flooring, or you could use linoleum, tile, or washable bath mats. Several manufacturers offer washable platform covers. Make sure any shelves or platforms are wide enough to allow room for a sleepsack or litterbox. Often, the wire ramps that come with cages are very steep and ferrets have accidents by catching body parts on the wire as they tumble down. Make ramps less steep, or platform covers can be used to cover the ramp wires. Whether a cage has ramps or not, cages should be equipped with enough hammocks to break a fall. Finally, Mark Fetter of NY advises that “Every cage should have plenty of big access doors so you can reach every level and easily take a litterpan (or ferret) in and out.”
What type of wire should be on my ferret’s cage?
There are many different types of cage wire: galvanized, enameled, powder-coated (a baked-on finish), stainless steel, and polycoated vinyl (PVC) wire. PVC is the easiest to clean, but if the ferrets gnaw on the wire, lower-quality PVC could come off and be swallowed accidentally. Galvanized wire is the least expensive, but is more difficult to keep clean and rust free. (Remember that new galvanized wire cages must be completely scrubbed and dried before housing a ferret to remove the potentially toxic zinc particles). Stainless steel is often the most expensive, but the least subject to wear and tear. Enameled or powder-coated wire is somewhere in the middle on cost and maintenance issues. For any type of wire, make sure there are no sharp edges or exposed ends that could cut you or your ferret (access door areas need special attention). Again, wire spacing needs to be no larger than one inch wide, or your ferret may squeeze through!
Where should I put my ferret’s cage?
Ferrets love fun, activity, and social play. If you put the cage in a busy area of your home, your ferret will only want to come out and play with you and feel trapped. Place your ferret’s cage in a quiet zone of the house, because the cage should be used for rest and relaxation. For fun time, your ferret should be out of the cage, zooming around with you! Do not place the cage in direct sunlight or by a window that might radiate heat. Similarly, don’t place the cage by a radiator, heating vent, or other draft. Ferrets cannot withstand heat well, and at temperatures past 80°F, your ferret can get heat exhaustion within minutes. You will also want a room with natural lighting. Preliminary studies indicate that lots of artificial light that extends the “daylight” hours of a ferret might lead to medical problems.
What goes in the cage?
Hurón Habitats recommends that you have lots of fun with interior decorating! Each ferret will need a litterbox, litter, waterbottle, drip catcher for the water bottle, food dishes or feeders, hammocks, and sleep sacks. Ferrets don’t need litter on the bottom of their cage, so don’t forget the flooring pad. They do need litter in their litterbox. Avoid dusty clay litters, dangerous clumping and silica pearl litters, or cedar shavings. Stick to pelleted litters made of wood, newspapers, or alfalfa. Also be sure the litterbox has high sides and is large enough to completely hold your ferret. A ferret may refuse to use a litterbox that is too small.
Lots of hammocks and sleepsacks are great for beds! The rule of thumb is 1.5 beds per ferret, rounded up to the next highest number. For example, one ferret will need two beds (a hammock and a sleepsack), two ferrets will need three beds, and three ferrets will need five beds, and so on. Strategically placed hammocks in a tall cage add to ferret safety -- if a ferret falls, he won’t go far and will just land on a soft hammock. Put sleep sacks on the bottom floor or on platforms. Extra litterpans can go on the platforms as well.
For multiple ferrets, multiple water bottles and food dishes are handy. Any bowl should be a heavy-weight crock so the ferret can’t tip it over. There are special feeding dishes to lock onto the sides of wire cages that can’t be tipped. Always use multiple water sources in case one gets spilled or leaks. Your ferret needs constant access to fresh water, so running out is not an option!
Ferrets also have fun with tubes and tunnels (either fabric or plastic) that can be hung in the cage. In general, decorate with cage accessories that are safe, durable, and easy to clean. Ferrets are generally color-blind to everything but red, so decorate with whatever colors suit the rest of your interior design. Once you have the housing necessities, then you can add the toys! Rotate cage toys frequently (every week or so), as ferrets are easily bored. Your realtors at Hurón Habitats want to remind you to think “safety” as well. Be sure anything you put in a ferret cage cannot catch a paw or head, cut or poke eyes or skin, and is in good repair. Check to be sure clips are completely fastened, materials are not frayed, and no broken parts have developed a sharp edge.
What about a travel cage?
While you are visiting Ferret Town, you should keep your ferret in a travel cage or carrier. For local travel, ferrets should never roam free in a car because they can get under the brake pedal or behind the dash. Additionally, ferrets escape from cardboard boxes (or soak them with water, food and waste). For short car trips, a variety of convenient options are available. Soft-sided carrying bags are lightweight and comfortable. Additionally, there are a variety of small cages designed specifically for ferrets that fit easily in car back seats.
Susan Berry of Prevue Pet Products advises that “for long car trips or if someone is moving, you’ll need larger and more durable accommodations than a small cage or soft carrier.” Look for amenities such as multistories, ramps, and deep trays, but ones that will still fit in a back seat of a car. Airline-approved carriers are also a good alternative for ferrets. The medium- and intermediate-sized carriers can be fitted with hammocks or lofts to provide more room (and entertainment) for a travel-weary ferret. Hurón Habitats recommends airline approved carriers because they are sturdy, long-lasting, and easy to clean. The best quality carriers are certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
What about my ferrets in my house?
Every ferret has their own unique set of talents for getting into trouble when outside of their cage. However, there are some basic rules for keeping your home ferret-proofed (see sidebar). Your job is to be vigilant, and supervise your ferret’s activities as much as possible. Remember that ferret-proofing is an ongoing process as ferrets devise new ways to explore the unknown! Constantly recheck your ferret proofing efforts, especially when introducing a new ferret friend to the family!
What about ferrets outside of my house?
Ferrets should not be kept outdoors. They are heat sensitive animals who cannot tolerate temperatures above 80°F or high humidity conditions in lower temperatures. They are also susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases such as heartworm, and airborne diseases such as distemper. Even in cooler climates, ferrets kept outdoors have significantly shorter lifespans and develop many more illnesses. For the health and safety of your ferret, your realtors at Hurón Habitats say to “keep your ferrets inside!” Remember that ferrets are domesticated pets, and have been domesticated longer than our housecats. They are meant to be human companions that live in your home because they are no longer suited to outside, wilder conditions.
However, despite your best efforts at ferret proofing, your ferret may escape from your house. A bit of preplanning can help avoid disasters. First, you should train your ferret to come when “called.” A squeaky toy may be the easiest way to get your ferret to respond, come to you, or get out of a dangerous situation. When training your ferret, remember to provide a yummy treat reward. Another safety precaution is to fit your ferret with a collar, bell, and ID. The bell will alert you to the ferret's presence (inside or outside of the house), and the ID can be invaluable if your ferret escapes outdoors. Ferrets can also be microchipped by your veterinarian, and can then be identified if the collar and ID tag is lost. Finally, fit your ferret with a harness and leash and take them outside for short walks around the house and show them where the entry doors are so they know where “home” is. Introduce your neighbors to your ferrets so they know you own them and can handle them in case of a surprise visit.
If your ferret is missing, first check the house thoroughly. Many ferrets lose themselves in your house. Check every area of your home where a ferret could be trapped – rolled up carpets, cardboard tubing, furniture, garment bags, shelving, and so on. Check high and low, and underneath and behind anything you thought your ferret could not get to. Once you have eliminated all possibilities in your home, then move to the outdoors.
Once a pet ferret is outdoors, it will begin to explore. First check the perimeter of the house. Ferrets have fairly poor eyesight and may hug the outside wall as they travel. They will also like some concealment, so check shrubs, under patio decks, in crawl spaces, or drainage pipes. Ferrets love to explore garages, so check any open ones at your house or next door. If you can’t find your ferret around your house, then further steps will need to be taken (see sidebar).
The realtor staff at Hurón Habitats in Ferret Town hopes that all your questions about ferret homes and habitats have been answered! It has been a pleasure getting to know you and your ferrets, and we hope you have a good time visiting the rest of ferret town!
SIDEBAR: FERRET PROOFING TIPS
Holes: Ferrets have flexible skeletons that let them squeeze into tiny openings. Check for quarter-sized (1-inch) or larger holes in furniture, behind/under appliances, window frames/screens, walls, around plumbing fixtures or drain pipes, floor vents, dryer vents, mail slots, fireplace grates/dampers/screens, dog/cat doors, and under/in cabinets. Duct tape is a good (but temporary) patch, until more permanent wood or wire can be used to block openings.
Furniture: Ferret proof couches, upholstered furniture, and mattresses by stapling hardboard, masonite, or heavy-duty fabric to the bottom. Ferrets like to climb inside, scratch up stuffing, and take long naps! Be careful of recliner chairs and sleeper sofas as ferrets crawl inside and can get crushed. Recliners are a leading cause of accidental death in ferrets. Keep stereo speakers out of reach before they turn into a cozy hiding place, and do not use a rocking chair while ferrets are playing.
Appliances: Block off gaps around appliances so ferrets have no access to wires, rubber, fiberglass insulation, motors, fans, or moving parts. Check your dishwasher, refrigerator, washer/dryer, stove, water heater, airconditioner, fans, and fireplaces.
Electrical: Some ferrets are electrical cord chewers. Others might like to investigate exposed outlets. Spray cords with bitter apple or pepper spray or cover the cords. Eliminate exposed outlets by inserting outlet covers (found in baby supplies).
Kitchen: Many ferrets can open cabinet doors and drawers. Put away toxic items from your cabinets before your ferret does. Ferret-proof cabinets with heavy-duty magnetic catches, cabinet clasps, or baby-proof latches. Look carefully before you close your refrigerator, start the dishwasher, run the trash compactor, or take out the garbage.
Laundry rooms: Do not allow your ferret access, especially when you are doing laundry. Check clothes before loading and look in the washer/dryer before starting the cycle.
Bathrooms have dangers similar to kitchens. Secure cabinet doors and lower drawers. Keep toilet seats down and bathtubs empty to prevent drowning. Disallow access to soap -- ferrets may eat it, which causes intestinal problems. Ferrets like to push cardboard toilet paper tubes around with their noses and often get their heads jammed in the tube. The ferret may suffocate or choke to death on saliva. Cut the tubes open, or discard safely.
Windows: Check windows and sliding doors–are they closed and locked? Are screens sturdy and intact? Small holes can be made larger quickly, and a ferret could slash through a window screen quickly.
Climbing: Ferrets do not have the ability to land safely on their feet in a fall. Therefore, don't allow ferrets access to high places where they could fall and hurt themselves. Check for the climbability of draperies, fabric-covered furniture, wicker, screens, picture frames, etc. Some ferrets climb by wedging themselves between the wall and the closest piece of furniture, so check for wall gaps behind cabinets and bookshelves.
Put Out of Reach: houseplants, sponges, people food, gum, silly putty, soft rubber, rawhide, dog food, birdseed, rubber bands, pencil erasers, candy, clothes hampers, floor fans, stereo speakers, and styrofoam peanuts.
SIDEBAR: FERRET ESCAPE TIPS
• Check inside your home first, unless it is apparent the ferret has escaped outdoors.
• Check the perimeter of your home second, looking carefully in ferrety hiding places.
• Place cage or carrier with food, water, and litter at each doorway to your home, and in the front and back yards.
• Sprinkle a favorite treat leading in paths to your doors and these cages.
• Enlist help of friends, family, and neighbors to comb the immediate area of the neighborhood. Each helper should be equipped with a squeaky toy, treats, and a flashlight for looking into dark holes.
• Put a harness on one of your other ferrets to help point out places that are attractive for ferrets to explore.
• Make a poster with your ferret’s color picture, all your contact information, and offer of a reward.
• Distribute the poster to neighbors, area children, dog walkers, mail and delivery personnel, nearby retail establishments (gas stations, stores, banks, local businesses).
• Place a classified ad in the local newspaper.
• Call the local animal control, humane society, animal shelters, pet stores, pet groomers, area veterinarians, and police departments to report your missing ferrets. Someone who has found your ferret may drop the animal off at any one of these locations. Check back daily at these locations.
• When you are reunited with your ferret, be sure to get a vet check. Then go around and collect all the posters, and thank everyone who helped.