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- Recommended Roommates:
few hedgehogs (co-existence, not friends)
(if kept ferret proof)
- Bad Buddies:
including mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, chinchillas,
guinea pigs, most rabbits
including parakeets, parrots, finches, canaries, birds of prey
and Amphibians: including iguanas, all kinds of snakes, lizards,
turtles and frogs
insects: beetles, spiders and scorpions
- Ferrets are highly social creatures
who love to play with their buddies and their toys. You, of course,
are their best buddy, but what about other critters in your home?
Ferrets can play well with some pets (notably cats and dogs), but
can be a problem with others (rodents, reptiles, and birds). The key
to friendly ferret relationships is constant human supervision, as
animal behavior can sometimes be unpredictable! Let’s talk about
who to make friends with and who to avoid (See Sidebar).
- From the Ferret’s
Point of View
- Ferrets view humans, other ferrets,
and other animals in a variety of ways. As a fun-loving creature,
ferrets would first and foremost love to play with another creature.
Ferrets can play very hard, and even with the best of intentions,
could harm another pet. Small creatures such as hamsters or canaries
are likely to be injured if treated like a ferret toy.
- Another way ferrets see other animals
is as a potential snack. Ferrets are meat-eating predators, and may
instinctively hunt and chase anything that is potential prey. Like
housecats, ferrets are likely to view birds, small rodents, insects,
and reptiles as entertaining treats to eat.
- Finally, some ferrets might see
another household pet (even another ferret) as an enemy. Fearful
ferrets will defend themselves if they feel cornered, which could
hurt another pet. Alternatively, jealous ferrets might act
aggressively to another pet if you aren’t paying enough attention
to your ferret!
- Personal Space
- To help ease the introduction of any
new roommate to the household (human baby, other ferret, or other
pet), be sure your ferrets have their own territory. A good cage
with the ferrets’ sleepsacks, litterboxes, toys, food, and water
makes a safe haven for a ferret to retreat to. A sturdy cage may
also prevent other animals from hurting the ferrets inside. Because
you want all ferret roommate interactions to be supervised by you,
keeping your ferrets safe in their cage when you are not around is
the best option.
- Starting Young
- One way to foster a lasting friendship
between your ferret and your other pet is to start with predators
(dogs and cats) and start with young ferrets. Ferret kits grow up
best when they start out with kittens or small puppies. Keep in
mind, however, that all youngsters may unintentionally hurt each
other during play because they cannot yet control their motor
- Here, Kitty Kitty!
- Ferrets get along best with cats. Most
ferrets find cats quite interesting and want to play with them. In
fact, your ferret may annoy your cat because the ferrets won’t
quit playing! Cats and ferrets can grow up playing and sleeping
together, and even will use the same litterbox. Some cats work hard
to bury the ferret additions to the litterbox, too! Just make sure
the litter you use is ferret safe (avoid powdered clumping litters
and silica pearls, which are dangerous to ferrets). Ferrets also
love to share cat food, but cat foods do not have proper nutrition
for ferrets. Put the cat food where the ferrets can’t get to it!
Another favorite is to share cat toys. However, some cat toys are
not safe for ferrets because they have rubber parts or small items
that can be ingested by the ferret. Be sure your cat toys are also
good ferret toys.
- For first-time introductions, hold the
cat and the ferret and let them sniff each other a few times a day
for a week or so. If things go well, gradually let each animal have
more freedom to “check each other out.” When you first let them
have complete freedom in the same room, make sure both the ferret
and the cat have an escape route or a place that the other pet
- It’s important to read and
understand the body language of both the ferret and the cat to make
sure the interaction is going well. For example, when I introduced
Tito the ferret to Mr. Mustache the cat, Tito bounced around the cat
in a happy weasel war dance while Mr. Mustache playfully batted at
him with a paw. On the other hand, when I introduced Zodiac to the
same cat, Zodiac flattened her body out, hissed, and bottle-brushed
her tail. Mr. Mustache responded with flattened ears, a growl, and
showed off his claws. Obviously this was not a good interaction, and
Zodiac is kept away from cats.
- With extended ferret interactions,
cats usually get tired of playing first and will jump to where the
ferrets can’t get. Others will swat the ferret on the head as a
warning (which most ferrets ignore and just want to play even more).
Again, supervision is key. An angry or cornered cat may unsheath her
claws for the next head-bop and cause some damage. Ferrets can
suffer eye and skin damage from cat claws. In addition, if the
ferret really annoys the cat, bites may be a problem. Cat bites can
result in infection, and should be treated.
- Ferrets and Fido
- Ferrets can get along with many dogs,
but it will take plenty of effort on your part. Some dogs are
instinctive hunters and not a good match, such as terriers who were
bred to kill rats and other small prey, or guarding dogs who may be
more likely to bite if provoked. Retriever dogs seem to do well with
ferrets. But it’s always up to you and the individual personality
of your dog – there are always exceptions. You really need a dog
that has a low prey and chase drive and plenty of bite inhibition.
- After you know the dog’s
personality, you then can progress to a well-trained dog who will
respond unfailingly to your commands. TooToo, an Alaskan Malamute,
had many obedience training sessions before ever being exposed to a
ferret, and an additional command of “No bite!” was taught to
make sure the dog kept her mouth open! After obedience training, you
must show the dog where the ferret fits in your family pack. Put the
dog in a crate that a ferret cannot climb into, and let the dog
watch your human family play with the ferret. This interaction helps
to establish pack membership. You’ll also need to establish the
ferret as a “superior” pack member by always feeding treats to
the ferret first and the dog second. After several sessions, hold
the dog firmly while letting the ferret explore the dog. Consider
using a muzzle on the dog, and at the same time, don’t let the
ferret nip the dog. When you feel comfortable, try the dog on the
leash, but make sure the ferret has an escape route or hiding place.
Patience, training, and supervision is key.
- No matter how good things get between
your ferret and dog, never ever leave your dog’s toys, treats, or
food around for the ferret to access. A dog will rightfully protect
what is his, and ferrets love to steal rawhide bones and toys (which
if ingested can cause intestinal blockages), and eat dog food (which
is bad for ferrets).
- Ferrets seem to adore dog’s ears,
and your dog may not like his ears being nipped, pulled on, or
sniffed and sneezed in. Ferrets also invite dogs to play by nipping
at their feet. While the ferrets find it extremely amusing to have a
dog respond quickly to such an invitation, the dog may not be too
happy. Always look for signs of possible aggression or hostility on
the part of the dog, and separate the dog and the ferret. Again,
dogs and ferrets should not be left together unsupervised, no matter
what your prior experience has been with their interaction.
- With lots of supervised playtime,
ferrets and dogs can be best of friends. They can play together,
follow each other around, and often sleep together. When TooToo got
tired of playing with Gizmo, a particularly bouncy ferret, she would
sit on Gizmo. One hundred pounds of dog is effective at immobilizing
a ferret, but Gizmo did need to be rescued.
- Hedging Your Bets
- Ferrets and hedgehogs seem to be
acceptable housemates, only because hedgehogs can roll up into a
spiky ball to defend themselves. Ferrets usually find hedgehogs a
bit too challenging to play with and wind up ignoring them after a
few failed attempts at ferret friendliness. Many ferrets enjoy
competing with hedgehogs for cricket or mealworm treats, so be sure
your hedgehog is eating properly. Ferrets find hedgehogs curious at
first, and they may “worry” the hedgehog. If you notice your
hedgehog eliminating from fear, stop the interactions. A ferret
could potentially harm a hedgehog (especially one that gets too fat
to roll up into a koosh ball).
- Living with
- Many ferret folk also have horses,
pigs, cows, sheep, and other domesticated “farm” animals.
Normally, there is no reason for your ferret to interact with these
other family members, but ferrets should get used to these animal
smells, and even enjoy checking out the herd! Unfortunately, some
ferrets view livestock as really, really big buddies, and try to
chase horses, cattle, or sheep. These animals are simply too big to
interact safely with a ferret, and could accidentally step on one. I
once let my ferret, Misty, sniff nose-to-nose with my husband’s
horse Charla-mane. With Misty’s limited vision, Charla-mane was
just too big to comprehend – all she saw was a nice dark tunnel,
and tried to crawl up the horse’s nostril. Charla-mane promptly
snorted her out before any further explorations could take place!
- Fishing Ferrets
- For households with aquariums, for the
most part there is no problem with a ferret, as long as there is a
ferret-proof cover over the tank and filter. However, some ferrets
find aquariums and fish fascinating. Most ferrets like to play in or
drink aquarium water. Fish water could contain Giardia
protozoa, which can cause intestinal upset for the ferret and is
difficult to cure. Ferret interference could certainly stress out
the fish and upset the chemical balance of the tank. There are a few
stories about ferrets capturing small fish from tanks and eating
them, or just having fun swishing them out of the water because it
is so fun to watch the fish flop around out of the water! And in a
worst case scenario, some ferrets have drowned in fish tanks. So
keep your aquariums covered, secure, and out of reach of Flipper
- Reptiles are not a good match for
ferrets because they are viewed by ferrets as either enemies or
tasty snacks. When Bobbin was a kit, she found a baby garden snake
and began to eat it immediately, tail first. Little Bear decapitated
a 3-foot blacksnake that had the bad fortune to climb in an open
kitchen window. And most of the little lizards living around our
screened porch are missing their tails. Ferrets may also be
attracted to the tasty crickets that are meant as reptile food.
Ferrets have been known to fatally injure large iguanas while trying
to play with their new friend. Larger reptiles will bite to defend
themselves, which could give salmonella or other infectious diseases
to your ferret. Keep ferrets and reptiles in separate rooms, and
discourage all interaction with secure cages or tank covers. Wash
your hands between handling reptiles and ferrets as well, to
minimize the spread of contagious diseases.
- Bye-Bye Birdie
- In general, any bird is a bad buddy
for a ferret and the two should not interact. Birds can make noises
that agitate ferrets because the sounds are in the same range of a
shrieking kit (or a squeaky toy). Ferrets will naturally go after
the noise to silence it. Even a quiet bird can attract a playful
ferret with its movements, and small birds are in danger of being
killed. Larger birds, with their strong beaks and lightening-fast
movements, could harm the ferret as well.
In particular, large parrots and ferrets seem to be mortal
enemies. Ferrets are often attracted to a parrot cage because of
leftover fruit scraps. Unfortunately, these birds are often flight
limited or live in cages with bars big enough for a ferret to
squeeze through. When confronted with such a predator as a ferret, a
large bird will defend itself, and with a beak capable of 3,000
pounds of pressure per square inch, can kill a ferret (after
probably sustaining considerable damage from the ferret attack).
Keep birds and parrots in separate rooms, and be ever vigilant for
escapes or problems.
- Rodent Regrets
- Ferrets are not a good match with pet
mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, sugar gliders, guinea pigs,
chinchillas, and rabbits. Ferrets will give chase, and smaller
rodents may get killed, even if by accident. If you wouldn’t let
your pet cat play with your hamster, don’t let your ferret,
either. Larger rodents, such as chinchillas and rabbits, may not get
killed, but become very stressed. Chinchillas in particular do not
respond well to ferrets even being in the same room or smelling
ferrets on your skin or clothing. A stressed chinchilla may lose
clumps of fur and not eat properly.
Some ferrets get along well with rabbits and guinea pigs, but
many find it fun to “ride the rabbit” by chomping down on the
rabbit’s neck and hanging on while the rabbit races around trying
to get rid of the rider. This behavior is instinctive, and related
to how wild ferret cousins kill rabbits. The rabbits often run
because they are instinctively in fear of their lives. Rabbits may
also defend themselves with a strong kick that can break ferret
bones, and cavies can pack a strong bite if defense is necessary.
Even if nobody gets hurt, I believe rodent interaction is too
stressful for a prey animal.
- As a responsible pet owner, you’ll
need to make the decision of which ferret friends you want in your
household, whether to keep your ferrets and other pets separate, or
whether to spend the time training your cats and dogs to get along
with your ferret. Ferrets seem to want to play with anyone you
introduce into your household, so make sure it is a good
combination. Hopefully, you’ll have friendly roommates, and lots
of happy playtimes!