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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.
a Walk on the Wild Side
to get some attention from the neighbors? Put your ferret on a leash and
take him for a walk! (Well, in truth, he'll probably take you
for a walk.) Though the typical ferret isn't a natural at walking on a
leash, most can be trained and will enjoy getting to explore outdoors.
Some ferrets are scared of being constrained, or of being in the great
outdoors, and will freeze up. Others will fight the leash. A few ferrets
(like my Critter) heel for their owners, but most explore on their own
terms with the leash acting as a safety device.
Before you set out, check local animal control ordinances. Some areas
prohibit ferrets from being outside a home, and others require proof of
rabies vaccination attached to the leash or harness.
Never walk your ferret in just a collar with
an attached lead—the ferret will choke or slip out of the collar. You
must use a harness, which provides support around the neck and rib cage.
Leash training, then, begins with harness training (no leash attached).
Make sure you get the right harness,
and start by placing it on the ferret for a few minutes and then
rewarding the ferret with a treat. At first, your ferret may fight the
harness, pretend to collapse, or try to escape. Gradually increase the
time the ferret spends in the harness, and always reward her for wearing
it. After a few weeks, your ferret will probably get used to her
harness. Never leave the harness on your ferret when she is unsupervised
or in her cage.
Start leash work indoors, and let the ferret drag the leash around
without you attached to it. Always supervise, because the leash will get
tangled quickly! After rewarding your ferret for each loose-leash
session, hold the leash and follow the ferret around, giving him his
choice of direction. This time, add gentle restraint by tugging the
leash a little bit to teach your ferret about resistance. After several
of these training sessions, try adding some directional guidance with
the leash. Never jerk on a leash or pick your ferret up by the leash,
except in an emergency.
Start outdoor training close to home, a few
feet from your door. Let the ferret find his way back to the door. Try
walking farther out, but keep coming back to the door and rewarding your
ferret. Should your ferret ever get loose, hopefully he'll know how to
You can then venture into things ferrets find fun: a pile of leaves,
freshly cut grass, or some dirt to dig in. Let your ferret take the lead
in exploring. Don't try to direct the ferret down a straight line or a
sidewalk—this inherently goes against the exploratory nature of the
ferret. Use the leash to restrict the ferret from getting into dangerous
areas (Gizmo once ran up a drainpipe!).
Ferrets need conditioning for exercise, just as humans do. The first
walks should be only a few minutes, and then you can gradually build up.
Most ferrets in peak condition can't handle a walk longer than 15 or 20
minutes. Bring along water for your ferret and offer it frequently,
because ferrets can easily get dehydrated.
Ferrets don't tolerate heat well and should not be walked in
temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and they can't sweat, so walks
in hot and humid conditions should be very short. Some ferrets enjoy
walking and playing in snow, but many are uncomfortable in temperatures
below 40 degrees. In hot and cold weather, walk your ferrets on dirt or
grass, avoiding pavement.
Make triple sure the harness is securely
adjusted (snug but not binding) and the leash is well fastened. Check
the fit of your ferret's harness every time you take a walk. Note that
as your ferret grows or has seasonal weight fluctuations, a different
size harness may be needed. Attach a bell and ID tag to the harness. And
watch where you step—ferrets may dart around your feet or crisscross
in front of you as you walk!
Immediately pick up your ferret if a dog approaches. Avoid having other
people pick up and pet your ferret; if your ferret is tired, she may be
cranky and could nip a stranger. Make sure your ferret's canine
distemper and rabies shots are current, because he could be exposed to
these diseases while out on a walk.
After you walk your ferret, offer water, treats, and food. Check her
feet for broken toenails, splinters, pebbles, or sore spots. Check her
skin for fleas or ticks. Remember to take the harness and leash off and
wash these accessories (if needed). Then put them away so your ferret
doesn't hide them!
The harness should be made of a strong,
flat material such as nylon webbing or leather. H-type harnesses
seem to work better than "figure eight" harnesses.
With figure eights, one loop may be too loose while the other
painfully squeezes or even injures your ferret.
Plastic quick-snap clasps are best for outdoor use; metal
buckles are difficult to adjust (especially on a squirming
ferret) and can get hot in the sun. Harnesses with Velcro tabs
are great for indoor training or use, because they're easy to
put on. But a strong ferret can escape from a Velcro harness,
and Velcro can lose its clasping power over time, so these are
not recommended for outdoor walks.
Flat nylon-web leashes are good for ferrets, and there are
various "reel-in" leashes made for cats or small dogs
that are also suitable. Chain or leather leashes are often too
heavy for ferrets, and cotton leashes may deteriorate or break.