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Absorb these water-wise insights from an experienced ferret owner and you, too, will know the secrets of safe ferret-water encounters.
by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.
Volume 5, Number 3
May/June, 2002
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Water is an essential part of your ferret’s life, not only for basic survival, but also for ferret fun! Let’s talk about all aspects of ferrets and water. We’ll start with indoor water issues, such as drinking water, bath water, and play water. Then we’ll move to water in the great outdoors. So let’s splash right in!
Your ferret needs access to cool, fresh drinking water at all times. Your ferrets will drink as many as 20 times throughout the day and night because a hydrated ferret is a healthy ferret.  Because drinking water is such an essential part of ferret life and health, it’s important to provide water from several sources so if one source goes dry accidentally, there is always a backup.
Bottles and Bowls
In every ferret cage I keep two no-drip water bottles. Under each water bottle I keep another bowl to catch the drips so the cage blanket doesn’t get wet. Even though water bottles are designed to be “no drip,” ferrets tend to be quite active with their water bottles. Stevie likes to shake his bottle, bite and gnaw on the spout, and bat the bottle with his paws. The drip-catcher bowl is a must!
In addition to water bottles, you should provide water in bowls. Studies have shown that ferrets drink more water (which is healthier) out of bowls than out of water bottles, presumably because it's easier. However, water bowls are much messier than water bottles and can be less sanitary.

Ferrets love to play in water bowls, and may dig, splash—and even snorkel. Misty is my snorkeling ferret—she sticks her entire head in the water and waves it around while blowing bubbles. Sasha has to dig at the water while drinking, and splashes it everywhere. Little Bear thinks that water tastes better out of the bowl, and will try to tip it over to lap up water from the spill. Thor dribbles food crumbs into the water, which means I have to change water bowls several times per day.

Heavy crock-type bowls are helpful in reducing tipping. Crockery bowls also keeps water cooler, which is more palatable to drink. Stevie likes bobbing for ice cubes in a shallow pan of water. However, ferrets don’t like to drink ice water, and if water is too cold, your ferret may drink less when water is most needed, and suffer from dehydration. Don't get a bowl that's too large, because that can present a potential drowning hazard. Again, dishwasher-safe is best, because water bowls should be changed daily and washed weekly.
Bath Time!
Water takes on a whole new meaning to a ferret when it is bath water! Some ferrets enjoy a bath, but most seem to dislike baths although they have a great time drying off! The bath water should be warm, but not scalding hot. A ferret’s body temperature is higher than ours, so lukewarm water may actually cool your ferret. Ferrets seem to feel more comfortable if they don’t have to swim during the bath and have something to rest their feet on. Shallow water in a sink or tub is fine – if the water will be deeper, provide a box or underwater support for the ferret to rest on. You can also take your ferret into the shower with you – many ferrets who dislike baths may enjoy being held in the shower. Be careful, though! Sweet Pea constantly tried to climb into the shower, and after years of trying was finally successful. Unfortunately, as soon as she fell into the tub and the shower water hit her in the face, she panicked and scrambled up my brother’s leg. Ouch!
My ferrets enjoy a combination bath/shower. I pre-heat the kitchen sink with hot water (cold metal or porcelain can quickly make a bath uncomfortable). Then I fill up the sink with a few inches of warm water. The ferret is gently placed in the water, and I use a gentle stream from either the faucet or the sink sprayer to rinse the ferret. Careful not to get soapy water in the ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. Make sure you rinse thoroughly because soap residue left on the ferret can make them very itchy! In fact, too much water (and soap) can dry out a ferret’s skin too much. For this reason, I only bathe my ferrets every 3-4 months.
Water Weasel Games
Many ferrets enjoy playing in water, so give them some to play with apart from their drinking water bowls. Fill a shallow baking pan, bowl, cookpot, or bathtub with an inch or two of water and let your ferrets go bobbing for ice cubes, raisins, or ping-pong balls. (Put a towel under the water container, because the ferrets can really splash up the floor!). Water that is especially fun is sparkling water (such as club soda or seltzer water). Fill up a mug with sparkling water and hold it down while your ferret tries to bite the bubbles. Or pour puddles of bubbly onto a baking sheet and watch them play with this new type of water. My ferrets are also entranced by streams of running water from a faucet, and try to grab the stream and run off with it. The crew had way too much fun with a tabletop fountain, so I bought them a fountain pet dispenser that not only provides them with fresh water, but hours of fun. The water fountain dispenser is on a tile floor, because the water does not stay in the bowl!
Water Woes
Ferrets are attracted to water because it is so much fun to drink and play with. However, this can cause some potential drowning dangers in your household. Consider keeping your toilet seat down so a curious ferret won’t get trapped in the bowl. Don’t allow ferrets around mop buckets (they’ll drink the soapy water or fall in and could drown). Monitor filled bathtubs. And especially take care with your dishwasher. My ferrets love to go into the dishwasher and lick food from dirty dishes and water droplets from clean dishes. I always triple-check the dishwasher before running it.

Do you have visions of fun in the sun and staying cool in the pool? Should your ferret friend join you in the fun? If it’s warm enough for you to want wetting, it might be too warm for your fuzzy. Ferrets are uncomfortable in temperatures over 80 degrees F (27°C), and can experience severe heat-related medical problems if the weather is over 90°F. 

Ooops! Splash! 
Where I live in Florida, most pools are completely surrounded by a screened enclosure. The enclosure allows ferrets to play "outside" safely (although constant supervision is required). If there is no pool enclosure, keep your ferret on a harness and leash! My ferrets act foolishly when playing around pools. Sometimes they don’t notice the pool and walk right in. Or they get excited doing their weasel play dance and Bounce- BOUNCE- Bounce- SPLASH! Most of my ferrets treat the pool as the world’s largest water bowl, and when Rascal sees a buddy leaning over the edge for a drink, he pushes them in! 
Swimmin’ Skills 
Most ferrets are natural swimmers. They tuck their front paws under their chin, poke their nose out of the water, and paddle with their hind feet, using their tail as a rudder. They seem to glide through the water effortlessly, but swimming is hard work for a ferret, and they don’t really enjoy this exercise. Ferrets can become quickly exhausted and drown, or become weak and get sucked into a skimmer. There some ferrets (like Bobbin) who are not instinctive swimmers and thrash about in a panic and go under. Keep these ferrets away from the pool! 

I have also noticed that my ferrets don’t swim "smart." When they fall in, they start swimming in whatever direction they were pointing, even if that is the longest distance to the other side of the pool. Perhaps this is because ferrets have poor vision. Only one of my ferrets (Misty) can pull herself out of the pool on her own; the rest will continue to paddle until they are fished out, or find something to climb out on. I actually have training sessions with my ferrets to show them where their specially-anchored pool float is that allows them to climb out. Several training sessions are needed for them to learn how to get out of the pool.

Pool Safety Suggestions 
My ferret crew is allowed to play by the pool only at dawn and dusk, and they are always supervised. During the day it’s too hot, and the sunlight reflecting from water can burn ferret skin and damage the retinas in their eyes. Also, the hot pool deck burns their feet. Because my ferrets fall in frequently, there are special safety grates covering the skimmers so ferrets can’t get pulled in. Some ferrets are smart enough to use this grate to climb out. We also keep chlorine levels minimized because chlorinated water is very irritating to sensitive ferret eyes and skin. I encourage the ferrets to drink from water bowls provided on the back porch instead of the pool. The ferrets are never allowed to "help" when we do water maintenance -- pool chemicals are toxic and dangerous! When a ferret has an accidental splash session, I rinse off the pool water, condition fur, and towel as much as possible. If you don’t dry your ferrets, they will overexert themselves trying to wipe off, which may be too much stress after an exhausting swim. 

Pool Program 
I would never take my ferrets to a public pool. For health reasons, pets are banned at most pools anyway, but you could also put your ferret in danger of heat stroke. Additionally, ferrets are stressed by swimming and may react to other people in an unexpected way. So leave your furkids at home! If you have a pool and ferret-water contact is inevitable, keep in mind the safety suggestions above. If your ferrets love water, they will have more fun in their own pool, like a bathtub, sink, or dish filled ferret-ankle-deep with tap water.
No pool? Maybe the irresistible allures of the sun, sand, and water are calling you to the lake or ocean. You may be tempted to take your ferret friends along for the beach adventure, but you should first be aware of some cautions. 

What’s the Weather? 
Once again, check the weather forecast. If the outside temperature will be more than 80°F (27°C), your ferret should stay indoors at home and keep cool. Warmer temperatures or high humidity levels will be uncomfortable for your ferret and put your buddy in danger of heat stress or heatstroke. 

Harness Up! 
Never take your ferret on an outdoor adventure without a harness and leash. Ferrets can easily slip out of collars, so use a harness! Identification on the harness and a bell are also good safety measures. The leash keeps your ferret from going into off-limits areas and allows you to pull your ferret out of danger quickly. Check the fit of your harness each time you use it, because ferrets change their weight during the year. 

Your Bundle of Sunshine 
The next guideline is to keep your ferret out of direct sunlight. Ferrets can get sunburned on their sensitive nose and ears, and ultraviolet rays can cause retinal damage in the eyes. I have some little sunglasses, but they don’t stay on my ferrets for more than a few seconds! Sunburns make ferrets susceptible to skin cancer. Albino ferrets especially lack protective skin coloring and can suffer severe sunburns from just minutes of direct exposure. Too much sun will also dehydrate your ferret – remember to bring a water bottle. 

Sand and Surf 
Sand holds and reflects heat. Therefore sand gets hotter than the air and burns your ferret’s feet. Sand also radiates heat long after air temperatures have cooled. You might be strolling along at 75 degrees but your ferret down on the sand feels an uncomfortable 85 degrees. Ferrets also love to dig in sand and if they mistakenly eat some, they can get an intestinal blockage. Blowing sand can cause eye damage because beach sands are made of silica (essentially ground glass), which scratches eyes and skin. Damp sand is your best bet. It is cooler, especially fun to dig in, and the sand particles will cause less problems for your ferret. Be prepared for a good rinsing after a sand-digging session – both you and your ferret!

When I took Gizmo to Lake Mendota, Wisconsin, she loved walking along the shore in ankle-deep water. Unfortunately, she also loved to drink the water, and took home some nasty intestinal parasites. Drinking out of stagnant puddles and ponds may result in Giardia, which is a tough tummy bug to get rid of. If you go to the ocean and your ferret drinks salt water, digestive system disruptions are likely. At worst, if your ferret drinks too much salt water, a brain edema could occur. Be careful of ocean waves that could douse your ferret and get salt water into eyes, ears, and lungs. Again, the leash and harness will help keep your ferret safe. 

Other Critters 
At lakes, possible dangers abound, such as poisonous snakes, predatory birds, and insect bites. Remember that one mosquito bite can transmit potentially fatal heartworms to your ferret. Once, when I took Bobbin to the lake, she discovered a duck nest near the shore and decided to play with an egg. This aroused the wrath of the nearby mother duck. I reeled Bobbin in so quickly on her leash she practically flew through the air, because I knew a ferret was no match for a mad duck! At both lakeside and oceanside, dogs pose another hazard. Unleashed dogs at the beach could snatch up your ferret in an instant. Finally, watch out for potentially dangerous ocean creatures. I know one ferret that was badly stung
by a jellyfish washed ashore, and another ferret that had a near miss with a hungry pelican. 

Is it Fun? 
Some ferrets think that any outdoor trip is a wonderful adventure and enjoy every minute to the maximum! Gizmo never tired of visiting the shore and had a blast! Other ferrets get scared (Sweet Pea wanted only to go home and would dive down my shirt to hide). Know what makes your ferret safe and happy so you can decide whether or not to share your beach adventure with your buddy.
As mentioned before, it is easy for ferrets to become overheated and dehydrated, especially in the hot summer months. Water can be a real lifesaver, both to prevent heat-related problems and also to help your ferret recover from them. Again, provide plenty of fresh, cool water at all times from multiple sources. Always bring water with you on any outing.
If you don’t have airconditioning in your home, water can help cool your ferrets on hot days. Evaporating water around the ferret helps with cooling. One method comes from our Australian ferret friends: Put a damp towel over your ferret’s cage, a bucket of water on top of the cage, and another damp towel with one end in the bottom of the bucket and the other end on the cage towel. The bucket towel acts as a wick to draw water from the bucket and keep the cage towel wet. The evaporating water keeps the cage cooler, as long as the humidity is low. A fan can help the evaporation process.
Ferrets can’t cool themselves very efficiently because they can’t sweat, so there is no evaporative cooling that we feel with sweat or a breeze. You can help your ferret "sweat" by misting your ferret with water, and let a fan blow on the ferret to evaporate the water. You can also wipe your ferret with a damp cloth. To be effective, you need to re-wet your ferrets as soon as they dry, so this method requires work! And some ferrets, like my Bear and Stevie, just hate being spritzed!
Ice is also great cooling method. The easiest way is to use plastic drink bottles. Fill clean 1- or 2-liter bottles 3/4 full of water and freeze (without caps). When frozen, cap tightly. I always have several frozen bottles available for regular use, emergencies (such as a power failure), or travel. When it is time for ferret use, I put the bottle in a tube sock or wrap it in a towel. Tie a knot in the top of the tube sock. The fabric soaks up condensation and keeps ferrets from having direct contact with the ice (which can cause skin injuries). Put frozen bottles on the cage bottom. Cold air sinks when undisturbed, so don’t use a fan because the cold will blow away from your ferret.   
Out of frozen bottles? Put cubed/crushed ice into resealable plastic food storage bags with water. Place the ice-water bags under the ferret’s bedding, or wrap in a towel. These bags need to be changed more often than frozen bottles.
Got too hot? Your ferret may show initial signs of heat stress by being lethargic and lying flat on the floor. The ferret may have her mouth open, and her nose and gums might turn a darker pink (or white, if she is going into shock). If she is panting, salivating, or limp, or if she has red footpads, she is going into heatstroke. Further symptoms are a large quantity of mucus coming from the nose and mouth; collapse; seizures; and finally, coma.
In cases of heat stress and heatstroke, the goal is to lower the ferret's body temperature steadily, not suddenly. I know how hard it is to work slowly on a suffering ferret. I once found Sasha gasping for air, with bright-red ears, gums, and feet. In my panic to save her, I was tempted to dunk her in ice water, but this can be very dangerous. Keep your own head cool, remove your ferret from the heat, and start cooling slowly. If you cool your ferret too quickly, his temperature can drop to a dangerously low level.

Try offering water in a syringe. Drip it in the side of the mouth or under the tongue, making sure the ferret laps and swallows. Never force liquids into an unconscious animal. Wipe the ferret with a cool (not cold), wet towel, or wrap the ferret in a cool, damp washcloth. Concentrate on the feet, legs, hindquarters, groin, and tail area. Freshen the towel with cool water every few minutes. You can also dip the ferret in slightly cool water. Repeat until the ferret seems less distressed, and then take your ferret to the vet for fluid therapy.
Water is a very important part of your ferret’s life. Drinking water, bath water, play water, cooling water, and first-aid water – it’s all part of the game of ferret life! Keep water with your ferret and you, wherever you go, and enjoy the wonderfulness of wet! Happy splashing with your water weasels!