We often get asked about whether it is possible to have a pet ferret if you also have a pet bunny, rodent, or parrot in the home. There are many stories about pet ferrets causing injury or even death to other pets, but these accidents are preventable. In this series, we are going to discuss different elements that you should be aware of before you mix a pet ferret with other prey type pets.
This is the second part of this series. You can find links to the other parts in this series down below. In the first part we already discussed the biology and domestication process of ferrets. Now, we are going to discuss methods of safety for other pets in your home.
Here at Ferrets and Friends, we have ferrets as well as parrots, bunnies, chinchillas, and a hedgehog. Our rule of thumb for safety is that there should always be at least two to three barriers between the ferrets and the other animals with one of those barriers being a door which is ferret proof. You would think that doors are usually ferret proof, but ferrets can fit wherever their skull fits. In the case of smaller ferrets (usually girls), some are actually able to squeeze under the door. If a door does not latch, it is not uncommon for ferrets to figure out how to push or pull the door open.
We never assume that a cage meant for another animal is ferret proof. At one point we kept one of our parrot cages out in the living area which the ferrets were allowed to roam for the exercise. The parrot cage was purchased because it had a tall stand and no bars for ferrets to climb to reach the main portion of the cage. One day, a cat scratching post was moved about a foot away from the parrot cage and one of the ferrets was able to climb to the top of the post, jump the distance to the portion of the parrot cage that had bars, and climb to the top. Fortunately, neither the parrot or ferret was hurt in this scenario. But this caused us to change our safety procedures to require a door in addition to barriers provided by cages. Even if your ferret has never shown interest in climbing onto a table or the top of a bookcase, it is usually because they simply have not tried it yet and does not mean that they are incapable. You do not want them to discover their new climbing or jumping abilities when you are not supervising them and your other pets are left vulnerable in their cage. Accidents happen and sometimes a door to a ferret cage isn’t latched correctly or your creative parrot has invented a new escape through their food door. Having separate rooms significantly reduces the risk of each animal encountering the other during their unauthorized adventure.
Using separate rooms has an additional benefit for your other pets. Prey type animals need a safe space away from the movements and smells of predatory animals such as ferrets. The consistent presence of ferrets in their territory can cause distress as well as other behavioral issues. Bunnies may urinate outside their litter box to try to redefine their territory. Parrots may display more aggressive or territorial behaviors. Allowing ferrets to visit this space also increases the risk for confrontation as these prey type animals will feel the need to protect their territory or their nests against the dangerous intruder. If your bunny or parrot acts in a territorial manner towards a ferret, the ferret will likely interpret that behavior as something fun and interesting. Even if they seem playful, that has a high risk of causing predatory drift. Most play behavior in predator type animals such as ferrets, cats, and dogs, is behavior that helps them practice stalking, hunting, and wrestling prey. Ferrets should not be permitted to play with pets that they could perceive as prey. This does not mean that you should keep your pets completely separated from each other at all times. You can have a shared common space or bring the prey type animal into the ferret’s play area while the ferrets are caged. This is not for the purpose of allowing them to interact, but to allow them to have exposure to each other’s smells and existence.
If the prey type animal is significantly fearful of the ferret, this increases the risk of harm. A parrot screaming a call of alarm will intrigue most ferrets and trigger their curiosity. Aggressive or territorial behaviors that are caused by fear also raises the risk of confrontation. Our video below shows an example of the kind of behavior you do not want exhibited as the parrot's confrontational behavior increases his risk of injury if the ferret would choose to engage with him. Ideally, you want the other animal to be aware of the ferret’s presence and to not feel threatened by it. If they share a common play space, this allows them to have access to each other’s scents and makes a positive association. For example, bunnies enjoy exploring and need time out of their enclosure for exercise. If they feel secure in their territory, they should not feel the need to claim additional territory. While they can smell the ferret’s presence, it is also associated with time for play, exercise, and training. So they gradually find the smell less threatening. Parrots should be able to fly and be encouraged to perch in places that are inaccessible to ferrets. Most parrots tend to avoid spending time on the ground where they are vulnerable, but some species are ground foragers so they may need to be redirected. For parrots, they should have the opportunity to observe ferrets from a safe place and be given a positive association. For example, our parrots have a mobile t-stand which is used when feeding fresh food. Our parrots can enjoy their meal while watching the antics of the ferrets below. Of course, our parrots are already very well socialized so this would not be advisable with a fearful bird.
If you are exposing a prey type animal to the physical presence of ferrets, it is the ferret that should be restrained. For example, the ferret can be put in a travel carrier or a screen mesh cage. You allow the other animal to observe the ferret from a distance that is comfortable for that animal and you want to reward behavior that is calm and shows a lack of interest in the ferret. While a screen mesh is not a strong enough barrier for a ferret, under supervision, it can allow the animals to smell or get close to each other without the risk of the ferret being able to bite the other animal through cage bars which can be possible when using travel carriers. If you are using a travel carrier, you should make sure there is at least a couple inches of distance between the animals even if they both appear to be calm and curious. Remember, the goal is desensitization and disinterest.
Some people ask how to get their pet ferret and their pet rabbit or other pet to be friends and the answer is that it should not be attempted or encouraged. Ideally, you want a relationship in which they mutually ignore each other. That is what is safest for your pets. This does not mean that it is impossible for these relationships to occur or that people who allow pets of differing species to interact are being irresponsible with their pets. After all, all pets are individuals and there are members of each species that could potentially interact safely with a member of the other species. However, this is incredibly rare and it is also very risky.
To review, there should be at least two to three barriers between your ferret and your other pet. One of these barriers should be a door which means that your ferret is not kept in the same room as your other pet. You never assume that cages meant for other animals are ferret proof. Your other pet has space or territory that is not intruded upon by ferrets. For most mammals, this means a lack of ferret smell and for parrots this is a space from which the ferrets are not visible. Finally, your other pet is exposed to the ferret’s presence in a safe way. For most mammals, this means being in an area where the ferrets have left their scent. For parrots, this means an opportunity to observe the ferrets that is enjoyable for the birds. If necessary, training can be done to lessen the fear response and encourage a calm disinterest in the other animal.
Now that we have discussed some safety considerations for your other pet, in our next post we will discuss how to work on the ferret side of this multi-species household.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!