Dealing With Heat
Author: Jason Raynor
Check for Updates at: Google Doc Version
Heat Stroke is a serious life threatening condition for ferrets in warmer climates. Ferrets are not warm climate animals. In the wild, ferrets are burrowing animals and control their temperature by hiding underground where it is cooler when temperatures get too hot outside. As pets, our ferrets do not have this option. It is therefore your responsibility to provide them with a comfortable and safe environment. Listed below are the temperatures that a ferret owner should be aware of.
Temperature Comfort Zone: low 70’s F / 20’s C
Temperature Worry Zone: 80 F / 26.5 C
Temperature Danger Zone: 83-90 degrees F or 28-32 degrees C
Personally I tend to view anything above 80 degrees F / 26 degrees C as worrying and start thinking about taking action. It takes as little as 10 minutes in the danger zone for a ferret to suffer from heat stroke. If not treated it can lead to organ failure, coma and death.
Signs Of Heat Stroke
- Severe lethargy, dizziness, limpness
- Fast, shallow breathing with mouth open (panting)
- Hot body with cool / cold paws
- Glassy eyes
- Pale or very red gums
- Bright red tongue
If you think your ferret is suffering from heat stroke. Follow the emergency measures below and YOU MUST GET TO THE VET. Even if you ferret seems to recover, as there could be damage you cannot see.
- Wet a cloth in slightly cool (not cold, you could put the ferret into shock) water and wrap the ferret in it. Re-wet the cloth every three minutes or so. Cooling MUST be done gradually or it can cause the ferret to go into shock.
- Direct a fan at the ferret while wet. This will increase the evaporation cooling effect.
- Give small amounts of water to drink if they are willing (do not force them to drink).
- Get to a vet.
If you do not have a method of controlling the temperature of their environment (ie Air Conditioning), it can be difficult to provide ferrets relief from heat for one important reason. FERRETS DO NOT SWEAT*. This means that trying to cool them with a fan (moving around warm air) is pointless. Without evaporation (sweat / water) or cool / cold air, fans do not do ANYTHING to cool them down.
* they do sweat very, very slightly from their paws and nose but it is not really enough to make a difference.
Cooling Methods (if you don’t have air conditioning)
- Freeze water bottles and put them in a sock so the ferret cannot make direct skin contact with it and put it in their cage. The melting of the ice will cool the area around the bottle.
- Keep a few ceramic tiles in the fridge and then put them out for the ferrets to lay on (this is a short term solution as the tiles will warm up quickly).
- Wet the ferret down in cool water as the evaporating water will cool them (replaces our ability to sweat).
- Provide a shallow dish with water in it so that they can wet themselves as needed. You can even place a few ice cubes in the water to provide some entertainment and further cooling.
- Make a swamp cooler (Google it as there are MANY designs). NOTE: swamp coolers only really work in very dry climates. In medium to high humidity they are not very effective.
Frozen water cooler. This is an improvement on the swamp cooler above as it will produce truly cool air and does not rely on evaporative cooling as much. It is the cheapest and best design I have seen to date.
Emergency Cooling In A No Power Situation
If you keep your ferrets outdoors or are in a disaster situation with no power for extended periods, you only really have one option for keeping your ferrets cool (other than constantly wetting them down) . Replicate what the ferrets would do in the wild. Make them an underground shelter.
- Rubbermaid container
- Box Knife
- Black Irrigation Tubing
- Cut a hole in either side of the container close to the bottom and push the irrigation tubing all the way through the holes (so you have a complete tube passing through the container).
- Cut a hole in the tube (inside the container) large enough for your ferrets to enter and exit the burrow.
- Put a small hole in one corner (this is incase your ferrets decide to use the corner as a litterbox). The hole should not be big enough for them to exit from (1” in diameter maximum, make sure to measure it as small jills and sprites can get through surprisingly small spaces).
- Put some blankets in the container and put the lid on securely.
- Now comes the hard part. The container needs to be buried at least 3 to 4 feet underground to provide a good temperature difference in warmer climates.
Arranging The Tubes (very important)
You need to arrange the tubes properly to provide air flow through your artificial burrow. Without this, your run the risk of your ferrets suffocating from the CO2 they exhale.
The Cool Side
This side of the tubing needs to have at least two or three feet buried in the ground and rise in a slope from the container to the surface. This ends exit needs to always be in the shade and only extend above the surface by an inch or two.
The Hot Side
The tubing on the other side of the container needs to bend vertically up or on a very sharp slope from the container to the surface and then a few feet of the black tubing needs to always be EXPOSED TO THE SUN. If you can attach this end of the tubing to some sort of vertical object then do so (they do not need to use both ends of the tube as an entrance / exit).
By keeping one end of the tube system warmer / hotter than the other, this design creates a natural heat based circulation effect. The fact that warm air rises will pull fresh air into the the burrow from the cooler side of the tubing to the warmer side providing natural air flow.
NOTE: I would not suggest this as a long term solution as it is very difficult to access the burrow once it is buried. This makes it very hard to clean or retrieve a sick ferret from. This is something that should only be used in extreme circumstances when no other options are available.