Introducing New Ferrets
Introducing ferrets can be as easy as putting them together and watching them play, or it can require months of carefully supervised interactions before they can be safely left alone. Additionally, while many ferrets benefit from and thrive in the company of others, some are unwilling to accept a new addition to the family. Ever.
Some things that can affect whether a ferret will be willing to accept a friend can include:
- Previously housed alone
- Sex, as well as whether they are intact
- Possible health conditions that can increase aggression
- Past history
Before succumbing to “ferret math” (the overwhelming desire to add “just one more”), carefully consider what happens if they don’t get along. Please start with the mindset that if one or more of your ferrets are not compatible, that you will be willing to house them separately. That would mean separate play times, caging, play areas, etc.
Also be aware that there are some fuzzies that just prefer being alone. And that’s OK. It’s important to observe the ferret, how they behave and react. And that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving up on the intro, if that’s in the ferret’s best interest
Age of the ferret(s)
Generally, kits are the most easy-going while meeting new friends. They usually don’t carry “baggage” from prior treatment and are always looking for someone to play or sleep with. As ferrets mature, they, like people, become more set in their ways and are less willing to have their home life upended by a new addition. Sometimes putting a bouncy ball of energy in with an oldster who just wants to sleep or chill in their favorite spot stresses the older ferret out and they’ll hiss in disgust and look for a quiet corner. They may even become reclusive in an attempt to avoid overeager playmates.
Previously housed alone
If your ferret has become established in your household as a lone pet, you may find they are unwilling to share their favorite person, toys, beds, and space. Lone ferrets can lose the memories of being with others of their kind and sort of forget how to play like a ferret. They may not respond appropriately to the body language or verbal cues of other ferrets, leading to confusion on both sides. While this doesn’t mean they will NEVER get along with others, they may require additional time and effort to ensure that everyone is getting along before leaving them alone together.
Sex of the ferret(s), as well as whether they are intact
Generally speaking, males are more laid back than females and intact (not spayed or neutered) ferrets are more intense than ones that have been chemically or surgically altered. Sexual hormones wreak havoc in ferret brains as much as with their human counterparts in your local high school. While in season, males become single-minded sex machines; their fur coated in “sexy” grease, losing weight and endlessly searching for ladies while singing their hob songs. Ferret owners who have intact males during this time of year tend to call them “hobnoxious”. During this time, they also play a game of “who gets to be the girl..” which the ferret victim might not always take well and can break out into a fight.
Females become er…cranky. And we will leave it at that. Sometimes seasonal hormones or pregnancy can even end ferrety friendships, so be aware that with intact ferrets, you may have to reevaluate at a later point in time even if everyone is playing nicely right now.
Possible health conditions that can increase aggression
Ferrets who are dealing with adrenal disease often exhibit the same emotional and sexual behaviors as intact in-season animals. Luckily, adrenal disease can often be controlled with a monthly Lupron injection or a Suprelorin implant. It is best to make sure that both your existing business, as well as your new addition are healthy before introductions.
Past history of the ferret
Sadly, some of our ferrets have experienced a loss or trauma that make them unwilling to ever accept a new friend. Our moderators have seen many examples of ferrets who were closely bonded with others. Once their friend passed, the remaining one was never able to accept a new friend; instead choosing to live the remainder of their days alone.
Abuse can have a profound impact on the psyche of a ferret that will make them unable to trust others. Often, repeated short, non-aggressive exposure to others will eventually allow them to gain confidence that they will not be attacked or hurt.
Steps to an introduction
QUARANTINE – I know…it’s no fun and you just want to see your ferrets play together. Unfortunately, it’s not a great idea. PLEASE vet your new addition to rule out parasites and illnesses and then quarantine for a minimum of two weeks (separate cage, preferably in a separate room). This is for multiple reasons:
- It gives your new addition time to settle into their new home, learn the sights, sounds and smells, and relax. Your introduction will go MUCH more smoothly when both ferrets are relaxed rather than defensive.
- It allows time to identify and treat any illnesses your new ferret may have brought into your home. If you’ve ever tried to eradicate ear mites in your entire business, you will understand how expensive and frustrating that process can be. It’s so much easier to treat the newcomer before the introduction. We once had a group member that acquired a kit from a breeder at a pet show. Unfortunately, the new owner was unaware that the kit had been exposed to and had contracted canine distemper, as it was still in the incubation period. Within weeks, the kit was dead and all of the other pets in the home had also been exposed.
Switch Bedding – After your quarantine period is over, you can swap bedding. This is best done with sleep sacks or hammocks. Once bedding has been with your ferrets for a few days and has absorbed their scent, trade between your cages so each “faction” can get used to the scent of the other. You can also allow each entity to free roam in the territory of the other.
** Many of our admin team members have found that 10 drops of Rescue Remedy in the drinking water of stressed ferrets can help.
Allow meetings with bars between – You can often get indications as to how well an introduction may go by watching body language and behavior while one group is safely ensconced in a cage. If one ferret is behaving aggressively, delay the introduction while you continue desensitizing through bedding swaps.
In the video below, while there are tail wags, they are not friendly ones. These are due to heightened excitement level at finding someone in “her” territory.
Introduce in a neutral place – Do not toss a new ferret into the territory of your established business. Our ferrents have had success introducing by putting all ferrets in the tub with some water, or offering some salmon oil in a neutral zone. If you feed raw, serving a meal with everyone together can lead to success.
Another option is to introduce just two ferrets at a time so that the newcomer doesn’t become overwhelmed.
- Poop, Pee or Blood. If one of the ferrets is stressed enough that they involuntarily poop or pee, that’s a signal to stop the interaction and try again another time. Small scrapes or scabs may happen during enthusiastic play, but bloody tears or gashes are a signal that things are NOT GOING WELL. You need to intervene immediately.
- Hiding. If one of the ferrets is cowering in fear, hiding and won’t come out, or generally appears very fearful, that’s an indicator that perhaps you need to take a step back in the introductions. Different ferrets react in various ways, but if one of them is constantly in fear, it will lead to stress. No matter how badly you want your babies to be friends, you don’t want them to be stressed.
- Screaming. Vocalizations can be a red flag or they may be completely out of context for the situation. Ferrets are weird. Some are whiny. – Note that all bets are off with vocalizations from deaf ferrets
How to tell if you’ve been successful
- If your ferrets are playing happily and taking turns being the chaser
- You find them sleeping together in a pile