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Ferret Proofing Your Home

By: Rebecca Jones

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Eight words every new ferret owner needs to know: Never Step on a Lump in the Rug.

Ferrets are curious little creatures and fearless to boot. If there's a hole, they'll find it; an opening, they'll squeeze through it; a new place to explore, they will explore it. And many a ferret has met an untimely end because an unsuspecting human has stepped on, sat on or trapped a ferret in a place it shouldn't have been to begin with.

Ferret owners must be vigilant in protecting their pets, supervising them when possible, and ferret-proofing the house to protect both house and ferret from harm.

"I recommend that the ferrets be out when the family is home, but when you've gone to work or school, they should be in their cage," says Randy Horton, director of Especially Ferrets, the country's largest ferret shelter, located in suburban Denver. "There's a time and a place for ferrets, and alone in the house is not one of them. Picture leaving a 5-year-old alone in the house. Imagine what you might come home to. Well, ferrets are just like a bunch of 5-year-olds. They need supervision."

Safety Tips for the Home

  • Fill all holes and cracks. Got a dryer vent? Plug it. Got an empty space under the cabinets? Fill it. Gap in the plaster? Seal it. Otherwise, you'll soon have a ferret scampering through the walls of your house or crawling inside the cupboard. A surprisingly small hole – no more than an inch – is all the wiggle room a ferret needs.

    "Anything they can get their head into, they can get their bodies through," says Horton. Ferrets do have collar bones but they are smaller and more flexible than human collar bones.

  • Secure cabinet doors. Child-proof locks may keep a 3-year-old out, but they won't keep out a determined ferret. Instead, secure doors with Velcro. Velcro closures are available at hardware or cloth stores.

  • Reinforce screen doors and windows. Replace nylon or fiberglass screens with metal screens. Flimsy materials won't stand up to a ferret assault. They will scratch and chew their way through in short order. Take special precautions to secure the windows if you live in a high-rise building. Ferrets have no fear of heights and quite a few have fallen to their deaths after getting out through a window. If possible, avoid placing easily climbed furniture near a window.

  • Cover electrical cords. Not all ferrets are cord-chewers, but enough of them are that this just makes good sense. Check in your local hardware store for cord covers. For telephone cords or other wires not easily covered, discourage chewing by spraying bitter apple or pepper juice on them. In addition, provide your ferret with safe, acceptable chew toys, such as Cheweasels. "They taste good, they're digestible and most ferrets love them," says Horton.

  • Get ferret-friendly furniture. Take the legs off your couch so it sits flat to the ground. Otherwise, the area beneath the sofa will become a hiding place. And get rid of recliners, rockers and sofa beds. They're death traps for ferrets.

    "Those reclining mechanisms are especially hard on ferrets," Horton says. "We see so many broken tails, broken legs, broken necks from those. It's sad. If you won't get rid of your recliner, make sure you're looking at your ferret in its cage while you recline in it. And make sure no one lets the ferret out while someone is in the recliner. Because if you don't, sure enough, that ferret will find a way to crawl up inside the recliner and may get squashed."

  • Put houseplants up high, out of ferret range. "If you hate houseplants, ferrets are wonderful pets," Horton says. "If you like to clean up dirt all the time, they're wonderful. They're diggers. Give them the opportunity and they will." One alternative is to cover the dirt around the plant with chicken wire. "That won't stop them from tipping the plant over, but it will stop them from digging in it," Horton says

  • Keep an eye on open drawers. They're ferret magnets. Horton still chuckles over the phone call he got one time from a panicked woman who had gone jogging, then left her underwear drawer open while she showered. She returned to her dressing room to find a ferret asleep in the drawer on a pile of silk panties. "It wasn't even her ferret," says Horton. "It had come in through the cat door. It just liked lying on the silky panties. It was still there when I arrived."

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