Warmer weather means opening windows and doors and going outside. It’s the perfect time to take your ferret out of the stuffy house for a little outing — before the really high temperatures arrive. Ferrets love to get out and explore the smells, sights, and sounds outside. But before you take your little guy out, make sure you take some precautions so your time outdoors is fun and safe.
The first thing to consider is the temperature. Ferrets don’t do well when it’s very hot and/or very humid. So if the mercury gets over 80 or 85 degrees, it’s best to keep ferrets indoors, or wait until late afternoon when the temperature drops. If you must go out in these higher temperatures, equip a carrier with a bottle of frozen water wrapped in a dry towel. This will help keep your ferret cool until you get back into a climate-controlled environment. Cars are a particular danger in the heat. The inside of a car can quickly become an oven, and your ferret can suffer heat exhaustion or death. Never leave your ferret in a car.
Next, you’ll need to make sure your ferret can’t run off. Your best bet is a harness and lead set. Ferrets seem to adjust to an “H”-shaped harness easier than some of the other shapes. You can choose from many different colors — even one that complements your ferret’s coat color! Harnesses can take a little getting used to. Your ferret will likely act like he’s being tortured when you first put him in the harness. You’ll try loosening it, and he’ll have it off in seconds. A good rule to follow is that you should be able to slip your pinkie finger between your ferret and the harness, so your ferret has room to breathe. Once you get the harness on so your ferret is comfortable but can’t get it off, you’re ready to attach the lead and be on your way.
If you’re going somewhere where your ferret will have open space to run, like a park or a large yard, you might want to get a retractable leash to attach to the harness. This way you can adjust the amount of freedom you give your ferret. If you have two ferrets, you can try a tandem coupler so both ferrets can be on the same lead. It can be great fun to watch them explore together.
The little metal ring on the harness is a perfect place to put an ID tag for your ferret, just in case he gets off the lead. You should always bring your rabies vaccination tags or paperwork with you; in some areas, you are required to have these with you when your ferret is outside your home. Check with your local animal control office.
When you’re walking your ferret, keep an eye out for things on the ground that he might try to eat (or that might try to eat him!). Avoid areas where you know there are dogs, cats, or other animals that might try to harm your ferret. People, too, can be a danger. It’s probably best to carry your ferret if you’re passing through a populated area where people might accidentally step on him. Remember that sidewalks, sand, and pavement can get very hot and could burn your ferret’s feet. Walking your ferret on the grass is usually a safer choice.
Of course, the grass presents its own dangers: fleas and ticks. Ferrets are small animals, so these blood-sucking parasites can cause a ferret to become anemic if they’re not treated quickly. Check your ferret for fleas and ticks every time you return from a walk outdoors. You can prevent fleas by using ferret-safe preventatives available over-the-counter or by prescription from your veterinarian. If your ferret doesn’t go out often, you can just as easily be prepared to deal with fleas should your ferret get them. There are several brands of flea shampoos, mists, mousses, and disposable wipes made especially for ferrets that you can keep on hand if you need them. Using one of these products along with a flea comb can usually take care of the problem. Fleas can infest bedding, carpets, and drapes, so make sure to wash your ferret’s blankets and hammocks, too.
In addition to the risk of fleas and ticks is the risk of canine distemper. Canine distemper is highly contagious, airborne, and deadly to ferrets. Protect your ferret by getting him vaccinated annually. Talk with your veterinarian about your ferret’s vaccination schedule. Remember: There is no treatment for canine distemper and it is fatal.
What do you do if your ferret just refuses to walk on a lead? Or he’s a little older and tires easily? Or if you go somewhere that you simply can’t keep your ferret on a lead? For these situations, a carry sack is the perfect solution. There are many different sizes, styles, and colors of carry sacks. You can choose a heavier fabric (like fleece) or a light-weight fabric. It’s a good idea to put a harness or a collar with ID tags on your ferret even if you’re carrying him in a carry sack. This way, if he somehow gets away from you, people will know he’s someone’s pet.
Whenever you take your ferret out with you, whether on a lead or in a carry sack, you need to bring fresh water, some food, and even some treats. You never know when you might run a little late. Make sure you offer food and water frequently enough to keep your ferret comfortable. Be sensitive to your ferret’s needs. If he’s not enjoying himself outside because he’s frightened or tired, take him home.
-Mary R. Shefferman
This article was originally published at FerretStoreInteractive.com in 2004.