Traveling With Your Ferret
By Susan A. Brown, D.V.M.
Traveling with your furry ferret friends can be an enjoyable experience if you do some careful planning and take a few precautions before you set out on your journey. As much as we love our pets, not everyone feels the same and in the case of ferrets, some people who are uneducated on the sweet nature of these critters, can be downright unpleasant about having them around. In addition, ferrets are still illegal in a few areas of the country. Let’s then cover some of the basics of traveling with a ferret to get you off on the right foot, or should I say “paw”!?
MODE OF TRAVEL
Probably the best way to travel with your pet is in your own car. In this way you can control the important things such as when to stop for eating, playing and resting and you can control the temperature to which your pet is exposed.
If you do not have access to a car or have to travel a long distance you can choose from trains, buses and planes. I made some calls regarding what public modes of transportation would allow ferrets on board, and I received a definite NO to any pets from the Chicago suburban train and bus companies. Only seeing-eye dogs were allowed. This may differ in other areas of the country, but call first before making those reservations.
Airplanes are the most commonly used method of long distance travel, so I checked on some airlines to see which ones would accept ferrets on in the cabin. To say the least I was very disappointed that the list was so small. Out of nine major airlines only two, Delta and America West, allowed ferrets inside the cabin with the passenger. To their credit they were very cheerful about the prospect of having these critters on board and I commended them on their open policy. There may be a hefty charge for a one-way trip for pets riding inside the cabin regardless of the destination. A few airlines do not allow pets, other than seeing-eye dogs anywhere on the plane, even in the cargo compartment. Most of the airlines allow only dogs, cats and small birds in the passenger area and allow ferrets only in the cargo area. These airlines said there would be no exceptions to
having ferrets in the cabin.
I was assured that the cargo area of the planes that allowed pets are pressurized and heated, but obviously, the optimal choice is to have your pet with you in the cabin if at all possible. Airlines will not take pets into the hold area if the outside temperature is either extremely hot or cold because the pet may have to sit in a carrier outside the plane while waiting to be loaded. This could affect whether your pet can travel with you at all times on your trip. If the ferret is going in the cabin, the outside temperature is not a problem. All airlines require a health certificate from a veterinarian issued no more than 10 days before the flight.
If you do take your ferret on public transportation, please do not remove him/her from the carrier while on board unless there is an emergency. Your pet may be frightened by the new experience and you will greatly increase the chances of an escape or a bite to an unsuspecting passenger.
WHERE TO STAY
The first thing to consider when planning your stay is to make sure that ferrets are legal at that location. Remember that even within ferret-friendly states, ferrets may be illegal in certain cities, I just had a client relate a harrowing experience she had with her ferrets in Dallas, Texas which is a ferret legal state, but they where they are illegal in the city. Fortunately her ferrets were not confiscated and she got away with only a visit from the local law enforcement agent to her hotel room and had to pay a fine of several hundred dollars. Therefore it maybe necessary to call local animal control officials in your destination city to make sure there will be no problems before making your plans.
In addition to the outright legality of ferrets you need to know about the procedure in the case of a ferret bite. A few ferret legal locations in the country do not recognize the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine and may confiscate your ferret after a bite regardless of its vaccination status. Even in ferret legal states, ferrets are still considered wild animals and problems are handled by the Fish and Game Departments as well as Public Health. Make a call to the state Public Health Department as well as the local animal control department to determine if there are any regulations of which you need to be aware.
Obviously you need to call ahead and make sure that the hotel, motel or camp ground or relatives house allows pets. Many people attempt to sneak their pets into overnight facilities without asking permission. If you get caught doing this, there may be a hefty fine as well as the possibility of confiscation of your pets if you are in a ferret-restricted area. Carefully weigh these serious consequences when contemplating your trip.
WHAT TO BRING
Medical Records: I highly recommend that anyone traveling with their ferret bring a copy of their pet’s medical records. This can be extremely helpful to a veterinarian who may have to treat your ferret in an emergency. The vaccination records are particularly useful and should be carried on your person at all times on a trip, If your pet bites someone, it will be necessary to show proof of rabies vaccination. It goes without saying your ferret should be up to date on vaccinations before to going on the trip.
Health Certificate: This may be required in some areas where you are staying. Have a health exam performed a few days before your trip and carry your certificate with you. This certificate also serves as proof of ownership. It is absolutely required by airlines.
Microchip number or certificate: I recommend that if you travel with your pet you should get it microchipped and carry the registration number with you. A great number of veterinarians in the country as well as animal shelters and animal control agencies have scanners to read microchips and if your pet is lost it can be more readily returned to you if it has a permanent form of identification. Contact your veterinarian for more information on the simple microchipping procedure.
Medications: Make sure you have an adequate supply of any medications that your ferret is currently taking. For medications the ferret needs continuously, bring more than will be needed on the trip in case some of it is spilled or damaged. If you need to get a prescription refilled on the trip, have the medical records handy or a prescription request from your veterinarian. You might consider making up a first aid kit for your pet in case of an emergency on the way. You can include hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds, styptic powder to stop bleeding from a nail, small gauze pads and one inch adhesive tape to cover a wound, Kayro syrup or honey in case of a hypoglycemic attack, ajar of strained meat baby food and a packet of powdered Gatorade and feeding syringes (usually ranging in size from 3cc to 35cc).
Travel carrier: The carrier that the pet will travel in should be escape proof, well ventilated, and be large enough to allow the pet to go to the bathroom in a corner and not soil itself when sleeping. The carrier should also have a solid floor of a material the pet can’t chew through and have a secure lock. Cat or small dog-sized plastic carriers work well. Provide sleeping material such as a sleep sack, towels or blankets and bring plenty of extras because these materials are likely to get soiled at some point during the trip. Put several layers of absorbent paper on the bottom of the cage. Do not attach water bottles or bowls while the cage is in transit because the water can spill and cause to a wet, cold environment for your pet. If you need to provide food in the cage due to the length of time between bathroom stops, use dry food in a small lightweight plastic container attached firmly to the side of the cage. Heavy bowls can shift and cause injury to your pet. The carrier can be a safe, friendly home to your ferret and he or she should be kept in it at all times when unattended.
Food and water: Bring plenty of food along and protect it from extremes in heat as this may alter its nutritional value. Water can be provided in a bottle or bowl during rest stops. If the weather is very hot, you can put ice chips in the water to cool your pet.
Tranquilizers: I do not recommend the use of tranquilizers when traveling with ferrets. They dull the senses and ferret may become lethargic making it difficult to determine if there is any other problem going on such as heat stroke or hypoglycemia. Ferrets adapt to travel very well without adding the use of tranquilizers. In addition, older ferrets can suffer from a variety of medical problems and tranquilizers may aggravate with these conditions. If your ferret seems very frightened by traveling in the car, you might consider taking it for short rides at home and building up its tolerance to travel before embarking on a long trip. This may especially be true if the only trips your ferret has taken in the car are to the veterinarian, where the experience may have been less than pleasant!
“Air conditioner”: If you will be traveling in very hot weather you need to make sure that your car’s air conditioning system is in good working order. However, in case the air conditioner malfunctions or if you need to stay overnight in a warm area, it is a good idea to travel with a few plastic one half to one gallon jugs, such as empty, clean milk-cartons, which can be filled with water and frozen or filled with ice. This container can be placed on the outside or inside of the carrier, which will then give off cool air as the ice melts and act as a natural “air conditioner”. If you put the bottle inside the carrier or cage make sure it is securely fastened so your ferret doesn’t accidentally get injured in case it shifts in the cage.
A FINAL NOTE… LETTING STRANGERS HANDLE YOUR FERRET
I wish the world was altogether a friendlier place to ferrets, but the truth is, in some areas it is not. There are a wide variety of consequences if your ferret bites someone on your trip ranging from a delay in your trip due to quarantine of your pet to confiscation and euthanasia of your pet. As mentioned, in some areas even if your ferret is properly vaccinated for rabies, he or she could be confiscated if a human is bitten. Therefore, PLEASE be very cautious about who you allow to handle your ferret. We all know that most of these critters are gentle by nature and normally wouldn’t think of biting a soul. However, in a strange, potentially frightening situation, or when exposed to certain odors, your pet may behave in a manner that is not expected. In addition to the concerns mentioned you may find yourself liable for medical bills and lost time on your trip if your pet has to be quarantined in the area for 10 days. This same caution goes for cats and dogs as well. With a little planning and care you can have a great trip with your little friend. Bon Voyage!