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How is a Ferret Like a Potato Chip?

By Mary Van Dahm

How is a Ferret Like a Potato Chip -- By Mary Van Dahm

Just toss two ferrets into the same bag and have them nestle together like two chips off the same spud. I wish it were that easy! Unfortunately, many ferrets don’t agree with this theory and go out of their way to prove it. But why do we expect it of them in the first place? We credit ferrets with having many human attributes such as joy, intelligence and curiosity and yet we get upset when they display our darker side and show jealousy, sullenness or even hatred.

Most ferrets do welcome company. It gives them a chance to have someone to frolic with (and cause twice the trouble with!). They might display a little tail sniffing or neck checking, but will eventually say “Welcome Aboard!” Others take a little more time. They may try a little pushing and shoving to test the other ferret or to let him know that this is their house and to tell the newcomer that they are Top Dog here. Eventually, they settle down and everyone establishes his own routine and order in the system.

What about the ferret that doesn’t seem to get along? Will he ever fit in? Most of the time, he will. It may take a while (sometimes months) but the established ferrets generally get tired of harassing the newcomer and finally realize that he’s just not going to go away. In a minute, I will tell you how to speed up this process, but first I want to talk about the ferret that will never get along.

Most ferrets that fit into this category are ferrets that have been alone (away from other ferrets) for most of their life. They have forgotten that they are ferrets and do not associate with others of their species when confronted with them. They often become territorial and even an animal of another species may be unwelcome if brought into the house. Some ferrets in this category have been with another ferret or ferrets for many years. They have bonded with a group or individual and feel resentment toward being separated from their peers. Let’s face it; if you were taken away from your family and told that you would have to live with the Smiths for the rest of your life and you didn’t even know them, you might be upset, too! The Smiths, on the other hand, may decide that you are an ungrateful wretch aren’t fit to be in their family — and so the hostilities begin. Before you give up hope, though, stop and realize the stress the animals are going through. What can you do to avoid this stress to begin with?

First of all, don’t rush the animals. When you bring the newcomer home, help him to feel that this is his home, too. If he was eating a certain food before, get him some – even if it’s not your usual brand. You can slowly add some of your brand in each day until he gets used to it. What kind of bedding did he have? Ideally if you got the ferret from another owner, you can ask him to send along the ferret’s favorite blanket or towel.

Add to that your own ferret’s bedding so he can get the chance to study your ferret’s smell before actually meeting him. Switch bedding. Put some of the new ferret’s bedding in with your original ferret. I’m hoping that you’ve caught the fact that the two ferrets are not being kept together yet. If you don’t have a spare cage, sometimes a spare room is an alternative (the bathroom is usually a good idea-just make sure it is ferret proof and that the toilet seat is down!)

Let the newcomer out by himself for a little while so he can explore the allowed area without being bounded. This gives him the chance to check out escape routes and hiding areas should the face-to-face encounter with your first ferret prove to be a bit rough. When you let your ferret out to meet his new friend, STAY THERE WITH THEM!! Do not leave the room. If the phone rings, ignore it. If it’s important they’ll call back. As I said before, don’t be surprised or worried if there is a little pushing or shoving. Ferrets form pecking orders. Some do it so fast that you never realize that it’s there. Other times it’s a test of wills and may take several encounters to establish. If the shoving gets too rough, separate the ferrets for a while then try again. If they are actually biting each other, try spraying them with some Bitter Apple or similar product (this can be found in most pet shops in the dog grooming section). Another thing is to try to distract them with a treat. I have seen many ferrets take time out from a fight to share Linatone out of the same bottle.Sometimes, they even lick each other’s faces! If you can do this several times a day for the first week or so, you should eventually see the hostilities die down. Be sure to vary the treats so they don’t OD on too much of a good thing.

Sometimes, you can judge the seriousness of the encounter by the body language that the ferrets display. If they are just testing each other, their fur will remain flat and their stance fairly normal. If they are upset, they will sometime hunch down a bit and sway with their walk, like a bulldog. Sometimes, they will flair their tails a bit, too. If they are VERY upset or angry, they will definitely flair their tails and sometimes even the hair on their backs. If they still have their anal glands, they will generally express themselves at this time. (If they’re going to be miserable, they want everyone to be miserable!) This stage is generally followed by a swift attack by one of the ferrets. Screaming, screeching and neck biting generally ensues. If this continues after several encounters over a period of time, you can generally assume that these two ferrets are not compatible and will have to be kept and let out to play separately. Ferrets do have mock battles. They are generally not as aggressive as the real thing. One way to find out if you are witnessing a mock battle or not is to pick up one of the ferrets. If the remaining ferret relaxes his pose and comes toward you in an eager manner as if to say “Hey, where’s my buddy?” then you know they were just roughhousing. On the other hand, if the ferret runs off in fear or comes lunging after the other ferret, then you know the battle was for real. The important thing to remember is to not give up on the first try or the first ferret, for that matter. Just because your ferret didn’t get along on the first encounter doesn’t mean that he will never get along. If you don’t have the time and patience to persevere, don’t be afraid to try a different ferret than your first selection. Your ferret may just be waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to come along. Some ferrets form silly prejudices (They’re a lot more like humans than we think!). I have one little female who will only tolerate males. She is in a cage with three big males and is as happy as a lark. I also have a male who will only tolerate females. He’s in with a harem of four! Oddly enough, I also have a ferret who is color prejudiced. He is a Sterling Silver, yet he only tolerates sables!

Find out what is right for you and your ferret. If you want two or more ferrets but they don’t get along, try letting them out in shifts. This isn’t as hard as it sounds (unless you have about 40 ferrets, like some people we know!) and it gives you the opportunity to see different personalities in action. Pass the dip, please!

[intlink id=”gcfa”]This article originally appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of “Off the Paw”.[/intlink]

A Pet Stroller Danger

By John Bradley

A Pet Stroller Danger - By John Bradley

I recently received an e-mail from a ferret owner describing a tragic incident regarding a stroller that was designed for pets. An unfortunate choice in materials makes it potentially dangerous for ferrets.

Here’s the letter…

I spoil my babies. Nothing is too good for them. Their house could easily hold 20-30 ferrets, it holds 3. They have their own toys, harnesses, name tags. They see the vet when they so much as sneeze. They get fed 4-5 different foods as well as raw… nothing is too good for them.

In fact I even bought them their own stroller. This is what I am writing about. I bought the Four Paws Fresh Air Pet Stroller, but after checking pet stroller after pet stroller I notice no matter what the brand, they are all the same.

I took my ferrets for a walk one day and when I came home I let the stroller sit were they could get to it, not aware of the possible danger. Not long… sadly not long turned out to be too long. My beloved Loki ate some of the foam on the handle bars (put there for my comfort while I push the stroller). At the time I did not notice what he was up to. A while later when he started acting sick, I rushed him to the vets were he underwent emergency surgery to remove the foam from the stroller handle. He came home that day from the vets and seemed to be doing well. That was until the next day just after noon. He then suddenly took a turn for the worse and by 5 o’clock that day had died.

It turns out the blockage caused a blood clot which was not seen during the surgery. Later the clot moved to the heart and killed my ferret. Please warn other ferret owners. These strollers are wonderful, but take off the foam padding on the handle to prevent a potential tragedy. I still see my baby struggling for life in his last few moments. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

– Kathy

I first want to thank Kathy taking the time and likely saving the lives of other ferrets by letting us know her ferret’s story. It really drives home that we need to be extra careful when ferret proofing. Foam rubber, while highly attractive to ferrets, needs to be kept out of reach and in no way accessible to our ferrets.

Ferret proofing is not a one time only exercise. We need to continually check furniture for possible exposed foam (due to wear) and consider if any new items are ferret safe if they are placed in an area where the ferrets may get to them.

After receiving Kathy’s e-mail, I noticed that not only do pet strollers use foam for the handles, this is a common feature for baby strollers as well. Foam can also be found on broom and tool handles and exercise equipment. I’m sure there are other items, but this just points to the fact that ferret owners need to be extra vigilant to help ensure the safety of our pets.

When choosing products for ferrets it is important that foam rubber not be used in any part of the construction of such items. This includes pet strollers and ferret bedding. Ferret bedding, or any other type of animal bedding used for ferrets should never be stuffed with foam. Ferrets are hard on their bedding and frequent washings further take their toll on ferret bedding. Inevitably, the fabric will wear, seams will pop and the foam used for stuffing will be exposed. Because of this foam should never be used. Instead, polyester fiberfill is a much better and safer alternative for making comfortable, yet safe bedding for ferrets.

The Results of a Four Year Study on Light Sensitivity in Ferrets

By Mary Van Dahm

The Results of a Four Year Study on Light Sensitivity in Ferrets -- By Mary Van Dahm

Note: For the purpose of this newsletter, the information given here is general. I have used the terms ‘dim’, ‘moderate’ and ‘bright’ to refer to the light levels used.

All 40 of the ferrets involved in this study were between the ages of 1 and 3 years at the onset. To try to avoid the possibility of hereditary predisposition to certain cancers, the ferrets were obtained from different sources around the country as follows: Tennessee – 3; Iowa – 3; Wisconsin – 3: Missouri – 2; Michigan – 2; Minnesota – 3; Peoria, IL – 6; southern Illinois – 3, northern Illinois 3; and Marshall Farms (N.Y.) pet shop ferrets – 12. (The ferrets were all give-ups at our shelter – we did not purchase any ferrets for this study.)

The ferrets varied in color from albinos and dark-eyed whites, assorted silvers and silvermitts, chocolates, cinnamons, sables and black sables. About half of the ferrets were tight colors and half were dark. Each group contained a variety of dark and light ferrets.

The Marshall Farms ferrets and the Minnesota ferrets were all neutered or spayed at 6 weeks of age or less. All of the other ferrets were neutered or spayed at six months of age or older (most of them were over 1 year). The ferrets were divided into 8 groups at random by compatibility with at least one early neuter in each group and at least 3 sources of ferrets being represented in each group. The ferrets were housed in a room without windows for their ‘down’ time. Some dim peripheral light came from the open doorway to the room and a light had to be turned on for about 1/2 hour twice a day for cage cleaning and other necessary functions that couldn’t be done in the dark. The ferrets were let out to play in their respectively lit areas for about 7-1/2 hours each day. Three* shifts were let out at a time. Shifts were run from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: 4 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. and midnight to 7:30 a.m. The half hour between shifts was used to clean the play areas, scoop litter boxes and replenish food and water supplies. (*The extra shift was divided between a pet mink and some polecats and not included in this study).

Seven ferrets were euthanized or died during the course of this study. One was from the dim light group, two were from the moderate light groups and four were from the bright light groups. The reasons for euthanasia or death were as follows: 1 – prostate disease resulting in chronic urinary blockages; 2 – congestive heart disease; 1 – liver dysfunction; 3 – combination cancers (adrenal, insulinoma, lymphoma). Three of these ferrets were early neuters (2 Marshalts/ 1 Minnesota) and four were late neuters (1 Michigan, 1 southern Illinois, 1 northern Illinois and 1 Missouri). Of the remaining 33 ferrets, none of the ferrets kept in low lighting have shown signs of hair loss, 20% of the ferrets in the moderate light group have shown hair loss, and 25% of the ferrets in the bright light group have shown hair loss.

Now here’s where things really get interesting. 40% of the ferrets in the low light group developed insulinoma. Four of the ferrets that went in for insulinoma surgery (approx. 33% of the total for the low light group) were found to also have adrenal tumors – two of them were even bilateral – yet they did not show any exterior signs of adrenal disease – no hair loss, no swollen vulvae, no strong smells. A couple of them – both males – did show renewed sexual aggression – trying to mount other ferrets.

About 35 – 40% of the ferrets in the moderate and bright light areas also developed insulinoma. One from the moderate light group and one from the bright light group also revealed bilateral adrenal disease during surgery. Not all of the ferrets with insulinoma had surgery due to finances.

Another interesting occurrence was when, at the beginning of the fourth year, I took one group from the bright light area and one group from the dim light area and switched them. Two of the ferrets who were from the dim light group and switched to bright light developed thin, dry coats, while two ferrets from the bright light group who had outward signs of adrenal disease, developed full, soft coats again after several months in dim light. One ferret from the bright light group who had advanced signs of adrenal disease did not grow hair back in.

I know that this study was not done under the best controls, and using ferrets from such diverse backgrounds may have been a draw back rather than a plus, but roughly speaking the evidence presented from this study seems to point to the possibility that many ferrets, whether from private breeders or from ferret farms, are prone to getting this disease, but due to the surroundings that the ferrets are kept in, the owners, and even their veterinarians, may not know that the ferrets in their care are affected.

Ferret owners in Europe have been quick to claim that ferrets in the United States are more prone to adrenal disease than European ferrets. But European ferret owners generally keep their ferrets outside in cages in protected spots or in sheds with limited access to light. Maybe these ferrets do have adrenal disease but just don’t show signs of it. In the U.S., most ferrets are kept as indoor pets. They are subjected to daylight from windows during the day and to artificial light at night. Maybe this extended photoperiod is affecting their hair growth.

The other widely held belief that this study challenges is the belief that ferrets that are neutered early run a greater risk of adrenal disease than late neuters. In this study, it did not seem to make a lot of difference. The percentage of early neuters affected was similar to the number of late neuters affected, with the early neuters only showing about a 3% greater incidence of outward signs of adrenal disease. Since these ferrets are our pets, we didn’t routinely open up each ferret to see which ferrets might have had adrenal disease without showing symptoms. As each ferret passes, we will do a post mortem on them and add whatever information they reveal to this file.

[intlink id=”fair”]This article originally appeared in the January /February 1999 issue of “The F.A.I.R. Report”.[/intlink]

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