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Creating a Safety Net

By Mary Van Dahm

Creating a Safety Net -- By Mary Van Dahm

Most of our pets are fairly short-lived compared to the average human life span of 70+ years. We usually think in terms of what we will do when they pass on. How will we cope? Will we get another pet? How will this death affect our lives? But what would happen to our pets if the tables were turned? What if we died first? Car accidents, plane crashes, heart attacks – they could happen to anyone at any time. Who would look after our pets?

Ferrets can be especially hard to plan for. They are very prone to early geriatric diseases and cancer. Finding someone who is willing to take on such an animal can be tough. There are ferret shelters, but would your remaining family members know where to contact one? Would the shelter have room for your pets? Are you satisfied to know that that is where your ferrets might end up? Might your family members decide to just have your animals euthanized instead?

Planning for your pets’ placement may seem like a gruesome task, but there’s no better way to show your love for your pets than to have detailed instructions set up and laid out for just such an emergency.

How many do you have?

If you have only one or two ferrets and you have other friends with ferrets, your plans may be very simple. Let your family know that if something happens to you, you want your ferrets to go to a certain person. Make sure that this person is aware of your wishes and is willing to abide by them. Have at least one alternate person in mind and inform that person of your wishes, too. If you have several ferrets, don’t expect one person to have to take them alt. The more ferrets you have, the more people you have to line up. Most people might be willing to take in one or two ferrets – maybe even three. If you have more ferrets than that, realize that they may have to be split up.

Ferret identification – Who is who?

Even if you only have two ferrets, if they are the same gender or the same color, how will people tell them apart? Don’t assume that everyone knows how to tell a male from a female. This may not sound very important on the surface, but what if one of them routinely gets medicine and the other one doesn’t need any? The more ferrets there are, the more complex it gets.

If you have several ferrets, it really helps to keep a notebook with information about your ferrets. In this notebook, list your ferrets’ names – one name per page. Under his or her names, write a detailed description about each ferret. Is the ferret male or female? How old is the ferret? (List month and year born, not just ‘current’ age, since 6 months from now that age will no longer be current, but a birth date never changes). What color is the ferret? Does it have any special markings, such as spots, white feet or toes, or a stripe on the head? If there is a stripe, is it wide or narrow? Is the nose pink, black, spotted? Does your ferret have a mask? If there is a mask, is the mask wide, narrow, faint, or bold? Does the ferret have long hair or short? Is the coat full or is the ferret balding? (Take into consideration seasonal shedding and coat changes). Are there any kinks in the ferret’s tail or any other unusual characteristics or deformities?

If possible, tape at least one picture of each ferret in the notebook. Two or more pictures are even better. One picture should be a clear shot of the ferret’s face. A second shot should show the ferret’s whole body. If any of your ferrets have drastic coat color changes with the seasons, it would be helpful to take pictures of these ferrets with their different coats and tape them in the notebook. Note what time of the year the pictures were taken and whether the ferret had its normal coat or was in the process of shedding.

Medical History

If your ferrets are young and have been relatively healthy, you might not have much information to write down, but you should at least note what vaccines your ferrets have had and when your ferrets are due for their shots again. Also make a note whether your ferrets have ever reacted to any vaccines or other medications. Somewhere in the notebook, preferably inside the front cover, you should list who your veterinarian is. You should also write a note of release for the veterinarian to release your records to the person taking your ferrets. Some veterinarians are very strict about releasing records, and may not be willing to bend the rules and release information without such a note, even if they know that you have died. Most veterinarians will usually honor a note of release. It is often helpful to have a copy of this note put in your file at your veterinarian’s office, too, so he is aware of your wishes in advance.

Having vital medical information written in your notebook is essential. If your ferrets have any medical conditions or are on any medications, be sure to list them all. Make a note of when the medications are given and how much of each medication is given. Highlight this information with a highlighter marker so it catches the eye of anyone looking through your notebook. Have your ferrets had any blood work done or x-rays? Have any of them had surgery? If so, what was the surgery for? Note when these procedures were done and what the results were.

An important note: Make sure all of your ferrets’ medications are labeled and that the labels are legible. You may know what prednisone, Lasix, or other medications look like, but you can’t assume that everyone else does. If your ferret is on any medications that need refrigeration, make sure your notes specify that, also.

Cage tags

Another method for quick identification is the use of cage tags. These
are just little cards that you can tape to the cage with brief descriptions of each animal on them. List any medications and dosages the ferrets might be on. This will at least catch someone’s attention in case they don’t notice your notebook right away. You can also make a note on the card referring to the notebook so someone will know to look for it.


On each page make a list of all of the other ferrets that each ferret gets along with. Do any of your ferrets have a “Best friend” or “special buddy” that you feel strongly about keeping together with that ferret or can the ferret be paired with anyone on the list? Is this ferret related to any others? Does the ferret get along with other ferrets or other pets at all? You may have a multiple ferret family, but let them out in shifts because they don’t get along together. How would someone else know that if you didn’t write it down somewhere? Also note whether your ferrets get along with kids or not. Do your ferrets nip or bite?


There are many other things that you should list that may or may not be critical. What type of food does your ferret usually eat? Are there any special treats he likes? Does he have any food allergies? Does your ferret use a water bowl or a bottle? What kind of bedding does he like? Is your ferret a hammock lover or does he prefer to sleep in a sack or bed on the floor of the cage? Is he prone to chewing on any types of bedding, such as T-shirts or other soft materials? Does your ferret have a litter preference? Are there certain litters that he won’t use at all or that he might be more prone to dig out of the litter pan?

It might be a good idea to put a cautionary note to let the person taking your ferrets know that he shouldn’t use clumping litter or cedar shavings with ferrets because these litters may cause health problems.

Does your ferret have any favorite toys? Are these toys already in his cage or are they scattered around the house somewhere? Are there household items that you let your ferret play with – an old wallet, an extra set of keys or old shoes? It might be wise to let others know about this so they don’t put their good shoes or a wallet full of money down somewhere where the ferret could steal them!


Are there any little quirky things that your ferret does that others should know about? Is he a heavy sleeper? Does he snore? Does he chuckle or hiss a lot? Is he normally active at certain times of the day? Does he like to hide things? Does he scratch at carpeting? Providing this kind of information will let the new owner know if your ferret is acting like his normal self of if he might be depressed or under the weather.

What goes with your ferrets?

It’s only fair that if someone is going to take in your pets and care for them that you should supply them with some of the things that they might need. Make a list of what items go with which ferret. Try to divide things fairly amongst the animals, but there may be things that you just can’t split up. For instance if you have four ferrets and they are all living in one cage and you have two friends lined up to take two ferrets each, they obviously can’t both have the cage. You could specify which ferrets get the cage and then specify that the other person gets more of the other supplies as compensation. Or you could keep some money in an envelope taped inside your notebook with a note that it be used toward buying another cage or supplies for your ferrets, if needed. Even if you have enough cages and plenty of supplies to go around, it doesn’t hurt to have an envelope with some money on hand in case your ferrets are due for shots or need refills on their medications soon.

What to do with leftover/unwanted supplies

If the persons taking your ferrets already have a cage and supplies and don’t need yours, state your wishes as to what you would like them to do with your ferrets’ surplus belongings. You can have the new owners sell off the supplies to provide funds toward your ferrets’ future care or you can ask them to donate the items to a local ferret shelter.

Listing other options

Situations change frequently. A friend who had agreed to take your ferrets a few months ago may suddenly have something come up which won’t allow him to take them as planned. Make a list of other options so that person knows what else you would like him to do. If the ferrets are young and there is a local ferret club or shelter, you can direct your friend or surviving family members to take the ferrets to the shelter.If the ferrets are very old or have major medical problems that your friend realizes he just can’t handle, give him an out by permitting the ferrets to be euthanized. This may sound cold hearted, but older animals often don’t adjust to change as well as young ones do and the stress they will endure might intensify any medical problems they already have. Shelters are not always a good option in this case, either, because of the stress involved and because of the likelihood of ECE (Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis) contagion, which would be a horrible thing for an older ferret to go through and could even be fatal to him.

A Quick Checklist For You to Review

  • How many ferrets do you have? Line up enough homes for the number of animals you have.
  • Ferret identification – How will anyone know who is who? Keep a written and pictorial record of what each ferret looks like.
  • Medical History List all medications your ferrets may be taking, when they get them and why. List their vaccination records, also.
  • Compatibility Make a note of which ferrets get along, including other non-ferret pets or children.
  • Preferences List some of your ferret’s likes and dislikes.
  • Habits What is your ferret’s daily routine? Does your ferret do anything unusual that might alarm a new owner?
  • What goes with your ferrets? What to do with surplus or unwanted supplies. Make a list of things you want each ferret to have. What do you want done with anything the new owner doesn’t want?
  • Listing other options If a home can’t immediatel be found for your ferrets, what other options would you want pursued in your ferret’s behalf? Would euthanasia be an option?

I hope that you will never have a need for this list and that you live a long and healthy life, but it never hurts to be prepared for the worst. This list is also good to have for when you go on vacation and have someone come in to care for your pets. They provide your pet sitter with all of the information he or she might need to take care of your pets while you are gone. It is also a good idea to have a friend or family member become acquainted with your ferrets. This way they will know the ferrets better and can help expedite the care and placement of your pets should something happen to you.

[intlink id=”fair”]This article originally appeared in the July/August 2000 issue of "The F.A.I.R. Report".[/intlink]