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It's Showtime

By Susan A. Brown , DVM

It's Showtime - By Susan A. Brown , DVM

Participating in a ferret show can be a lot of fun. You can socialize with old and new friends and most of all be surrounded by furry little faces of all different colors and personalities. To maximize safety and enjoyment at the show, however, you need to bring appropriate supplies, prepare your pet, and follow a few basic “rules” while at the show.


HEALTH OF YOUR PET – First and foremost, your pet should be in good health before even considering taking him or her to a show, even if you are just going to watch. There are increased risks of picking up disease at a show so you do not want to expose a pet that is already in poor health. Even if your pet just comes down with the sniffles or a little loose stool the morning of or the evening before the show and was in great shape up until then, it is best to leave him at home. Not only do you not want to risk your pets health, but it is irresponsible to risk the health of other ferrets at the show by bringing a pet that may be dealing with a health issue.

Vaccinations – Most ferret shows will require proof of rabies virus vaccination and canine distemper virus vaccination in order to be registered and admitted. These vaccinations should be administered at least 30 days but not more than a year prior to the show.

Rabies vaccinations are required in the event that your pet bites a person. Even though your pet may never be exposed to rabies by running around the backyard, in most states, if a ferret bites a human and is not properly vaccinated for rabies, he or she can at the very least be impounded at your cost for 10 days for rabies observation. In some localities, the pet could potentially be euthanized if unvaccinated. So why take a risk with the life of your pet?

Canine distemper virus is still around, although rarely seen in ferrets now because most pets are kept indoors and are not exposed to other animals with this disease. However, because canine distemper is incurable and because you cannot know what the exposure of the other ferrets at the show is, it is best to be current on canine distemper vaccinations. There is currently a very safe canine distemper vaccine available that does not have as many of the side effects of previous vaccines for ferrets. In the few cases where a ferret has had a reaction to either the canine distemper virus or the rabies virus vaccine and it is deemed by the veterinarian that no more vaccinations can be given, it is best for that ferret to NOT attend a show.


Proof of rabies and canine distemper virus vaccination- Either certificates or a letter signed by a licensed veterinarian.

Cage – Bring a sturdy cage with plenty of room for a toilet area, feeding area and a sleeping or private area. It is best to have some kind of lock on the cage, particularly if you have to leave the cage alone for any period of time during the show. Bring extra bedding and litter material in case of accidents.

Signs – Bring a sign that you can attach to your cage indicating who the ferrets are and a polite warning to not stick fingers or faces up to the cage. Even the sweetest ferret can become excited at a show by the activity, the noise or the smells and nip out of curiosity or fear.

Food – Bring the ferret’s favorite foods and of course have a fresh source of water available at all times.

Disinfectant/Cleanup – Bring a hand Disinfectant to clean your hands after handling ferrets other than you own. These products are alcohol based, and should contain 60 to 70% alcohol to be effective. They come in gels, foams, wipes, or lotions. You may also want to bring a spray disinfectant and paper towels to clean up any accidents your pet may have outside of his cage.

Clothing/Shoes – You might consider bringing a smock or another shirt you can put on over your regular clothes if you are going to handle ferrets other than your own. In this way you can remove that shirt before going back and handling your ferrets to minimize spread of disease. If ferrets are allowed to run around the floor at the show, consider wearing washable shoes to the show that can be removed before you go into your home and washed before their next use.

Bring a Friend or Family Member – A friend or family member can not only be pleasant companion, but can help “police” the area where the cage will be in case you have to go elsewhere to shop, eat or show your ferret.


The following are a few basic guidelines to help you minimize problems
and enjoy the show.

DISEASE PREVENTION – Your ferret should be up to date on vaccinations and in good health. A healthy immune system is the best prevention against disease. However, there are still diseases that can be transmitted by other apparently healthy ferrets because the disease may still be in the incubation stage or there just may be no obvious outward signs at that moment. I am not going to spend time in this article discussing all the different diseases that ferrets can be exposed to because they all can be prevented in a similar fashion by following these basic hygiene practices: (Note: the term “stranger ferret” is used to denote a ferret that is not your own and about whom you have no knowledge of the background.)

  1. Don’t allow your pet to come into direct contact with stranger ferrets (including playing in another ferret’s cage even if the stranger ferret is not present).
  2. Do not allow your pet to come in contact with the stool or urine of stranger ferrets.
  3. Disinfect your hands thoroughly after you handle a stranger ferret. This is where the alcohol- based disinfectant you brought comes into use. To be effective the product must contain 60 to 70% alcohol and it must contact all areas of the hands and be allowed to dry on the hands.
  4. Use a different outer shirt or smock when handling stranger ferrets and then remove it when handling your ferrets. Better yet, make a practice of not holding stranger ferrets up against your clothing. Wear washable shoes at the show and remove them before entering your home and wash them before wearing them again.
  5. Don’t allow other people to handle your ferret unless they are wearing a clean smock or shirt (if they hold the ferret up against them) and they have disinfected their hands.

*Note: At a well run show, the judges should be cleansing their hands and the judging table between each ferret judged. They should not be holding the ferrets up against their bodies to avoid contamination through their clothing. If tube races are being done, the tubes should be disinfected between each race or new tubes used. For bag races, new bags should be used for each ferret.


It is a simple matter to prevent injury to yourself or to your pet with some common sense.

Pet Injury – If you follow the guidelines for disease prevention you will have removed most of the potential for injury because your ferret will not be in contact with stranger ferrets. In addition, make sure the cage is constructed in such a manner that there is no possibility for the pet’s head, legs or toes getting caught. Don’t allow strangers to handle your pet. You can hold your ferret securely and they can then pet him or her after properly disinfecting their hands.

Human Injury – Have a sign on your ferret’s cage or carrier asking people to not place fingers or faces close to the cage. As mentioned earlier, even the sweetest ferrets can become excited or anxious at a show because of the new smells, sights and sounds. Sometimes ferrets can become agitated by the smell of someone’s cologne, or by seeing an interesting looking finger or nose approaching their cage like a really neat new toy! Bring a friend or family member along to the show to help watch the cage during the times you may have to leave the area. In addition, as mentioned under Pet Injury, do not allow strangers to handle your pet because you do not know their experience level. Always warn people not to put ferrets up to their faces and YOU follow the same advice when handling a stranger ferret. After you get to know a ferret and can trust it’s response, that is a different story, but at a show, away from home, you just never know. More than one of our clients has been surprised at a show by an unexpected response from a beloved pet.

In the case of a human injury where the skin is broken, have the person wash the wound immediately under running water, and offer a disinfectant product to wipe the wound before the person puts on any bandages. If the injured person’s blood comes in contact with you, wash it off thoroughly and disinfect the contaminated area. Contact the show manager, or veterinarian in charge immediately for further instructions. It is important to make a full report in writing at the time of the incident in case it is needed for future reference.


This may seem like a lot of things to remember, but in reality it is mostly common sense. Prevention is the best cure and it takes much less time than managing an accident! Please, be safe and enjoy the sights and sounds of the show, the excitement of your pets to be there and know that you are part of a very special group of people that know the secrets of the love of ferrets.

[intlink id=”gcfa”]This article originally appeared in the September/October 2002 issue of “Off the Paw”.[/intlink]