Ferret-Proofing Your Home

As more and more people choose to have their ferret in the house, whether as a house pet or just playtimes, the question of ferret-proofing becomes particularly, writes DR JUNE McNICHOLAS.

There are two ways of looking at ferret-proofing - making sure your ferret is safe from hazards in the house, and making sure your house is safe from the ferret. I've had heart-breaking stories of ferrets being injured through accidents in the house, or of ferrets escaping from the house never to be seen again, so it seems important to set down some of the potential danger areas. Equally, those who run rescues will have probably encountered cases where ferrets are handed in because they have wrecked someone's prized house plants, Ming vase, Persian carpet or whatever, leading to sufficient domestic conflict for the ferret to have to be rehomed.

Heere's a Baker's Dozen of pointers to danger areas - either to your ferret or to domestic bliss and the sanity of your insurers. Making your home safe for ferrets and from ferrets is not necessarily mutually exclusive. The precautions taken to protect one can often mean less danger to the other, but let's start with ferret safety first.

1: Decide on where your ferret will be allowed in the house. Whether this is one room or the whole house depends on you, but once you have decided you have to make that area safe and stick to it.

2: 'Think ferret'. Try to imagine yourself as small and curious as a ferret and inspect the whole area, from floor level upwards, for surfaces to crawl under, climb up, squeeze through, get into, etc. This exercise is best done on your tummy, crawling across the floor. You may have some explaining to do if unexpected callers turn up, so it's a good idea to have a plausible explaination ready to deal with that embarrasing situation. Better still, ask them to join you on the floor and give a second opinion!

Note all the 'danger zones'. These can be:

3: Fireplaces - ferrets can disappear up chimneys faster than smoke even if you have a built-in gas or electric fire in your hearth. Most ferrets can fit underneath quite easily. You will need to block this off while the ferret is in the room but beware of interfering with safe ventilation for any heating appliance. A fireguard is a good idea but you may have to modify it so that the ferret cannot use it as a climbing frame to get in over the top or to use as a means of reaching things that would be otherwise safe if you hadn't tried to make other things safe, if you see what I mean! We use a fireguard with the mesh blocked off either at the top or bottom for eight or nine inches. This way the ferret cannot climb over it.

4: Curtains - some ferrets love climbing and can use curtains to shin up on to window sills, sideboards, shelves or pelmets. Apart from the obvious dangers of falling and getting injured, there are the dangers of what a ferret could reach. Precious ornaments will be fair game and open windows are clear escape routes. If you have floor-length drapes, tie them up when there's a ferret about.

5: Pot plants - 'The Ferret Keeper's Guide to Treasured House Plants' is a real candidate for the world's shortest book. Ferrets are not horticulturally minded, they have little interest in plants, just the soil and how far they can scatter it and how many pieces the pot will turn into when it falls. Although this may seem like more of a hazard to the plant, there is a danger to the ferret. Many, even most, house plants are poisonous if eaten or licked or chewed in the process of getting them out of the pot. Keep all house plants well out of reach, for their and the ferret's safety!

6: ferrets in fridge 26k Electrical appliances - ferrets rarely chew wires but they can pull them, risking crush injuries if something falls on them. Washing machines and tumble driers are irresistible to ferrets. It can look awfully cute to see them climbing in but there have been many sad, fatal accidents. It's best never to let them get in but, even so, always check before turning the machine on just in case someone else has left it open. Cookers often have spaces underneath that lead into the main oven part. Jeff had the experience of suddenly finding our polecat jill looking at him through the glass oven door! And another one of ours was found curled up asleep in a frying pan in the storage drawer of the cooker. Ironically, the label on the pan read 'Suitable for all hobs!' Fridges, freezers and dishwashers are all possible places where your ferret can be killed or injured. Make a point of checking them before closing them. It would be possible to write a whole book on the dangers of electrical appliances to ferrets so, please, 'think ferret' and peer, poke and reach into every nook and cranny of them that your ferret might find. Block where feasible, ban the ferret from areas where it is not.

7: Cupboards and drawers - many ferrets learn to open cupboards. The dangers here are firstly hinged doors which can spring shut. There have been many cases of crush injuries through this particular type of accident. Secondly, there are the dangers of cupboard contents, especially under-sink cupboards where detergents and bleaches may be kept. Other cupboards may hold glasses, heavy dishes or similar. Fix child locks to cupboards that may contain dangers or ban the ferret from that room. Don't forget drawers, and climb up the back and into the back of the drawer, even opening it from inside! Once inside, the ferret has access to whatever knives, medicines and so forth you keep there. It was this behaviour that led to fatal Paracetamol poisoning in one ferret.

8: Other furniture - ferrets being ferrets will find ways to get in, under or behind any chairs, sofas or cabinets. Sadly, this can lead to ferrets being killed or injured through being sat on, or having furniture moved while they are inside or underneath.

9: Bathrooms - don't ask me why ferrets are obsessed with the loo, but they are. I have even heard of one who loved to take a running jump from the landing to the loo seat. It doesn't bear thinking about if the toilet seat was up. Similarly, don't leave baths running unattended if there's a ferret about.

10: Conservatories - may contain watering cans, water butts, ponds or water features that can trap and drown ferrets.

11: Other animals - do not leave your ferret unattended with other animals. They may get on fine most times, but an unexpected nip, or a day feeling 'off colour' may lead to disastrous results. I know it can all sound alarming when it's put down as a list, but once you've started to 'think ferret', you really do learn to recognise possible dangers.

12: Having recognised and taken precautions against possible dangers, the next rule is to make sure everyone knows them. They have to become 'house rules' for everyone living or visiting the house.

13: Make sure that when the ferret is loose everyone knows this, reducing the chances of people shutting doors without looking, leaving doors open, turning on machinery, sitting down without checking, or leaving hot drinks on low surfaces. On the subject of drinks, be a little careful about alcohol, too. It seems to be a secret vice for some ferrets!

And what the things that your ferret may damage even though they may not harm him? Carpets and rugs seem to be favourite articles for damages. At least part of this is because when faced with a closed door the ferret mentality immediately turns to a pressing desire to be on the other side, and so they 'dig' the carpet. For most people a strip of plastic carpet protector does the trick, or even a few sheets of paper pushed under the door while the ferret is out.

Another trick, although far less common, is the wallpaper stripping game. Usually this occurs only when the ferret has accidentally come across a loose edge to the wallpaper. However, with today's 'easy-strip' papers you could end up with whole lengths coming down with the merest tug, and it is no consolation that the ferret will be just as surprised as you when it happens! Make sure that all wallpaper is firmly stuck at the seams and if you do happen to have a ferret who has learned to like the game, try rubbing a little bitter apple/mustard/chilli on the offending seam (select to suit your colour scheme).

The above hints are no more than a brief illustration of how to go about making your ferret and your house safe for each other. I haven't even dared to attempt the issues of preventing your ferret from stealing and hiding your car keys, passport, purse, wallet, or false teeth.

Some things you have to find out the hard way!

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 13 - August/September 2003)

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