Ragged, Dragged and Dangerous To Know?

MICHAEL SANDERSON examines the problem of mixing and matching ferrets and offers advice on how to win round the timid, the aggressive and the downright antisocial!

Peace and harmony: A happy group of ferrets Those of you who keep a large number of ferrets will know that it sometimes seems impossible to make all of them live together happily. Some make the lives of their hutch-mates a misery by constantly nipping the backs of their necks and then running away while others launch a full-on attack and the whole shed explodes in a pungent odour!

Many of us like our ferrets to live with as many friends as possible. This is made much easier if they are kept in large varied groups from being young. You may find that kits who live with just a couple of others for lengths of time will become attached to one or two particular ferrets and are less likely to take to new arrivals later in life. Similarly, adult ferrets that are isolated from larger groups may become less friendly to other ferrets when reintroduced. Sometimes the mere scent of a stranger on one of their hutch-mates will send an unsociable ferret wild with anger. Jills are especially vulnerable to this just after breeding. When the kits are separated, the jill still possesses a strong maternal instinct and tends to mother whatever ferrets she lives with. When her kits were taken from my sandy jill, Toffee, she lived with my working albino jill, Millie. She started mothering Millie in the same way she did her kits but unfortunately, she never stopped. Toffee became very protective towards Millie and would not allow any other ferrets near her hutch. She would attack the bars if another ferret was outside. If Toffee had been housed with a few other ferrets after breeding this would probably not have happened.

It is very important that when you separate kits from their mothers you are very careful to choose suitable adults to introduce them to if they are picked on at a young age it can make them very nervous of their own kind. The end result is an adult ferret that does not feel comfortable in the presence of other adult ferrets. The kits have known only love and attention from their mother and they will not know how to handle hostile behaviour. Once they have lived with friendly ferrets and are fully grown up, you can try introducing them to a wider range of other ferrets because they will be more able to defend themselves from bullying.

These are all steps we can take to make our ferrets more sociable as we bring them up but what happens if you receive an adult ferret that is already nervous and unfriendly? Some seem determined not to live with others and, in some cases you will never win. But there are steps you can take to try to convert your furry friends.

One of the big reasons why some ferrets will not accept others is territory. Some ferrets will simply not put up with having others around in their house. In this situation, the most sensible thing to do is to take two ferrets to neutral territory. Choose a large area like a garden lawn and put them down at opposite ends. They will wander off exploring and eventually meet up. Because they are so many other new things to see, the fact that a strange ferret is nearby is no longer the big deal it was on familiar ground. In most cases, a quick sniff is all that happens between the two explorers before they lose interest and go off on an adventure. Keep doing this for a while in different areas until the ferrets meet one another and don't pay attention. The next stage is easier if your ferrets are kept in a shed. Allow them to wander around together just outside their homes, with the doors shut. If they still get on, open the hutch doors and allow each ferret to explore the other's home. Don't lock them in together, just allow them to sniff around then, after a couple of days exploring, try shutting them in together. Because this method allows them to get used to one another first, it is no longer a sudden shock when a stranger ends up in their hutch.

If this doesn't work, another idea is to find a ferret that's equally unsociable and takes no nonsense from any other ferret and introduce them! For a while they may scrap before realising that no one will win. They will then sulk, sitting in their own corner as far as possible from each other. They will try to live around one another but eventually they may give up and decide to be friends. This method is always is always interesting when it comes to dinnertime. The ferrets have to come close to reach the bowl and, in most cases, each will quickly grab a mouthful of food before running back to their corner to stash it away. Food is an excellent way of bringing them closer as both have to eat!

One reason for fighting ferrets can be a misunderstanding about vasectomised and castrated hobs. Vasectomised hobs are no different from full hobs in their sexual urges, they just cannot reproduce. In summer, they will drag jills and fight with other hobs. They should be kept on their own from about March until the end of August while they are bringing jills out of season. Castrated hobs can live with jills all year round. When a jill comes into season, she may drag other ferrets as her maternal instinct increases. This can cause a little friction but rarely leads to serious fighting.

A simple way to diffuse small squabbles is to provide two nest boxes so that your ferrets don't always have to be near one another, reducing pointless bickering. If you have smaller hutches that cannot house large numbers of ferrets, allowing them plenty of time exercising with different groups will keep your ferrets sociable. Playtime with a variety of other ferrets will make them comfortable around strangers and, if ever you need to introduce another ferret, it should be accepted with few problems.

Making some ferret friendly is never easy and sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and let them have their own way - but not without a fight! Try some of these tips and just maybe that unsociable bully will take a liking to someone and live happily ever after!

(From Ferrets First Issue #17 April/May 2004)