It can be very exciting to bring a new ferret into your home. Whether you have only one ferret to setup a cage for or you have several, the guidelines for prepping their new home are pretty basic, but extremely important. How you setup the cage for your ferret will depend largely on how much time you will have to interact with your pet.
It stands to reason that if you’re going to be spending long hours playing with him and engaging in various activities, the furnishings for the cage can be pretty basic and minimal. However, if your ferret will be spending a lot of time enclosed in his cage, you will have to provide a lot more to keep him engaged so he doesn’t get bored.
First and foremost, you always want to keep their overall health in mind. To protect your ferret’s health, it is very important that you have a well-equipped cage setup so that he gets plenty of variety in his daily routine. Because ferrets are so highly social, they require a great deal of playtime where they can interact with other ferrets or with you.
For this reason, the longer your ferret has to remain in his cage, the more you need to give him to do. At the very least, ferrets should have a minimum of four hours a day to roam free in your home. This time could be spent in a ferret-proof play room, free in your home (under your close supervision) or in a ferret-proof playpen.
When playtime is over, however, it is important that the cage is where he will spend his remaining energy. And believe me, these little guys have a lot of energy to spend, so your cage setup needs to be comfortable, safe, and clean. Without a suitable environment for them, they will fail to thrive and may even fall ill.
Lining Your Ferret Cage
One of the first things you need to do is to line the bottom of your ferret’s cage. There are many different materials you can choose from, but ideally, the material you use should be something that is soft or smooth with an even texture.
Some owners line their cages with blankets, sheets, old clothes, or towels. You could also line the bottom of the cage with linoleum material. Since they are easy to remove and clean, they are ideal for you. It seems that the material most preferred by ferret owners are old sweatpants, sweatshirts, or fleece blankets.
Carpet is another option that can make a cozy little home for your ferret, but make sure that you get the kind of carpet that can be easily removed and tossed in the washing machine. You also want to avoid getting any thick carpeting that their little claws could catch on.
It is very important that you ferret has a nice clean environment to protect his health. Anything you put inside his cage needs to be something that can be easily cleaned; otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of work necessary to maintain it. It is also very important that anything you use be absolutely fragrance free.
Since these things will need to be washed frequently, avoid using any form of fragrance in your laundry detergent as well. Look for those that specifically say unscented on the label as anything scented will have chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions or other health problems for your furry friend.
A good cage lining is very important for a ferret’s mobility, especially if you have a cage with a wire bottom. Ferrets are highly energetic and scurry from one place to the next very swiftly. If the wires on the cage floor are exposed, their claws can catch, causing them painful injuries and an expensive trip to the vet, something that you want to avoid at all costs.
Ferret Essentials for the Cage
Ferrets love to play with toys and experiment with their surroundings and it could be very tempting to get these things first. They are fun and exciting and offer lots of fun times for both of you, but before you take that step, it is important that you buy their essentials first.
- food and water bowl
- proper bedding for sleeping
You also have to designate an area of the cage for a litter box. If your ferret is not yet potty-trained, consider getting a small one designed for young kittens. These are easy to get into, so they are less likely to have any accidents on their way to take care of business.
Choosing the Right Water Bowl
Ferrets are notorious for redecorating, so if you don’t want spills all over the cage floor, it is best to find a food and water bowl that clamps to the sides of the cage. When ready to clean, simply unclamp the bowl and toss it in the dishwasher. You can get one for food and another for water.
Some ferrets enjoy digging in their food bowls. If this is a problem with your ferret, simply attach the food bowl higher up in the cage so it will be difficult to treat it as a place to dig. It should be low enough, so that the ferret can reach it, but high enough so that he can’t get his paws into the bowl.
With water containers, you can also choose to give them a water bottle. Ferrets will play with just about anything, and won’t hesitate to go snorkeling in a large water bowl, leaving you a huge mess to clean up.
If you choose to use the water bottle, also try to keep a water bowl close by. Ferrets are less interested in drinking from a water bottle, so having a small water bowl close by will encourage them to drink more so they won’t get dehydrated.
Just make sure it is secured high enough, so they aren’t tempted to go snorkeling in it, and do not fill it up with water, but only give them enough water to take a drink when necessary.
Choosing the Right Bedding
As active as they are, ferrets need a lot of sleep to balance out all of the energy they spend. It is quite normal for a ferret to sleep as much as 18 hours a day. Their cages need to be outfitted with a comfortable place for them to settle in after they’ve finished their play.
Hammocks are designed so that they hang in the air rather than resting on the cage floor. This keeps them cleaner and is a real thrill for the ferret. You don’t have to restrict your choice to one hammock. If your cage has several different levels, or different compartments, put one or two in each area of the cage where you want them to rest with the exception of the compartment where you will place the litter box.
When choosing a hammock, make sure that you get a high quality one that has been designed specifically for ferrets. With their natural tendency to dig, if you purchase one designed just for small animals, it will be quickly destroyed in no time at all.
Hammocks come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so you can purchase whatever suits your fancy. Of course, there is the hanging hammock, but you can also choose different styles based on your ferret’s habits.
Other bedding that is essential for a ferret are the sleep sacks for on the floor (these can come with nice warm fleece lining for cold weather), and a lighter version for the warmer weather. Often referred to as nap sacks, these are basically cloth bags that lay like a sleeping bag on the floor.
They come in different sizes, so you can find one that sleeps only one ferret or a larger one that sleeps as many as four ferrets in one sack. There are even some that are extremely long with openings on both ends, so the ferret can use them like they would a tunnel.
When you are shopping for your ferret bedding, you will find lots of bedding material for small animals, but try to get only those that are designed for ferrets. Sleep sacks, for example, mimic their natural environment and make them the most comfortable.
They are naturally burrowing animals, and in the wild, they are likely to burrow a hole into the ground and go to sleep in the darker recesses of the earth. Bedding that allows them to burrow into and curl up in a dark space away from light and activity, is the best option.
Some owners give them old clothes that they can burrow into; an old pair of pants where they can snuggle deep inside a pant leg or a sleeve are the most common. However, these can present a hazard to the little guy. Their claws can get caught on the threads, snags and frays can catch their toenails, or could cause them to get tangled up.
As for the hammock, it helps the ferret to sleep in his favorite position, curled up like a donut. It is also lifted up off the floor of the cage, which allows them to stay clean when they rest, a natural preference for most ferrets.
So, now you have to decide just how many hammocks and sleep sacks you need. As a general rule, take the total number of ferrets you have and multiply it by 1.5, then round up to the nearest whole number.
For example, if you have two ferrets, you will need to set up three places for them to sleep. It could be one sleep sack and two hammocks, or two hammocks and one sleep sack. This will be the least number of sleeping areas you can setup in the cage, but you can always have more if space allows for it. Your ferrets will not complain.
When you are ready to purchase bedding for the cage, you are likely going to be overwhelmed by your choices. Everyone says their ferret bedding is the best, but to be safe here are a few things you should look for.
- Make sure it is machine washable
- The fabric should be smooth and tightly woven with no loops like you see in terry cloth
- It should be colorfast, which means that the colors won’t bleed when you wash them
- Get winter bedding (lined with fleece) and summer bedding (unlined, but double layered)
- They should be comfortable – ferrets don’t care about the patterns and styles
- Choose safe hardware for hanging hammocks. You want something that they won’t be able to pry loose or swallow. Aside from grommet holes in the corners, you can hang them with just about anything safe; shoe laces, shower curtain hooks, rubber bands, etc. Whatever you choose, make sure it is something that your ferret can’t get caught in.
- Durable fabric and double stitching are a must when it comes to quality construction.
Other Essential Covers
After the basic essentials, look closely at the ferret cage. If it comes with ramps and shelves, then you’ll also need to have these areas covered as well; especially if you’re dealing with a wire cage.
Even if the cage ramps and shelves are not made from wire and have a smooth surface, it is better to cover them. Metal ramps can be quite slippery and difficult for the little guy to maneuver (no traction), so covering them with a ferret safe cloth is important to keep them from injury.
The Entertainment Center
Now that you have the essentials in place, you’re almost ready to introduce your ferret to his new home, but there is one more important accessory you must have for your furry friend. Because these are highly active little animals, they can get bored very quickly if they don’t have something to do.
They have to always be in a state of discovery, so whatever toys you buy for them, make sure you switch them out often, so they don’t get bored with the same thing every day.
When choosing ferret toys, you not only have to think about their interest and enjoyment, but you must think about their safety too. Many small animal veterinarians point out that the number one reason for ferret visits to their office is because of intestinal obstructions.
Ferrets are notorious for chewing on things, especially cloth and rubber. These are things that they cannot digest and so they create blockage in their stomachs causing major health issues.
Keep these things in mind so that you don’t have problems later. Ferrets are attracted to baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers, especially if they contain any milk or formula, but avoid these at all costs. In fact, it is best to not put any type of rubber in your ferret’s cage.
This also includes any rubber fittings that may go underneath the lining of the floor and ramp coverings. Avoid purchasing rubber toys, tubing, gloves, or any old shoes you think they might want to play with. These are dangerous and both you and your ferret will one day regret it.
When it comes to choosing a good toy for your ferret’s entertainment, you need to provide a nice variety of objects that will stimulate their interest. It goes without saying that ferrets will be interested in just about anything you put in front of them, so it is up to you to choose something that will not only be entertaining but durable and safe. As a general rule, here are a few guidelines that will help you to make a safe choice.
- Hard plastic toys (like cat toys) that are large enough for them to play with but not small enough to swallow.
- Hard plastic balls. You can find some that have some type of noisemaker inside (filled with rice, beans, etc.) maracas for example are a good suggestion.
- Soft balls made of fleece or other cushy fabric. They love to roll around in them.
- Large ferret balls with holes. This will allow them to climb inside as part of their play.
- An assortment of cardboard boxes, and crinkly paper bags.
- PVC pipes or ferret tubes large enough for them to move around inside of them.
- Hanging toys, these can be made of wood or rope. You may even find some with bells on them, so they make noise when the ferret tries to climb them. Don’t get them too long because they could be a cause for strangulation if they are going to play without your direct supervision. Just make them long enough that they can swing from the ends when at play.
- Baby rattles and teething rings (not rubber).
- Small stuffed toys with noisemakers inside.
- Cloth bags (non-knitted or anything with loops) These are great for sleeping inside. You can even add a layer of soft crinkly material inside.
- Play tents.
- Tubes that are large enough for them to run through, these can be interspersed throughout the cage, so they can travel from one level to another or from one section to another freely.
As you shop around for the right accessories for your ferret cage, keep in mind that the toys are not just for play. Ferrets are highly intelligent animals and need to develop their problem-solving skills.
When a ferret doesn’t have a good selection of toys and a constantly changing environment, they can become depressed and will eventually resort to unwanted and destructive behavior.
Once you get your cage set-up the way you want it, you still have to be on the lookout for new and innovative ideas to keep your little fuzzy properly entertained. Consider what you put into the cage as ferret psychotherapy tools. When you give them something they are interested in, you are doing your baby a huge service and eliminating a great deal of stress for the whole household.
Even still, your ferret will quickly get bored of his toys if you don’t give them to him in the right way.
- Look for the kind of toys that stimulate a ferret’s natural behavior in the wild. These include things that make them feel like they are hunting, digging, or tunneling. A toy that moves will satisfy their hunting instincts. Some toys that are most successful are those that are attached to an elastic string, cat teasers, and wind ups.
- Noisemakers are interactive toys that can keep them occupied for hours. Since ferrets are naturally social creatures, any toy that responds to something they do makes them feel like they are communicating with it.
- Dig boxes tap into their natural instinct to burrow into the earth. Having them around will provide a safe and non-destructive way to play. You can place a smaller one inside the cage and fill it with long grain rice (not instant), potting soil, ping-pong balls, beans, pebbles (make sure they are large enough that they can’t swallow them), or sand.
- Tunnels are a ferret’s favorite toy. In their natural habitat, ferrets hunt other animals in the burrows, and so naturally will be attracted to this kind of activity. Because of their high level of intelligence, you also want to include some problem-solving toys. These will keep them mentally stimulated.Visit your local pet store and you’ll probably find some safe puzzles for them to solve and challenge them mentally. You’ll find some puzzles designed to be manipulated and opened so that they can get to the treat inside.
Of course, this list only scratches the surface of the kind of toys you can enhance your ferret’s cage with. As you introduce different toys to your pet, you will have to take notice of the kind they are most interested in.
What to Avoid
As you shop for your ferret cage, you will find lots of ideas and suggestions for your ferret, but they won’t all be safe. Many of the recommendations are toys designed for small animals, but you need to keep in mind that ferrets are very unique and will use these toys very differently.
Avoid any toy made from soft rubber or latex (think rubber ducky for the bathtub). Ferrets love to test their environment by chewing and nibbling on anything they can get their little paws on. If these materials are swallowed, it can cause them serious digestive problems.
You should also avoid anything that is small enough to fit completely into their mouth or has small parts that can break off and be swallowed. Think of the kind of toys you would want to give a small child. If it’s childproof, it is probably ferret proof too.
Getting it All Setup
Now that you have all of the essentials to make a nice home for your ferret, it’s time to put the whole puzzle together. For most people, this will be a relatively easy process to complete, but there are a few basic guidelines you should follow to ensure that when you are ready to introduce your ferret to his new home, it will be a smooth transition for both of you.
- Ferrets are notorious for moving things around. Any item you get for your cage, if at all possible, try to get it so it will attach to the cage. Aside from ferret toys, everything should be secured to the cage sides. Ferrets love to dig, splash, snorkel, and move anything they can. For him it is a world of fun but for you, it is just something else that needs to be cleaned up.
- Do not use anything like hay, straw, sawdust, wood shavings or anything like it inside the cage. It may be tempting to line the bottom of the cage with wood shavings or straw, but these can cause serious problems. These things tend to create dust, and since ferrets tend to be mostly asthmatic, you want to avoid as much dust as possible. Instead, choose non-dust producing materials to go inside the cage to protect against any respiratory problems that could develop.
- When hanging the hammocks and preparing the bedding, these can go anywhere inside the cage, except for the section you have designated for the litter box. You don’t want a hammock hanging near it, and especially not hanging directly above it.
- Ferrets don’t like to be stared at while they are sleeping, so make sure you set some of their sleeping quarters in a darkened area of the cage away from prying eyes. You can block off the view of their main sleeping quarters with a cardboard box so they will have their privacy. Make sure they have more than one place to sleep. Ferrets love variety, so you can have their main sleeping area, but a pocket hammock or two in other areas of the cage will be a welcome change of scenery, just make sure they have a place to hide with each one of them.
- The litter box should be positioned in a corner and not in the center of any section of the cage. Ferrets always want to back up into a corner to do their business, so while placing it in the center of a section might be aesthetically appealing to you, it won’t make him feel comfortable at all. If you have purchased a cage with multiple levels, each level should have its own litter box. If you don’t want the litter box and its contents scattered all over the cage floor, make sure you secure it to the side of the cage. Given their curious nature, you can bet your ferret will try to move it, so he can see what’s behind it, under it, next to it, or anywhere around it. As he does so, he will leave all of its contents in a long trail around the floor as he tries to move it.
- His food and water bowls can be in any part of the cage except for the area set aside for the litter box. Again, it is very important that you do not put them near each other. Also, if you have a cage with different levels, then there should be a food and water source on each level. Ferrets will quickly learn where these are and will visit them frequently when they are not resting in the privacy of their own bedrooms.
- Finally, it’s time to add the toys. If your ferret will be spending a lot of time outside of the cage, don’t expect them to play with the toys a lot. They will engage more with the different toys if they have less free time outside, so you can decide just when to introduce the toys to your ferret. Those ferrets that get a lot of time in their playpen or are free to roam around the house will see their cage only as a place to eat and rest. So, the number of toys you introduce to them inside the cage should be balanced. If you don’t feel they need more activity while in the cage, you can save the toys for another time when your furry little friend will need it more.
Setting up a cage for your ferret may seem like a lot of work. There are many little details you need to be concerned with that you may not have to worry about with other small animals. It is your responsibility as a ferret owner to make sure that the cage you provide is more than just a place where they can settle in and relax.
The cage needs to cater to your ferret’s natural instincts so he doesn’t feel as if he is trapped. At the same time, everything you put into the cage should encourage good health. This means that the environment they will be exposed to needs to be mentally stimulating for them as well as interactive enough for them to spend their energy.
The more you learn about ferrets and their unique behavior, the easier it will be to understand exactly what goes into a ferret cage and how to set it up. When this is done properly, he will get all the exercise he needs, be content in his new home, and never realize that he has left his natural habitat.
The result is simple: a happy ferret home means a happy household for everyone. Now go on and get that cage set up so you can introduce your ferret to his new home.