Introducing ferrets to one another is one of the most common causes of stress related illnesses. Monitoring your ferrets VERY closely during this time is important, and should only be done when you have the time to dedicate to your ferrets.
DO NOT put the ferrets together, leave the room, and expect them to "work out" their differences. This could lead to immediate injury and possibly death. The ferrets do not necessarily need to be nose to nose, chasing each other, and/or fighting to be stressed. If a ferret moves into a hiding place and does not come out this means you need to separate the new and established ferret from each other. Give them a few days apart, with no contact, and then try again. Until both ferrets are comfortable with each other, do not house them together in close quarters, cage or otherwise.
In the beginning, you can allow the newly introduced ferrets to play in a play area together with supervision, for short periods of time. As they grow more comfortable with each other, you may extend that period of time. We recommend you use the largest area you have with the least amount of places there are for the ferrets to get into that you cannot access them quickly. You need to have access to them at all times so if there is a need to separate them you can easily.
Once you know they are comfortable around each other and are beginning to play together, you can allow them to have mutual play time. When you find them sleeping together in a play area, you can feel safe in placing them in the same cage or close quarters.
This process is long and tedious, and may take upwards of 30 days, however it is the safest way we have found to introduce a new ferret to an established one. NEVER introduce a new ferret to more than one established ferret at a time.
Recognizing situations and/or items that will cause your ferret unnecessary stress is extremely important. Ferrets can and do develop ulcers quickly. By the time the physical symptoms are showing, it may be too late to treat. Repeated and prolonged exposure to stress may result in death. (New friends and locations are common stressors)
In addition, recognizing that your ferret is scared is imperative to keep your ferret(s) from getting ill. Common signs of this are: trembling, cowering, shrieking/hissing, darting for cover, biting, backing into an area and puffing up all body fur. A lot of times stressed ferrets will find a safe place to hide in and just go to sleep. Prolonged exposure to stress will result in physical symptoms; lethargy, black, sticky poop, loss of appetite, dull eyes, and pale gum color. If your ferret(s) are displaying these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately, as these are later stages of stress related injuries and illness.
Introducing a New Ferret into an existing Business by Dr. Sandra Mitchell
Ferrets are generally pretty friendly and outgoing creatures, so many people assume that introducing a new one into an existing group of ferrets will be a simple process. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
How difficult the introduction actually is depends on a lot of different factors, including the age of the ferrets involved, their sexes, their individual personalities, how much room is available for them to live in, and the existing social structure, just to name a few. Some of these factors are ones we have control over, as their guardian humans, but others are entirely beyond our control.
Sometimes, ferrets meet and it is instant friendship. Other times, no matter how hard we try, it simply isn't a match.
Think of it in human terms. A landlord is setting up an apartment complex, and picks someone for you to room with. You might instantly like the person, you might learn to live with them over time, or you may dislike them forever. A lot of factors go into that decision, but if your landlord is unwilling to accommodate and adjust any of the factors involved with the match, you may have 2 very unhappy stressed roommates. Ferrets form social bonds very similar to humans, and are equally unhappy and stressed if it is a poor match.
Stress can be psychological, but it can also become physical. Ferrets are actually pretty delicate and sensitive creatures, and these stresses can result in significant medical issues, as well as having a generally unhappy little creature.
In general, the more gradual the introduction, the more likely it is to be successful. I find that one-on-one approaches are best. Initially after bringing a new ferret into the household, remember that they will already be confused and frightened, and being brought face to face with new ferrets can be overwhelming and starts the process off on the wrong foot. I prefer to allow the new ferret to settle into their own cage, located in a “common play area” of the house. This way, the new animal has a territory of their own, a place to settle and feel safe. When they have had a day or two to acclimate, I will allow them access to the common area when no other ferrets are out to play. This way, they can explore at leisure, find the “safe zones” and possible hiding areas, and generally make themselves comfortable. Since the cage is located in the common play areas, they may also visit the existing ferrets through the bars of the cage when those ferrets are out to play; which also lets you monitor interactions. Often, it is obvious if the new animal prefers a particular ferret in the existing group, or dislikes a particular animal – just by watching body language.
After a week or so of time to get their bearings, it is time for the initial introductions. If there was a particular animal that seemed to bond to the newcomer, I will introduce those 2. Otherwise, I will choose a mellow young male to introduce, since they seem to accept new animals into the business more readily. I will simply allow both animals loose in the common space to find each other – and monitor the interactions. If there is any hissing, spitting, running/chasing, hiding, or other visible signs of stress, I separate them and try again the next day with a different pairing. If there is simple sniffing and exploring, I will allow the pair out for 5-10 minutes before separating them. This process is repeated daily for as long as it takes for them to appear completely at ease with one another. This is usually obvious, for the animals only greet each other briefly, followed immediately by comfortable play, and eventually by curling up together for a nap.
As the comfort level between 2 animals increases, a new one from the business can be added to the play group – again, allowing the new animal and the existing to play as singletons, and then when they are comfortable as a pair, allowing all 3 animals to play. Only after all of the ferrets in the group are comfortable with each other should they be allowed to play together lightly supervised, or housed together.
Premature attempts to allow unsupervised play or living together could result in illness, injury, unhappy animals, and could prove fatal. However, with some careful planning, detailed observation of animal body language, and a little extra sensitivity, most animals can be successfully integrated over time. But the process isn’t instant, it can take upwards of a month before animals will begin to bond into a social structure. In general, it is ALWAYS better to make the introduction of a new ferret to the group very slowly than to rush the interaction. Once the animals have met and formed a negative impression of each other, it is very hard to close the barn door again – but if the introduction is made slowly on their terms, there is no extra hurdle to overcome.
Sandra Mitchell, DVM, DABVP (Feline Specialty and Exotic Companion Mammal Specialty) is the owner of Animal Medical Associates. She is also the only board certified feline specialist and exotic companion mammal specialist in either Maine or New Hampshire. Additionally, she is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the State of Maine.
Q - Hello, I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I've been having. I adopted 2 ferrets from a lady a few weeks ago and one is just fine with the others, but one doesn't seem to like them at all. He won't sleep with them and when they play he well bites their butt, like their actual pooper hole lol, and they scream and run away and he just keeps doing it! I've never seen this happen before and I've had 7 ferrets, including him and none of them ever did it? I was wondering if maybe you knew why he does this or maybe you've seen it before. I'm starting to get a little fed up with his mean behavior towards my other ferrets, and he constantly hisses at them too. I just don't know what to do I've never had this problem before?
A - Acclimating a new fur kid into a family usually takes upwards of 30 days, sometimes longer and sometimes it does not ever happen... I say 30 days because it usually takes 30 days for the new fur kid to know that this is his/her new home and they have a right to defend themselves if need be. There is a pecking order in all ferret families (business). Acclimating a new kid into many or even one is not an easy thing to do, the stress on all of them can be deadly (literally).
When you bring your new ferret(s) home you need to keep them far and away from the already established ferret family (business). Do not allow them to get near one another for at least a couple of weeks. They are already going to smell one another so there will be a minimal amount of stress in that, doing so could cause any one of them to stress to the point of needing medical attention. If this stress is not treated you can end up with a dead ferret!
Keep the new ferrets in an area they can run in without worrying about being beat up but the already established ferret(s). Keep the bedding that they came with in their cage for at least a coupe of weeks before you wash it... (If you get the ferret(s) from this shelter you will go home with enough bedding for one blanket a week for three weeks) The ferrets need to keep the hammock they came with as well. Once the new fur kids acclimate to their new home (Approximately 30 days, possibly more, maybe less) then you can change any and all bedding with little fear they will stress.
Introducing your ferrets to one another - do not allow more than one established ferret at a time in the same room with the new ferrets. I suggest you use the largest room you have to do the introducing, the more room they have the more likely they will become friends. I can only hazard a guess as to why this works it just does. The smaller the room the more problems you are going to have with the acclimation. This was a learning experience for me. DO NOT LEAVE THE ROOM! Under no circumstances should you ever just walk away from a new introduction. You will need to get the ferrets separated as soon as there is a fight - or confrontation - If you don't you will have some medical problems with one or all of the ferrets.
As the weeks progress you can start changing the bedding from the new cage group to the established cage group (do not wash it) meaning you take the bedding from the cage of the established group and put it into the new groups cage, and vise versa. Do this for a couple of weeks.
This helps to mingle the scents of all the ferrets and they get use to smelling each other. This sometimes works sometimes does not. You must understand that this new group may NEVER acclimate to the established group - especially when they come in multiples.
If you have a problem one-week with acclimating the groups don't try again for a week or so. You must give the ferrets time to adjust. They now have all new humans, rules, smells, and schedules. That is a lot to adjust to for a little body. Give them time and they will show you wondrous things.
If you have any problems you may contact me, I will do my best to help you and the ferret through this adjustment period. If you notice any dark, sticky stools CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY!!!
Follow up - Hi, I just wanted to let you know I did what you said and he is now getting along great with the others! Thanks a lot!
Q - I hope that you had a fantastic new year and I am sure you're probably super busy but I was just wondering if I could get an opinion from someone who loves ferrets just as much as I do. I currently have two ferrets, my girl is 2 and my boy is a little over 1. I've recently been looking into possibly rescuing or adding a new ferret to our family :) Luna (my girl) is extremely independent. I had gotten her when she was older and rescued her from a living environment that was not ideal. She has never been the cuddling type and always liked to do her own thing.
Earlier on, I had thought that she was maybe lonely and needed a playmate. That's where Jasper (my boy) came into the picture. He is a love bug at heart, always giving kisses and ready to curl up on your lap after a treat or two. He loves to play, and unfortunately I think he has way more energy then Luna would even like to give back. When she is up for playing with him, they play like all ferrets do, but she grows bored of him easily and goes off and leaves him to play with toys or myself.
I have talked to a few people I know that also own ferrets (most of them owning a pair like I do). I have mentioned that I am thinking of adding a third to the family, and I have heard reservations. I was just wondering what your opinion was on the things I heard and if you think that maybe Jasper would even benefit from having another playmate, or if Luna will then grow more distant if there were two others instead of just Jasper. I had heard that usually it's never all three of them playing together, but rather two of them, and then one off by themselves. Although I don't want one of my babies to feel alienated, Luna is so independent I am not sure if that would matter. Also, if I were to bring a new one into my house, and although I know the appropriate ways to acclimate a new ferret(s) to those that are already familiar to each other, I don't want my oldest girl to feel cornered or anything of the sorts.
I know you're surrounded by these amazing animals everyday, and see things I probably couldn't even imagine! But I was just wondering what you thought of the situation. Thank you so much for your time and input.
A - Hi Kristen - it sounds like they each of your fur kids have their own personalities just like we humans do. I am sure you know a friend or two that love to party and then other friends that would prefer some quiet time with a good book alone, ferrets are not unlike humans in that respect.
Yes it is a challenge to bring in a new ferret into a business so your friends that have told you this are correct - your reservations are justified - it is not easy to add a new ferret into a business.
I am of the opinion that Luna will go find things to do on her own and Jasper will no longer want to be the love bug he is. When you bring another ferret into a business you change the dynamic of the original business.
Yes it is pretty much a one-on-one there are times when a third will get into the mix but it is rare to have them play for long periods of time together.
The dynamic change will matter more to you than her I expect. Do you want to change either of them from what they are? Because they will change with a third ferret in the business.
You can not know if Luna will adjust or not until you do it. I have single ferrets here that had 3 others in their business, as each of the cage mates die the ones left do not want any others in their group. The single wants nothing to do with another ferret. I do not push that on them, they have a right to have me as their buddy.
Surrounded by fur kids 24/7/365 for the past 15 years, they are my love, my life and my passion. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I think you need to decide if you are happy with Jasper as a love bug. I suspect if you get him to acclimate with another ferret he will want to hang with them not you. Are you willing to forgo that? I am here if you wish more discussion on the subject.
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