Traveling While Fuzzy
This article was written by Debi Christy of the Ferrets First Foster Home, and reproduced with permission.
The First Step
Even the most “child care clueless” of us wouldn’t think of leaving the house with an infant without taking along a bottle and an extra diaper. That seems like a no-brainer. So, the first thing we attempt with ferrets is something similar; food and water bowls and a litter box. By the time you’ve gone 30 miles, you’ve got wet carpet (or upholstery), wet food, litter in the carpet (or upholstery), wet ferret bedding, and extremely offended ferrets (not to mention the annoyed person who’s going to have to clean it up).
Now, let’s back up to the real first step.
The First First Step
How’s the weather? How reliable is your vehicle’s air conditioning? Even if your car is brand new, your vehicle’s air conditioner is NOT reliable enough. It’s time to play “What if?”
- What if you get stuck in rush hour or construction traffic that crawls at 5 mph for 12 miles and your motor overheats and you can barely get to the side of the road, much less to an exit ramp?
- What if your teenager left the headlights on at the roadside rest area and now the battery’s dead and your car won’t start?
- What if your cell phone battery is dead and you can’t call for immediate help?
- What if it’s going to take the help you can call 30 minutes to get to you?
- What if one of the ferrets you have with you has insulinoma, is prone to seizures, and should have been home for medicine 30 minutes ago?
- What if it’s any/all of the above AND it’s 80 degrees in the shade?
Is this an emergency? Not if you did your homework. You get your ferret “diaper bag” out of the trunk & retrieve a couple of tube socks. From the cooler, also in the trunk (but sometimes in the back seat) you take a couple of frozen bottles of water and drop them into the socks. You put the bottles in ferret’s carrier where they gratefully snuggle up next to them. Then you get the medicine and a syringe out of the cooler to administer the necessary medication. While you’re waiting for the tow truck, you can knock back a soft drink or two (that were also in the cooler unless the aforementioned teenager beat you to them) and pour some fresh water into the bottom of the deep water bowl attached to the ferret’s carrier door. If there’s no breeze blowing, you might also consider lightly misting your fuzzies with the plant mister bottle of water, and setting up the small battery powered fan that was also in the diaper bag.
WOW! You put all that stuff together and loaded it into the car just to make a 1-hour long round trip?
Sure! Take the credit for being a Super Traveling Ferret Parent; you don’t have to admit you did it the easy way:
Becoming a Super Traveling Ferret Parent is actually just a simple one-time task of putting together a set of 3 traveling kits that will cover most any on-the-road ferret need.
Med Bag (kit #1):
If you have ferrets with medical problems especially, the very first kit you’ll need to assemble is the medical bag. Place a spare bottle of medicine in the bag. You only need a small amount for several doses. Other “meds” to keep in this bag are Benedryl, Emetrol, honey, and turkey or chicken baby food. Keep the whole bag, contents and all in your refrigerator. Keep “blue ice” type packets in your freezer.
The most convenient medical bag I’ve found to date is a simple soft-sided “lunch bag” type cooler. You’ll want one with room or a compartment for a freezer pack (Blue Ice, etc.)
Unless you have ferrets with medical conditions, this component of your ferret “travel kit” is often overlooked. But, if you travel frequently or for long distances (especially over-night trips) I strongly recommend assembling a med bag with a few basic ferret emergency meds. It’s not necessary to keep whole, new bottles/tubes. You can just put a bottle/tube that’s got a little left in your med bag. I do recommend that you write the date on the container with a waterproof marker so that you can more easily keep track of the freshness of your meds.
Recommended Contents and Reason for Inclusion
- Liquid Children’s Benedryl - Reaction to vaccinations on the way home from the vet’s, colds, flu
- Emetrol - To curb nausea caused by reaction to vaccine so that Benedryl will stay down!
- Honey / Karo syrup - First aid for insulinoma episodes. Condiment packs from restaurants work great.
- Chicken or Turkey baby food - High protein food to follow honey/karo treatment or as supplement food
- Container of ferret’s regular kibble - A good place to keep a secondary food source
- Laxatone or other Hair Ball Remedy - In case your ferret chews on something he shouldn’t
- Ferretone - In case you need to trim nails (or someone suffers a Ferretone deficiency)
- Oral syringe - To measure & administer meds
- Minimum of double the daily dosage of prescription medicines for each day of the scheduled trip - Compensate for spilled medicines, or unexpected days added to trip
- Kaopectate - For diarrhea, or as First Aid for internal bleeding
- Vet wrap (self adhesive Ace Bandage) & Popsicle sticks/tongue depressors - To bandage/immobilize injuries
- Instruction sheet/ferret photos - List uses & dosages of all meds for each ferret
Allergic Reactions & bad colds:
Hopefully, you’ll remain at the vet’s office for at least 45 minutes after a vaccination, and hopefully you will have pre-treated your ferret for two or three days before vaccination day to prevent reactions. But you & I both know that we don’t always do what we should… like when that dental appointment we’ve had scheduled for 6 weeks is right after the vet trip & we’re running late. Liquid Children’s Benedryl may buy you the time to get back to the vet’s. Benedryl can also be used for the stuffy noses of mild ferret flu. Your ferret can also have an unexpected allergic reaction to foods or molds away from home. Check with your vet for correct dosages for your ferret’s weight for both emergency reaction dosages and for stuffy noses.
Even if your ferret does NOT have insulinoma, you should be prepared to treat it, at home as well as on the road! Any ferret over the age of 3 is susceptible. The early symptoms are easily overlooked, especially when you’re packing for a trip. Many ferret owners don’t know their ferret has insulinoma until a seizure occurs. If you’re out on the interstate, an hour from a vet, the cure for a terrifying seizure could easily be a pack of honey from McDonalds and a jar of baby food. Emetrol also contains a lot of sugar & can be used for honey or Karo in a pinch. (Emetrol should not be used to treat the general mild nausea of insulinoma ferrets because of its high sugar content. It is preferable to control insulinoma symptoms by adjusting the medicine dosage and with high animal protein diet supplements. Sugar is commonly used in advanced stages of the illness, but not generally in the early stages.)
You should always have more than one container of your ferret’s food in the event someone spills Coke on the ferret’s carrier, soaking their food, or some unnamed fuzzy digs all the food out and poops on it. The med bag is usually closer at hand than the “Ferret Care Kit” (diaper bag).
Your vehicle’s interior is a lot like your living room… its contents change hourly. Plastic hair barrettes, pencils with erasers, your leather cell phone case, your checkbook, your lost set of keys with its rubbery key ring, peanuts you thought you’d put in your Coke… Hopefully, you’ll inspect under the seats before letting your ferret out of the carrier during rest stops. Otherwise, you’ll want to give your fuzzy generous amounts (two 1” ribbons) of hairball remedy every 2 or 3 hours after you’ve found parts of chewed rubbery items missing. You should continue the hairball remedy until you see the rubbery particles have passed in the poop, or it is obvious that there is no blockage problem. If nausea with narrow ("spagetti string") or runny poop develops within a few days after a chewing incident, you should immediately seek veterinary attention.
A bottle of Ferretone can be handy on trips. Not only do you have your fuzzies’ favorite “comfort treat” on hand, it can also come in handy at the vet’s to distract your ferret during various treatments. (Many vets use it to keep ferrets still during ultrasound testing rather than anesthesia. It reduces treatment time & medication expense.) You should keep the bottle in a Ziploc- type bag to avoid leaks.
If your ferret has any prescription medication, you should include twice the amount you should need for your usual trip. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll remember to get the bottle you use at home to carry with you, or that you’ll be back in time to give meds at home. There will come a time that you’ll forget, or be late. You are only human! Keep a second bottle of meds in the med bag. When your “home bottle” gets down to “med bag bottle” level, swap bottles to keep your med bag supply fresh.
Severe ferret injury is something we don’t generally think to plan ahead for. But, for some reason, when we get ready to travel with ferrets we think, “What if I have a car wreck and my ferret gets hurt?” By the numbers, you’re more likely to need first aid supplies at home because that’s where your ferret is most of the time, but it’s a good idea to equip your med bag for injuries, too.
The only bandage that’s going to have a chance of staying on a ferret is the self-adhesive Ace bandage type. It can be cut into narrow strips to bandage a leg or foot. Popsicle sticks make ideal splints to immobilize a broken leg before transporting to the vet. WATCH THE TEETH! It’s very likely that even the sweetest tempered ferret will bite you when it’s injured.
When traumatized, ferrets often do a REAL “panic poop”. This poop will be bloody. Traumatized ferrets will actually “shed” intestinal lining, causing the bloody poop. This does NOT mean there is internal bleeding. If there is internal bleeding seeping from the rectum, the blood will usually be a bright red and will be more continuous than just a one or two time poop. A severe vaccine reaction can cause the real panic poop, or getting stuck and unable to get free. A ferret that has had a bloody poop should see a vet immediately for trauma treatment.
For internal bleeding, the best first aid is large doses of Kaopectate; 5ml every 15 minutes until you reach the vet’s office. You can’t overdose Kaopectate it is a mechanical thickener, not a drug as is Immodium AD (which can also be administered to ferrets to treat diarrhea - check with your vet for dosage instructions).
Label everything. Label the med bag “Ferret Medicines/ First Aid. Store at 35-70 degrees Fahrenheit.” You may know what all this stuff is for… but if you’re in an ambulance... you can’t talk to whoever takes temporary custody of your pets. Include an instruction sheet enclosed in a Ziploc-type bag. Include a photo of all ferrets that may be traveling with you. List any prescription meds & dosages on the backs of the photos of ferrets requiring medications. List your vet’s contact information! List the names and contact information of friends or neighbors who will take temporary care of your pets. Many ferret shelters are willing to do this.
The Critical Cooler (kit #2):
If the weather is warm you’ll need an easily assembled cooler. Again, the soft-sided coolers work great. You can keep a 12 pack size cooler folded somewhere close to the refrigerator. Keep a 6 pack of frozen bottles of water in the freezer. When you open the freezer to get the freezer pack for the med bag, you can grab the 6 pack and drop it in the cooler.
Total cooler and med bag prep time from fridge to back door: less than a minute. The Ferret Care Kit (also known as: “diaper bag”) stays in your vehicle.
Don’t kid yourself that “it’s not all that hot outside”. Don’t take chances. The “what ifs” are infinite. Take the cooler and the med bag… if at any point on your trip, you would have to walk for more than 20 minutes to get into air-conditioning, you’re risking your ferret’s life.
An option to carrying two coolers is to place the med supplies in a watertight container and dropping that container into your larger cooler. This works well for short trips. The most common difficulty is keeping the med supplies dry. If you use only “contained” ice (Blue Ice, frozen bottles, etc.) this is much easier (and cheaper since you don’t have to buy ice).
Long trip cool solutions:
But on trips longer than 24 hours, your freezer packs and water bottles will have thawed to the point that you’ll have to replace them with bagged ice somewhere along the road. As bagged ice melts, however, you’ll get an accumulation of water in the cooler, your watertight med kit will begin to float, tip over, bump around, and possibly get opened and wet. And now, your cooling bottles have melted!
For your cooling bottles, use a wide mouth type bottle, such as Nestea or Power-Aid bottles. These bottles can be filled with chunks of ice from the bagged ice if necessary. A large heavy-weight trash bag (or compactor bag) will help contain water from melting bagged ice and will allow the ice chunks to spread out around the cooler contents without getting things wet.
The Ferret Care Kit or the “Ferret Diaper Bag” (kit #3):
This bag can be any kind of bag that will contain the amount of supplies needed for the number of ferrets that travel with you. I strongly recommend including a three-day supply of food and bottled water for each ferret. Allow 4 ounces of water per day per ferret. For longer trips you can just add a bag of food and a case of bottled water to your luggage.
This is where you’ll keep ferret care necessities such as paper towels, Ziploc bags, baby wipes, clean bedding, and heavyweight trash bags for the cooler. More importantly for ferret safety, it’s where you will store a spray bottle, a small battery powered fan, a flashlight, and spare batteries.
Ferrets can’t sweat. A ferret that is panting is ALREADY in heat distress. Blowing air must be COOLED air. It’s the air moving across the moisture of sweat that cools humans… not just the moving air. Since ferrets can’t sweat, we have to either provide refrigerated air (air conditioning) or moisture to simulate sweat. A plant spray/mist bottle can be used for this. Lightly spray your ferret and ruffle the moisture through his fur. Keep your ferret in the shade and a light breeze blowing directly on him.
When the temperature reaches 75 F. you should keep a close eye on your ferret’s comfort. Ferrets with insulinoma are especially sensitive to heat. If you wouldn’t want to be wearing long-sleeved clothing, it’s warm enough to be cautious of your ferret’s heat sensitivity.
There are other heat hazards to watch for while traveling. Sunlight shining through a window directly on your ferret’s carrier can heat up the carrier interior more than it affects the temperature outside of the carrier. A “baby shade” that attaches to the car window is another recommended addition to your Ferret Care Kit.
In some vehicles, the exhaust system is close enough to the vehicle’s floor pans to cause the carpeted floor inside the vehicle to be too warm for ferret comfort. Temperatures inside a carrier sitting directly on the floor will be hotter than outside. Place another piece of luggage, or some other item (books, folded blanket or quilt) under the carrier to provide insulation from floor pan heat.
Tube socks should be kept in the Ferret Care Kit. Frozen bottles should always be covered. The cloth absorbs condensation and makes the bottle more comfortable for the ferret.
Even if you already have a flashlight in the glove box, keep a second one in the Ferret Care Kit. That flashlight in the glove box always seems to have a dead battery after you get 20 miles from home.
Your Ferret Care Kit should include health and rabies certificates for all ferrets that travel with you. If you are traveling across state lines you should obtain a current health certificate from your vet the week prior to your trip.
Another critical document to include is a copy of “Ferret Emergency Care Instructions.” A sample sheet is included at the end of this article. This gives a temporary caregiver the basic knowledge needed to adequately care for your pets. You should also tape a copy of “Ferret Emergency Care Instructions” in a Ziploc bag on your ferret’s carrier/cage.
Documents should be enclosed in a large Ziploc bag for protection. Label a luggage tag “Ferret Medical Care and Certificates” and attach it to the Ferret Care Kit in addition to a large label “Ferret Care Kit”. Make sure that the “Ferret Care Kit” label is clearly visible at first glance among your luggage. It is highly probable that whoever takes custody of your ferrets won’t know to purposely search for it!
Create your own care sheet from this sample
Emergency Ferret Care Instructions
Heat Sensitivity: Prolonged exposure to temperatures above 78° can be fatal to ferrets. Panting is not normal. Panting is a symptom of heat distress. Keep ferrets in refrigerated or water cooled air flow or place cloth wrapped ice (like frozen bottles) in cage. Ferrets can not sweat: air flow must be cooled.
Food/Water: Keep food and water available at all times. Preferred food is Totally Ferret or Iams Kitten (Dry) Formula. Their basic food should be high protein (35%+) and high animal fat (26%+). Ferrets cannot sufficiently metabolize vegetable protein or fat to derive ANY nutrition. Cat food is inadequate.
Medicines: Ferrets may be given Pedialyte for dehydration, Emetrol, or Pepcid AC for upset stomach, children’s Triaminic for colds/flu, and children’s Benadryl when an antihistamine is necessary, Nutrical in case of serious illness or nutritional deficiency.
Emergency Kit: If ferrets are outside their home-town of Hometown, USA, there will be a clearly labeled Ferret Care Kit and a cooler with ice located near the carrier or in the owner’s vehicle. The kit contains first aid supplies, food, and water. A small cooler labeled “Medicines” may also be present. A vehicle description with door keys is located inside the carrier’s luggage tag (or taped to carrier roof).
Primary Vet #1:
Dr. Mustela, D.V. M., P. C.
101 Main St, Anytown, USA
(800) 555-1212 or (123) 456-7890 (emergency)
Primary Vet #2:
Excellent Animal Hospital
123 Broadway, Anytown, USA
Vaccinations: Rabies & Canine Distemper vaccinations on these ferrets are kept current. Copies of current certificates are in the Ferret Care Kit.
1. Mr. & Mrs. Great Neighbor #1
Their City, State
Home: phone number
Work: work number
2. Mr. & Mrs. Great Neighbor #2
Their City, State
Home: phone number
Work: work number
Their City, State
Home: phone number
Work: work number.
Important Care Notes:
NO, FERRETS DON’T BITE!!! (unless injured or frightened, like all other pets!)
Ferrets cannot be disciplined by hitting or spanking! It is translated as aggression. 15 to 30 minute confinement is the most effective means of discipline for ferrets. Ferrets require social interaction with care-givers. They should have 2 play periods outside their cage daily, with attention from humans.
Ferrets can catch a cold or flu from humans. Normal temperature is around 102°, rectal. If their ears can fit in a hole or crack, they can get their entire body through it! Although they love to chew on rubber & foam, the chewed particles can cause intestinal blockages. Take away any items that can be ingested. They can run faster than you. Keep leashed outside. Ferrets cannot survive in the wild! Do not use clumping type litter. It can be fatal to ferrets. Do not use pine litter or bedding. Ferrets have short digestive cycles, 3 to 4 hours. They will use the bathroom within 15 minutes after waking. They prefer to back up into a corner for this. Then they will eat, or play then eat, and return to sleep. They should eat each waking period! They will sleep approximately 16 hours a day
The Second Step
Ferret proofing your vehicle:
Remember crawling around on the floor of your ferret’s play area in the house looking for hazards? Now you get to do that in your vehicle. Even if you don’t plan to allow your ferret to ever run free in the car… you STILL need to ferret proof your vehicle. You MUST be aware and forewarned of the ferret hazards in your vehicle!
You’re going to be looking for many of the same ferret dangers. Number one on the list is foam rubber.
Under the seats:
Stand on your head and look up at the underside of your car seats. Is the foam rubber padding of the seat visible anywhere? If so, it needs to be made inaccessible. The most drastic (but most effective) method is to take the seat out of the car (usually four bolts with nuts on the underside of the car) and cover the foam with a sheet or other cloth or aluminum screen wire (plastic screen wire is easily shredded by ferrets). Many times you can pull material between the spring wires and the foam to effectively cover the foam. If you don’t mind standing on your head as much as you dislike the idea of removing the car seats, you can do this with the seats in the car.
While you’re looking under the seats, look for overlapping sections of carpeting. Most car carpeting is in two sections that overlap under the front seat. You’ll need to tape down this overlap (clear packaging tape works very well) to prevent your ferret from tunneling under to play in the carpet padding. Auto carpet padding is usually not foam, but it makes a terrible mess when shredded.
Look for removable soft plastic bolt covers. You’ll have to remove them. If you don’t, your ferret will. Look for sharp edges, fraying cloth (trim dangling strings), wire points. Duct tape over anything that could “grab” a fuzzy on the run (or a human hand trying to grab a fuzzy on the run!).
An alternative to under-the-seat ferret proofing is to block off that area so that the ferrets can’t get to it. Aluminum screen wire can be used to form barriers on all four sides of the seat, yet still allow the seat to move on its runners. TEST your barrier in the driveway… not on a trip!
You’ll want to completely prevent access to the area under the rear seat. It’s a real hassle to have to take out the rear seat to retrieve a fuzzy on a trip. And, additionally, many rear seats have access holes to the trunk compartment in the seat back.
Under the dash:
While you’re standing on your head, look under the dash. There’s all sort of neat, ferrety exploring places there! Aluminum screen wire works great here, too. It can be tucked in so that it’s not visible from above, yet it prevents your ferret from doing any impromptu creative re-wiring.
Now, for the really tough part: You’re going to have to clean up your act. Popcorn & peanuts under the seat is a no-no. Keep ink pens with rubber grips and pencils in the glove compartment. Get out of the habit of laying your cell phone in the seat. Those antennas and leather cases are tasty & it only takes a second for the fuzzy to snatch it and disappear under the seat. Keep ashtrays containing ashes and cigarette butts closed. Most ferrets have a fetish for tobacco that should NOT be humored.
Keep purses and other bags closed. You’re almost always going to have something in a bag that your ferret shouldn’t have. And, once they’ve been totally explored, they make a great nap spot. You may suddenly discover that your ferret is NOT peacefully napping in your idling auto just the other side of the restaurant window. Most diners don’t CARE that a ferret is not a rodent, nor does it matter that your ferret might be cleaner and more up to date on its vaccinations than their human children… … they STILL don’t want it in the restaurant. (And there are laws concerning restaurant health codes as well).
The Third Step
The first thing to consider with pet carriers is how to tie them down. No matter how carefully you drive, there WILL be a time that you’ll need to brake suddenly enough to send your ferret’s “car seat” flying.
For most small carriers, a seat belt can be passed through the carrier handle and buckled. For larger carriers you will need a small “ratchet strap”. Hook ratchet strap hooks to something secure; seat brackets, seat frame, etc.
For long trips, you might even consider a carrier large enough for a small litter box or a small cage. (Pet carriers provide little or no protection in a vehicle accident.) Ferrets are creatures of habit. Having familiar items with them on a trip reduces stress considerably. You should use the pet carrier or small cage at home for various periods of time before the first trip to familiarize your ferret with his “home away from home”.
Hang a hammock in the carrier. Hammocks can be hung with shower curtain hooks or plastic rings. The hammock provides shock absorption for all those starts, stops, and cornering. It also provides a dry bed in the event water gets spilled or someone “misses” the box.
Don’t use litter in the litter box. Three or four paper towels are sufficient to absorb moisture. The soiled paper towels are easy to gather up to be placed in a Ziploc bag for sanitary disposal. Wiping the litter box with a baby wipe will prevent ammonia from forming on the litter box surface. A small amount of floral putty (available at craft stores or your florist) will secure the litter box to the carrier floor. If you’re using a cage, binder clips (in the paper clip/stationary department at Wal-Mart) or plastic clothes hanger clips (also at Wal-Mart) will secure the box to the cage. Use two clips per litter box.
Allow one litter box per three ferrets. More than three ferrets in one carrier is an overload on the litter box, hammock, and stretching room, not to mention weight of the occupied carrier. Maintenance is considerably harder to manage if you’re trying to keep more than three ferrets from slipping out of the carrier while you change soiled paper towels.
A large birdcage type bowl is best for a water bowl. They attach firmly to the carrier door and they are usually deeper than the bowls that come with the carrier. Fill the bowl only 1/3 full to avoid splashed spills. Water bottles cannot be used because each bump makes the bottle drip, eventually overfilling the water cup below it. The food bowl should also have a fixed attachment so that your annoyed or bored ferret can’t “remodel” his “hotel room”.
The Fourth Step
Extra planning for long trips: If your trip is long enough to require an overnight stay you’ll need to make some additional travel arrangements.
Call ahead to find hotels that allow pets.
Most hotel beds cannot be ferret proofed. Most of them have box springs that rest on 4”-6” tall base boxes constructed of wood to prevent you from losing items under the bed. This would be an excellent ferret barrier IF the base box was at the solid outside edges of the box spring BUT… they usually are not. They are recessed toward the center of the bed enough that a ferret can slip over the top of the box and get INSIDE the base box. In some cases the box springs are even screwed or otherwise attached to the base box, requiring hotel management assistance to retrieve your fuzzy.
Some hotel rooms have built-in tables and chests that cannot be moved to retrieve a ferret that has discovered a way to get behind or under it. Again, hotel management will frown at you, or you’ll spend a variable period of time trying to bribe your ferret out of each new hidey-hole.
Many hotel rooms have the bathroom area adjoining the bedroom area with an open doorway. A ferret gate (also known as a baby gate that has been modified to work with ferrets) can be used to block off the bathroom area as a play area for your ferret. It’s something of a hassle to drag around with you on a trip, but your ferrets will greatly appreciate the freedom of unfettered romping and you won’t feel guilty for depriving them of playtime.
If you’re traveling more than an 8-hour drive from your vet, it’s a good idea to know where to find a ferret knowledgeable vet along the way. Internet ferret message boards can be a great source for locating ferret-experienced vets. If you can’t find a ferret vet, at least locate a vet or emergency clinic. If necessary, you can have them call your regular vet to consult. Keep the phone numbers of the clinic(s) you’ve located with the ferret’s carrier/cage, NOT in the glove box of the car (that may be somewhere else while you and the ferrets are at Grandma’s house).
Step Five: On the road
Now that you’ve got it all together and you’ve tested your ferret proofing in the driveway, you’re ready for a trial run. Place the open travel carrier or cage in your ferret’s play area for several days, completely stocked with paper towels, food, water, hammock, & a toy or two. You might even find your fuzzy curled up in his new space at the end of the playtime.
Take your ferret on several short trips before setting out cross-country. Put the carrier in the vehicle and strap it down before putting your ferret inside. The ferret and yourself should be the last things to load in the vehicle for the first few trips. Knowing that he hasn’t been “left” somewhere alone is a big comfort to your ferret.
The first couple of trips needn’t be anything more exciting than a trip to the ATM or the McDonald’s drive thru. The purpose is simply to assure your ferret that after being in the car for a while, he’ll go back home to “his” territory.
The next trips should be 30 to 45 minutes; long enough for your fuzzy to get bored and go to sleep. These trips are confidence builders. Your ferret is learning that “the car thing” is just a temporary variation from his usual routine… ferrets are creatures of habit… make changes to his routine slowly to avoid stress.
By now, your car’s interior is just an addition to “his” territory. Long trips should have stops every 3 or 4 hours. Plan 15 minutes breaks into your travel schedule. Your ferret will want to get out of his carrier during stops. You have two choices. Let him out inside the car, or outside the car.
Develop the habit of staring at the bottom of the door opening whenever you open and/or close the door. You can look around before the door is opened and after it’s closed. NEVER open more than one door at a time if ferrets are loose inside the car.
No, you’re not normally expecting to be driving with a ferret somewhere on the floor, but when (not if) your ferret escapes while his carrier is opened for box cleaning or treats or whatever… PULL OVER TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND STOP. Don’t try to help track down a loose ferret while you’re driving. ANY squeak or squeal can WAIT until the car is stopped!
If you’re going to let your ferret exercise out of the car, invest the $15 or so in an H-style, plastic snap closure harness. This is the only type harness that is effective for ferrets. This is something else your ferret should become familiar with at home in the play area. Adjust the neck strap so that it will barely slip over the ferret’s ears. Adjust the chest strap so that your index finger will just barely slip under it. Keep the other end of the leash attached to a human hand. They CAN and WILL slip out of the harness. Remove the leash while they are in their carrier/cage.
Don’t let your ferret walk in or drink standing water. It could contain parasites that will infect your ferret. Don’t let your ferret sniff other animal droppings for the same reason. Don’t allow your ferret to enter culverts or holes… you don’t know what might be living there.
Check asphalt or concrete surfaces for heat before letting your ferret down. Avoid oil, antifreeze, gasoline, or any unidentifiable puddle. Immediately clean any such chemicals from your ferret’s feet or fur.
Be VERY cautious in allowing strangers to touch your ferret. In many states it is not necessary to have a visible wound to file a rabies complaint. You should always keep ferret rabies vaccinations current for this reason alone. Animal control officials have been known to destroy ferrets even though the owner had proof of vaccination! Many county and city ordinances leave this decision to the discretion of the animal control officer. Don’t take chances!
Be even MORE cautious of people who say, “I’ve got ferrets, too”. The ECE virus can be transmitted from their clothing to infect your ferret. ADV (Aleutians Disease Virus) can also be transmitted through indirect contact, but not as easily as ECE. It is more commonly transmitted by direct contact.
Drive thru fast food is the simplest traveling diet. If you must stop at a restaurant to eat, park where you can watch and hear your vehicle, preferably in the shade. Leave the motor running… If you have even the slightest doubt, place covered ice packs (bottles) in your ferret’s carrier. BE SURE to take door keys inside with you! I VERY strongly recommend that you use a Hide-A-Key device to conceal a door key under a bumper or fender well.
The temperature in a car parked in the sun without air conditioning running can rocket to 100+ degrees in minutes, even though the outside temperature feels cool. Even though you can see the vehicle through the window, go out to the vehicle every 15 minutes to verify that the motor is not overheating or that the fuzzies haven’t escaped the carrier and are trying to reach the gearshift. You should never leave any animal in a parked car without the motor running and the a/c on unless an adult human is with them. A slightly opened window may serve only as an escape route. Remember, a ferret can easily jump two feet to catch hold of the window’s top edge. The distance from the top of the front seat’s back to the top of a window is considerably less than that.
With some serious travel planning, you can call ahead to a restaurant and place a take out order. Then you can stop at a park and have a picnic with “real” food.
Hotels & Grandma’s House:
Any new play area, whether it’s a hotel room or a bedroom at Grandma’s House MUST be carefully checked for ferret hazards. Unlike at home, you can’t install anti-ferret protection. You should never leave your ferret unattended out of his carrier away from home. Period. Again, the “what ifs” are infinite. You know to be aware of the possibilities of escape and injury. The other people at Grandma’s house, or staff at the hotel, do not.
Ferret proofing Hotel Rooms:
- As mentioned earlier in this article, hotel beds usually cannot be ferret proofed. Look under the bed to determine the bed’s base construction before letting your ferret out of his carrier… that’s the first place they go to explore.
- Look under and behind the room’s furniture to determine if you’ll be able to retrieve a ferret. Look for holes in the wall behind furniture!
- Check the room’s heat/air unit. Are there holes or vents large enough for a ferret to squeeze into? If you have any doubt… the largest hole should be no larger than the size of your ferret’s cage wire.
- Does the heat/air unit have areas that are too hot for a ferret to touch? (Most don’t for toddler’s safety, but check, anyway.)
- Check for rubber tipped doorstops on doors and walls. You can cover them with clear packaging tape or duct tape if necessary.
- Keep the TV remote out of ferret reach.
- If your ferret is an electrical cord chewer, unplug and secure cords while your ferret is out.
- If there’s a rubber mat in the bathtub, hang it over the shower curtain rod.
- Keep the toilet lid closed. If there is no lid, place a large piece of luggage over the toilet while your ferret is out.
- CLOSE your luggage!
- Put the trashcan on a counter the ferret can’t reach.
- Don’t stack luggage where a ferret can use it as a ladder to reach the trashcan or makeup bag on the counter.
- Don’t leave Styrofoam cups or food containers sitting around! The smell of soft drinks will attract your very persistent ferret to attempt remarkable feats of mountaineering. Empty cups can be blown onto the floor when the door is opened or closed.
Don’t allow your ferret to dig at the carpeting. DON’T punish him for doing it! It is an instinct that cannot be disciplined or trained out of a ferret. Clean up ferret poop accidents immediately.
If possible, confine your ferret to the bathroom area with a pet gate for hotel room play. If this is not possible, take your ferret outside for play times.
Ferret proofing Grandma’s House:
Ferret proofing at a friend or relative’s house will be similar to ferret proofing at home. Since you are only visiting, you will not be correcting hazards. You MUST know where and what they are in the home you are visiting. Being aware of the potential hazards is a matter of your ferret’s life or death. You should carefully scrutinize ALL rooms… even though your ferret will only be allowed out in one room… just as you should do at home.
Each hazard on the following list has been included because someone’s ferret escaped or was injured or killed. Only time and experience will tell you which hazards apply to each individual ferret.
In ALL rooms check for:
- Windows close to the floor or that can otherwise be reached must always be closed
- Screens - Plastic screens can easily be ripped open by a ferret
- Weather stripping around exterior doors
- Holes in the wall
- Space under closed doors should be less than 1”.
- Cabinets and drawers – most ferrets can open a cabinet door or drawer. Check for openings to interior walls inside cabinets.
- Air conditioning/heating vents and return air vents
- Rubber doorstops
- Spaces beside refrigerator and other appliances allowing access into mechanism or electrical hazards.
- Dryer vent/plastic dryer vent hose… the #2 most common ferret escape route. (#1 is slipping past the person going out the front/back door)
- Any and all furniture cushions. Check for rips that expose foam.
- Rubber feet or soft buttons on telephones
- TV Remote controls with soft buttons
- Pagers, cell phones, electronic games with soft buttons
- Pencils, rubber gripped pens, & eraser
- House plants - most are toxic
- Plant stands- check for V-shaped intersections of metal tubing that could “hang” a jumping/falling ferret.
- Rugs with rubber backing
- Lamps and dangling cords allowing ferrets to pull them down
- Figurines, pictures, ashtrays, and all small items on end/coffee tables- If it can be reached, it will be moved
- Aquariums – Ferrets don’t usually bother fish… but they will play in the water, snorkeling in it or drinking it. Ferrets should NOT be allowed to drink aquarium water. Ferrets ARE NOT FISH EATERS AND CANNOT SWIM WELL
- Electric extension cords, power strips, surge protectors – tape over any unused outlets that a ferret might walk across or step on to prevent toenails from slipping into slots
- Fireplaces – wire mesh fire screens CAN be climbed
- Assisted walking items such as crutches/walkers (foam or rubber parts, bases)
- Pet doors – escape route for ferrets
- Baby gates – plastic meshing is almost always large/small enough for a ferret to get stuck
- Toys – soft rubber toys, rubber dog/cat toys, chewable baby toys
- Recliners/rockers/hide-a-beds - all dangers due to movement and internal mechanisms. RECLINERS ARE THE #1 KILLER OF FERRETS IN THE USA.
- Keep toilet lid CLOSED. Ferrets cannot climb out once they’ve fallen in. FERRETS CANNOT SWIM WELL BECAUSE THEY TIRE VERY QUICKLY.
- Access to the counter top. Can the toilet or other fixture be climbed to reach within a 2 foot jump to the counter?
- Sponges, even makeup applicators
- Toilet paper – makes a great “bomb”… “explodes” well… but the cardboard tube is deadly. Keep the toilet paper on the dispenser, not on a counter or on top of the toilet tank. Ferrets have died from getting their head stuck in the tube, breaking their neck in panic trying to escape.
- Rubber tub mat
- Rubber backed rugs
- Dressers, Chests, nightstands – if the ferret can gain access to the drawers from the bottom, contents of ALL the drawers must be ferret safe.
- Bed box springs – if the bottom of the box springs is uncovered, ferrets can get into the springs and be crushed when someone sits or lies down on the bed.
- Accessible waterbed vinyl.
- V-shaped intersections of metal of headboards and footboards for that could “hang” a falling or bouncing ferret
- Closet – sneakers, thongs, and rubber insoles are an intestinal blockage hazard.
- Baby bottle nipples
- Stuffed animals (rubber nose/eyes/feet) or exposed foam or bead stuffing
- Mouse pads
- Directional balls, scroll wheel on mouse
- Foam wrist pad
- Rubber bands
- Rubber stamps
- A desk chair left too close to the desk makes a great ladder for a ferret!
- Other visitors, biting – a baby’s skin has the same texture of the rubber ferrets love to chew. NEVER leave a ferret in the room with a baby!
- Small children with candy on their fingers or faces are also a potential bite problem. It’s instinct… NOT malice or aggression!
- Unfamiliar fingers stuck through the cage wire can be mistaken as a threat. Many ferrets have been needlessly killed due to the negligence and/or misunderstanding of parents.
- Doors – YOU may be used to watching for ferrets as you go in and out of doors, but the residents of the home you’re visiting are not.
- Unauthorized handling – It is very strongly recommended that you place a small LOCK on the cage/carrier door(s) when you will be away from your ferrets, especially when there are small children in the home.
Definition of “out of reach”:
Ferrets are very smart and very, very, very persistent creatures. Ferrets will climb up one thing to another thing to another thing and jump up to two feet to reach their goal. They seem to have no fear of going up and no concept of falling in the process. Out of reach means not only physically farther than they can stretch, it also means that there’s no “ladder” they can use to get to it. In most households, things get moved around daily. A backpack dropped beside a table, a coat slung over a chair back, a laundry basket set down beside a bookcase are all ladders to potential death.
The last word and the bottom line:
Your ferret’s safety is your responsibility. Don’t expect the family you are visiting to baby-sit your ferret, not even “for just a minute.” Don’t expect them to take even repeated warnings seriously. They won’t. Even with the best intentions, they won’t. Even with many years of experience with other animals, they won’t.
Plan ahead, keep it simple, enjoy your trip.