Author: Haley Pearson | The Modern Ferret
Over the past ten years, I have owned five ferrets and babysat countless others. My home has been both a sanctuary and an amusement park for these amazing, mischievous, and incredibly social creatures. And in that time, through trial and error, I have learned some best practices (and worst ones) when introducing new ferrets.
Depending on the ferrets involved (and several other factors I’ll discuss later), ferret introductions can either be easy and quick or long and tedious. Ultimately the goal of this article is to provide comfort and safety for all ferrets living in your home.
This article will teach you:
- Factors that complicate/affect ferret introductions
- A proposed ferret introduction schedule and set up
- Extra tips I’ve used to ease ferret introductions
Factors that Affect Ferret Introductions
Just like people, the unique personality of a ferret comes from various aspects of their lives, not the least of which being age, sex, and what their previous home life looked like. Illnesses can also affect a ferret’s temperament and ability to properly socialize. Factors that affect introductions between ferrets include:
- Age of Ferrets
- Sex of Ferrets
- Previous Home
- Untreated Health Problems
Age of Ferrets
A young ferret from a breeder or pet store is going to have a distinctly different energy level than a geriatric ferret, so trying to form a bond between them may be a bit more of a challenge than pairing two middle-aged ferrets together. A young ferret is looking to climb, jump, and explore with his new friend, while the other ferret is most likely just looking for a nap buddy.
Sex of Ferrets
In my experience, neutered male ferrets (like you get at the pet store) seem to be more docile and calm than females. When I brought home a female companion for my first ferret, Moose, he became extremely stressed by how high-strung she was. She dooked constantly as she walked and often hassled Moose. Even though I practiced some of the gentle introduction techniques I will be teaching in this article, Moose still exhibited stress behaviors after months together like overeating and hiding. Luckily I was able to find a different forever home for her, with two loving parents that were looking to replace a female ferret they had lost the previous year.
Another factor that could affect a ferret’s ability to successfully be introduced to a new housemate is if prior to that he or she lived alone for a long period of time. Moose lived alone (with me as his constant playmate) for the first 3 years of his life. When I brought home two more ferrets, it took him quite a bit longer to adjust. He didn’t especially love sharing his toys, food, or favorite sleep spots!
Untreated Health Problems
Lastly, untreated health problems like adrenal disease can cause a ferret to become more reactive and sexually aggressive, which can affect a ferret’s ability to successfully be introduced to a new friend.
Introducing New Ferrets: A Schedule
One of the biggest mistakes a ferret owner can make is rushing the introduction process. It is helpful to introduce ferrets in specific stages and look for indications that it may be time to slow it down.
Step 1: Necessary Quarantine Before Introduction
Introducing new ferrets takes time and patience. Even though you may want to have them meet immediately, the first stage actually involves preparing your home to successfully quarantine each ferret in separate areas of the house. Ideally the ferrets are housed in separate cages, and in separate rooms. I recommend doing this for one to two weeks. This is a great way to protect your original ferret from any bugs or illnesses your new ferret could be bringing into your home. Also, this is the same protocol I recommend for bringing home your first ferret anyway. A new home is an unfamiliar, scary place, and it is important that your new ferret feel safe and settled before they are thrust into a totally new ferret friendship as well.
Step 2: Switch Toys and Bedding
After you feel safe about your new ferret sharing your home, it’s a great time to start sharing ferret cage accessories between your two furry friends. A ferret’s body produces oils and odor and when they sleep in hammocks, blankets, and old t-shirts, their scent is absorbed into the fabric. By taking one ferret’s sleep items and putting them into another ferret’s home, they can slowly become familiar with another animal’s presence without even meeting them. It’s a gentler approach than skipping right to an in-person introduction.
The same thought process can be applied to enrichment items like the Lettuce Forage Mat and the Corner Fleece Hideout.
Important note: keep the original cage with the original ferret (and if you are using separate rooms too, keep them consistently in the same one). This will teach both of your ferrets, “Even though I smell somebody new, I can still find my original place of safety.”
Bonus idea: Remove one ferret from its cage and playroom (and put them elsewhere for a bit). Let your new ferret explore the old ferret’s space without him or her tagging alongside. That will give the new ferret the ability to investigate their new home with a posture of delight and excitement, rather than fear and stress.
Step 3: Meet on Neutral Ground
This is a common technique for introducing dogs as well as many other animals. It is so important that new ferrets meet where neither has an advantage or claim over an area. That way the focus is on exploring their new surroundings and each other, rather than one ferret defending his territory and seeing his new friend as a trespasser. I like to do this for about 15 minutes at first, then each following day lengthening it all the way up to one hour.
Bonus idea #1: Fill the neutral play area with enrichment opportunities, like the Customizable Play Place. This can inspire opportunities to play and explore together. It is important that these items are either brand new or deeply cleaned so they don’t carry the scent of either ferret.
Bonus idea #2: Feel free to reward each ferret for being brave and open to meeting a new friend. Offer treats to each individually, like Oxbow’s Real Prey Rewards. This will help grow a positive association between interacting with their new friend and constant rewards.
Bonus idea #3: Another technique I’ve found is placing salmon oil on the back of the neck of both ferrets. This seems to encourage social grooming behavior.
Ideally, you can provide this short play time on neutral ground twice a day for one week.
Step 4: Return to Safety
After successfully introducing ferrets for the first time, it may feel like a natural next step to place them in the same ferret cage or room and call it a day. They proved they get along so they must be best friends now, right? Wrong! Rushing this process can lead to aggressive behavior and antagonistic relationships, especially if the place you eventually hope to house them in is currently the home of only one of your ferrets. He or she may not be ready to give this newcomer access to all the food, toys, and space they freely enjoy all to themselves.
Each ferret will need a bit more time to start seeing the other as a safe, fun friend that will eventually become a family member.
Step 5: Secondary Introductions
After your ferrets have established a friendly dynamic in their neutral play zone for about one week, it may be time to allow each ferret to explore the other’s cage and belongings. You can first do this without the other ferret present. Then, during a ‘round two’, you can allow both ferrets to explore the space together. Remember: at this point, they have already had all their bedding and toys mixed and swapped to share their combined scents throughout the house.
This is the stage that will indicate whether or not your ferrets are ready to be housed together. It is perfectly fine to keep separate housing areas until your ferrets truly seem ready for this.
How Long Does It Take Ferrets to Bond?
How long does it take for ferrets to bond? This is highly dependent upon the factors outlined in the beginning of this article as well as the even more unique personality quirks of your two ferrets. On average though, and in my experience, it seems to take about one month for ferrets to see one another as part of the ‘business’ (fun fact: a group of ferrets is called a ‘business’ instead of a ‘pack’).
When done correctly though, introducing a new ferret to your family will benefit and enrich the lives of everyone involved, including you, your current ferret, and your newest furry friend!
About the Author: Haley Pearson is the founder of The Modern Ferret, a global social media community centered around celebrating ferrets and educating new ferret owners. Her Youtube channel has almost 60,000 subscribers and she runs a Tiktok account with over 900,000 followers! Haley lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her rescue ferret, Elijah. When she isn’t making Youtube videos about ferrets Haley loves to serve at her local church.