Children and Ferrets
Most rescues do not recommend having a ferret with young children (under 10). There are several reasons as noted below. This rescue does adopt to families with children. I just like for everyone to be aware of the dangers. These dangers apply to children of any age.
Every parent says they will not let their children be around or hold the ferret, but a parent can’t watch a child all the time. Otherwise, we would never have accidents happen that end up with hospital or doctor visits.
When considering adding a ferret to a home with children in it, please know:
Ferrets will eat nearly anything small dropped on the floor and get intestinal blockages. Kids drop stuff on the floor all the time. It’s impossible to catch everything they drop. This can mean life or death to a ferret. I’ve known of ferrets that have eaten and got blockages from a small metal spring, a Lego, pieces of cloth from a hammock (because they were bored), doll clothes, etc.
Ferrets get ulcers easily from stress. Stress can be from being handled too much, being handled the wrong way a lot, too much noise, too much activity around it and so on. Ulcers are very hard to treat and many ferrets end up dying from them. Noise needs to be kept to a minimum with no screaming and no loud music or TV. The ferret should not be handled much by young children and only with adult supervision. The ferret needs to have at least 16 hours of quiet time each day (at different times of day) where there aren’t people around it.
Ferrets can catch the flu and bacterial infections from humans. This can often mean death to a ferret.
Any animal will bite if something happens that it doesn’t like. So, if the ferret is pressed too hard, held too long, not allowed to go where it wants to go, etc., it may bite the person. Young people do not always recognize or care when they are doing these things.
Most ferrets do bite some when they are playing. Young people usually can’t tell what’s a bad bite and a play bite and sometimes the ferret bites hard when playing. None of the ferrets in the rescue bite, except for playing, but I have bite marks on my hands and arms from when they get playing too rough.
It is very easy for a person to injure a ferret and not mean to. Rescues get a lot of injured ferrets in and nearly all of those injuries were caused by teens or children and usually by accident. Ferrets are so fast and wiry, they get out of hands fast and fall to the floor or run past as a person is walking and get accidentally kicked. As an example, another rescue did a ferret education day at a school. The teacher was holding the ferret and it wiggled out of her hands and fell to the floor. It died. This is much more likely to happen to a child.
Ferrets are very fast and very, very good at escaping. Kids are bad about closing doors behind them or closing them tightly. A ferret will always investigate a door that has been opened and will escape if it can. Once out, it can be very difficult to find them, if at all.
Young people tend to respond to peer pressure. While your child may be good around the ferret, the child’s friend may not be and can hurt the ferret or pressure your child into doing something that shouldn’t be done.
Ferrets with Older Children
An older child is going to begin dating, working, have extra-curricular activities at school, and possibly going to college or moving out, which means they will likely not have the time nor interest for the ferret any more. Please consider all these things when making a decision.
Many times a ferret is considered as a pet for a child or teenager because the child promises to take care of it. In my experience, about 95% of the time the parent ends up caring for the ferret and not the child. The number one reason ferrets are surrendered to rescues is because a child didn’t keep on top of cleaning and caring for the pet.
Caring for the ferret includes cleaning out the litter boxes at least twice a day, cleaning up accidents that WILL happen, changing out and washing the hammocks and beds weekly, washing the litter boxes weekly, daily feeding and watering, and making sure the ferret gets enough play time and stimulation (minimum two x a day out of the cage, total of five hours or more).
Think ahead – is the child likely to lose interest in the ferret or not want to take care of it because he or she is going to get involved in school activities, having a job, or dating? This is a commitment of five years or more.
I always tell people, if you have to get on to your child to clean their room, take out the trash, etc., then the child is not going to properly care for the ferret. Please be absolutely certain the parent is willing to clean up after the ferret and provide the play time and stimulation it needs, before bringing one into the household.
One family made a deal with their pre-teen daughter. She had to keep her grades up for two semesters, raise $200 to cover a vet bill and volunteer at the rescue until I thought she was ready to handle a ferret on her own. Whenever she volunteered, she had to do things like she would with a ferret at home – clean out litter boxes, sweep up the floor, change hammocks out, wash cages, toys and litter boxes, etc. Each time I would point out messes she left behind, like litter that fell on the floor when she was scooping the litter pan, fur and spilled food she missed when sweeping, debris under things she missed when cleaning up, etc. After a few times volunteering, she decided against getting a ferret. She saw how much work there was to keeping everything clean so that bugs and a smell didn’t become a problem.
Ferrets with Small Children
A friend of mine has a three year old son. She has two ferrets that she had before she had the child. She sent me this message. My son just turned three and he LOVES our ferrets . . but they are terrible pets for young children! I have to watch him every second when they are together, as he doesn’t understand how fragile they are or why they don’t want to sit and play with his cars. Likewise, the ferrets love to chase and jump around him, but no matter what – ferrets have sharp nails that can get stuck on clothing, and even play nipping can seem too rough. People should save a ferret for when a kid is older. There are plenty of big sturdy dogs out there that need homes, and those are much better suited for active kids. All it takes is one trip/fall on toddler legs, and a ferret could be seriously injured.
Another friend who has young children says: I would never recommend ferrets with small children. There have been so many near misses on a bad injury with our ferret. There are times when the ferret has gotten out or into places he shouldn’t be because my son has left doors open. It’s hard enough to watch a kid to keep him safe. Watching the kid and making sure the ferret is safe too is just about impossible. That baby or toddler that can’t do anything to the ferret now is going to grow fast!