One of the questions I hear most frequently is “I just got a new ferret, how do I introduce him/her to my ferrets?” This can be an interesting experience, especially the first time you watch your old ferrets react to a new fuzzy in the house!
When you introduce a new ferret to your fuzzy family, be prepared for some jumping around, dooking, biting, hissing and more! It is natural for your ferrets to be suspicious of and even hostile towards a new fuzzy. You are introducing a new animal into their home, and there is bound to be some friction. The important thing is to be patient. It can take anywhere from a few hours to 6 months or more. It all depends on your current ferret or ferrets. If it has been one or more years since the older ferret(s) entered your household, chances are it’s going to take longer to acclimate them to the new addition.
Here are some tips for handling this situation:
1) First and foremost, make sure your new ferret is free of diseases before introducing him or her into the group. You may want to quarantine for a week or more, until test results come back. Diseases such as ECE, ADV and parasites are the main concerns. Testing for ADV must be done by sending out a blood sample. There is no test for ECE or parasites, but by keeping your new ferret quarantined for a couple weeks, you can watch them for abnormal poops, lethargy, or any other behavior that would set off alarm bells.
2) If you’re adopting from a shelter, find out if you can bring your current ferret or ferrets to meet the prospective addition. Giving your ferret a chance to pick out its cagemate will make the transition easier on both of them!
3) Try to introduce the ferrets in a neutral area – if your ferrets always run around in one room, use a different room. If your ferrets are free roam, try to use a friend’s house. The point of this is that all the ferrets will be in a new place, and the potential for aggressive territoriality will be less.
4) Keep them in separate cages near each other before putting them together in one cage. Switch their bedding back and forth so they can get used to each other’s scent. Have supervised playtimes and playtimes where only one ferret is let out.
5) During supervised playtimes, watch how they are interacting. If it seems rough and you separate them, but the ferret being attacked goes back for more, it’s probably just typical ferret playing – a little rough and tumble! If the attacking ferret bites with a darting motion (striking like a snake) and shakes his or head back and forth roughly, separate them. This is more than regular ferret play, and it can result in the less dominant ferret being covered with scabs, which can become infected.
6) When ferrets play and one is scared, he or she may scream. Some ferrets are very vocal normally though, so don’t assume that the ferret screaming is the one losing!
7) Try applying a bite deterrent training spray such as Fooey to their necks to discourage biting.
8) When play does become too rough and they need to be separated because one ferret is being too rough, scruff the rough one firmly but gently, scold it, and put it in a cage for a time out. Then seek out the other ferret and assure it that it is still loved and safe. Don’t ever hit, scream at, throw or otherwise be aggressive towards your ferrets. It will make them fear you and worsen an already tough situation. If the two ferrets are both being rough, just separate them and distract them with a treat – Ferretone works really well. This will give them a chance to calm down. You can even try putting the Ferretone on two dishes right near each other so they start to associate the other ferret’s presence with good things.
9) If one ferret is so scared that it defecates on the floor, separate them immediately. It is not necessarily the other ferret’s fault, so don’t punish it as a knee jerk reaction. Cuddle both ferrets and show them that they are loved and are not in any danger. Don’t put them back together right away, but don’t let this deter you either. Some ferrets are just more nervous or easily upset than others. You have to be sensitive to their needs and their feelings.
There are some cases in which integration is just not possible. Some ferrets don’t like other ferrets, or sometimes they’ve been alone too long to welcome a new ferret into their home. If this is the case and you’ve tried a variety of methods, don’t force the issue. Either keep the new ferret separate (if you have multiple ferrets already and are open to having two groups of ferrets) or find a new forever home for the new ferret. It may be hard to give the new one up, but both ferrets will thank you for it.