Adding Ferrets To A Cat Household

Advice on whether cats and ferrets can share the same home, because sometimes it won’t work out.

Advice on whether cats and ferrets can share the same home, because sometimes it won’t work out.

ferret and cat snuggle
Courtesy of Erin Nelson and Darin Sekulic 
Most of the time cats and ferrets can coexist, but how well they get along depends on individual personalities.

Q: Is it a bad idea to get a ferret when you have cats? I’ve seen cats that eat squirrels, actually a couple of mine did.

A: Ninety-eight percent of the time, ferrets and cats coexist well. Ferrets usually find cats fascinating. Cats commonly treat anything not a cat as unworthy of their attention. But there are always exceptions.
 
A ferret who was lost outside and threatened by feral cats may be afraid of any cat. A ferret who meets timid cats may learn that nipping and chasing them is loads of fun. In one memorable instance, the owner of a ferret brought to our shelter declared, “Cherie loves cats!” What she failed to include was an important clause: that Cherie loves to bite cats. One failed adoption later, Cherie found a cat-free new home!
 
On the cat’s-eye side, these odd creatures are confusing. Ferrets are small, like prey, but they don’t act or smell like prey. Ferrets hop up and down alarmingly. They sneak up and try to burrow into soft cat fur. So cats frequently decide whatever this thing is, it’s to be avoided.
 
Kittens who grow up with ferrets, however, learn to play with them and get used to the occasional nip. Some will even sleep together. But many older cats tolerate these furry interlopers, even if they never become friends. 
 
Always carefully watch newly introduced animals. Let them meet where each has an easy “out.” Give the ferret a hiding spot, like a tube. Ensure that the cat has a place to jump where ferrets can’t reach. Stay close and see how things progress. Without risking putting your own hands into a fight, intervene only if a pet looks to be in any danger. A few sessions should show you if they’ll be OK together.
 
Extra caution is needed when cats have a lot of hunting instinct, like yours. Such cats may get too excited by a small animal running past. My Siamese would gallop after the ferrets and bat at them, but sometimes he moved as though he might bite their neck. It made me nervous, thus they were never left unsupervised. 

“Test” your cats by asking a friend with ferrets to visit. (Don’t have one? Contact a local ferret club or Facebook group to arrange a play date.) Observe how the cats react; they are the ones who could cause real harm, so they’ll be the crucial factor. Hopefully your cats won’t think the ferrets are edible, and you can expand your pet household safely. Good luck!

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