By Bob Church
Fall is my favorite time of year for taking ferrets on a field trip. The weather is nice and not too hot. There are lots of things to investigate, such as fallen leaves, low water creeks, and the last of the wildflowers. Summer is over and parks aren’t as crowded, allowing your ferrets to explore without as many curious onlookers.
I have several favored places for field trips, including a small creek with waterfall, a stone ruin, and a local park with a small lake. My ferrets relish such areas and explore for hours. You can’t buy this type of enrichment; it’s free!
Field Trip Locations
Dogs and Bicycles
I like areas relatively free of dogs, or those with a leash law. I love dogs, but don’t trust them around my ferrets. My ferrets are fearless and curious, two attributes that propels them to the barking end of a potential killing machine. I am not willing to chance that a dog won’t think of my ferret as a ground squirrel. When a dog nears, I simply pick up my ferret and hold it out of harm’s way.
I also think bikes are as dangerous as dogs. A cyclist could easily overlook a ferret, or a ferret might spook and run under a wheel. It’s hard for a ferret to recover from such trauma.
I want a location just a few minutes from parking. If my ferret is injured or suffers heat distress, taking an hour to walk back to the car is not acceptable. A location should meet a ferret’s needs, not those of an owner. Simply put, the excursion is for the ferret’s benefit, not mine.
I have several criteria in choosing outdoor areas for my ferrets to explore. The location must be open enough so I can walk next to my ferret. Small or cramped areas might be fun for ferrets, but if I can’t be near them, the risk of losing them is too high — even if on a leash. I like open areas with water and plants, which allows them to splash, dig or just run through grass.
I like areas that are somewhat secluded. It is not that I dislike being an ambassador for ferrets, but the goal is to treat the little fuzzballs to a day in the sun. It is really hard to do that when crowds of people start poking fingers at my little guys. Being outside already excites the ferrets, so a scrawny, poking finger might be seen as an invitation for a nip. It is just better for all concerned to avoid such events.
The location needs an area for ferrets to chill. Even in the fall, it can be hot and a ferret can overheat. I like places with ponds, streams, muddy places, covering foliage and a source of potable water. I can drop my water requirement, but then I carry several bottles of water.
Fleas, ticks and chiggers are always a nuisance. Carefully inspect a ferret after an excursion and remove all offending insects. However, inspection isn’t always enough; ask your vet about Revolution, Frontline, Advantage or other protection from fleas for your ferret.
When outside, unless the ferret is within a ferret-proofed enclosure, it should always be harnessed and leashed. A carrier should be available for transporting any ferret to and from the field trip.
If dogs in your region are at risk of heartworm, so is a ferret. If a ferret goes outside, you have to assume it will get a mosquito bite or two. Talk to your vet about the problem; he or she will know the regional risk of heartworm and what to do about it. If heartworm is in your area, it’s a good idea to treat your ferrets anyway.
If a ferret consumes chews or licks anything in the wild — solid or liquid — there’s always a risk of contracting some type of intestinal parasite. I’ve never had a problem with any of my ferrets, but I still frequently inspect their bottom and the litter box during “outdoor season.”
Older ferrets, especially those on a kibble diet, will eat about every four hours. Nevertheless, because of excitement and activity levels, they might need to eat sooner. Insulinomic ferrets have increased muscle workloads that could result in low blood sugar, so keep food available, perhaps even a small vial of honey. Water is very important, both for drinking and cooling, so keep a bottle at hand.
Many stinging insects, such as yellowjackets, bees and wasps, will nest in the ground and busily search ground cover, which are unfortunately the same areas a ferret wants to explore. A sting will probably not seriously injure your ferret, but keeping them out of bee-infested clover is not a bad thing.
Brown recluse and black widow spiders could cause serious problems — if not death — for a ferret. Tarantulas could potentially bite your ferret, although in the only case I’ve heard about, the tarantula became a midday snack. Most North American scorpions probably won’t kill a ferret, but a few could. Rattlesnakes will kill a ferret, so keep an eye — and ear — open. These animals live exactly where ferrets love to explore the most, such as within rock jumbles, down burrows, and in other low, dark places. If your ferret survives a run in with one of these creatures, I recommend taking it to a vet.
A ferret’s rabies and distemper shots should be up to date. There is always one out-of-control child who insists on poking a ferret until rewarded with a nip. A current rabies tag can potentially save a great deal of trouble down the road. Distemper has essentially a 100 percent mortality rate, so the only safe bet to protect a ferret from sick dogs or wildlife is vaccination. Laws vary in different locations, so research and prevention trumps after-the-fact reaction.
Ferrets really love going outside and, quite honestly, there are very few reasons that could justify locking them inside a sterile indoor environment. Once a ferret gets used to the outdoors, you can see it become physically and emotionally excited; my ferrets actually start prancing in their carriers. Take a few precautions, and your ferret will have a grand time in the good ol’ out-of-doors.