Cages & Litter

Many people keep their ferrets in a cage or very well-ferretproofed room whenever they can’t be supervised. This drastically reduces the risks of digestive-tract blockages from swallowing indigestible objects, injury, and escape. However, even if you plan to let your ferrets have the run of the house at all times, you’ll want a cage at first for litter-training and other kinds of training as well as for temporary use.

A metal mesh cage is probably the best choice, but if the floor is mesh, make sure that you cover it with linoleum or plastic. The openings in the mesh are stressful on ferret feet and some ferrets may get caught in between. Many pet stores keep ferrets in aquarium-like enclosures, but they are not recommended as cages. They don’t provide enough ventilation at the bottom, and your ferret will feel isolated from whatever’s going on in the room. Most aquaria also aren’t nearly big enough. Plain wood cages aren’t recommended because the wood soaks up urine and other liquids, so getting the smell out and getting the cage really clean are nearly impossible. If you use wood, cover the floors with linoleum squares or coat the whole thing with polyurethane.

What size cage will I need?

If you plan to keep your ferret caged whenever you’re not home, and you’ll be gone most of the day, a generous cage size is important. Try to give an area of 2 X 3 feet and 2 feet high (60 X 100 X 60 cm) per ferret. A second ferret could share that size cage, but it may get tight. Of course, a nice, big cage is even better, especially with lots of levels and hammocks to prevent falls from the top shelf. If you’ll only be using the cage temporarily, such as when you’re taking your pet on a vacation or to the vet, 1 X 2 X 1 feet (30 X 60 X 30 cm) is sufficient for one or two ferrets, perhaps three.

Where can I get a cage?

Pet stores like FerretDepot are good places to start looking for pet supplies and have lots of cages, too. Multiple-level “cat condos” are probably the most popular store-bought cages. Some people like the easily cleaned medium or large size plastic dog kennels, modified to make multiple levels, although others think that they don’t provide enough ventilation or contact with the outside world.

What should be in the cage?

In the cage, you’ll want some sort of “bedroom” for your pet. A ferret won’t be very happy sleeping on the open floor of a cage, even on (or, more likely, under) a towel or shirt, but any small cardboard box or basket works well as a bedroom. The best flooring is a sleep sack or “cubby.” These are available from most pet stores and look like polar fleece pouches. While old T-shirts and sweatshirts make excellent bedding, you need to take care that they aren’t chewed. Many ferrets like to chew on the cotton and this can cause dangerous intestinal blockages. Old towels usually work well too, though some ferrets tend to get their nails caught in the loops. Don’t use wood shavings. The bottom of the cage can be covered with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads for easire cleaning.

Other than food, water, a litter pan, bedding, and a bedroom, what you put in your ferret’s cage is largely up to you. Enough room to stretch and move around is important, and different levels, ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, and so on will probably be appreciated. Hammocks made from old jeans or shirts and a set of metal eyelets are very popular for both napping and playing. Most ferrets get bored easily when caged and sleep much of the time, so they probably won’t get a whole lot of use out of toys; they’d really rather be outside when playing. Just be sure nothing you put in your ferret’s cage could hurt him, whether by catching a toe, being swallowed, or some other way.

Also be sure your cage door fastens securely, perhaps even with a small lock, because ferrets can be very determined and rather intelligent escape artists. Twist ties, cable ties, or bits of wire often work well for fastening down litter pans or some bowls; and clothespins and larger aligator clips can be enormously handy for holding all kinds of things down, up, or closed.

About Litter Pans

You will almost certainly need more than one litter pan, particularly if you have a large home. Small-size cat litter pans work fine, as do plastic dishpans, storage boxes, or large school supply boxes. Many ferrets don’t seem to like the special triangular corner boxes, probably since they can’t climb all the way in, but yours might. (Before buying one, ask ferret-owning friends. Chances are somebody has one sitting around that his ferrets never use.) For a travel cage or shoulder bag you can use a Rubbermaid-type plastic container intended for bread or ice cream (about 6 X 9 X 5 inches). Make sure the sides of the pan are at least 4 inches high, since ferrets habitually back into corners to deposit their wastes and you don’t want messes over the sides of the pan. However, one side of the pan should be no more than an inch or two high, so your ferret can get in and out easily. This is especially true for a young kit.

If you’re particularly sensitive to cleaning pans or to litter pan odor, one novel suggestion was to use empty milk jugs, standing upright, with the circular indentation on the side cut out. Use only a small amount of litter, and the whole jug can then be thrown away when it gets dirty.

About Litter

Some people have had problems with the clumping varieties of litter, due to some ferrets’ habits of sniffing at their litter corners or dragging their rumps across the litter when done using it. The litter can get into their noses or rectums, where it clumps and causes problems. Likewise, cedar shavings should not be used. as the heavy odor and cedar resin may cause sinus problems.If you want a safe clumping litter, use Swheat Scoop, which is a wheat-based product (rather than the clay that other clumping litters use)

Many people favor pelleted wood litters or wood stove pellets. These are inexpensive and can be found at hardware stores. If your pet is used to one and you switch, it may take a while for him to connect the scent of the new litter with where he’s supposed to go.

You may want to check out Dr Williams’ information on litter training, too.