Friday, April 16, 2010

Ferrets And Kids

Pssst...over here! Come on, don’t be shy. Get a little closer so you can learn all about sweet, impish little ferrets that you’re so eager to learn about. And today’s topic is all about kids and fuzzies, and what I think about joining them together.

Let’s get started.

Occasionally a parent will ask me if a ferret is a good pet for a child. My answer is always “I would never recommend a ferret as a pet for children, no matter the age. Never.”

Now hold on there parents with kids that have pet ferrets; there’s no need to get your undies in a knot. I’m sure that little Johnny and little Amy are taking good care of their fuzzies, and that you would highly-recommend a ferret as a wonderful pet for children. And I respect your opinion. I really do. But I don’t agree. I personally would never (EVER) tell anyone to pick up a ferret for their child.

And I’ll explain why with the reasons below.

“Is That Some Type Of Rat?”

Most people have no idea what a ferret is, let alone how to care for one. When they do run across one in a pet store, they automatically assume it’s a rodent, and because of this assumption, they believe it can be caged like all the other pet rodents (hamsters, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs and mice), and given similar care. Now, obviously there will be a few parents that will take the time to learn all about these little animals (before they take one home!) and make sure to sit down with their child and explain to them what’s involved, so that the pet may be properly cared for. But how many will actually do that?

“Ugh...How Did I End Up With All The Responsibility?”

Oh, so you’re one of those parents that will learn all there is to learn about these exotic pets, are you? That’s terrific. And are you also one of those parents that won’t mind assuming all the responsibility that goes with this pet when your child gets bored of it? Or when your child is too busy? Or lazy? Or makes other plans? And are you willing to do this for the next 6 to 10 years? Because that’s how long the pet ferret that your child begged you to get her (and promised to care for every day “Oh please! Oh please! I promise I’ll take care of it!”) will be with you.

“My Child Is Very Gentle With Animals”

Young children don’t always know their own strength, and because ferrets are quite small and fragile, they could get hurt by little hands that squeeze too hard or hold too tight. Also, children are more likely to panic and drop a ferret, which can lead to serious injuries for these delicate animals. Or your child may be bitten by a frightened ferret that has been picked up too suddenly, handled too roughly or held for longer than it wants to be. Older ferrets are more patient and will tolerate quite a bit of mistreatment from young children they’ve learned to trust. But they too have their limits.

Supervising young children interacting with ferrets can greatly reduce all the risks above, but can you guarantee that you’ll always be around to keep an eye on the two? Perhaps it’s best to consider another pet for the little ones in your life. Especially when they’re at the age when they enjoy chasing animals, tackling them, pulling their tails and basically terrorizing them.

“My Child Will Keep Her Pet Safe”

In addition to being hurt by small hands, ferrets can be injured in many other ways because they get into everything. If they are allowed to roam free and are not properly supervised, they can get stepped on, sat on, kicked as you walk by, crushed by a closing door, trapped in the refrigerator, stuck in the washing machine or disappear into a wall if they find a hole. They may even eat something that will kill them, fall from too high and break a couple of limbs or get mauled by the family dog. This is only a handful out of 1,000,000 bad things that can happen to a ferret. Even if you plan to restrict the ferret to a designated play area, will your child make sure that her pet doesn’t get out of that safety zone by remembering to close the door or gate to that play area?

“My Child Is Older, So He Can Handle The Responsibility”

Obviously you didn’t pay attention to the second point, so I’ll repeat some of it here, and even add to it. Now, about what you said: Yes, it’s true; older children are much more capable of handling the day to day responsibilities associated with pets, even ferrety type pets. But that doesn’t mean they will. It doesn’t matter whether your child is 10 or 15; what matters is if she’s disciplined (and nurturing) enough to be committed to the chores surrounding her pet. Quite often, kids will neglect their responsibilities because they would rather be doing something else, something much more interesting. So where does that leave the ferret? When your child shrugs away her responsibilities, who will take them over? Who will provide the ferret with fresh water and food every day? Who will make sure it gets the proper amount of play time and exercise? Who will clean the litter boxes and the cage? Who will wash the bedding? Cut the ferret’s nails? And bathe him, if necessary? Day in and day out, for 6 – 10 years, someone has to assume responsibility for this pet. And on the days that your child is neglectful or not available, which I’m guessing may turn out to be more days than you bargained for, it’s going to be up to you to provide whatever care fuzzy needs.

“Let’s Just Get One For Little Tommy And See How He Handles It”

Okay, can you get a little closer? Closer, please... Perfect... [smack] Did I just hear you say you’ll just, what the heck, get one for your kid and take it from there? And then what? As long as he takes good care of it and takes an interest in it, you’ll keep the ferret? And if little Tommy decides at one point he’s had enough, you’ll get rid of it? And you’re okay with this? [smack, smack...smack] Ferrets, like all animals, are not disposable items. They are living, breathing creatures that depend on us for all their needs, including emotional ones. We don’t take them home like pieces of merchandise and then toss them aside once we’re bored of them. [smack, smack] Don’t let me hear you say this again. Provide a pet with proper care, or don’t get one at all.

The point I’m trying to make folks is that this is not a goldfish in a bowl (although even a goldfish needs its water freshened and to be fed regularly). Ferrets are exotic pets that have special needs, which have to be met for many years. And it’s not that they can’t make good family pets; they can. And it’s not like they can’t be a good choice for children; they can. But what you have to understand is that if you do decide to get your child a pet ferret, be prepared to assume some – if not all – of the care for this little animal because there is a very good chance that little Susie won’t always do it, no matter how much she promised you she would. If you can’t do that, don’t get your kid a ferret; get her a pet rock instead.

Now, let’s wrap up with the gang.


GASP! No, Bailey, you can’t eat him!


What? No, Clair! Not even one finger. You can’t eat children! Or parts of children!


Of course, Nacho, of course... Not everyone can be as ‘sophisticated’ as you.


  1. Thanks again for this great information, Martha. I just had to say how funny the expression on Bailey's face is in that photo---it is absolutely perfect for your caption!

  2. Thank you, Beth; I certainly hope I'm helping people to understand these pets better.

    Sometimes I capture some really expressive photos of Bailey, Clair and Nacho, so you can imagine that I just can't help myself - I have to do something with them!