Pet Education Ferrets
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Are Ferrets Good Pets for Children?
Veterinarian, Author, Internationally recognized expert on ferrets
Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD
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Ferrets do not like to be restrained and prefer to do exactly as they please most of the time. The younger the ferrets, the less likely they are to want to cuddle. Normal behavior for just-weaned kits is to wrestle and chew on each other most of their waking moments. They will try to do this with people, too, and may bite hard enough to cause pain without intending to hurt you.

Children are more likely than adults to panic and yank their hands back, causing more serious bites that break the skin. Kits can be taught not to bite, but it takes time, as it does for puppies and kittens. This is one reason ferrets are not recommended for children who are too young or too active to learn to play gently with the ferret, and not to encourage it to rough-house as it does with its littermates.

A child who suddenly and roughly tries to pick up or hold onto a ferret that does not want to be restrained may be bitten or scratched. This is most likely with kits up to 9 or 10 months of age, when they are at their most active and never want to be still. Older ferrets will tolerate much indignity and may be longsuffering in the hands of children they learn to trust. Many older pets are surprisingly tolerant of handling by strangers.

Children are rarely responsible enough to make sure the ferret can not get out of the safety of his play area, and don't realize how easily a small animal may be fatally injured by being crushed in a recliner or door. Ferrets are not good pets for young children who do not have responsible and knowledgeable adult supervision. Even older children still need an adult to guide them in taking care of a pet.

Do ferrets really eat babies?

There have been some highly publicized incidents where a young infant left alone with a young ferret has been seriously injured or killed, and because of this, extremists have claimed that ferrets are not suitable pets for anyone, with or without children. Some of the 'ferrets' in these incidents have actually been ferret-polecat crosses. Wild polecats and hunting ferrets eat baby rabbits, groundhogs, rats, and mice that they find in burrows: it is natural for them to attack milky-smelling creatures. In the few cases where human infants have been attacked by ferrets, both the ferrets and the babies appear to have been neglected by the adults who should have been responsible for them.

An infant should never be left alone with a ferret or with any other animal. Many mature ferrets are entirely trustworthy with the young members of the household, sharing nap time and never taking the slightest nibble at clutching baby hands. You must take responsibility for supervising both the baby and the animal, making sure that neither one hurts the other in their early encounters.

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