Can Dogs Live with Ferrets?

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Introduction

If you're an animal lover, it's probable that you want to spread your admiration and devotion to more than just one animal. That being said, while you probably have a dog, you also have an appreciation for other kinds of domesticated pets, too. Often, people will own dogs and simultaneously bring in other companion animals into their lives - but is this a smart choice for your dog's happiness and well-being? 

We'll take a specific look at ferrets - can your dog live happily with a ferret? Is there any sort of disease or condition you need to be aware of that your dog could catch from a ferret? What about co-habituating - is it possible for the two, very different species to get along just fine? 

There have been many cases where ferrets and doggos live together in harmony. But that being said, it's important to note that ferrets and dogs are different. Your dog, coming from the wolf lineage, is a domesticated animal, but he's also a predatory animal. Your ferret, to your dog (by instinct), is prey. That's an important distinction to remember when dealing with these two animals together under one roof. 

We'll dive into some of the potential issues of owning these two types of animals, what signs you need to watch out for if your animals aren't getting along, and how you can train your animals to live their best lives while coexisting. Read on to learn more! 

Signs Your Dog and Ferret Aren't Getting Along

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you're trying to bring your ferret and dog together is that you have to constantly stay in tune with what each animal is feeling or doing. Neither of your animals can communicate verbally with you, but it's likely that they're both giving you signs to let you know that a situation is either working or not working for them. 

As we stated before, dogs are predatory animals by nature, and ferrets, to your dog, would likely be considered prey in the wild. That being said, it's important to always monitor your animals to ensure that your dog isn't trying to eat your ferret. 

For example, if you notice your dog is doing a lot of crouching or skulking around your ferret's cage, that's a bad sign. If you see him sort of stalking your ferret, stiffening his tail, and standing up the hairs on his back, it's likely that he sees your ferret less as a friend and more as a food source. 

He'll probably also give off aggressive behavior toward the ferret - we're talking biting, growling, howling, scratching, nipping, and making sudden jabs or darts toward his cage or the ferret himself. If you start to notice any of these reactions, it's pretty clear that your doggo sees your ferret as a yummy snack and not as a friend.

Body Language

Your dog is probably giving you plenty of signs that the ferret won't fit into his life. Make sure you're keeping note of his body language cues before you try to get the two to interact:
  • Ears up
  • Pupils dilated
  • Sniffing
  • Nipping
  • Panting
  • Shaking
  • Back hair on edge
  • Drooling
  • Exposed teeth

Other Signs

Your dog will probably give you plenty of other signs that he and the ferret aren't friendly. Make sure you're checking out for the following body language cues when dealing with a ferret and dog coexisting situation:
  • Staring at or Guarding the Ferret Cage
  • Baring Teeth at the Ferret
  • Skulking Near the Ferret
  • Quick Movements Toward the Ferret
  • Stalking
  • Crouching

The History of Dogs and Ferrets

Your dog is probably a goofy, sweet goober when it comes to dealing with your family and other canines, but it's important to always keep in mind that even though he's domesticated, there's still a natural order to things. Your dog is, intrinsically, a predator. That means that in the wild, your dog would be led by instinct to hunt for his food, and that food is typically smaller animals. 

These animals, known as prey, are lower on the food chain, smaller, and usually, unable to fend off your dog. In other words? In the wild, your ferret would be considered prey. There are always inherent dangers when combining your dog with another animal under the same roof, and while it is doable, precautions have to be taken. 

You can definitely train your dog to tolerate and get along with your ferret, but you always need to keep in mind that there is an unbreakable predator vs prey relationship that's built into their instincts.

The Science of Dogs and Ferrets

Like we've been driving home, dogs and ferrets are each part of the very instinctual prey vs predator game. Dogs come from wolves, some of the fiercest predators in the wild, and though we've bred them to be docile and domestic, part of that inclination still lives within them. 

Predators have special body parts and functions that help them with their mission - think about your dog, he has sharp teeth, claws, and can move quickly. He's a hunting machine! He is designed to feed off prey, smaller animals that are part of the predator's environment in the wild. 

We've said this before, but your dog is driven by his own natural impulses to hunt and feed on prey, and to him, your ferret probably smells and acts like the prey he would kill in the wild. Understanding this prey and predator drive is the first step in understanding how to determine whether or not your dog should live with a ferret, and how to handle the situation if you choose to allow them to live together.

Training your Ferret and Your Dog to Live Together

We won't talk about the predator and prey thing anymore (that should be pretty well driven home in your head). However, we will discuss how you can train your animals to get along to the best of their abilities. 

First, introduce your animals slowly. Do this over the course of many days or weeks, and do so in a step-by-step way. Get them used to each other's smells. Keep them both on leashes or in cages during their first interactions to gauge how they will react to each other. 

When they mingle, make sure you're the one controlling the situation, and also make sure they're on neutral ground. That way, neither animal will feel as if it needs to protect its territory. 

As a final rule, never, ever, ever leave your two animals alone together unsupervised. Seriously, no matter how comfortable the animals might be with each other, you never know when instinct will take hold. In order to fully protect both animals, always make sure their interactions are supervised.

How to React If Your Animals Don't Get Along

  • Keep the animals in separate areas.
  • Keep your dog leashed and your ferret in his cage when introducing them the first few times.
  • If they don't get along, always keep them in separate areas. If they do need to mingle, ensure it's in a neutral area with lots of restraint.
  • Get them used to each other gradually.
  • Introduce your animals slowly.
  • Never leave the animals unsupervised.