Ferret Help; getting along
We have a problem with helping our ferrets get along and need some help and advice.
We have had Lola for about a year and a half, and she is 2 & ½ years old. When we got her, we had a pair of ferrets named Teela and Datsun. Teela was 5 years old (vet’s best estimate) and was extremely and abnormally vicious with Lola. During the 6 months they lived together Teela attacked Lola every chance she got, and actually ripped pieces of flesh out of Lola, leaving open wounds and broken skin or open punctures all over her. This happened numerous times throughout the 6 months, and never lessened in severity at any attempt at an introduction. Needless to say, we know that is NOT normal ferret behaviour, and we kept them separated.
Lola got along famously with Datsun, and they played well together, so we know Lola is able to play and get along with other ferrets, though she doesn’t have an aggressive bone her little body. We are not averse to having 2 different play groups, but we would like to avoid it if possible. Sadly, Teela and Datsun passed away just over a year ago, and Lola has been alone since then.
Lately, Lola had been getting bored and putting herself to bed earlier and earlier, so we thought she might enjoy some ferret company instead of just people and our cat C.C. (who is not a ferret fan and avoids her). We got a message from the Ferret Aid Society about a woman giving up her 2 boys due to lack of time and money, but she needed someone who could provide the extra care the one boy needed.
Tonka was a rescue from the FAS, and had previously had adrenal surgery and needs to be on daily medication for a heart condition. He is about 5 years old. Turbo is only about 2 and is in great health. We brought Lola for an introduction and meeting, and everything went well at first. We picked up the boys a few days later (just over a month ago now) and brought them home.
After an initial stressful adjustment period of about 4 days in which Tonka declined, he bounced back and everyone is at normal health and energy levels again. Turbo and Lola had no health issues with the change. Turbo and Lola get along great, though Lola is hesitant and not aggressive in her play at all. She is very aggressive with toys, but never with Turbo. He sometimes gets too rough with her, and she gets scared and starts to scream. We separate them and give them both a few minutes to calm down, and Lola bounces right back into playing with a toy or eating, but she is usually hesitant of Turbo for the next 30 minutes or so.
The issue we are having is with the older boy, Tonka. He is the dominant ferret, and we know it is normal for him to have to prove his dominance and force Lola’s submission. The issue is more with us as parents. We have never really had a normal ferret dominance/submission scenario, and we don’t know how to proceed. Sadly, both us and Lola are a little scarred from the Teela/Lola situation, and we are scared of Lola getting hurt again.
After Tonka’s health returned to normal, we tried introducing him to Lola. He sniffed her a few times, then immediately went into attack mode. She started screaming and we separated them. Lola had red marks from the biting, but no broken skin. She was however very scared, and when we put her back with Turbo (who she normally gets along with) she started screaming before he even came within 6 inches of her. She didn’t want to play by herself either afterwards, so she just put herself to bed. We tried this introduction a few more times and had similar responses each time, so we have been keeping them separated since then. We allow them contact through cage bars or with our hand gently between them when they are sniffing each other, but as soon as Tonka lunges to attack, we either scoop up Lola or Tonka and let them play in separate areas for a while.
We of course are not punishing Tonka as we know this is normal behaviour. In the last week we have decided that Tonka is not as vicious as Teela, and that he should be able to get along with Lola if we let them work out this dominance thing. We are nervous and we know it shows to Lola, and that we are probably adding to her fear, so we need to stop this process now. Tonka’s previous owner advised that is took Tonka a month to accept Turbo, so we just have to be patient and it will work out. What we need help with is how to go about this.
In the last week we have purposely let Tonka attack Lola on 3 occassions. The attacks look and sound terrible with Lola screaming the entire time. The first attack lasted about 30 seconds, and then Lola pooped herself so we stopped it and separated them. The second attack was the next day, and Lola did not poop, but screamed and screamed the whole time. My partner and I could only take it for about 40 seconds and separated them again. The last attack was a few days after that and we let it go for about a minute before we stopped them. Still no pooping, and never any broken skin or serious wounds. Throughout all of this, everyone’s eating and pooping habits are consistent and normal, so no one seems to be physically affected.
Unfortunately, Lola is emotionally affected. After these attacks she is instantly tired and will just fall asleep in your arms if you let her, or put herself to bed if you try to get her to play again instead of cuddling and babying her. She is at normal energy levels for her next play session though, so this just seems to be a mental thing.
What we need help with is how to proceed…Do we keep on allowing the attacks? Do we stop this and try a different approach? If we keep allowing the attacks, how far do we let it go? Obviously we would stop it if we see any blood or fur fly, or if there is any broken skin or pooping/spraying. But outside of that, do we stop them or let them fight for minutes on end? Do they stop on their own? Should we set a time limit? How does this work? What do we do?
We’ve owned 10 ferrets between us over the last dozen years or so, but we’ve never really had to deal with this. Other than Teela, all our ferrets worked out their differences in a matter of minutes or never had any differences to work out and got along from the start. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks so much,
Lisa and Chris, and
Lola, Tonka and Turbo.