Can Ferrets Swim?
By Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy
Swimming can be a fun activity you can share with your ferret, especially since they’ve inherited this capability from their wild ferret ancestors, the European and steppe polecats.
Yet, there are a few things you need to know about ferrets to keep this activity safe for you and your little buddy. Read on to find the answers to one of the most widely-pondered questions, “how well can ferrets swim?”
Do Ferrets Like to Play in Water?
Ferrets love playing in the water with their human and animal companions. In fact, ferrets love it so much that experts encourage owners to set up water play times for them as regular enrichment activities! One primary water activity that the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Laurel M. Harris, recommends can be set up according to the instructions below:
- Place a kiddie pool in a water-safe area such as a backyard, or clear a bathtub for your ferret to play in.
- Fill the selected water container with 2-3 cm of water. Add toys if your ferret enjoys playing with things while they’re enjoying the water.
- Provide steps, a stool, or another tool for the ferret to climb on, to give them a proper entry and exit out of the pool. Your little buddy should be able to get in and out of the water at will so they can be as comfortable and confident as possible during this playtime.
- If you know your ferret very well and have engaged in water-based activities with them in the past, you can make the water slightly deeper. Some ferrets prefer greater depths, as this allows them to get fully submerged and really get into their splish-splashing and diving. If this is more your ferret’s style, please remember to maintain supervision at all times while they’re in the pool.
To make things a bit more exciting when introducing toys into the water for your ferret, you might even consider throwing some treats into the mix. For instance, scientists have also suggested getting ping pong balls or similarly sized toys and slathering spreadable, tasty supplements on them before tossing them into the water for your ferrets.
(If you do choose to go this route, remember that such supplements can contain high sugar concentrations. You should also avoid high-carbohydrate or high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables for your ferrets. Choose supplements that do not contain sugar or carbohydrates. Call your local ferret shelter or vet and ask what the best treats are for ferrets)
The best part about options like this is that your ferret doesn’t have to swim or get too deep into the water to interact with the treat-enveloped ping pong balls. Instead, they can just dip their feet in as conservatively as they desire, and still receive a reward for braving the water.
For this reason, this is a great alternative for ferrets that are somewhat cautious about playing in the water.
Introducing Your Ferret to Water
Some ferrets will need just a bit of encouragement to chalk up the confidence to dip their noses and feet in the water. Although they do stem from a species made up entirely of very strong swimmers, not all domestic ferrets have kept this attraction to the water throughout their evolutionary history.
You’ll need to be patient with your ferret as you demonstrate that they have nothing to worry about when seeing and touching water for the first time. To do so, you can follow a few of the tips listed here and watch the advice in action with this “business” (the official name for a group of ferrets) of baby ferrets shown below:
- Introduce your ferret to water in a group setting, if possible. They’re much less likely to succumb to their nervousness if they have lots of friends around to play with them.
- Provide ferrets with a shallow container of water first, before ever trying to encourage them to hop into a pool, bathtub, or another large body of water. Too much water for the first time can be intimidating and traumatizing for your ferret. Allow your ferret to build their confidence at their own pace by guiding them through one baby step at a time.
- In the video linked above, you can see that the baby ferrets are unafraid to dip their noses and feet into the container. They don’t have to worry about falling in or dunking their whole bodies into the water. Instead, they have full control over their interaction with the water and can walk away whenever they please.
- Make sure the container is big enough for the ferret to step into if they wish. This way, they do have the option of dipping their whole body in if they want, without the fear of having to face any crazy depths.
How Well Can Ferrets Swim?
In general, ferrets are very strong swimmers. Still, understand that this does not mean that ferrets can swim for extended periods, as ferrets can get exhausted quite quickly when playing in the water. Unfortunately, too few owners recognize this, and will accidentally tire their ferret out when they only intended to help them have a bit of fun.
For example, ferret owners often make bathwater relatively deep as they’re trying to infuse a bit of fun with swimming during bath time. However, instead of destressing and engaging their pet ferret, they only end up depleting their energy and possibly making bath time a negative experience.
As long as you’re mindful about providing your pet ferret with the appropriate swimming conditions and remain considerate of their individual personality and capabilities, your ferret will be able to adapt well to many different types of aquatic enrichment you choose to offer.
Can Ferrets Swim Underwater?
Overall, ferrets cannot safely swim underwater. This does not mean that they’ll avoid going underwater entirely – in fact, many ferrets love to intentionally stick their nose below the surface to engage in a bit of “snorkeling” from time to time.
However, you won’t often find ferrets submerging their full bodies (head included) under the water’s surface to move from point A to B.
It’s ok to have a bit of fun with your pet ferrets by giving them a small bowl to stick their faces into, as they are capable of holding their breath. Putting them in a pool or a larger vessel for full-body swimming is likely to be overwhelming, though, and may be unnecessarily stressful and exhausting for your little pet ferret.
Can Ferrets Swim in Saltwater?
Ferrets can swim in saltwater just as well as they can swim in freshwater and in the bathtub. However, there is a catch. Like many animals, if your ferret happens to drink too much saltwater while out at the beach, they could become sick due to salt poisoning, also known as:
- Salt toxicity
- Water deprivation-sodium ion intoxication
So, if you plan on taking your ferrets out with you on your next beach trip, keep a close eye on them, as they won’t know the safety differences between lapping up water from home, a lake, or the ocean.
Just keep in mind that if you do take your ferret to swim in saltwater, please give them a rinse once the activity is over. You don’t want to leave any lingering salt to irritate their skin and dry out their coat.
How Often Can I Let My Ferret Swim?
You can let your ferret play in the water as often as you like. Some ferrets like to hop into a bucket of water every day, so much so that they’ll make their way into a shower with their humans! Other ferrets are not so keen on playtime in the water, and will instead be pickier about when they dip their toes into a tub or natural water body.
All you need to be careful of when letting your ferret splash around in the water is that they are not exposed to harsh chemicals while they play and that the water is not too deep.
For instance, during bath time*, avoid using chemicals that strip your ferret’s coat of its natural oils, thereby drying out its skin.
*Note that bath time should only be about once per month at the most for your ferret. Generally, your ferret doesn’t need to be bathed unless it is outright dirty. Otherwise, you risk stripping your fur-baby’s coat of its natural oils, leaving its skin dry and unhealthy.
Additionally, keep the water shallow enough for your ferret’s feet to touch the bottom of the bath or other container. This way, they won’t have to exert a crazy amount of energy as they play and swim around.
Outside of bathing, make sure that your ferret is not exposed to excess chlorine or other chemicals that may aggravate their skin, and always maintain attentive supervision to keep your pet safe.
Can Ferrets Swim in a Bathtub, a Pool, or a Beach?
Ferrets can swim in the ocean or in nearly any household vessel that can hold water, including bathtubs. Just like their wild cousins, most domestic ferrets adore playing in the water and will take every opportunity you give them to have some fun while splashing around either indoors or out.
However, although ferrets can swim in pools, it’s safest to avoid letting your little fur-baby play around in a pool. The harsh chlorine can be irritating to their skin and eyes.
If you decide to take your ferret to the beach, either make sure you are in a secluded area free of other animals, people, or children, if possible. If you can’t find such a place, then have your ferret on a leash to ensure their safety.
Of course, you’ll want to watch out for those big waves, too, and make sure that your ferret doesn’t get carried away by the water! Even if your ferret is an unusually strong swimmer, no ferret has enough stamina to swim their way back to shore if they’re carried out to sea. With this in mind, please take the proper precautions when going on beach adventures with your little ones.
Wherever you plan on taking your ferret for a swim, please remember that while ferrets are strong swimmers, you should never force your ferret to swim. If they’re not into it, don’t make them take a dip, or you might sour the experience for both of you.
Do Ferrets Swim in the Wild?
As you may know by now, ferrets are the domesticated cousin of the European polecat (Mustela putorius).
Although the ferret’s domestication began as far back as 1500 BCE (initiated by the Egyptians, who relied on ferrets for pest control, specifically rat and mice prevention), these critters still carry many of the same instinctual behaviors and environmental preferences as this species and the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmannii).
What does this mean for your ferret? For one, it means that your ferret, like their wild counterparts, love to live near water. In their natural habitat, polecats prefer to live in forested landscapes that feature various bodies of water that weave through pristine woodlands to urbanized environments.
The spatial connectivity provided by these waterways is crucial to the lifestyle these ferret relatives lead in the wild. They are the primary channels through which the animals travel to different locations to explore the world around them, locate high-quality food, and scope out better territories.
Like their domestic relatives, polecats are very strong swimmers, and will almost never hesitate to hop into a new body of water for fun or serious business. You’re most likely to find them splashing around the following types of water sources:
- Banks nearby pastures and farmland, as well as natural wooded habitats
- Riparian habitats (areas with rivers)
Wherever polecats can find water, they won’t hesitate to establish a den or at least return to the spot from time to time.
Scientists have recorded their living spaces in habitats ranging from sea level up to 920 m in mountainous ecosystems, demonstrating the versatility of the polecat’s (and thus, the ferret’s) lifestyle and the underlying consistency in the species’ preference for water bodies.
Still, even though their preferences are quite wide-reaching, studies over the years have illustrated that polecats very much prefer freshwater over anything else. In these habitats, they use their amazing swimming skills to chase down and catch prey like amphibians, fish, and even birds, in addition to the cross-habitat travel mentioned earlier.
Wrap-Up: Have a Splash with Your Weasel
Ferrets are strong swimmers both in their domestic lives and out in the wild. There are many things you can do to introduce your ferret to the water and ensure this activity stays safe and fun for everyone at all times.
Before you take your next trip out to the lake or ocean, or before the next pet pool party at home, refer back to this overview on ferret swimming to prepare you and your pet ferret for what’s to come.