DIY Ferret Cages: An Indoor Paradise for Your Weasel
By Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy
Everybody talks about how they love Ferret Nation and Critter Nation cages. But what about you?
While these cages seem suitable for most ferrets, they don’t work for every weasel. Sometimes, it’s much better to customize your pet’s living space than going with a commercial template. So, here are a few ideas to give your fur-baby the enclosure of its (and your) dreams.
Making the perfect home for your ferret
There are a few different ways to make your own ferret cage. But first, you’ll need to decide what exactly you want it to be.
Do you need an enclosure for housing your ferret while you’re away at work or sleeping? Or would you prefer to build a run for indoor exercise and buy a cage in addition to your homemade play area?
The answers to these questions will determine the types of material you use, as well as the enclosure’s design.
For instance, many people tend to build ferret cages that are taller than they are wide, encouraging the ferret to engage in natural behaviors like climbing.
However, if you’re building a run, you might want to encourage running, digging, jumping, and other behaviors that generally require a bit more space. This means that you might be better off making a wide enclosure, possibly without a roof.
However, in both cases, you’ll need to provide adequate space for feeding and potty breaks. Ferrets can eat between two and four times daily and need to defecate often, as well as pee every few hours. It’s best to incorporate at least one corner litter box and a food and drink area, whether you’re making a cage or a run.
Apart from these general factors, building your own ferret cage can be a bit daunting, especially when you’ve never done it before. These examples below should help spark a few ideas to get you started.
From Closet to Homemade Ferret Cage
One of the most popular examples of a successful DIY ferret cage is the transformation of a home closet into a weasel’s paradise from the YouTube channel, Tito the Raccoon.
In the video titled, “From Closet to Ferret Cage,” the owners cleaned out a closet and laid a heavy-duty plastic barrier on the walls and floor to protect from waste, food, and other materials. They then proceeded to install plywood walls and arrange hard plastic sheets together to form a floor.
Depending on how long you plan to use a setup like this, you can follow this method exactly, or secure the walls and flooring differently. The final step would be to add the bedding and essential accessories, and you’ve got yourself a spacious homemade ferret enclosure!
(Note: This design might be best as a small play area under supervision. Depending on the closet, it may not be spacious enough for a fulfilling run, especially for multiple animals. At the same time, you’d have to install several PVC platforms for it to qualify as a suitable cage with adequate compartmentalization.)
A Vet’s Advice for DIY Ferret Cages
Dr. James R. Talbott of Belle Forest Animal Hospital says that, admittedly, it’s much easier to buy a commercial cage.
However, if you prefer your own homemade enclosure, Talbott suggested on eHow, “If you’re going to make one, you’ll want to design it close to those types of specifications. The first thing is you want a ferret cage to be long enough to where a ferret can move around and play. The second thing you want to think about is it needs to be tall enough to where ferrets can move in a multi-level fashion as well.”
The veterinary expert also suggests that you use a coated wire as the primary material, not only for hygienic purposes but for safety and durability as well. Your ferret should not be able to escape the enclosure by squeezing through the bars, so make sure you get the spacing correct.
Building a DIY Ferret Cage from Scratch
Leah Schultz’s walkthrough of a DIY ferret cage construction is impressively extensive, guiding viewers through the process of assembling an entirely homemade enclosure using:
- 2 boxes of six wire storage cubes
- Zip ties
- Self-adhesive tiles
- Garden fencing
- Fabric for bedding
This design would be best used as either a cage or run since it’s both wide and multi-level. However, you won’t be able to use it long-term, as zip-ties aren’t reliable as a security measure since ferrets can chew through them easily.
You’ll arrange the panels in a 2 L x 3 W x 3 H design and incorporate one ramp (not too steep!) for moving between the platforms.
It’s a simple, functional design; however, there’s one problem: It requires fabric flooring for every platform, since the wire storage cubes used in this project aren’t good for ferret feet. This means you won’t be able to compartmentalize the cage effectively, raising the risk of food and waste messes in the fabric.
Critical factors to consider when building a ferret home
Making your own ferret home is a tricky business. There are a lot of parts to keep track of, and numerous safety and health concerns to work around.
Mass-manufactured cages sure make it look easy!
No matter what design you have in mind, the age or size of your ferret, or anything in-between, the most important things you’ll need to think about when putting together your own ferret cage are as follows:
- Enclosure cover: No matter how much you trust your ferret, you will always need to incorporate a secure lid onto its enclosure, whether it’s an outdoor run or an indoor cage. Most importantly, the lid needs to be strong enough to withstand escapes and predator break-ins. Additionally, you might want to use mesh for the lid for breathability.
- Note: Ventilation is critical to consider in the design of your ferret cage. You don’t want too much ammonia building up in the enclosure, as it can make your ferret seriously sick.
- Secure latches: Avoid swivel latches! As you’ve probably heard one-million-and-one times, ferrets are escape artists. They’ll open a swivel latch with no problem at all, and so will naughty children looking to sneak a quick snuggle with the family weasel. Use secure bolts instead!
- Avoid weak wiring: Wire is an essential material when building a ferret cage. It’s strong and durable enough to withstand escape attempts, and it separates your weasel from waste, critical to maintaining health and hygiene. That said, chicken wire is not a good choice for any part of your cage. It’s flimsy and easily manipulated for an escape.
- Avoid cable ties: Cable ties are pretty popular for making DIY cages for ferrets and other animals. They may be cheap and seemingly secure, but they’re a bad choice for your weasel’s home. They’ll wear much more easily than secure nails and bolts, and won’t be nearly as strong as sound construction of run or cage panels.
- Weatherproofing for outdoor cages: Ferret owners who keep their weasels outdoors may want to invest in weatherproof roofing. This will help the enclosure last longer and withstand environmental pressures, minimizing the need to replace the cage at any point during your ferret’s lifetime.
Your ferret’s cage isn’t just another place where it naps and plays with cute toys. It’s a crucial part of its life, meaning it has a significant influence on your weasel’s health and safety.
Think of it this way, according to ferret biology expert, Dr. Claudia M. Vinke:
“[W]hat is my opinion: The cage should be safe for sleeping and inactivity. And yeah, their enrichment you give them is much more [relevant to] safety. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, you can lay there actively or inactively… Also, the whole territory of the ferrets: You can see that [they have a] circle of safety, and outside is much more [of] the home range, and the home range in a territorial animal is where you hunt. So, what you can mimic a little bit, [is] that the cage is where you sleep, and feel safe, and outside you can ‘hunt.’ So, proficient enrichments outside the cage can be much more than enrichment for hunting, play, and all those kinds of stuff.”
As Dr. Vinke illustrates in the statement above, it may be best to design your ferret’s housing according to its natural behaviors. This way, you ensure not only its physical safety but also provide physical exercise and mental stimulation.
Organizing your ferret cage
Organizing the ferret cage is crucial to safety, hygiene, and the ferret’s comfort. It’s not just a matter of making the cage “pretty” or “presentable,” but making it a livable space for your weasel.
Think about how your house is set up. You’ve got a designated space for the kitchen or dining room, bathroom, and bedroom, at least. These areas are typically separated, if not by walls, then space.
Such designs aren’t a mere matter of navigational convenience or maximizing square footage but about health and safety.
To prevent bug infestations and related issues, you must keep the food safe from waste and keep both out of the place where you sleep.
You’ll need to adopt the same design motives for arranging your ferret’s homemade enclosure.
In Chapter 12 of the book, Behavioral Biology of Laboratory Animals, Dr. Vinke and colleagues suggest a method known as “cage compartmentalization.” This is the practice of dividing up the cage into areas where the ferret can “choose to eat, hide, or rest.”
As mentioned earlier, your ferret might like to engage in hunting behaviors outside of its cage – after all, its whole world shouldn’t be restricted to a single enclosure. That said, you must balance in-cage enrichment with out-of-cage play and feeding, primarily.
For instance, imagine that your ferret is on a dry cat food diet but you incorporate raw treats now and then. In that case, it may be best to offer your ferret these snacks outside the cage in a hygienic, open play area. This is excellent for a game of hide-and-seek, allowing your ferret to track down mouth-watering treats in a space much larger than a little cage.
Plus, there are only so many toys that you can fit into the enclosure. Think about it: Can your ferret really get the most out of its playtime with tunnels and wand toys inside its cage, navigating through the multiple levels and (presumably) wire walls? No!
Because of this, you might want to set up a playpen inside or outdoors where your ferret can stretch out, run, jump, wrestle with playmates (or you), and generally have a good time being a weasel.
All that considered, you don’t need to worry about making the cage so big that all its enrichment and food items fit inside. You just need to work in the essentials, including those elements discussed below, and use a playpen or another open enclosure to extend the ferret’s space.
Whether you plan to build a ferret cage or design a ferret-friendly room, you’ll need to provide a litter box. This ensures that your weasels only relieve themselves in appropriate places, preventing them from leaving their waste around their living space.
Experts Heather Bixler, V.M.D. and Christine Ellis, D.V.M. state, “Ferrets have a tendency to urinate and defecate in corners, and can be litter trained. Owners may need to place litter boxes in multiple corners to ensure compliance.”
Offering more than one litter box is even more critical when housing more than one ferret. If multiple animals share a living space, they may end up competing over this bathroom area, potentially leading to physical conflict. It’s best to act proactively by giving each ferret its own “restroom,” so to speak.
Additionally, this is another factor for which you’ll need to consider the ferret’s natural behavior. This means seeking out or making litter box designs that slide into corners easily, or that, at least, aren’t so clunky that they can’t prevent the accumulation of waste in the cage’s corners.
Litter and bedding materials
The process of choosing litter and bedding materials is where you can make some of the worst mistakes in designing your ferret’s home.
People often gravitate to popular options like wood chips or sand-like cat litters. Though these may seem like reasonable, affordable selections, but they’re some of the worst choices for your ferret’s health and hygiene.
Why’s that? Because they’re absorbent.
In fact, scientists recently investigated the quality of various bedding types for rodents, specifically corn cob and spelt, compared to aspen wood chips.
In this case, the research team led by Miriam Annika Vogt uses the term “quality” in reference to the “moisture content as well as microbiological contamination and effects on traumatic injury healing.”
Since many popular bedding materials can retain high moisture levels, your ferret’s cage can quickly become the perfect environment for harmful bacterial growth, especially if food and waste get thrown into the mix.
Just a few months ago, Vogt and colleagues found that bedding materials can also influence small animals’ eating patterns.
More specifically, rodents that were housed with aspen wood chip or corncob bedding ate more than those on spelt bedding; although females ate “generally less than males” in both cases.
The animals also experienced fluctuating blood glucose levels, influenced by interactions between the time spent in the area with a certain bedding material, the bedding type, the animal’s sex.
An earlier study from 2014 mentioned that maple, birch, and beechwood chips can trigger a reaction from the mucosal system, a major part of the immune system. Additionally, cedar and pine chips can impose effects on liver enzymes.
Among other results, the study ultimately showed that the rodents did not experience any social behavioral effects from exposure to these materials.
Despite this, recent research clarifies that bedding choices aren’t merely a choice between nice scents and convenient maintenance. Instead, they’re housing necessities that can directly impact several aspects of your ferret’s physical health.
That’s why, if all else fails and you can’t find a suitable bedding material, you can just throw in some old T-shirts, towels, or blankets. It never fails!
Food and water bowls
You’ll need to be very careful about allowing your ferret to have food in its cage. Since ferrets are obligate carnivores, many owners prefer to feed their weasels raw diets, which is something that should never be allowed in the cage.
This poses too much of a risk of dangerous bacterial and fungal development in the cage, potentially affecting the litter and bedding, too.
With that said, not only is it crucial to keep raw food out of the cage, but even with dry pelleted food, you’ll want to invest in a container that’s durable and secure. In other words, your ferret shouldn’t be able to detach the container from the cage wall and scatter its kibble all over the place!
The water should be just as secure, away from bedding that could be soaked, increasing the risk of bacterial or fungal growth.
Following the practice of cage compartmentalization, it would be best to have one designated platform for eating and drinking without any bedding material or items that could be contaminated or host harmful microorganisms.
Additionally, many experts suggest that you go with either a heavy bowl or a food/water container that you can secure to the sides of the cage. This way, your naughty little weasel can’t wreak havoc by moving its dishes around.
Hammocks and other loungers
Your ferret’s sleeping area will change according to the seasons, ideally. Experts from the American Ferret Association (AFA) recommend fleece sleepers as the go-to bed; however, cotton fabric is much better during the summer because it’s cooler.
You’ve got a few options here: You can get a custom-made hammock for your ferrets or find DIY tutorials online relatively easily. In fact, you can find an entire list of homemade ferret hammock ideas and DIY tutorials on the Holistic Ferret Forum, courtesy of an Administrator.
A few examples of these do-it-yourself ferret hammock and accessory guides include:
Although it seems that ferret cage enrichment is just for fun, these accessories play much more of a role in your ferret’s health than you might think.
Like all companion animals, ferrets need a significant amount of cognitive stimulation, especially when they’re cooped up in their cage while you’re either sleeping or away. Without it, they’re likely to develop lots of pent-up frustration, leading to escape attempts and potential injuries from reckless behavior in the cage.
AFA experts advise, “Choose toys that have no chance of breaking and causing a chewing or choking hazard. This would include balls with bells inside and plush toys with squeakers. Hard plastic balls and ‘road kill’ style toys are recommended.”
(Note: Be very careful about squeaky toys. It’s not safe to allow your ferret to play with these without supervision since these critters can easily rip fabric toys apart, thereby introducing the risk of choking on the plastic squeaker.)
The organization also warns ferret owners to avoid hanging ferret toys from the top of the cage – that is, unless you hang it by a metal or hard plastic shower ring. Suspending anything from a rope will tempt the little weasel to chew on and ingest the material.
Keep your ferret happy in its homemade cage
There are all sorts of ways you can develop a customized enclosure for your ferret. Whether it’s constructing a cage from scratch or merely personalizing an open play space, you can ensure your weasel is enriched, safe, and comfy in a unique enclosure made by its favorite human.
Refer to this guide to ensure you don’t skip over the crucial details when designing your ferret’s unique DIY cage.