How to help a ferret deal with the loss of a bonded cagemate
By Lisa Vaughn
For anyone who has, or has had, a ferret, we know just how close they can bond with their people. However, did you know they also bond very tightly to one or more of their ferret friends?
This bonding is never more evident than when one passes away. We grieve when we lose them, but what about their bonded friend? Do they grieve? The answer is very simple, yes, most do, in one way or another. Ferrets can go into a deep depression because of their loss; they may stop eating, become lethargic and withdrawn, and sometimes even lose the will to live, passing away themselves. Some will wander around their home, crying and looking for their missing friend; this behavior can go on for weeks. It’s truly heartbreaking that, while you are trying to cope with the loss of your ferret, so is your other ferret.
To help with closure, when possible, allow the surviving ferrets to visit with the body of their friend. You can place them in the cage, or wherever you think they will be comfortable. This allows them to come to terms with the fact that their friend is gone. Some ferrets will say their goodbyes in a matter of minutes, but some can literally take hours. Let them guide you and don’t rush them.
You will need to shower a lot of love and attention, including cuddle time, on the remaining ferret. It’s a little easier when there are more than one in a bonded group, as they will help in comforting each other. Leaving blankets, hammocks, or beds with the passed ferret’s scent in the ferrets’ cage or area for a while will also help their grieving process, allowing them to feel close to the deceased.
Keep a close eye on how the survivors are eating and drinking. When ferrets are depressed, they will often stop eating and start sleeping more than normal. If necessary, start syringe-feeding your ferret a supplemental food or their normal food soaked in water until it is moist enough to put in a syringe.
Many folks believe that the best thing to do is to get another friend for their surviving ferret. While this may work for some, it won’t work for all of them. It really depends on how bonded they were. I personally don’t believe this is something that should be rushed into, they need time to grieve. Once some time has passed, perhaps find a rescue near you where you can schedule a playdate, see if he picks his friend. This is very common and assures he will be comfortable from the onset.
One of the bleak realities is that sometimes they do not recover from the passing of their friend, instead giving up and choosing to join them. The depth of their anguish is just sometimes not recoverable. I had two fiercely bonded pairs who chose this way, never recovering from their friend’s loss. The first pair, I lost the second one four weeks after her friend, and the other two, I lost the friend two weeks after.
It’s never easy to lose a baby, but we have to remember it’s sometimes harder on those they leave behind.
This article originally appeared in Dook Dook Ferret Magazine (Issue 16). To receive 6 new Dook Dook Ferret Magazines per year + get access to other bonuses then join the Ferret-World Membership.