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So you've got a new ferret, sorted out the accommodation and ferret proofing, so the next thing is to introduce them to your existing gang.
Introducing new ferrets to each other can be a stressful time for ferrets and owners alike.
Success will largely depend on the ferrets themselves, but there are ways you can help the intro go more smoothly. These are some of the tips we have picked up along the way that we hope will prove useful to you with your introductions.
If you are getting your new ferret from a rescue, then take your existing ferret(s) along to chose them with you. This way the initial introductions will take place there and you will find out straight away if your choice of ferret works for your existing ferret(s) and vice versa. It doesn't mean that there wont be a few scuffles when they get home, but its a really good way of making sure you don't start off with completely incompatible room mates.
If you aren't taking your existing ferrets along to a rescue to meet the newbies, then if you have space to do so let the newbies settle in for a couple of days to get to know you first, in a separate cage. This will give them time to learn to trust you and get used to the new smells and noises without the added excitement of new ferrets.
If you are taking on a stray that hasn't been through a rescue, keeping it separate for a few days/weeks (how long is up to you) is particularly relevant, as it may potentially have arrived with fleas, ticks or mites or could be carrying an infectious disease neither of which you would want to pass on to your existing ferrets. Also an entire (unneutered) may be aggressive towards your existing ferrets.
During the quarantine period you can treat for parasites, observe the ferret's health, and if the owner hasnt turned up after 7 days arrange for unneutered strays to be neutered. It is always worth waiting about a week after neutering before attempting introductions to allow the ferret's hormones to calm down, but this depends on the ferret as some can be extremely placid even when they are entire. It is certainly worth getting a stray checked over by a vet as soon as you can as it may be microchipped so the owner may be able to be reunited with their lost ferret, and the vet will be able to tell if there are any problems that you will need to be aware of.
If you do keep your new and existing ferrets separate then towards the end of the quarantine period, start swapping bedding between the new and existing ferrets so they start to become familiar with each others smells. Only do so though once you know all parasites have been treated. Allowing your new ferret out to explore and play in some of the communal areas of your home that is shared by your existing ferrets will also allow them to get used to each others smells and the layout.
When it comes to introductions, try to do these on neutral ground, i.e. not in a cage, hutch or run that one of them is already resident of.
Gradual introductions can work well if you had a large group of existing ferrets to introduce the new ferrets to.
This is how one of our members explains how they approach gradual introductions
"We let the newbie have a few minutes roaming, then bring in the lowest ferret in the group's hierachy in a cage, let a bit of sniffing through bars go on to gauge whether we are in for an exciting time or not, and then let the little guy out of the cage. If all goes well at this stage, it tends to be a case of dooking, mutual bottom sniffing and then our lowest of the group tends to end up being scruffed and dragged by the newbie. Whilst that is going on, and having gauged the success of that intro, after a few
minutes we bring the next lowest in the group and so on until they are all out together.
Alternatively you can simply put the new ferret straight in with your existing ferrets on neutral ground and see how things go.
Have ferretone or furo-tone or similar to hand when doing the intros so that you can intervene if things start getting a little too full on by drizzling the oil over the back of the neck of ALL the ferrets just above the shoulders. This is a tactic used by a lot of rescues, when introducing strays into groups. A lot of ferrets like the taste of ferretone and so will lick the neck rather than bite, so this can instantly help stop ragging during intro (or rough play) situations. This also appears to hide the smell of the new ferret, as all members of the group suddenly smell similar around this neck area. If it works well it can end up with a "love in" rather than ragging.
Don't be tempted to jump in and separate the new ferret as soon as a tussle begins although this is easier said than done as your instincts are to stop them hurting each other. Ragging, hissing, skunking and urinating can occur during initial introductions, as the ferrets try to work out their new hierachy and can take a little time to settle. What you have to judge is when it is going too far - either when one ferret constantly runs away in fear with the other bullying or when one latches on with a clamp down bite.
You will often find that by stepping in and separating them, then putting them back down again, that the one that appeared to be getting the rough end of the treatment is happy to go straight back and take some more. In which case you have probably misjudged play and positioning for bullying.
Have a cat carrier or cage to hand, ideally one that's neutral to the ferrets, as this can be used if you find that most of the ferrets are getting on fine with the newbie, but one of your existing ferrets is bullying the new one too much, or vice versa. Position the carrier so it is within sight of the other ferrets who will normally continue play, then put the over zealous ferret in the cage for 5 minutes (no longer) so that it can watch the others having fun, then release to join in again. If the bullying starts after this, place it back in the carrier again and repeat.
Stay calm yourself - animals pick up on your stress and anxiety, and be patient - sometimes intros don't go well on day 1, in which case keep trying with breather days between, and continued swapping of bedding, to see if gradual intro over a period of time will work.
If it really doesn't work out, and you can afford to do so, see if you can have two separate groups. Although this is not ideal as it does split your time more between the groups which is a shame, but if you want to keep all of them then sometimes this is the only way to go.
If not speak to the ferret rescue that you got the new ferret from as they will understand and may be able to provide some more advice, and if not will normally be willing to take the ferret back.
Unfortunately there will be the odd ferret who really doesn't seem to like non human company, so you may end up with one having to live on its own. But don't completely give up on this one, it may suprise you one day and accept another ferret even from an existing group, as it gets older, wiser and more mellow/trusting.
Just remember, ferrets are tough little creatures who play hard and rough amongst each other. They have thick skin around their necks that helps to protect them in play (or mating) against teeth used for dragging or ragging. They will squeel with excitement as well as in fear and running away doesn't always mean they are afraid it's also a way of initiating a game of chase. So give your ferrets some time to work through the introductions and try not to step in or concede defeat too early.
If in doubt speak to the ferret rescue or log in to one of the ferret forums (FerretsForum.co.uk very good) and have a chat with other ferret enthusiasts there about your introduction dilemas as they may be able to help or at least put your mind at rest.