Ferrets are predators!
Many people keep ferrets as pets, and they make great pets. However, pet owners should realize that a ferret is a predator, and a pet rabbit is a ferret’s natural prey in the wild.
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Although ferrets are smaller than adult rabbits, they are ferocious little animals. Even full-grown rabbits can have a hard time fending off a hungry ferret. If you put the two animals in the same habitat, unattended, well, the ferret will likely get the upper hand.
Ferrets were bred to hunt rodents (see also ‘Are Rabbits Rodents?‘) and rabbits about 2500 years ago. So, whether ferrets eat rabbits is a foregone conclusion because rabbit is on a ferret’s dinner menu if available.
Rabbits are prime prey.
Rabbits are fast, agile, and outrun many of their predators. However, the ferret is quick also and can take a rabbit twice its size down, kill it, and eat it. Ferrets are not the only predators with a taste for rabbit meat. Other domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, will kill and eat rabbits as quickly as a ferret.
If you keep rabbits in your home and have other animals, the safest place for your rabbit is in a secure cage if it is not in your arms.
Even then, it would be best if you had a cage with wire tight enough that a ferret cannot get its little paw through it. If they can, they may not kill your rabbit, but they could harm it, or your rabbit could harm your ferret in this situation because rabbits bite, too.
Ferrets are predators
The ferret is small, furry, and cute and has a long, low-slung body. Their nose is bottle-shaped, and they have sharp canine teeth and sharp claws built for digging. Even though they are predators, they are not wild animals. Ferrets were domesticated over 2500 years ago. It is thought that they come from breeding polecats.
In some areas of the country, the title polecat refers to skunks. However, the polecats that make up a ferret’s lineage are related to the weasel, not the skunk. The polecat is a different animal, and although some may be black and white, they are long, slinky, and low to the ground.
They are rare in the wild today, and the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is on the endangered species list. Ferrets will eat rodents, prairie dogs, hedgehogs, mice, rats, possums, and rabbits if they can get to them.
Ferrets have been kept domestically for so long that they have difficulty surviving independently. Ferrets that get away from their owners generally will not make it but a few days on their own. This is because they are so accustomed to being fed and taken care of that they have forgotten how to make it without human help.
What do ferrets eat?
Ferrets are carnivores and make their meals of mice, rats, prairie dogs, rabbits, opossums, and other small ground animals. Weighing between 1.5 and 5.5 pounds, ferrets are not large animals. However, their mouths full of teeth, sharp claws, and quickness make them intimidating little animals.
When they were first domesticated, their handlers had to teach them not to eat their catch. As a hunting companion, ferrets were used to catch the animals, not kill them.
An animal that killed its catch was little help to a hungry hunter. Can you teach your ferret not to eat your pet rabbits? Maybe, but is it worth the risk and hard work?
Rabbits and ferrets share habitats in the wild.
Since rabbits and ferrets share habitats in the wild, their odds of crossing paths are high. Some rabbit breeds make their homes in burrows. This puts both adults and babies at risk if there is a ferret in the neighborhood. However, wild ferret populations have fallen dramatically in the last 100 years.
A few black-footed ferrets are found in South Dakota. However, fewer than 300 black-footed ferrets remain in the wild between there and a few other North American locations.
Due to the encroachment of man and climatic shifts, their food of favor, the prairie dog, has also diminished in number.
Where do rabbits and ferrets meet?
Since they are domesticated animals who only last a few days in the wild, a rabbit will likely meet a ferret in its owners’ home. Many of us have more than one pet in our homes. So, when you mix cats, dogs, rabbits, and other domesticated animals in the same space, you had better have a plan.
The best plan when you have multiple animals is to keep them separated. You can often mix cats and dogs and even ferrets. They are all carnivores, after all. However, throw a bunny into that mix, games on, and the bunny will undoubtedly be the loser.
How do you protect your rabbits from ferrets?
Ferrets are popular pets, as are rabbits. However, they do not cohabitate well. If you have both animals, you can never leave them loose together in your home. The cages for your rabbits need to be secure from the prying claws of your pet ferrets if you have them.
If you keep your ferrets caged, they too need to be in a secure structure. However, they are smart and can open a cage that keeps other animals secure. When rabbits and ferrets are kept in secure cages, they can safely share the same spaces. However, if you have one, the other should not be.
Ferrets are fast, and a bunny, especially a little bunny, may be more temptation than even a well-fed ferret can stand.
Secured rabbits are safe rabbits
Whether you have one rabbit or a dozen as pets, they need to be kept secure. You can’t stay awake 24 hours a day, and like children, unattended pets can get into all kinds of mischief.
Allowing a ferret and rabbit to be in the same room together unattended could end up being bad for both animals. Even if you are in the room with them, a ferret is fast, very fast, and it may harm a rabbit before you have time to intervene.
The originally domesticated ferrets were taught not to eat the rabbits they caught. So unless you have taught your ferret to do the same, cage it and your rabbit when you are not around.
Can the presence of ferrets cause rabbits stress?
Even rabbits that have never seen a ferret can get nervous by their mere presence. This is because animals are instinctual about their well-being. A bunny knows when they are in the presence of an animal, that will harm them. There are instances of rabbits and dogs and rabbits and cats that have become friends. However, trusting a ferret with a rabbit is probably not a good idea.
Stress can affect the health of your rabbits. There could be a correlation between rabbits and ferrets in the same area and a rabbit whose health is not as it should be.
If separating the rabbit from the same area as the ferret improves its health, then you have found your solution. But, on the other hand, you may have a rabbit and ferret who become fast friends.
It is hard to know how an animal will behave, even if it has been bred to be a hunter. But, sometimes, a rabbit’s loneliness and desire for a friend overcome their differences, even if those differences are dietary.