I have had several posts regarding this subject lately on the sites that I moderate, so I believe an article is in order.
Ferrets should never place their teeth on anything but food, toys, or during play with other ferrets (this is instinctual). There is a difference between nipping and biting. Nipping is something that’s done as a part of playing. Also, the younger of kit, the more likely he is to be nippy. Just like babies of other species, ferrets have teething pain. It feels good to them to bite, but it’s important they learn as early as possible that it’s never okay for them to put their teeth on anything but food, toys, or in play, with other ferrets. Ferrets have extremely tough skin, unlike humans.
Biting, however, is a different matter. This is normally to be the cause of fear. But additionally, contributions include poor breeding, anxiety, pain, and if startled. A bite to humans is usually painful, and a bite is far different that nipping. For example, of my four, my hybrid nips at my feet only if I’m wearing socks. He’s called a carpet shark. But the good news is that ferrets don’t bite nearly as often as people believe they do. Dogs far exceed and hold the biting record, more often than not, putting people in the Emergency Room and if a ferret does bite children, that is solely the parents’ fault, not the ferret’s.
Bite prevention is the best way you can handle any aggression…regardless of it’s reason. Some guaranteed methods are:
- Let your ferret know that it’s you before you try and pick him/her up. Call it’s name and make some noise as you approach. If you just swoop in and snatch up your ferret, you may startle it, resulting in an instinctual bite.
- Don’t let the ferret get caught in uncomfortable situations. Always avoid making the ferret feel as if it has to defend itself.
- Never allow the ferret to believe he has the upper hand. Animals, including ferrets, must understand that you are always in charge and you should never display fear. NEVER discipline a ferret by hitting, throwing, or any other cruel act. Also, spraying the product called, “Bitter Apple” into the face of the ferret.
- Do all things possible to avoid anxiety and stress, such as bringing home a new animal. Though you want to stay in the usual routine, do not forget that ferrets get bored, and must have enriching activities and toys. You must teach the ferret that bad behavior is not the way for it to get it’s way.
- Ferrets must have regular visits with a ferret-knowledgable veterinarian. Aggressive behavior can be triggered by an underlying medical illness/issue. If the ferret shows signs of aggression, particularly out of nowhere, your first step should be a trip to the veterinarian.
- Ferrets who have lived in abusive situations, often spend a great deal of time feeling stressed and fearful., and are used to being put into a position where they feel as if they must defend themselves. For first-time or new owners, the history must be communicated to the potential adopter before an adoption takes place.
Every ferret is unique, so chances are that the biting ferret will have some type of behavioral difficulties, though, not always. Some ferrets, for example, are chewers and will gnaw on anything from your hand to the kitchen table or a toy. While others love to dig, and they don’t seem to care where they do it (on carpet, in plants, or a even the litter box). Whatever undesirable behavior the ferret is performing, you should use ferret-appropriate training techniques. A wonderful and inexpensive book to purchase to assist you is called, “Training Your Pet Ferret” second edition, by Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville.
Don’t simply attempt to eliminate behaviors; replace any unwanted behaviors with something else. For example, the ferret who loves to chew…don’t just stop it because that ferret will return to the behavior again. Recognize that the chewing fulfills some need for it, so when you teach it not to chew things that aren’t appropriate, redirect it to a toy that is okay for it to chew. Redirect but never reward. Reward (at the time) of good behaviors. This is a great practice when you are actively training and when the ferret demonstrates good behavior during the course of it’s normal day. You will find plenty of opportunities to reward the ferret without even trying. Prevention is the key to avoiding all those undesirable behaviors.
Keep in mind that many of the ferret’s annoying habits are perfectly normal (except biting). Digging and chewing are instinctive behaviors, which means your best bet in keeping the ferret from doing them in places that you don’t want them to, is to provide them with acceptable outlets for them to do them in. Provide, for example, chew toys for the ferret who likes to chew, and a dig box for the digger. (Dig boxes are inexpensive and work very well. Raw rice is great for those ferrets who love to dig and burrow in it). Often when your ferret is digging, chewing, nipping, biting, or performing any other undesired behavior to excess, chances are, it is a sign of boredom. Bring it new toys, give lots of attention. Additionally, if you cage the ferret often, then lots of playtime outside of the cage is mandatory for a happy and healthy ferret, then you will probably find these behaviors go away on their own. Ferrets take playtime serious and serves as mental stimulation (enrichment), proving a vital component of a ferret’s well being. To force ferrets to remain caged for long periods of time is abusive and neglectful, especially if it isn’t given daily playtime and exercise, can cause that ferret to become depressed and anxious. This condition is commonly referred to as being cage crazy.
Finally, a few enriching activities and fun items, which provides stimulation are (this list is only a few ideas):
- Tunnels (a must-have)
- Dig Boxes
- Non-latex chewable toys
- Box of ping pong balls
- Long wands with feathers and a bell at the end
- Stuffed animals
- Old shoes (they love to dig in them)
- Old socks
- A key ring that holds keys you do not need
- Carpeted cat towers
- Your Outta Control Ferret, Bobbye Land, T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
- Training Your Pet Ferret 2nd ed, Gerry Bucsis, Barbara Somerville, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
- Guide To Owning A Ferret, Mary Field, T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
- Complete Guide To Ferrets, James McCay, Swan Hill Press
- Ferret, Mary R. Shefferman, Howell Book House, Inc.
- Ferrets, Bobbye Land, T.F.H. Publications, Inc.
Article researched and written by Brian Carr, Weezle Wings Ferret Sanctuary
With Kind Regards,
Brian K. Carr