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4 Ferret Behavior Problems (and how to deal with them!)

Ferrets are known for all sorts of silly and suspicious behaviors. Most of the time, these quirks add color and personality, making spending time with your furry ferret friend an endlessly fun activity.

On the other hand, some typical ferret behaviors pose a problem to you, your ferret, or anyone who tries interacting with them. These behaviors, however typical, must be addressed and corrected.

Some ferrets may exhibit problem behaviors like biting, digging, and stealing. In some cases, the behaviors may be antisocial, including hissing, hiding, and hunting. 

With patience and a directed approach, you can correct these behaviors and enjoy a more harmonious relationship with your ferret in due time.

Need to know how? Let’s discuss in-depth and find out!


Problem #1: Biting

Problem #1: Biting

Nipping is natural during playtime activities, but precocious ferrets may take things too far without a little guidance from you. Biting, whether from play that has been taken too far or from aggression, should not be allowed.

Not only is a bitey ferret difficult to interact with, but it could also injure you, your ferret, or an unassuming guest who wants to handle your ferret.

Here are some things you can do to dissuade a ferret from biting. 

Praise good behaviors

It’s easy to issue a correction once the bad behavior is exhibited, but we can’t forget to praise good behaviors. Like with dogs, ferrets like to repeat behaviors that get them what they want.

The reward may be verbal praise, petting, attention, or a tasty treat. If playtime gets out of hand and your ferret gets bitey, issue the correct instruction and praise them for good listening. 

Make sure not to accidentally praise them for biting, as this will make them think they should bite your finger to get the treat.

Ignore them if they are biting

Ferrets love to play and interact with you. If they take things too far with a vicious bite, turn away and disregard them for a few seconds.

The abrupt shift from happy playtime to the cold shoulder will be jarring for them, and they will come to understand that they have committed a ferret faux pas. 

Over time, they’ll understand that biting means that playtime is over, and they don’t want that, so they will learn not to bite.

“Scruff” them to discipline

In the wild, ferret mothers will “scruff” precocious ferret pups to scold them for misbehaving or getting overexcited. You can subject them to the same discipline to teach them a lesson when they take things too far.

It’s important that you scruff your ferret properly, though, to avoid injury. Here’s how:

  1. Pull your ferret in close.
  2. Grab the skin behind their neck with your dominant hand.
  3. Support their chest with the other hand as you get a good grip.
  4. Once you have a good grip on the scruff, lift its front legs off the ground.
  5. Move your non-dominant hand to the ferret’s back legs and buttocks to support its weight.
  6. Lift them while holding the scruff and their back, so they are fully supported.
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If you’ve done this right, your ferret will accept the behavior and start yawning. The yawn signals that they’re learning or working things out in their brain. 

They will stay in this state for as long as you hold them. Usually, a few seconds is sufficient.


Problem #2: Digging

This typically benign behavior is only a nuisance when they dig in their bedding or food bowls. Still, it can be destructive if they dig into your carpet, bedding, upholstery, and other furniture.

Try the following to dissuade your ferret from digging up your home.

Provide appropriate outlets

Digging is an instinct, so it will be hard or impossible to train it out of your ferret completely. 

Instead of hoping they don’t dig in inappropriate places, provide them with a special place where digging is encouraged.

Many ferret owners make a “dig box” for this. You can make a dig box using a cardboard container or other small receptacle and fill it with shredded newspaper, leaves, ping pong balls, or other items that provide an activity and mental stimulation for your ferret.

Then, if they try digging somewhere else, simply direct them to the dig box and let them go nuts!

Use alternate food bowls.

The best food bowl is usually the regular kind, but some ferrets just won’t quit digging. Instead of having a nice meal, they make a mess of everything, leaving their bellies empty and you on cleanup duty.

Try a different feeding format like a gravity feeder, suspended feeder, or other bowls that don’t allow them to get inside and go wild. Simply removing a standard bowl from the mix eliminates this as a place for digging.

Cover surfaces of your furniture

So, you have an expensive dining room table and chairs with beautiful upholstery. You really don’t want your ferret tearing up the cushions or leaving scratch marks all over the wood.

Easy solution? Just don’t let them have any access to these pieces of furniture. Cover them with mats, blankets, towels, or other coverings that keep your ferret’s claws off them.

Better yet, barricade your ferret so it can’t get on these pieces of furniture in the first place.


Problem #3: Stealing

Problem #3: Stealing

Ferrets love hoarding objects and stashing them, sometimes in places you can’t readily see or access. It’s not a behavior you can necessarily “train out” of them, so you must take precautions to safeguard your valuables.

Here are some methods for dealing with a sticky-fingered ferret.

Hide or lock up your important items

It sounds obvious, but it’s often an overlooked strategy to keep their sticky ferret fingers off your valuables. 

Items of great value, whether it’s monetary or sentimental, should be hidden or locked away so there’s no chance they could whisk them away and hide them somewhere out of sight.

Find their secret stash.

If you accidentally let them take something of value, all hope is not lost. You can set them up with another similar item and see where they skulk off to, so you find their secret stash.

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Unfortunately, this isn’t foolproof, as ferrets often have several stashes around your home and tend to group like objects together. 

To maximize your odds, give them something similar, so they return to the same hiding spot they stored your other missing item.

Get them their own items that are okay to “steal”

Ferrets love “stealing,” but what if the item they “stole” was theirs all along?

Giving your ferrets their own stash of coins, colorful balls, or other shiny trinkets gives them an activity. 

They’ll happily help themselves to these items, hide them out of sight, and feel super-duper accomplished, all while your real valuables are safely tucked away.


Problem #4: Antisocial tendencies

Problem #4: Antisocial tendencies

It’s one thing when your ferret is a little too rambunctious during play, but actual aggression can be much more problematic. Antisocial behaviors can pose a serious problem, resulting in stress or harm to you or your ferret.

Some aggressive antisocial behaviors might include:

  • Avoiding human interaction
  • Hiding from sight
  • Attacking anyone or anything that approaches
  • Hissing

Why would a ferret act this way?

Some ferrets might act out if they are still learning proper ferret etiquette and the “rules” of playing appropriately. Unaltered males may also act out if the behaviors are exhibited during mating season.

Additional reasons for antisocial or aggressive behaviors include:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Sickness
  • Injury

What to do about it?

So your ferret is prone to antisocial or aggressive tendencies. What can we do to correct or address this? The correct reaction will depend entirely on why the ferret is acting this way in the first place, so it’s imperative to identify the reason before taking action.

For ferrets that are still learning, do your best as a pet parent to guide them towards “right” actions. Encourage social behaviors and discourage aggression by withholding attention or scruffing them.

For unaltered males, avoid interacting during mating season when their behaviors are most aggressive. Otherwise, neutering a ferret is a good option as well.

If you suspect your ferret was previously abused or neglected, be patient and engage them positively at their pace. 

It will take longer to rebuild their damaged trust in humans, and they may never interact the same way an untraumatized ferret does. Things may be difficult, but it is a noble and worthy pursuit.

If you believe the antisocial behavior derives from sickness or injury, it is prudent to visit the vet and allow them to perform a full examination.

They may discover something that has been causing your ferret pain or stress, thus explaining the problematic behaviors they are exhibiting.


Conclusion

Ferrets are full of fun and exhibit many unusual behaviors. As responsible pet parents, knowing which behaviors will pose problems and how to nip those in the bud before things get out of hand is important.

With a little knowledge and a measured approach, you can guide your ferret away from problem behaviors and build a strong bond that will last many years.