Ferrets are curious pets and often exhibit unusual behaviors that leave us scratching our heads. One such behavior includes digging in their water bowl. We know there’s nothing in there but water, and we’re pretty sure they know that too.
But why do they do this to us? Most of the time, they are just bored or curious; other times, there may be something that your ferret is trying to tell you.
This article will discuss the possible reasons for this behavior and some measures you can take to discourage digging in the water bowl if it becomes a problem.
Why is your ferret digging in their water bowl? (5 reasons)
#1 They are curious.
We all know the adage about what curiosity did to the cat. For your ferret digging in their water bowl, the stakes are significantly lower, and there should be no cause for concern or fear.
Your ferret is a little scientist that loves experimenting with their environment. That’s why we often find them digging, scratching, or picking up different items in order to influence and interact with their surroundings. And that includes you!
#2 They are playing.
Ferrets are also very energetic, playful creatures by nature. Beyond simply testing out what happens if they dig in the water bowl, even if they’re doing it for the umpteenth time, they might just find it amusing or enjoyable.
Remember when you were a child and splashing around at the pool was all the rage?
As adults, we might consider that sort of thing messy, disruptive, or pedantic, but we knew it was super cool when we were kids, and your ferret knows it too!
#3 They are expressing their instinct to dig.
Ferrets have a natural instinct to dig and burrow. It’s not unusual to find them digging into their bedding, substrate, water bowls, and even digging in various places around your home, including carpeting, couch cushions, clothes piles, and more.
It’s normal behavior that ferrets display, but it can be messy or become destructive in some cases.
While you need not be concerned for your ferrets’ health or safety, you may want to intervene before they cause costly damage to your home or furnishings.
#4 They are bored.
We, humans, do all sorts of kooky things when we’re restless. We pace, bounce, ramble, and meander, just trying to come up with something to truly engage us and pass the time positively.
Your ferret has much simpler likes and dislikes, but they still function just as we do when it comes to boredom.
If your ferret feels unstimulated and generally just bored, they will start with the hijinks and display odd behaviors like digging furiously in their water bowl.
#5 They want wet food.
This might sound like a strange way to express this desire, but it makes total sense to your ferret.
Ferrets that ordinarily consume dry food or kibble might indicate by digging in the water bowl that they prefer something with higher moisture content, like wet food, raw food, or human food.
Some ferrets have been known to actually take their kibble and place it in the water bowl to wet it before eating.
This will eventually make the bowl unsanitary, as trace fragments of food will stay in the water and start to compromise the cleanliness.
If you observe your ferret placing food into the water bowl, be sure to dump it out later on and replace it completely with fresh water instead of just topping them off.
Should I be concerned that my ferret is digging?
Digging is natural and often no indication that anything is amiss.
It’s often more of a nuisance to us since we will need to clean the cage and replace the water more often to mitigate the effects of this behavior than it is an indicator of anything wrong with our furry ferret friend.
There is one concern, however, that you should keep in mind. If your ferret regularly spills the contents of their water everywhere, they may not have enough to drink and stay hydrated.
This creates a classic “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink” kind of situation!
Dehydration is dangerous and could have dire consequences. If you suspect they may become dehydrated, you must take care to replenish their water frequently and monitor them for signs.
Here are signs of dehydration in a ferret:
- Dry gums
- Sticky gums
- Excessive squinting
- Decreased amounts of urine
Consult your veterinarian immediately if your ferret exhibits any of the above signs.
A diagnosis may be required to make an accurate assessment, and treatment may be administered if they are observed to be dehydrated.
How to stop my ferret from digging in water bowl?
Digging in the water bowl is often harmless and mostly a nuisance to us.
However, if you’re tired of constantly refilling the water bowl and cleaning soiled substrate from the cage bottom, you might try some of the following strategies to get them to quit it already!
Give them a dig box.
We know our ferrets want to dig, but could they do it elsewhere in the cage? They can! They’re just waiting for a cue from you– their teacher.
Try setting up a dig box to encourage them to dig there instead of in the water bowl.
Shredded newspaper, crumpled paper, fallen leaves, and ping pong balls all work well to entice your ferret to interact and dig to their heart’s content.
Placing treats or little rewards in the dig box also helps get them interested. As long as they’re using the dig box as an outlet, they should leave the bowl well enough alone.
Use a different bowl or a bottle.
Most folks prefer using a standard bowl that sits on the cage bottom. For one, it holds more volume than other options.
In addition, ferrets can take bigger sips from a standard bowl versus a bottle.
That said, hanging a bottle from the side of the cage is a quick and easy way to take away the option of digging from them.
Sure, they can dig in their bedding, or anywhere else they please, but at least it won’t create a sopping wet mess for you to clean up every day.
Everyone knows that dogs can be trained to do tricks, obey commands, and manage nuisance behaviors by working with them and communicating boundaries.
Ferrets are slightly more difficult to train because of their quirky personalities, but they are almost equally intelligent and willing to take directions if training is done properly.
Training is very similar to dog training as well; we must correct undesired behaviors and reward the desired ones immediately to signal they’ve done something right.
Try observing your ferret. If they go to the water bowl to dig, issue a quick and appropriate correction by telling them “no” or gently removing them from that area.
Redirect them to the dig box instead, and provide them a treat once they choose to dig here instead.
By consistently discouraging undesired behaviors and directing them towards what we’d rather they be doing at that time, we begin to communicate our expectations to them.
Of course, some ferrets relish the mischievousness and naughtiness, but many are workable and trainable and will respond well to your attention if you are consistent.
Provide plenty of toys.
As we discussed earlier, ferrets may act out, just as we do, when they’re bored.
They may pace, climb, dig, bite, scratch, or exhibit really unusual and random behaviors just to deal with restlessness.
Help them stave off boredom by providing a bunch of their favorite toys in the cage.
These include tunnels, ropes, chew toys, dig boxes, crinkly stuff, balls, bells, and anything else they can interact with when you’re unavailable.
The digging may be a result of pent-up energy as well; therefore, a hearty helping of exercise should do quite nicely to reduce the behavior.
Ferrets need approximately 4 hours of out-of-cage time to romp, play, explore, and generally exhaust those ample energy reserves so they can tucker out and sleep peacefully.
If they’re not getting those 4 daily hours, start by increasing the amount of time they are getting and see how it affects their nuisance behaviors like digging in the water bowl.
Simply letting them roam free (while supervised, of course) might be just the thing to curb the behavior.
Offer them wet food.
While we wouldn’t recommend starting here to address the water bowl digging behavior, it might work as a last-ditch effort when you’ve exhausted all other avenues.
This might be especially crucial to consider if you observe the ferret bringing their food to the water bowl to give it a dip before eating it.
Try wet ferret food, raw food, or toppers to entice your ferret to whet their appetite. Kitten food is a good treat to pique their interest, as cats and ferrets have similar nutritional requirements.
Remember– a diet made specifically for ferrets is the only guaranteed way to ensure they get all the required nutrients. Discuss with your veterinarian before making any drastic dietary changes.
Ferrets are full of interesting, intriguing, and downright puzzling behaviors, but digging in the water bowl is natural and often has no cause for concern.
If it has caused a problem, you can take measures to discourage digging. Otherwise, it’s just one of many quirks that make our ferrets so wonderfully special.