Ferrets are playful creatures and love to explore their environment since curiosity is one of their biggest traits. However, many ferrets use biting and chomping as their approach to investigate new objects and smells. Because of this, it is necessary to understand the instinct behind your ferret biting, and how to stop them from doing it.
Why do Ferrets Bite?
Unlike other pets and animals who use audio language (hissing, screeching, and barking) to express their feelings and thoughts, ferrets use their mouths as their main source of communication. Actually, ferrets prefer body language to convey their intentions and biting is their best tool to show it.
Nipping as a Form of Play
Upon birth, kits (baby ferrets) utilize their mouths to inspect their surroundings and to interact with each other. Since they possess poor eyesight and are unable to see or hear until they are approximately five weeks old, kits truly depend on biting and chewing to understand their environment in order to survive.
This kind of behavior is known as nipping and it is how ferrets socialize with one another and other animals. Therefore, it is common to see baby ferrets chewing each other’s ears or gnawing on their loose skin. Let me tell you, it is quite an amusing sight when a kit is towing another kit across the litter.
Additionally, kits also tend to nibble on other kits and toys when they are teething. Their teeth begin to develop when they are three weeks old and sometimes, the sensation can be uncomfortable. Biting helps them alleviate the discomfort and reduce any pain.
Because ferrets tend to play-bite, it is crucial to train your ferret when it is still a kit. During this time, it’s easier to teach him when it’s appropriate to bite or how strong he can bite if he is playing with you.
Biting as their Main Defense Mechanism
Biting is also a ferret’s main approach to protect themselves when they feel threatened or frightened. Since ferrets do not have claws to defend themselves, they resort to poofing (releasing a pungent scent from their anal glands) and chomping to scare away any potential predator.
Because of this, it is very likely that your ferret will recur to biting when you bring him to your home for the first time.
A new home startles all pets because they are not familiar with the new environment and safety becomes their top priority. Even more, abused ferrets are more anxious since they already experienced pain and suffering before.
Therefore, if you decide to approach your new furry friend or pick it up abruptly, it will tend to nip you to scare you away. You must first build a bond with him so he can learn to trust you and to reduce the biting necessity.
Pampering leads to Bad Habits
At first, you thought it was charming when your kit was gnawing at your hands and thumbs since the nips were harmless. However, its bite becomes stronger as it grows. If you allowed him to nip at you every time you held him when it was a baby, he will continue to bite you when he is an adult.
A grown ferret’s munch is much more powerful and can lead to broken skin and wounds. His bites are not so cute anymore, or are they?
Additionally. you can unconsciously teach your ferret to bite you as a way to grab your attention. Most ferrets tend to bite their owners’ hands to communicate that they want to be placed on the floor.
If you place him down immediately after he bites you, your ferret will learn this habit. He will understand that he can capture your attention by gnawing at you. This can be extended to other situations, such as playtime, feeding, and even sleeping.
For example, some ferrets tend to cuddle or jump around to inform you that they want to play with you. If you are naive to these hints or ignore him, he will bite your feet in order to grab your attention.
When you acknowledge his presence and play with him after he chomped at you, your ferret will likely resort to nipping so you can play with him. In other words, you taught your ferret that biting equals attention. Remember that ferrets are very intelligent animals and can rapidly adapt to your responses.
To Express a Health Condition
If your ferret is well-trained and all of a sudden begins to bite more frequently than usual, there could be a health issue related to it. Unfortunately, illnesses begin to appear when ferrets reach their midlife, which is around 3 years of age.
Infections, tumors, and hormonal imbalances can cause behavioral changes or pain, and sometimes, your ferret can only convey this discomfort through biting. In addition, some ferrets can become deaf or blind and are easily startled when you pick them up or touch them. Keep in mind that ferrets bite to protect themselves.
Because of this, it is important to visit your local vet so he or she can evaluate your ferret’s overall health. The veterinarian will provide you experienced guidance on how to handle your beloved friend while he is sick and offers the best treatment possible for a fast recovery.
Ferrets also become more aggressive when they reach sexual maturity. The spike in sex hormones causes hobs (male ferrets) to be more destructive, while jills (female ferrets) are more sensitive during mating season.
Although neutering your ferret will surely reduce the longevity of this particular behavior, it will also decrease the chances of suffering from other health conditions and illnesses.
Establish Dominance and Discipline
If you have a business (a group of ferrets), it is guaranteed that hobs will combat on a regular basis to mark their territory and to demonstrate their authority. There will always be an “alpha” ferret who reigns over the remaining hobs.
If any hob decides to challenge the reigning leader, they will fight and bite to determine who is the winner. On certain occasions, the quarrel can lead to wounds, but none are life-threatening.
Mother jills also recur to biting when they want to punish her litter or discipline misbehaving ferrets. Normally, they do it by grabbing the ferret from their scrub and pinning to the ground for a few seconds.
Afterward, she lets the ferret go before hissing at it as a way of saying: “Try me again and you’ll see!”. Tough love has a new definition, apparently.
How to Stop a Ferret from Biting?
How to train a ferret not to bite requires patience and conviction if you truly want to discourage nipping and biting. Some ferrets are able to stop biting in a matter of weeks, while it takes months on abused or high-strung ones. Ideally, training should begin while he is still a kit because you can promote good habits as it grows.
Training as a Kit
If your ferret is still a kit, you can discourage biting by verbally expressing discontent every time he gnaws at you. You can say “No!” or “Auch!” when he bites you, pull your hand away and ignore it for a couple of seconds. After a few moments, approach it once again and play with him. You must repeat this process every it bites you so he can understand and make it habit not to bite.
You can also act like his mother jill and gently grab him by the scruff and pin him to the ground for a few moments. After a while, he will restrain himself from biting you.
Training a Grown Ferret
If you adopted a new ferret, you must first build a bond so he can learn to trust you. Allow your ferret to roam free around your house for a few minutes and let him approach you. Try not to corner him because he can feel threatened and bite you accidentally. You can use treats so he can walk up to you and feed on your hand. Apply light touches on his fur and pet him gently.
Whenever you are going to pick him up, gently state your presence by tapping your feet or touching his head. Once he has acknowledged your presence, you can try to pick him up. If he bites you, do not put him down right away. Simply pull your hand away, express your uneasiness, hold him a few more seconds, and then place him down.
If your ferret’s biting is going out of hand, you can apply timeouts to his playtime. Whenever he munches your hands, place him in a separate room or cage for about five minutes. Do not place him in the cage where he sleeps because he will learn that you will take him to his cage when he bites you. Timeouts are highly effective since they are not fond of being left alone.
Encourage Rewards rather than Punishment
You must not tap your ferret’s nose or rough-handle it whenever he bites you. This will only turn it more aggressive or believe you are rough-playing. For this reason, you must apply rewards whenever he follows your instructions.
If he bites your feet to grab your attention, ignore it and wait for a few minutes. The next time he approaches you, pay attention to him and give him a treat. He will rapidly learn to capture your attention by receiving rewards.
Although biting is part of your ferret’s instinct, you can educate him through proper training and methods. Just like a baby, you must show him manners on how to address the presence of other people and pets.