Common Behavior Problems
Author: Katt Crouch
Bored ferrets can be – and usually are – extraordinarily destructive. They live to dig (carpets, bedding, doors, you name it), chew, rip, tear, stash, and just generally destroy. Some of these behaviors are very much instinctual to ferrets and, as I have learned the hard way, difficult if not impossible to stop completely (not that I am not still trying! haha). For example, digging is in their nature, as is being exploitative, inquisitive, and crafty. Once they see a door open, they know there is something behind it, and will probably never give up trying to dig a hole to get under the door. They are natural burrowers, this is instinct and normal ferret behavior. However, the more bored they are, the more likely they are to exhibit destructive behavior. The key is to focus their energy and re-channel it on something else.
Ok, I don’t want to be too redundant so just remember digging is an instinct and you will probably never be able to completely prevent your ferret from digging – esp an only ferret with lots of extra energy! If you can, replacing the carpet with linoleum or tile, or having a carpet-free play area is a good idea. If you do have carpet that cannot be replaced, there are a few options. The first is to buy plastic carpet runners to protect your carpet.
The second option is to get a few sturdy, berber rugs. Get enough to cover a little over the space that you have so that they can overlap, and cover the entire area with them. Tape them down – from underneath! If you put the tape on top, the ferret will have all kinds of fun tearing up the tape (and eventually getting under the rugs and digging anyways), and even chewing the tape! Tape the overlaps together underneath if you can, and use rolls of duct tape (like you would for taping a present) under the mats to stick it to the carpet below all along the edges and corners. It helps of areas – esp the edges/corners – are weighed down by heavy furniture – the bed, the ferret cage, the dresser, etc.
The key places to get are under the door, along any edges (ie the edge of the dresser, and along the walls), and under things – for example I have a reptile cage that Koda can climb under. Because it is like a cozy den under the cage, he likes to try to dig cozy tunnels from his “den.” For under doors, you can cut the plastic or rug to wrap around the door frame and outside of the door – otherwise the ferret can and will dig at the edge of the rug/plastic where it gets to the door. For along walls, it is good to set the rug/plastic up a bit so that it runs along the floor, then bends and goes up the wall an inch or so. Then tape it to the wall, or weigh it down. Otherwise, destructo-ferret will dig at the seam where carpet meets wall. Once the carpet is covered, let them dig the plastic or rugs to their little heart’s content if you so please. 😉
Another way to help with digging is to refocus it. Get dig boxes and lots of them. They are easy to make – get a cardboard box, or a plastic rubbermaid container. Cut a hole, or holes, on or near the top (be sure the ferret can reach it to get in) (you can even attach a tunnel!) and fill the box with stuff to dig in:
- long grain rice (NOT the Instant kind – if your ferret eats instant rice it can expand in their stomachs and kill them and/or cause a blockage!)
- balled up paper/newspaper
- shredded paper
- plastic Easter eggs (do a double dig-box/foraging toy by hiding treats in some of the eggs!)
- ping pong balls
- dried beans
- Starch peanuts (NOT the Styrofoam ones, Starch only!)
- dried leaves in the fall (added bonus – they smell great!)
- organic soil (bake in the oven at 400 degrees F for an hour to kill any residual germs/parasites))
- blankets/fabric scraps
- anything you can think of!
If you can, attach a tunnel to a dig box to the cage. Have multiple dig boxes around the room with different materials in each. Move them around and swap them out periodically. If your ferret is getting bored with them, take them away for a week or two and then put them back out – it is like a whole new toy! 😉
If they are digging in the cage, make sure they have fresh toys, get more time out of the cage to play and burn off destructive energy,
Chewing is…well…a PAIN in the butt let me tell you! I have a world Champion chewer. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot to do about chewing habits other than to make things SUPER safe. I only buy hard plastic toys, and toys with small parts. Stuffed animals must not have eyeballs or noses as they will be chewed off. Rubber will be chewed, small parts will be eaten. Anything and everything is moved out of reach. I check toys for damage, and I toss out any that begin to show wear. Other toys are only for supervised play time. Around the cage I make sure that everything is out of reach by a good distance. Otherwise, Koda will reach out and pull things into the cage, or at the least, close enough to reach. He will then – you guessed it! – CHEW on them! I have tired a variety of sprays and hated them all. Honestly? Vinegar worked the best by FAR! Don’t bother wasting time or money on the bitter sprays, You will end up tasting them for weeks, unable to eat food without it tasting terrible, but it won’t phase the ferrets. Anytime you touch the sprayed item, your will then taste it for hours to days after – regardless of how much you wash your hands. Been there hated that! I found that of the sprays I tried, the Marshalls ferret no-chew spay tend to linger in my own mouth for a much shorter time, and I could ACTUALLY wash it off of my hands. The vinegar was the only thing that had any kind of effect on the ferrets though. I used Very concentrated vinegar – more like 60-80% rather than a 50% dilution. 50% didn’t do much, 80% got a good Icky face and the cords were left alone…temporarily. It has to be sprayed on with a LOT of spray, and refreshed constantly as it wears off rather quickly. I gave up and hid all of my cords that I could in a box. I will try to get a picture if I can remember. As I said, anything and everything else has been discovered via the ferret proofing and re-proofing process and moved out of reach. And then of course, when he finds new ways to new spots – moved to a new out of reach. And repeat.
Cage biting, ESPECIALLY in Only Ferrets, is typically an attention thing. If they do not get enough out time, they will tend to cage bite. With only ferrets, there is no such thing as enough out time – or enough attention. Making sure that your ferret is tired before going back in the cage, and gets a lot of time and attention – and exercise – out of the cage will make a big difference with this. Also, ensuring that you have a big enough cage, with a constant supply of new toys (a small number of toys rotated out regularly) will help as well. When the cage biting continues, as it inevitably will, there are many things you can do. You can yell, hiss, and make noisy distractions. Bang on the cage, and throw things at the cage to distract them. Take them out of the cage, give them kisses, and put them back in so they can start again…..and also in the process of all of these they will learn that they get what they want when they cage bite/rattle the cage – attention! Just like small children, even negative attention is still attention! Every time you reward them with screams, bangs, or taking them out, you are only reinforcing the habit and making it harder to train them not to do. I have tried it all. It is very difficult, but the BEST Thing that you can do? Ignore it until they stop. Yes, this can mean months of sleepless nights until they learn, it can mean leaving the room. It means frustration – and it means Them learning that cage biting will not get them any attention. Even when they learn, they will still do it from time to time. Koda now only cage bites when he has been cooped up more than usual however. Overall he has learned that – especially when lights are out (aka Mommy is SLEEPING) he will NOT get attention. How long does it take? Depends on how determined your ferret is, and how much you ensure that the other conditions (attention, time out of the cage, space, and interesting toys) are met. Days if you are lucky. For me it took months so be prepared!
As with anything pooping out of the litter box can also be a cry for attention, as well as a method of revenge! There are a few methods to potty training, but the Litter Box Boot Camp is one of the best, most proven methods out there whether you have one ferret or many.
There are many approaches to correcting biting, as well as many opinions of what is “ok.” Some people have small children and are strictly NO mouthing or biting of any kind, others like me, allow mouthing in play as long as they do not bite too hard. It is possible to discipline for both.
Read more on: Bite Training
Read more on: Bite Correction Hold
Pica is a disorder in which there is a strong urge to ingest inedible items. In ferrets this is extraordinarily dangerous as the obsessive chewing can lead to life-threatening blockages. Pica appears to be correlated to ferrets with IBD, or may be a psychological problem. If you think your ferret might have Pica, first have your ferret evaluated by a ferret knowledgeable vet as chewing is often a sign of underlying disease or pain. If your ferret checks out as healthy and the obsessive chewing continues, consider whether your ferret might be bored and in need for more stimulation. Last but not least, it is VITAL that any and all objects that your ferret can chew be removed from their living area, and that they are very closely supervised when out.
To give you an idea as to how bad Pica can get…