Ferrets/Ferret biting/general behavior
I just got my first ferret, Louie, a week ago. I bought him from a woman who didn't want him anymore, and she had 4 kids. She claims that he never bit her or her kids. He's four years old.
He wasn't really bitey at first, but within a couple days he started biting my husband and I out of frustration when we would contain him. There are a lot of holes in our house, so we have to watch him closely to make sure he doesn't get anywhere he's not supposed to be.
But now I bring him to work with me, and he has free run of the office (about 12'x13'). He has 8 hours of play time, and can freely go in and out of his carry kennel. He should not be frustrated with how little he can play anymore, because he gets to play all day long.
He bites me ALL the time. I put my hands near him to pick him up and he bites. I pay attention to his body language, and if he doesn't want to be picked up I don't do it, unless he's doing something naughty.
Sometimes he needs help getting up into places so I lift him up there and as soon as I let go, he bites me. After I pick him up and move him away from doing something naughty such as chewing electrical cords, I set him down and he turns around and bites as fast as he can.
I've heard that squeezing a ferret's nose right after they bite will help them stop, so I've tried that but unfortunately he's so quick and I'm not fast enough, so I don't usually get him in time.
I've been gently tapping him on the head (hard enough to surprise him but not hurt him) and firmly saying "no", but the more I do that the more he bites. Clearly it's not working and I don't know what to do. I have scruffed him a few times as well. I took him to the vet and she showed me how to do it. I can't have a ferret that bites, I have nieces and nephews who would love to play with him, and my husband is new to ferrets, so I'd like him to have a good opinion of them so I can get more when the time comes :)
He also doesn't like me to hold him at all. Whenever I have him in my arms he just wants to get down and play, even if he's sleepy. He'll hole up for a nap anywhere but with me. Sometimes when I'm sitting in a room with him watching him play, if I move at all, towards him or away from him, he goes nuts, opening his mouth at me and running away backwards until he's gone as far as he can, or shoved himself in a crevice or some hidey-hole. Is this normal ferret behavior? I've never owned a ferret, but I've played with several, and none of them acted like this. Most of the ferrets I've held or played with just wanted to cuddle and sleep, so that was my impression of them. I knew they were playful and needed play time, but I didn't think he would want to get away from me so much.
He also isn't litter trained. I dutifully scoop his poo and pee into his litter pan, and he used it once, but not regularly.
Any advice you have for me would be welcomed!
ANSWER: Hi Emily!
Welcome to living with a ferret! It seems strange to me that the lady you got him from could/would possibly give him up after four years. I would bet this little one has had several if not many homes. No doubt the little guy you have has been in several homes, probably with people who knew nothing about ferrets, etc. When gotten as babies and taught right from the beginning, of course it is a lot of work...basically the same things you will be doing....assume he has not been taught any manners like the ferrets you have previously been around, and that he has probably be mistreated, even abused along the way. But there is hope..with lots of love, understanding, some "control" issues cleared up, you can be surprised how he will blossom. And probably so happy to be loved that he will really turn out well. He WANTS to be good and be loved, but since he probably never has been, he is scared and unsure. He has possibly lived in that carrier, been grabbed and dropped by kids, chased, etc. He needs to learn SAFE love and some manners...but they learn quickly with lots of love...that's the good news. First off, when you do pick him up, cuddle him close to your belly, rub his ears, back of his neck, etc. Make him feel secure, like he is not going to fall (4 kids in last home??? Problem!!) no wonder he is scared, biting and running. You may have to scruff him, rub him and talk softly until he realizes he can trust you. Don't be afraid of being bit...hold him firmly, scruff if he starts to bite and say "no!", then go back to scratching his neck and ears and talking softly.
Do you have a cage for him? He needs something waaay bigger than a carrier to be in when not out playing.
Ferrets are real social pets and not at all like a dog or cat. They DO, however, reflect their surroundings. If treated properly, they are precious, loving pets. Let me address a few things you are doing wong, if I may, and maybe that will help you get this little guy under control. First off, he should NOT be running around loose anywhere near where he can get access to electrical cords or any other place he can get hurt. Cages, or metal small animal playpens are necessary for a ferret to be when you are not actively engaging him. Your little guy thinks the world is his...kind of like an unruly teenager and is telling you basically if you don't do things his way, he will bite, which makes you either retreat or try to punish him. He does not understand how it is supposed to work. Whoever/wherever he has been for four years has NOT been a pleasant place and he does not trust people, let alone feel like cuddling with them. So, first he needs safe, proper housing...a large multi-level cage (preferrably) or you can use a Marshalls or Midwest metal playpen to contain him so YOU can control his behaviors and, more importantly, keep him safe. Eventually you can ferretproof a play area, but you need to know how to do that...it must be safe and fun for him, someplace with toys, etc. And where he is safe. If you want to take him to work with you, transport him in the carrier, but those are for TRANSPORTING ONLY. In there, in time, he will know he is going bye bye along with you and he will get in it when he sees you getting ready to leave!....right now it is a place he dreads because it is far too confining and small for a ferret for more than maybe 15 minutes or so....more once he understands it is very temporary and he will be with you in a bigger place when he arrives.
Confining him within a space much larger than the carrier, but safely confined, will also give you control of his litter habits. On the bottom floor of a ferret cage there should be ONLY a litterbox with plain clay litter, NOT the clumping kind. Must get the cheap store brand as long as it is not the clumping kind. The litterbox should have holes drilled into it before he even goes in, and put a bolt on each side, with a wingnut so he cannot push the litterbox around. Scoop all poop AND wet litter that is below the top of the litter (it runs below surface and this is what stinks, so be sure to clean wet and pops daily...many ferrets won't use a dirty litterbox. Cover the rest of the bottom floor with soft baby blankies that are not the shedding kind, t-shirts or a couple swearshirts to cuddle in. Enough he cannot scoot them to one side and poop on the floor...a nice soft, CLOTH bed...never use wood shavings of any kind in a ferret enclosure/cage.
On the next floor up, get the kind of food and water bowls that attach to the bars of the cage. Install them at least 6" apart or he will drop food into the water bowl and it will get slimy and need to be emptied and refilled a lot. Water bowl should always be full and should get removed, washed well, rinsed well and refilled with water at least once daily, more if he puts food in it or other stuff gets in it. Keep food bowl FULL and water available AT ALL TIMES except the short times you may transport him in his carrier. Even then, if it is over an hour enroute, put a few kibbles in the carrier and offer him fresh water at least every hour. You can put some little plastic balls with bells in them on the bottom or next floor up, or a little paper lunch bag (they love those!), stuff to do...although ferrets usually sleep 20-22 hours a day NORMALLY, so give him a nice comfy place to feel secure and do that. If he gets bored, he will be destructive, so do keep some small, hard plastic toys in his bedor upper floor. If he gets regular, ENCLOSED, supervised and controlled playtimes, he will look forward to them and be happy to come out and play....the more the better, but if you let him play at work, make sure it is not just running wild on the floor. He needs to be in his safe cage (but where he can watch you) all but about 2-3 hours of supervised, hands on play a day. This is why I love the playpens. They fold, transport easily, keep the ferret safely enclosed and give him his own space. Be sure to keep a nice bed (bed sized cardboard box with soft blankies in it is great...they need DARK to sleep and feel secure in about 20-22 hours a day. Put food and water and a few toys in there too....heavy, flat 2"-3" deep crocks work best for food and water outside the cage because they don't spill easily.
That takes care of his basic living space. It needs to be cleaned, wash/change blankies, etc weekly at minimum, so have plenty soft things for him to snuggle into. Clean up any messes asap before they get spread, i.e., spilled water can make a nasty wet bed. He probably won't poop or pee in his bedding, but if he does, be sure to change it quickly before it spreads....BTW if it does, and/or he needs a bath, use Johnsons Baby Shampoo so it doesn't burn his eyes,lather him up in nice warm water in the kitchen sink and rinse him really well, give him 2-3 towels to run around crazy in a "safe, ferretproofed" area (I put him in my bathroom with everything but towels on the floor to run crazy and dry...they all do this. Let him get some energy out and dry himself off with after an initial rub down with a towel. Then put him in the cage for a while so he can rest, dry completely in his clean soft blankies, etc.
PLAYTIME: this can be anyplace that is FERRETPROOFED...where he is in a larger enclosed area (NOT a whole room to start with). I start my kids in the bathroom with everything up off the floor, toys everywhere, and a litterbox. I sit or lay down on the floor at his level and play with his toys and he will join in! When you see him start to back up into a corner, pick him up and place him in the litterbox, butt facing the back corner. BTW: litterbox should be the rectangle high sided ones (get one for cage, one for out of cage play for now; as he gets better with the litterbox, you can ferretproof, then play with him in a larger area with more litterboxes. Ferretproofing is pretty entailed, so I will send you to htyp://www.ferretcentral.org to read about all the dangerous things ferrets can get into and even escape outside to get lost and/or die! There is a LOT of information there about biting, problems too (never punish him by touching except to scruff him up, place him in time out. He must never think hurting is okay. Their noses have very tiny delicate sinuses that can break and cause them a real problem...never even tap his nose and definitely don't squeeze it. If he bites, scruff him, hold him up and look him in the eyes and say "NO BITE!" and put him in the carrier just for a minute or two...longer than that and he doesn't remember why he is in there. When you take him out say "good boy now?" You will be shocked at how many words he will learn, but always use the same words so he can learn them. I can call mine and he will come, tell hi to go nite nite, get a toy, etc....it just takes time and LOVE and consistency.
When it is time to play outside the cage ( a minimum of 2-3 hours a day...not all day unless he is in a playpen with toys, bedding, food and water (the metal bar playpen is perfect for taking to work and leaving there, then keep a cage at home to keep him in at night and when you are not actively playing with him and watching him.) He will come to realize you are his friend, you are not going to hurt him, you are the lady who takes him out to play and cuddles him! Let him out in a small, safe area and play with him. His backing up is an invitation for you to " git me!!" LOL he wants to play, not be caged in the too small carrier, etc. Unless the carrier means go bye bye....later it will be good. Right now it is probably horrible punishment if he has to live in there....you didn't say, so I assume the worst:-)
Think of a ferret as a two year old child and you will do well. You must watch them every minute while out of the cage, keep them safe, make sure they have clean food, water and a nice clean bed...and if he is bad, you will let him know when behavior is not nice, but you will not hurt him. Who knows what idiots have done to him up till now...he deserves to spend his elderly days being taken care of properly. TOYS: should always be either paper (paper bags are a blast! Or even wad up typing paper into balls to be played with...anything safe, not fuzzy or sharp, etc.) or hard plastic, as in the balls at the pet shop....but no feathers, fluffy stuff or RUBBER...that is deadly to ferrets.
A 5-yr old ferret is considered to be beginning to be elderly. A typical ferret lives to be maybe 6-7 IF cared for well, longer sometimes. I have heard of some being 10-12, but it is extremely rare. Most medical problems hit between 4-6 years of age, so if you can, put aside a fund for adrenal surgery, intestinal blockages (especially if he has been running loose....something as simple as a rubberband can cause intestinal blockage requiring surgery to remove....another reason to watch him closely and play only in ferretproofed areas.)
There is just too much you need to know as a new owner for me to cover here. There is a book called FERRETS FOR DUMMIES and the http://www.ferretcentral.org
website has a ton of information too. It is very important what you feed him (never any sugar or people food, and raisins are poisonous to them. A good website to choose food is mdferretpaws.com I recommend Totally Ferret to start with...when you know more, you can add other foods, but ferrets 'imprint' on their food, so introduce new foods slowly...he does not recognize it as food unless it smells/tastes like what he has been eating, so if necessary, get Totally Ferret, mix some in with his current food, adding more and more of the new food each time. Shake the old food and new in a bag and keep them mixed together, shaking regularly until to make the smells mix and he is switched over. Usually ferrets who have had multiple non-ferret savvy owners are eating junk...so do that asap. Ferrets are "obligate carnivores" which means they are meant to eat meat only...kibbled ferret foods meat products are most convenient, but the first four ingredients should be MEAT of some kind or it is junk food. NO TREATS...the ones in the pet store have sugar in them and ferrets need all the protein they can get...a premium food is best. Sugar in any form can cause a disease called insulinoma, a tumor on the pancreas. About 1/2 teaspoon Ferretone given over a week's period of time is ok, but more can overdose them on Vitamins A and D and even be deadly. So, that's the only treat I would recommend until you get him settled in and more under control. There is a file on treats on our FaceBook Group called THUNDERING FERRET PAWS...please join us there and get all your questions answered.
I would like to invite you to join our FaceBook THUNDERING FERRET PAWS ferret group, where you can ask questions anytime and get advice from experienced owners. We also have FILES on various topics you can read about all kinds of things you must know to be a good ferret mommy. I think you sound like you really want to be a good mommy and Lord knows this poor little ragamuffin needs a good home....finally. By the way, know that if he is white or has any white around his head/neck especially, that there is about a 50%-75% chance he is deaf....which can easily be dealt with, but don't expect him to respond to your voice IF he is. Many ferrets pushed from pilar to post are actually deaf and people just don't understand why it won't mind...if he can't hear, it frightens them when you suddenly pick them up, etc. There is a lot of info on training deaf ferrets IF that is the case...just be aware, especially since he has a few behavior problems. That may be a huge cause of it. Hope to see you on the group soon!
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you for your very prompt and informative answer, Jacquie!
You're right, I didn't mention that Louie's old owner did tell me that he was owned by one other person before, for 2 years, so she had him for 2. I don't know anything about his first home though.
I just want to assure you that he does have a cage other than his carrier. I wouldn't put a hamster in this carrier to live, much less a ferret! He came with a cage from his last home, which is not multi-level. I've been shopping around for a new one and found a good one, which I'm not ready to purchase yet but will as soon as possible, hopefully in the next week or so.
He behaves very well in his carrier regardless. My commute is about 35 minutes and he usually sleeps the whole time. Once I get to work I let him out and he is able to go freely in and out of his carrier as much as he wants. He usually plays for about an hour and a half and then sleeps in his carrier until lunch, then gets out to play for another hour or two before we go home.
I've been using a rabbit sized water bottle in his cage, and a rodent sized one in his carrier. They hook to the outside of the cage. He has access to food and water all the time, except when we're in the car driving, to prevent it from spilling. Do you think it provides enough water? Sometimes he acts like he cant get enough out; is a dish better for ferrets?
I bought him some jingly plastic balls, but he doesn't really play with them. He likes to investigate things that crackle, such as paper, but not play. It's like he doesn't really know how to be a ferret.
Unfortunately, he eats Meow Mix right now. I'm gradually switching him over to Zupreem (by mixing it just like you said), which made his stool very loose, but my vet said he would adjust.
I feel like a new parent...I've loved and wanted ferrets for a very long time, read a lot about them, but now that I finally have one it's very intimidating (crazy...I can throw a 1,000lb horse around like nothing but I'm intimidated by a little ferret!). I think a lot of my worries will subside as he adjusts to his new home/schedule and hopefully gains some manners!
I guess my only question is about the water bottle. I didn't want to have to ask a follow up but all of this text wouldn't fit in the rating section.
Hi again Emily:
Actually, getting a ferret IS like having a baby...there are so many "musts" to keep them safe and healthy. I have never met a ferret who will eat Zupreem yet, altho it is a great food, if they won't eat it, it's wasted. Totally Ferret is much easier to get them to eat...you can order at the ferret store online, or ferret depot, also online. That's what I have to do because I can't get good food locally.
Omagod, meow mix is atrocious!! Poor baby. I am thinking that finding you is the best thing to happen to this little one!
To answer your question, YES, they will drink much more out of a bowl...a heavy somewhat flat crock that doesn't tip over is best. Mine is about 6" avross and 2-1/2" deep. Sometimes they love the water in the bowl so much, he might play in it at first, but he will be much happier and healthier with a bowl. I only use a drip bottle if it is huge and has an empty bowl for it to drip down into (keeps leaks during movement contained) attached to the side of cage or carrier when traveling (enroute only). Bottled water is best unless water in your area is really good. Their little kidneys and bladder are so small, they don't need calcifications from bad water. We have reverse osmosis water at home, but when we travel, I always take botyled water...changes of water while traveling can upset their tummies...even difference between home & work could upset.
Hope that helps.
Jacquie & Dusty, my ferret :-)