Why is your ferret biting and how to make it stop?
One of the things you must prepare yourself if you want to get a ferret is that ferrets bite. No, that doesn’t mean they will hurt you on purpose or that they are wild animals, it means that biting means more to them than to other animals. Ferrets bite because biting is the way they communicate. Puppies do that too but in a very different way. When puppy wants to play with you, he will pull or bite your leg until you teach him not to.
Ferrets are different than that because ferret biting is more than just an invitation to play. When your ferret wants to show you that it loves you, it’ll bite you. If it wants to play, it will bite you too. When it is sad, happy, sleepy, scared… Your ferret will bite you. It will bite for every possible reason until you teach it not to. Just like our babies, they will cry when they are hungry, sleepy, scared, you name it.
Ferrets have very thick skin and it is not the same when a ferret bites another ferret or human. Ferret biting ferret while playing won’t hurt them. If a ferret bites you with the same force as the other ferret, you will have a wound. For example, when you take your ferret to the vet for immunization shots it won’t move a muscle, it’s like he doesn’t feel it at all. That is why you have to teach your ferret to be gentle when biting or not to bite at all. Your ferret has to realize that humans (or other animals) don’t have thick skin and it needs to be gentle with them.
Ferret biting – how to make it stop?
Ferrets aren’t aggressive, so when you show that they are hurting you, they will stop. If you adopt a ferret which was abused or in the bad environment, take your time with it. That ferret will have to gain trust in humans again, then it will reconsider biting or not. When you break its defense shell, it will probably become one of the nicest ferrets you have ever met, which makes all this worth.
The first and most efficient way is to work with your ferret
Every ferret that comes in a new home is scared, so you have to earn its trust. Let him explore before it can feel like home. Give it food, play with toys on a string, hang around so it can get used to you. Try to pick it up under the armpits, give it few strokes and put it down. If a ferret is young, it will probably try to set free because they find this boring. Wait until it is calm then put it down. If you put it down because it struggled, it will do that every time and you have to show that you are dominant. You can also pet it while it is sleepy or sleeping so it can gradually get used to cuddling.
Gently pinch them to the ground and hiss
Reduce ferret biting by acting like a ferret mom. Young ferrets can be very energetic and to them, you have to be the mother. A ferret mom punishes kits when they misbehave. She does it by pinching them to the ground and dragging them by the scruff. You don’t have to drag them, but gently pinch them to the ground and hiss. Hold your ferret like that until it relaxes, then release.
Scruff your ferret
Play its mother in another version and that is to pick your ferret up by the scruff, hiss at it (that would a mother do) and gently shake him. Your ferret will probably struggle, but that isn’t because you are hurting it. Hold him by the scruff until it is calm, then put him down.
Timeout is another method for raising ferrets. Every time your ferret bites you, hiss at it and put it in the time out. A time out should be a box you use only for that, not a cage or transporter you use often. Put it inside for 5 minutes (not longer, it will forget why it is inside) and when it bites you again, put it inside again.
Don’t play with your hands with your ferret. If you do, it will see your hands as toys and of course, it’ll bite. Use toys like a mouse on a string, stuffed animal, balls with bells… Find types of toys your ferret will love and play with that.
Find something that tastes awful
To stop ferret biting, you have to find something that has horrible taste and put that on your hands. Vinegar or lemon are good choices. Don’t use any chemicals or too hot spices it can be too much for your ferret. When it bites your hand it will feel that horrible taste, it will release your hand and after few tries, it will connect that taste with human hands. If it is horrible taste, it won’t bite anymore. Who would want to bite something that tastes awful?:)
Frida – little miss bitey
When Frida came to me, she was a biter and I must say, ferret biting is not that cute scene. She was 3 months old, small, too cute and bitey. I have tried all of those methods and I will now share my experience with each one.
For first 2 weeks with Frida, my hands were covered with little holes where her teeth were. She wasn’t biting out of fear or attacking me, she only bit when I tried to grab her or pet her. I assume she thought my hands are delicious toys. 😀
My first method was the lemon. I covered my hands with lemon because she was biting me between my fingers (ouch!) First time she tasted lemon she backed off and shook her head (yuck!) Then, she got used to that taste so this method lasted for 2 days. Let’s try another method!
A timeout is a method I didn’t try because every time I had to put Frida in a cage (because I had to go somewhere) she would immediately go to sleep. I assumed it would be the same with a timeout cage.
Another method which I tried is to hiss at her with holding her by the scruff. This one also didn’t work because when I picked her up and hiss at her she would yawn (which is the most common reaction to holding your ferret like that) and when I put her down, she would continue to bite.
So, the method which helped me the most is pinching Frida and hissing at her. When she bit me, I gently pinched her to the ground and hiss at her that would last for few seconds. She was still and then I let her go. She would jump and start dooking, but she didn’t grab my hands. I used this method for about two weeks and she completely stopped biting. Since then she only bites when we are playing and that is a gentle nip. 🙂 If she bites hard during play the next second she starts licking that same spot like she wants to say: Oh, sorry I got carried away!
There is also one other thing I did. Since Frida was sooo adorable I wanted to pet her a lot, but she wouldn’t let me. That is why every time I saw her sleeping I started to pet her. After a while, I took her in my lap while she was sleepy and she fell asleep there. After that, I grabbed her while she was awake and held her in my arms for few seconds at the beginning (every time longer and longer) so gradually she got used to me and my cuddling sessions. Now, whenever I grab her she just relaxes and waits until I am done with it so she can continue doing what she did. This was a long period, it lasted a couple of months but I did get my daily cuddle sessions with her in the end. 🙂
The same method I used with Yoda, now Yoda sometimes comes in my lap and waits for the daily dose of tenderness. 😀
Yoda, on the other hand, isn’t a biter. Yoda was biting the first week and only while playing. When Yoda bit me I corrected that behavior with grabbing by scruff and hissing. Now, Yoda still sometimes bites toes when it is playtime but that is also gentle nipping so we can live with that. 🙂
Be more stubborn than ferrets!
The first and most important part of raising a ferret: Don’t give up! Choose one method, try it for a while, if you see results stick to it. If you don’t, try another method. Remember, every ferret is different and the last thing you should do is to give up.
Different methods work on different ferrets. Ferrets, like other pets, require dedication and work. Work with your ferret, show him that you are his family now and you will have results you are looking for. They are stubborn but you have to be more! 🙂
Repeat chosen method every time your ferret bites or does something it shouldn’t so it can connect that punishment with unwanted actions. Teaching your ferret not to bite is a process, it can take from one week to a couple of months, depending on a ferret. Young kits are mostly easier to train because they don’t know better, while adult ferrets have some habits in their life you must break.
Hitting or throwing your ferret won’t make any progress because your ferret will continue to bite as a defense mechanism. You can only make things worse and make him bite even stronger.