home : 2. ferret care : behaviour



general behaviour
don't they bite?
training tips for biting
how many ferrets should I get?
do they get along with other pets?
toilet training
can they be trained?


Just like pups and kittens, young ferrets (kits) are mischievous and over zealous. You will have to put up with nipping, toilet mishaps, escape attempts and general bad behavior before they settle down and become a "gentle" loyal pet.

Life style change: Ferrets require a lot of attention and affection, this is crucial in making them a good pet. They can sleep 15 hrs a day, but when awake they are very energetic and always on the go. It is very hard to ignore a free roaming ferret as they delight in chasing your feet and will steel anything that's not nailed down.

You may be disappointed though if you are looking for an affectionate pet that will curl up in your lap, or treat you with respect, as they are the boss, fear nothing or no one, live their lives in fast forward and very rarely sit still.


Don't they bite?

Ferrets by nature are not mean and will only behave aggressively if miss handled. Raised properly and handled with love and care ferrets are very friendly.

However a young ferret (kit) is not unlike a pup and will grab every thing with their mouth. This play biting is how ferrets interact with littermates, but their skin is a lot tougher than ours, so just like a new pup it is up to us to teach them through consistent discipline and correction that humans require more care.

  • Any time a ferret places its teeth on you, no matter how gentle they may be or how cute it may look, it MUST be disciplined with a firm "NO".
  • If the kit continues to play rough, repeat a second "NO" and then walk away to tell them know that you don't play with them when they are being rough.
  • Remember they are only playing and we are not punishing them, just trying to make them learn than nipping is not acceptable behaviour.
  • Never hit, nose tap, nose flick, or otherwise hurt a ferret; they are too small and fragile, and physical punishment them will make them associate your hand with pain
  • Try applying a small amount of something tasty to your hands, such as peanut butter, so that they lick instead of nip. (Peanut butter should be discontinued after the nip training, treats should be meat-based)
  • For that stubborn ferret that just won't get the message, you can apply something unpleasant such as "Bitter Bite" spray, citronella oil or tea tree oil as a deterrant.

    Experience has taught us that ferrets housed on their own are often more likely to play rough so in the case of the stubborn lone ferret, we would suggest a partner.


    Training tips to stop biting

  • Always keep young ferrets away from your face, it may be all fun and games for them, but our ear lobs, nostril and lips are soft, sensitive and easy to grab hold of.
  • Never jerk your hand away - fast moving objects are seen as a challenge - catch it if you can! What may have only been a gentle play bite may become a nasty scratch.
  • Be sure your hands don't smell of food or other animals, as a ferret's sense of smell is better than it's eyesight.
  • You must be consistent and patient. Ferrets learn quickly but not instantly, they can be stubborn and their individual personalities play a big role.
  • The more handling they have, the faster they learn and the better they become, but if the thought of a nippy juvenile doesn't interest you then you may want to purchase a wiser adult ferret.

    It is important to understand that we are referring to play biting which most ferrets do, but any ferret that is deliberately biting with enough force to puncture your skin is not playing and you should seek further advice. Please contact us for expericenced help.

    It is important to note that no animal, including ferrets, should ever be left unsupervised with young children.


    Should I have one or more ferrets?

    Ferrets housed on their own are renowned for suffering behavioral problems, and are generally not as accepting of new playmates or strangers. Given a few toys ferrets can amuse themselves quite successfully, but ferrets appreciate the company of others - which can include humans. If you don't have the large amounts of time necessary to occupy them, then a pair of ferrets would be ideal for keeping each other company and the joy of watching them tumble and roll together makes it worth while.

    If you are unsure, ferrets don't have to be purchased together, a de-sexed adult ferret should still accept another adult or baby ferret at a later date, as long as the sole ferret has not been alone for many years.

    A word of warning: Un-neutered males can become very territorial when in season making it dangerous to house them with other ferrets.


    What about other pets?
    One of the most amazing things about ferret behavior is their ability to accept anyone as a playmate regardless of size or species. If properly introduced, ferrets can become the best of friends with other family pets from the largest dog to the toughest cat, provided they are introduced correctly under strict supervision.

    The ferret's ancestors survived by hunting small mammals and reptiles, and most ferrets still have the instinct to attack small animals. Rodents, birds, rabbits, frogs and other small animals should be kept away from ferrets.

    Ferrets should not be left unsupervised with large dogs or dogs bred for hunting (such as terriers), as they may injure the ferret.


    Can they be toilets trained?

    Like cats, ferrets like to relieve themselves in the same spot each time, and preferably in a corner, which makes litter training very easy.

    As ferrets like to back right up into a corner the tray should have a high back with a low front, (this can be made by cutting the front out of a normal cat litter tray or buying a special corner ferret tray).

    For toilet training to be successful, be sure to leave a tiny amount of faeces in the tray while they are learning, and be sure to offer a toilet in each area that they have access to (one in the laundry, one in the bedroom, etc).

    You can encourage them to use the litter tray by praising them or giving a treat immediately after they use it. Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to teach ferrets, so praise and encourage!

    Even the most well toilet-trained ferret may still have the odd accident.


    Can they be trained?

    Yes, everything you teach your ferret from wearing a collar and walking on a lead, to playing gently and not biting, are all things you have to train your ferret to do, you have only to prove that your will is stronger and your patience greater.

    They may never be as obedient as " Fido" but with persistence, consistency and a lot of bribery, ferrets can be trained to do many basic tricks, like coming when they are called, or standing up on command. (A sweet smelling vitamin supplement known as "Nutri-pet" is a great treat for bribery).


    Ferret Society of Canberra

     For more information or to make comments please email mail@ferretclub.org.au