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Subject: Ferret FAQ [3/5] - Training and Behavior
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:23:52 GMT
Last-modified: 10 Feb 1998
Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
FERRET FAQ (part 3 of 5) -- TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR
Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <email@example.com>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!
This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene. See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without
The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one. Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5. A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1. Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ. In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases. Information about those is
given in section [1.1].
Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file. I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way. For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.
Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE
Part 3: TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR
7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***
(7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?
(7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?
(7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?
(7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?
(7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?
8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***
(8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?
(8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
(8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?
(8.4) My ferret is losing hair!
(8.5) Is he really just asleep?
(8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?
(8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?
(8.8) Do ferrets travel well?
(8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***
Subject: (7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?
Like kittens and puppies, ferret kits must be taught not to nip. A
ferret which has been bred to be a pet shouldn't be vicious or bite,
but ferret play does include mock combat, and young ones won't know
how hard they can put their teeth on you without hurting you. A
playing ferret may run at you with his mouth open or even put his
teeth on your hand, but if he presses down hard enough to hurt, you
need to discipline him. Just remember, ferrets aren't malicious, they
just need to learn what behavior is acceptable.
A very few otherwise calm, gentle ferrets will react in an extreme way
to a high-pitched noise such as a squeaky toy (perhaps only one
particular toy) or the sound of rubbing fingers on a window or a
balloon. Nobody's quite sure why that sets them off, though it seems
to be a protective instinct of some sort. If your ferret is one of
those few who bites wildly at the source of such a sound, my best
advice is, don't make that sound around them.
Sometimes a ferret which has been mistreated will bite out of fear, or
an older ferret might bite because of pain, either in the mouth or
elsewhere. In either of these cases, strict discipline isn't going to
do any good. For an animal in pain, of course, take it to the vet.
For an abused ferret, try one of the alternatives mentioned below, and
have a lot of patience: the ferret has to learn to trust someone when
all it has known before is abuse. Regina Harrison has created a Web
page about caring for and rehabilitating such "problem" ferrets at
In all cases, positive reinforcement (giving treats [6.3] and lots of
praise when the ferret does well) works much better than punishment,
but if you need one, use a "time out" for a few minutes in a cage or
carrier. Similarly, don't set the ferret down when he struggles and
nips -- you'll be teaching him that that's the way to get what he
wants. Finally, whichever method you use, consistency and immediacy
are very important.
Flicking the ferret's nose while his teeth are on you is a pretty
common form of discipline, but it might not be the best. Your ferret
might end up associating you with bad things rather than good ones.
Also, it's a very bad idea to use nose-tapping or other physical
discipline on a ferret who has been mistreated or who acts unusually
aggressive or frightened. There are several alternatives, which you
might want to try in combination:
If the ferret is biting too hard in play, try using a signal he
already understands: a high-pitched "Yip!" (or "Hey!" or whatever),
like the noise one kit makes when another is playing too roughly.
On the other hand, if the ferret seems to interpret that as a sign
of weakness, switch to a deep, commanding voice and act as stern as
Stopping the game by gently pinning the ferret down until he gets
bored can work well, too.
Confining the misbehaving ferret to a cage [5.4] and ignoring him
for a few minutes can be very effective, especially if there's
another ferret wandering around conspicuously having fun.
You can cover your hands with Bitter Apple, either the spray or the
paste, so nipping tastes bad.
Some people have had good luck with either pushing a finger into
the ferret's mouth (sideways, behind the back teeth) or holding the
mouth open from behind (being careful not to choke the ferret)
immediately after a bite. Most ferrets find either of these
uncomfortable, and it associates the unpleasant feeling with the
taste of finger.
If you need the ferret to let go, try covering both his nostrils
with your fingers. If he still hangs on, don't keep them there long,
If the ferret isn't one of those who absolutely hate to be
scruffed, that can help. You might also shake the ferret gently by
the scruff, or drag him along the floor while you hiss. Both these
mimic the way mother ferrets reprimand their kits. Obviously,
don't be so rough that you hurt him. You can also cover his face
with your hand, which he probably won't like.
Subject: (7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?
Ferrets can be trained to use a litter pan, but unlike cats, they
don't take to it automatically. To litter-train your ferret, start
him out in a small area, perhaps his cage [5.4], and expand his space
gradually as he becomes better trained. If it's a big cage, you might
need to block off part of it at first.
Fasten the litter pan down so it can't be tipped over. Keep a little
dirty litter in it at first, to mark it as a bathroom and to deter him
from digging in it [7.3]. Don't let it get too dirty, though; some
ferrets can be pretty finicky about their pans. Likewise, ferrets and
cats often don't like to share pans with each other. Most ferrets
won't mess up their beds or food, so put towels or food bowls in all
the non-litter corners until your ferret is used to making the effort
to find a pan. Bedding that has been slept in a few times and smells
like sleeping ferret will be even better than clean bedding for
convincing a ferret that a corner is a bedroom instead of a bathroom.
Ferrets generally use their pans within fifteen minutes of waking up,
so make sure yours uses the pan before you let him out, or put him
back in the cage five or ten minutes after you wake him up to come
play. When he's out running around for playtime, keep a close eye on
him, and put him in his litter pan every half hour or so, or whenever
you see him "pick up a magazine and start to back into a corner" (as
one FML subscriber put it).
Whenever your ferret uses a litterpan, whether you had to carry him to
it or not, give him lots of praise and a little treat [6.3] right away.
Ferrets will do almost anything for treats, and they're fast learners.
Within a few days, your ferret will probably be faking using the pan,
just to get out of the cage or get a treat. That's okay; at least it
reinforces the right idea.
Positive reinforcement (treats and praise) are usually much more
effective than any punishment, but if you need one, use a firm "No!"
and cage time. Rubbing the ferret's nose in his mess won't do any
good. He can't connect it to it being in the wrong place, and ferrets
sniff their litter pans anyway. As with all training, consistency and
immediacy are crucial. Scolding a ferret for a mistake that's hours
or even a few minutes old probably won't help a bit.
If your ferret's favorite corner isn't yours, you have a few choices.
could put a pan (or newspaper, if it's a tight spot) in it; ferrets
have short legs and attention spans, so you'll probably need several
pans around your home anyway. Otherwise, try putting a crumpled towel
or a food bowl in the well-cleaned corner, making it look more like a
bedroom or kitchen than a latrine.
"Accident" corners should be cleaned very well with vinegar, diluted
bleach, or another bad-smelling disinfectant (don't let your ferret
onto it 'till it dries!), specifically so they don't continue to smell
like ferret bathrooms but also as a general deterrent. For the same
reason, you probably shouldn't clean litter pans with bleach,
certainly not the same one you're using as a deterrent elsewhere.
Urine which has soaked into wood will still smell like a bathroom to a
ferret even when you can't tell, so be sure to clean it very well,
perhaps with Simple Green or a pet odor remover, and consider covering
wooden cage floors with linoleum or polyurethane.
Although almost every ferret can be trained to use a litter pan, there
is individual variation. Ferrets just aren't as diligent about their
pans as most cats, so there will be an occasional accident. Even
well-trained ferrets tend to lose track of their litter pans when
they're particularly frightened or excited, or if they're in a new
house or room. In general you can expect at least a 90% "hit" rate,
though some ferrets just don't catch on as well and some do
considerably better. At least ferrets are small, so their accidents
are pretty easy to clean up.
Finally, if your ferret seems to have completely forgotten all about
litter pans, you might need to retrain him by confining him to a
smaller area or even a cage for a week or so and gradually expanding
his space as he catches on again.
Subject: (7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?
Many ferrets love to dig. They'll dig in their litter pans, under the
cushions of the couch, and at the carpet near closed doors.
To get your ferret to stop tossing litter all over, start out by
putting less in the pan, and keep it just clean enough that there's a
dry layer on top. Litter digging tends to be a kit behavior, perhaps
because kits have so much energy and are often cooped up in cages, so
with time and luck your ferret will grow out of it.
It's nearly impossible to train a ferret not to dig at all, so you're
better off protecting your property [5.2] and removing the temptation.
Some digging, especially in the litter pan, can be out of boredom, so
playing with the ferret more can help, too. You can also help control
your ferret's digging by giving her somewhere approved to dig. A box
filled with dirt, sand and gravel, then set into a larger box to
contain the mess, can be great fun to a ferret. Your ferret may also
enjoy digging outside, closely supervised of course.
Subject: (7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?
A lot of ferrets like to dig in their food or water bowls. If the
bowls are in contained areas and the ferrets are willing to eat off
the floor, the easiest solution is to provide a back-up water bottle
and ignore the digging. You can also put the bowls in larger pans to
contain the mess; use separate pans for the food and water, so the
spilled food doesn't get soggy and spoil.
Heavy bowls that angle inward can help, or for more diligent
water-bowl diggers, you can switch to a bottle. Likewise, some people
find that a J-type rabbit feeder works well for food, though others
find that just gives their ferrets a lot more food to joyfully spread
around the room. At least one person used a PVC p-trap with a smaller
opening instead. Another nearly dig-proof design is to put the food
in a covered plastic Tupperware-type container and cut a hole in the
top just big enough for the ferret's head.
Subject: (7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?
First of all, unless your ferret goes snorkeling in butterscotch
pudding or has a bad case of fleas, you really don't need to bathe her
very often at all. It doesn't affect the odor much; in fact, many
ferrets smell worse for a few days following a bath. The best
thing you can do to control your ferret's scent is to change her
bedding every few days and keep the litter pans clean.
The problem with frequent bathing is that it can cause dry skin,
especially in winter. There's nothing wrong with bathing your ferret
only once a year. Once a month should be okay, but switch to less
often if you have problems with dry skin. Most ferrets don't seem to
mind baths much. Some ferrets enjoy a bath quite a bit, swimming
around in the tub and diving for the drain plug.
The first step in bathing a ferret (well, after catching her) is to
check her nails and trim them if necessary.
Jim Lapeyre describes the recommended procedure like this:
Thus saith the Wise:
"When Haz-Abuminal saw that clipping the claws of the domestic
ferret was grievous, he pondered day and night for a year and a
day. After the year and the day had passed, he rose, and, taking
the ferret in his lap, dropped three drops of Linatone [6.2] upon
the belly [of the ferret], which, perceiving that its navel had
Linatone, turned to lick. Thus distracted, the ferret heeded not
that the claws were being trimmed, and there was much rejoicing.
And when the claws were all neatly trimmed, the people were amazed
and astonished, saying, Who is this who, alone among mankind, has
tricked a ferret?"
If you have trouble even with this method, and you have a helper, have
the helper hold the ferret by the scruff of the neck and put Ferretone
on one of his fingers. Scruffing a ferret will generally make her
calm down and possibly even go limp, and if not, the Ferretone should
keep her distracted.
Cut the nail just longer than the pink line inside it. Place the cut
parallel to where the floor will be when the ferret stands, to prevent
the tip from breaking later. (A drawing is available at
careful not to nick the line or the toe, since in either case it'll
bleed a lot and your ferret will decide nail clipping is not a good
thing. Kwik-Stop or some other styptic powder is good to have around
in case this happens, to stop the bleeding quickly, or you can hold a
piece of tissue or paper towel over the nail and elevate the foot for
a few minutes until it stops.
Next you should check your pet's ears. They shouldn't need cleaning
more than once a month at most, but if they seem unduly dirty, dampen
a cotton swab with sweet oil (made for cleaning babies' ears) or an
alcohol-based ear cleaner (only if dry skin is not a problem) and
gently clean them. Peroxide, water, and ointments are not
recommended, because wet ears are much more prone to infections.
Hold the swab along the animal's head rather than poking it into the ear,
to avoid injuring the ear. Yellowish or brownish-red ear wax is
normal, but if you see any black substance your pet probably has
ear mites, which should be taken care of [10.10].
There are also several excellent products made for cleaning cats'
ears, which you just squirt in and they shake out. They're just fine
for ferrets, and your vet should be able to tell you about them.
Now fill a tub or kitchen sink partway with warm water. Many people
have found that ferrets prefer their baths warmer than you'd expect,
probably because their body temperatures are pretty high [12.9]. You
don't want to scald your ferret, but if you can put your hand or foot into
the water and feel comfortable right away, it should be okay.
If you want to let your pet play in the water, fill a tub just deeper
than the ferret is tall, and provide some sort of support (a box in
the tub) in case she gets tired of swimming. You can also take her
into the shower with you; many ferrets who don't like baths are
perfectly happy being held in a shower.
Finally, bathe the ferret. Ferret shampoos are available, or no-tears
baby shampoo works fine too. Some people like Pert for Kids if the
ferret has dry skin. Wet the ferret completely, either in one half of
a double sink or in a tub. Lather her from head to tail. Our ferrets
both start to struggle at this point, so we let them put their hind
legs on the side of the tub while they're being washed. Rinse the
ferret thoroughly in clear, warm running water. For dry skin, some
people then dip the ferret in a dilute solution of moisturizer in
water, being careful to keep her head out.
Older, sick, or weak ferrets can be gently cleaned using baby oil,
which can also help get gooey things out of fur.
Drying a wiggly, dripping ferret can be a lot of fun. Some people put
a couple of towels and the ferrets together in a cardboard box or
small, clean garbage can and let them dry themselves. I find it's
easiest to keep the ferret in a towel at chest-level, holding her head
and torso in one hand while drying her with the other. Wearing a
terry bathrobe is helpful here too. You could also put your ferret on
the floor in a towel and rub her dry, but she'll probably think you're
playing a rowdy game of tousle and try to run away. Once you've got
her mostly dry, put her somewhere warm with a dry towel to roll in and
she'll finish the job, although it's been mentioned that a damp ferret
seems to lose all sense of judgment, suddenly thinking that walls,
cage floors, milk cartons, and everything except the towel must be
remarkably water-absorbent. You can also try using a hair dryer on
its coolest setting, but many ferrets won't stand for that.
Immediately after a bath, many ferrets pretty much go nuts, thrashing
and bouncing from side to side and rolling against everything in
sight. Mainly they're trying to dry themselves, with a good bit of
general excitement from the bath and drying process too.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***
Subject: (8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?
Most ferrets enjoy mock combat, chase, tug-o'-war, hide-and-seek, and
so forth, with each other or with you. Ours love to bounce around on
our fluffy comforter, swat at us from behind the bookcases, and attack
each other through the throw rugs. They like to explore new things
and places, sniff new smells, dig and roll in the dirt. Most of them
love human interaction and will gladly include you in their play if
you make the time for them. It may take you a little while to learn
what each ferret's favorite games are, but soon you'll be one of their
best playmates. Ferrets also love to swipe things and drag them into
the most inaccessible location possible. Protect your keys and
If your ferret jumps back and forth in front of you or tugs on your
pants leg, he wants to play. An appropriate response would be to get
down on your hands and knees and chase him around, or to dangle a
washcloth in front of him and start a tugging game, for instance. If
he dances around, chuckling and dooking and bouncing off the walls,
he's having fun.
Here are a few more specific game suggestions, from the fertile
imagination of "Mo' Bob" Church. Note that many of these games need
you to supervise (or join in!), to make sure the ferrets don't get
hurt or stuck or swallow anything they shouldn't.
Bowl Me Over Game: Buy one of those $2 plastic bouncing balls
(like at K-mart) and cut a couple of ferret-sized holes in
it. [Use more than one hole, so there's no chance the ball could
roll onto its hole and trap a ferret inside to suffocate.] Fill
the ball with plastic bags or gift-wrapping cellophane, and watch
the fun. Watch for chewing the materials, otherwise quite safe.
Suction-cup Chase: Use two large suction cups (about $1 each), and
stick one to each side of a room. Thread a washer or ring on a
string, then tie the string from one suction cup to the other.
Tie a string to the washer and the other end to a toy or
waffle-type practice golf ball. They will go nuts trying to get
the ball in a hidey-hole.
Maze: Use a large cardboard box. Fold scrap cardboard into
triangular shapes, tape, and fill the box with as many as
possible. Put one treat in each triangular tube. Cut several
holes in the side, and allow the ferts access. Hours-0-fun!
Slip Sliding Away: Cut a 1 ft wide by 3-4 ft long piece of Masonite
($5), and prop it smooth-side up on a bench or sofa. Place a
drop of Ferretone [6.2] in the middle. A drop of ice cream is also
Smokey the Bear: This is Bear's favorite game. Fill a file-
storage box about 1/3 with sand mixed with potting soil about 4
to 1. Pour in 1/4 bottle of liquid smoke, and mix well. They
might be dirty afterwards, but they actually smile! I have
watched Bear roll in the dirt for hours, snorting and snorkeling,
and anything else you can imagine. It's one of the few things he
will run across the floor for. I place it in the kitchen for
ease of cleanup later. Keeps them from digging in the litter
The Weasel Wonder Tube: Cut a piece of 2inch PVC pipe ($2) about 8
inches long. Place into the hole treats so they have to figure
out how to get the treat out. Make sure the ferret's heads don't
Carpet Fishing: Use a ice-fishing pole with 20 lb test line. Tie
3-4 red/white bobbers and cast across the room. Reel the babies
in at about the speed a mouse would run if it was stupid enough
to be in the room at the time. If you don't have the pole, use
the string only; the pole makes it much easier, but is not
Crinkle: Fold an old sheet in half and lay slightly crinkled
newspaper or cellophane in the middle. Makes cool sounds. Mine
love to wardance on the pile.
Chase the old man: I chase them on my hands and knees, then let them
chase me back. You will tire before they do. Watch for
carpet-mines [those things which should have gone into the litter
Snake!: Old pant legs are cut from the old pants and just thrown on
the floor. They will know what to do. Sometimes I stick one end
of a dryer tube into the pant leg.
Box-O-Balls: I fill a cardboard box about 1/3 up with plastic whiffle
balls (golf-size) or crumpled paper balls.
Fingers: Cut mucho finger-sized holes in a cardboard sheet. Dip
your fingers in Ferretone or liquid smoke. Stick you finger
through the hole, and as they try to sniff, move it to another
hole. Stay fast or risk nips. All of mine love this game.
Webmaster: Take your hanging plant off the hook, and hang a basket so
it is about 2 feet from the floor. Staple cheesecloth or other
open weave fabric to the edges of the basket so the free end
drags on the floor. Watching them climb up and swing back and
forth is a hoot. [A basket hanging a bit lower down, without the
fabric, can also be great fun.]
Submarine: Fill the bathtub with 3 or 4 inches of water. Float a
dozen or so ping-pong balls; each lightly wiped with Ferretone [6.2].
(Those tiny plastic footballs work well also.) I put a homemade
pine and Masonite ladder over the tub so the beasts can easily
climb in and out.
Pickle Race: Dampen crushed chow, mix in a little peanut butter
(or some other treat), and mold tiny pickles about 1 inch long.
After oven drying, I spray on some Ferretone for that wonderful
odor. I call the beasties, let them sniff the "pickles" until
they are frothing at the mouth, then toss the treats one at a
time across the room At first they will wonder where it
evaporated to, but time and odor will teach them to do what my
fuzzballs do--run, en masse, after the pickle. Clue: Always use
the same sound to call them, and as soon as they get across the
floor, use the sound and all but the one with the pickle will
return. Throw another pickle. I do this until everyone has a
pickle; usually Bear gets the first one, and then crawls all over
me until I throw him a second one.
Turtle: I cut up cardboard boxes and assemble new boxes that are
about 6in by 8 in, no tops, and a U-shaped cut-out at one end. I
put one over each fuzzy, and they run around like turtles.
Sliders: Buy a 5 ft section of while PVC pipe, 4-5 inches in
diameter ($2-3). Prop one end up on the sofa, and watch them
slide down the tube.
Freak-Out: Fill a paper bag with all the crumpled paper balls it
will hold, and then dump them on a playful ferret.
Melissa Litwicki adds these suggestions:
The towel game: Ferrets love towels. Take one corner of a towel,
sit on the floor, and swirl it around and over your ferret - they
usually go nuts. This can be low-impact or raucous tumbling fun
for ferrets of all sensibilities. [Try dragging the towel around
on the floor, too, and letting your ferrets take rides on it.]
Dryer hose under a bean bag: one of our all-time favorites. Better
than just dryer hose - stretch the hose out so both ends are
sticking out either side of the bag. Keeps up to five ferrets
busy at once! They go over, under, to either side of the hose
under the bag, around, and through. Killer amusement to watch,
The ping-pong ball: take strong thread and fasten a ping-pong ball
to the end. Tie the thread to the ceiling, leaving the ball
about two inches above the floor. For most amusing results, if
you can spare the room, hang it in a doorway - it bounces off the
door to hilarious effect.
The ping-pong ball in a stewpot: Fill pot halfway with water, drop
the ball in. Hint: put a towel under the pot. Ferrets get
frustrated fast trying to get the ball out, but have fun getting
wet. [Various other toys also work well, and ice cubes in a pot
or shallow dish are very popular, too.]
Other ideas, from various sources:
Tunneling to Alaska: Fill the bathtub or a big bowl or pot full
of snow, put it somewhere that can get wet, and let your ferrets
dig in it. Warmer than standing outside watching them tunnel in
the drifts there. Try burying a few toys or raisins as you fill
Making the bed: Put the ferrets on the bed and watch them dance
and tunnel as you shake out the sheets, toss on a few blankets,
and fluff the pillows. A good game for busy mornings.
Unpacking game: Whenever coming back from a trip, put your
luggage on the bed and the fuzzies next it it as you unpack.
They monsters will be of great assistance in helping open up all
the zippers, pockets, etc. and dragging out the neat stuff.
Hidden in the Pillow: Pick up fuzzie and stick him/her in the
bottom of your pillowcase and watch them explore, turn the pillow
over or around in circles periodically to confuse them.
Bag O' Ferrets: Put several ferrets in a large bag: a trash
bag, canvas tote bag, duffel bag, whatever. Play peek-a-boo,
opening and closing the top. Rattle the plastic, gently poke the
outsides, drag the bag around on the floor... just watch out for
nips through the bag from overexcited woozles.
Semi-truck: With ferret's back on carpet, drive him around like
a toy truck, making truck noises if you are not too proud. Note:
some ferrets love this, some don't like it a bit. On hardwood
floors, you can slide ferrets on their backs, or spin them around
with a finger on the chest. Some like this more than others.
Knit a Sweater: Take a ball of yarn. Keeping one end near you,
toss it toward a group of ferrets. Many of them will have a
great time rolling in it and trying to unwind it all. When
finished, simply roll it back up; don't worry about the knots.
Subject: (8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
Yes, ferrets are plenty smart enough to learn to sit up, turn around,
roll over, stay on your shoulders or in a hood, and perhaps even walk
on a leash. To train your ferret to stay on your shoulders, for
instance, stand over a pile or basket of crumpled newspaper, and when
she falls into it, shout, "No!" The combination of the fall, the
noise, and your shout should persuade her to pay more attention to
staying on. Give her a treat when she does, and she should learn
The trick to all of these is getting your pet's attention while you
teach her. Don't try teaching tricks, or even trying to get a ferret
to perform, in an unexplored area -- it's nearly futile.
Unlike dogs, ferrets generally won't do a trick for the sheer joy of
it, or simply to please you. Usually there must be some kind of
reward expected [6.3], though that could be anything from a lick of
Ferretone to a bite of apple to a good head-scratching.
One very good trick to teach your ferret is to come when you make a
particular noise (for instance, whistle loudly) or squeak a particular
toy. Just make the noise each time you give the ferret a treat for a
while, then make it when your ferret isn't nearby and give the treat
as a reward when he comes to you. Ferrets often won't respond to their
names, and it's enormously helpful to have a way to call your pet when
he has escaped or is lost somewhere.
Subject: (8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?
Generally, yes. Ferrets normally tremble for two reasons. First,
they often shiver right after waking up, in order to raise their body
temperatures. Second, they shake or quiver when excited or
frightened. For a young kit, this could well be all the time, since
everything is new and interesting. For older ferrets, a bath or even
a good scolding could prompt trembling.
If your ferret's trembling persists with no apparent cause, first make
sure there's no cold draft around. (Ferrets can live fine outdoors,
with blankets and shade, but indoor lighting can cause their winter
coats not to come in until long after it's gotten cold enough outside
to need one.) If that's not the problem, check with a vet.
Subject: (8.4) My ferret is losing hair!
Ferrets shed their coats twice a year, in the fall and spring. The
times for these changes vary somewhat for ferrets kept in indoor
lighting conditions. Fur will come out by the handful, all over the
ferret, and his coat may look a bit sparse before the new one grows
If it's obviously not just normal shedding, see the information about
bald tails [10.7] and other kinds of hair loss [10.6], some of which
can be very serious.
Subject: (8.5) Is he really just asleep?
In general, ferrets sleep quite a bit, even adults. A two- to four-
hour playtime followed by a several-hour nap is typical. Ferrets
sometimes appear to be sleeping with their eyes partly open, and they
sleep very heavily, often not waking even when picked up. You can
take advantage of this and try to cut their nails while they're
asleep. It means you have to be especially careful where you walk and
Subject: (8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?
Most ferrets don't make much noise. This doesn't mean they're
unhappy, it just means, well, they're quiet.
Clucking, "dooking," or chuckling
Indicates happiness or excitement. Often uttered while playing or
exploring a new area.
Kits, especially, do this as a general excitement noise. It can
also be uttered by the loser in a wrestling match.
Frustration or anger. Ferrets often hiss while they're fighting,
even if it's just in play.
Extreme fright or pain. This is your cue that it's time to go
rescue your pet from whatever it's gotten itself into. It can also
be a sign of anger.
Subject: (8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?
A happy ferret will "dance," flinging himself about on all fours
with an arched back. Clucking is common too. Dancing or just
careening into walls or bookcases is not at all uncommon, but
ferrets seem to just bounce off of such obstacles. Unless they
actually injure themselves, don't worry about them; they're having
If you crawled under bookcases and couches, you'd sneeze too. Also,
ferrets have a pair of scent glands near their chins, and sneezing
can be a way of forcing some of the scent out so it can be rubbed on
These sound almost like asthma, about the same duration as a sneeze,
and often occur several in a row, maybe after the poked her nose
somewhere dusty. They don't look or sound like a cough. You might
see the ferret's rib cage or body move once or twice a second with
the force of the inhalation.
Sniffing/wiping/licking the rear
This is a normal thing to do, especially after a bath. It helps
spread the ferret's scent around.
It's not uncommon for a ferret to take a few laps of urine, its
own or another ferret's. Nobody's really sure why they do it, but
it won't hurt them.
Hiccups are not uncommon, especially in young kits, who sometimes
seem alarmed by them. A comforting scritch, a drink of water, or a
small treat [6.3] can help.
For some reason, many ferrets wag their tails quickly when they have
their front ends in a tube or under a rug and they see something
interesting (a toy, a sock, another ferret) at the other end. It's
a normal sign of excitement.
A ferret's tail will bottle-brush when he's excited or upset.
He's not necessarily frightened. He'd have to be really
worked up for the hair on the rest of his body to stand up, though.
Often ferrets will suck on each others' ears, and sometimes even
cats' or dogs' ears, especially when they're sleeping. It's
probably a lot like thumb-sucking in humans, and nothing to worry
about as long as the one doing the sucking is eating well and the
other one's ears aren't getting sore.
For some reason, many ferrets love to eat soap, stealing it from
the bathroom or even licking the tub. A little bit of soap won't
hurt your ferret, though it may give her diarrhea. Don't give it to
her as a treat, of course, and try to keep it out of her reach, but
it's nothing to panic about unless she manages to eat a lot.
Summer weight loss, in males
Normally, weight loss is something to be concerned about [9.7], but
many males lose a fair bit of weight, even as much as 40% of their
bulk, in the summer and gain it back in the fall. It's mainly
preparation for breeding, but it's common in neutered males, too.
If your ferret seems otherwise healthy and happy, don't worry.
Subject: (8.8) Do ferrets travel well?
In general, yes.
Ferrets love going places. You can fix up a shoulder bag with a
litter pan and space for a water bottle and food dish and carry them
with you wherever they're welcome. Be careful not to let them get
too hot [10.8] or cold, though.
Car trips don't seem to bother ferrets, although being closed up in
a travel cage may irritate them -- and you, if they scratch to get
out. Keeping them loose in the car is not recommended, since they
could get under the driver's feet or through some undetected hole
into the engine compartment or onto the road. You can use a water
bottle in a car, but fasten a deep dish or cup underneath it, since
it will drip, and put down a towel to soak up the inevitable spills.
Only a few airlines allow ferrets on board their planes, in
under-seat carriers, for an additional charge. (America West, Air
Canada, and Delta do, and I once got a special exception from
Continental after talking with their customer service folks for a
while. Any others?) Sending your ferret in the cargo area is not
generally recommended, largely due to problems people have had with
temperature, pressure and general handling of pets who travel this
way. If you make any travel arrangements for your ferrets, whether
it's in the cabin, as baggage, or as freight, get them in writing.
Several people have reported experiences in which one person at an
airline said ferrets would be fine only to have another person
prohibit them, sometimes on very short notice.
Tranquilizing the ferret isn't recommended -- it'll disorient him
and may affect his ability to keep his body temperature regulated.
Medications can also be affected by altitude, leading to a risk of
Several people have been able to sneak their ferrets aboard aircraft
by carrying them through security, then transferring them to a
duffel bag in a restroom, but I have no experience with that.
If you have to fly your ferrets somewhere and no airline will take
them, a courier service such as Airborne Express or FedEx might be
able to help. This might be the only way to fly your ferrets to
some international destinations.
Many hotels allow pets in cages, although it's a good idea to
call ahead and make sure. Also leave a note to reassure the maids.
Canada/U.S. border crossings
As of January 22, 1997, an import permit is no longer needed to
bring a ferret into Canada, whether it's a Canadian or U.S. ferret.
Ferrets are now treated like dogs and cats, and only require proof
of rabies and distemper vaccinations. However, if you do not have a
residential address in Canada, a quarantine period may be imposed,
apparently at the discretion of the agent at the border.
Bringing ferrets from Canada into the U.S. is much the same. All I've
ever needed was a rabies certificate. Proof that the ferrets came
from the U.S. in the first place might also be helpful (a NY state
license, in my case; if you don't have one, register your pets with
U.S. Customs before you enter Canada). I don't know much about
Canadian residents bringing ferrets into the U.S., but I wouldn't
expect it to be any different.
You should also check with the Wildlife Departments of any areas
you'll be passing through or staying in to make sure that ferrets
are allowed, and carry documentation of the vaccines your pets have
had, just in case.
Subject: (8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!
[This section was written by Bev Fox, with additions by Carla Smith,
and has been edited slightly.]
The most important things to do only work if you do them before one of
your ferrets makes a break for the big outdoors.
Teach your ferrets to come to a sound (a word, squeaky toy, whistle,
etc.) and reward them with their favorite treat when they do. Deaf
ferrets can be trained to come by using a flashlight and blinking it
off and on rapidly for a strobing effect. (Hearing ones too, for that
matter.) Introduce your ferret to your neighbors so they will be
familiar with what a ferret is and what it looks like. Put a collar or
harness with a bell and name tag on your ferret whenever it is out of
the cage. This way if somebody sees it they will know that it is a pet
and not a wild animal.
Check through your house carefully, including places where your ferret
"couldn't possibly go." Look inside drawers, under dressers, in
hampers, under and inside refrigerators, etc. Check your backyard,
bushes and garage. Most ferrets when exploring a new area will cling
to the side of a building or structure before venturing out into an
open area. Put food and water out, preferably in a familiar cage or
carrier with a blanket or shirt that has your scent on it. Place food
on the front and back porch. You may also want to sprinkle the area
with flour to make it easier to identify tracks left by any animal
coming up to eat and drink.
Use your word processor or graphics program and design a missing
ferret poster now before you need it and have it on file so specific
information can be added and copies can be printed up in a short
period of time. The poster should include your phone number, the
ferret's name and picture, a description of any collar or harness he
was wearing, date missing, last known location, and mention of a
reward. (Never place how much money offered on the poster as some
people may not think the amount offered is worth their effort.) Some
people suggest that you say that the ferret is ill and needs
medication (even if it's healthy). (This little white lie might make
someone who finds your ferret and is thinking of keeping it for
themselves have second thoughts and call you to come get it.)
Call your local police, animal control authorities, ferret club,
ferret shelter, pet stores, veterinarians and radio stations. Get the
word out. Canvass your neighborhood door to door and let your
neighbors know to watch for a missing ferret in the area, perhaps in
their garages or dryer vents. If you have another ferret, take it
along to show them what one looks like. Ask your neighbors,
especially children, if they will help you look around. Hand
volunteers a noise maker that you use to call your ferret or tell them
your call sign. Also hand out treats so if the ferret is spotted by
someone they can keep it in sight until it can be retrieved. Alert
your mailman, newspaper boy, and anyone else who passes through your
area often. Post signs everywhere and place ads in your local
newspapers. Don't limit it to your immediate neighborhood. Ferrets
have been found many miles from home after crossing major highways and
If you own more than one ferret, take one with you. It can show you
small openings that you may otherwise overlook and may also draw the
missing ferret out into the open to see its friend.
Remember, look low. Ferrets love dark places so check under porches,
shrubs, dumpsters and cars. Ferrets also like small places so check
behind trashcans and any little nook and cranny you find. Look for
the telltale " a ferret has been here" signs. (Leaves, dirt and grass
that have been dug at and little piles of poop that we all know so
Don't give up hope. Missing ferrets have been found days, weeks and
occasionally even months after their great escape.
== End of Part 3 ==
- Pamela Greene
Ferret Central: http://www.ferretcentral.org/
Clan Lord (online game) FAQ: http://faq.clanlord.net/
This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.