Posted: January 13, 2012, 7 a.m. EST
Q: A year and a half ago, my boyfriend and I got a female, Marshall ferret from a pet store. We named her Coco. Today she is an awesome ferret and never bites! She's very calm but doesn't like to hold still for long. About a month and a half ago we got a male ferret from the same store; his name is Bear. They get along well, and live in a big cage together. Bear is about 3 months old and already bigger than Coco. Coco is a very small ferret and won't gain weight for some reason. When they lay in the hammock together, Bear licks and messes with Coco’s ear until he falls asleep, like it's a binky. Is it because he was taken from his mom too soon? He just lays there and takes it. Her ear isn't red or anything, so he's not biting it. Lately, he's been really beating her up and doesn't ever let up. She squeaks and tries to get away, and he just chases her. When, if ever, will he leave her alone? I let her out all night last night because he wouldn't let her sleep and just kept biting her in the hammock. I've put that bitter apple stuff on her, and it doesn't faze him at all.
A: Many ferrets that are taken away from their mothers too soon will try to find a substitute item to nurse on. Quite often, they use the ear of a comrade because it is convenient. As long as their cagemate’s ears don’t get red and sore, and if the other ferret isn’t protesting about it, I wouldn’t worry. Some ferrets will suck on their toes, too, much like a child sucking its thumb.
Concerning the sizes of your ferrets, males generally get to be twice as big as females. As long as Coco isn’t skin and bones, she is probably fine. If she isn’t eating or pooping, or if she becomes lethargic, then you should get her in to see your veterinarian right away.
Now, on to the main problem, the aggressive behavior being displayed by Bear. Bear could just be rambunctious and is trying to get Coco to play with him. He’s young and full of energy, whereas she is an adult and more sedate. If he is not breaking the skin when he bites her, then he is probably just play-biting.
Does Coco run as soon as she sees him or does she wait until he actually starts something? If she is not cowering from him or screeching in fear, then he’s probably just annoying her. Her squeaks are probably her way of saying, “Mom, he’s picking on me!” When she starts to run away, he just thinks it’s a game of tag and chases after her. As long as he is not keeping her from eating, and as long as there are no actual wounds caused by his biting, then I wouldn’t worry about it. Bear will probably outgrow this stage in a few months.
If you think that things are getting a little too rough from time to time, give Bear a timeout in his cage so Coco has some peace and quiet time for herself. You also may want to interact with both of them to keep their minds off of their squabbles. Offer them treats together and provide more toys for them so Bear has something else he can take his energy out on. Tubes to run through and a bean box (a plastic tub half full of dried beans, like pinto beans, for them to dig in) are great distractions and a lot of fun for your pets. Empty boxes with holes cut in them are also fun and inexpensive. Another favorite game is dragging a towel across the floor for your ferrets to jump on and ride. Experiment and see what your ferrets enjoy. By keeping Bear busy you can keep his mind off of picking on Coco.
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