Posted: November 13, 2010, 5 a.m. EST
Q: I am not a first-time ferret owner and am very experienced in animal care. I used to be a veterinary surgery tech before a job change was needed for money. Anyway, I think I was just blessed with my first ferret, Trouble, who is no trouble at all actually. But I got a baby ferret, Temper (2 1/2 months old), who acts his name. Anytime food is around he becomes aggressive, and he tonight bit me so badly I was bleeding for 20 minutes. This occurred just because I was opening a bag for a treat. I know you should not hit, but he was literally clamped on and I could not pry his mouth open. He was tearing at my finger like he was a lion eating an antelope. How Do I stop his extreme food fetish and also get him to realize that biting will only cause him to be given away. I have a 3-year-old son who is great with all my animals, and I don't need him being bit.
A: Your ferret Temper sounds like he may have multiple problems going on.
First, he is food-aggressive. This usually occurs when a kit (baby ferret) is not fed enough. This could be because he wasn’t provided enough food in the past or he has problems eating dry food. I’m sure you’re providing Temper with food at all times so he can free-feed. At his age he should still be offered moistened food, as well as dry. Dry food can swell up when it hits his stomach acid and give him a stomachache, which could make him cranky. Be sure he has plenty of water, too.
Second, he does not let go when he bites. This indicates that he was either not handled enough by the ferret breeder or the pet shop, or he has a history of abuse. Another possibility is that he is of poor breeding stock.
Temper needs a lot of handling by you and other adult family members. Definitely keep him away from your son for now. Keep the cage up high so your son does not put his fingers through the cage bars and get bitten.
To deter your ferret from biting:
1. Wash all food residue from your hands before handling Temper so he does not mistake your hands for food.
2. Spray your hands with a bitter-tasting, bite deterrent, available at most pet shops.
3. Offer Temper a tube-type treat that you can give him on a spoon or right out of the tube. This keeps his mouth busy as you pick him up.
4. If he clamps onto you again, do not hit him. To get him to release your finger, run his head under running water from a faucet for a second. Most ferrets release their bite when you do this. You can try offering him the treat tube, if you can get to it and get it open, but the faucet is usually easier and faster. Just don’t drown the little guy (even though you might be tempted to under the circumstances!).
5. Consult with a homeopathic veterinarian for something to calm Temper. There are several natural products available that can help calm him without resorting to drugs.
6. As a last resort, wear heavy gloves until he gets used to you enough to stop biting. You can also obtain a “bite stick” — a wedge-shaped piece of durable nylon used for keeping people that are having a seizure from biting their own tongue. Insert it between the teeth at the side of your ferret’s mouth. Consult your veterinarian about the proper way to use it.
See more ferret questions and answers>>