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Why Do Ferrets Bite Only One Person?

A ferret rescue operator can’t understand why her ferrets bite her adult daughter.

By Ailigh Vanderbush
Posted: February 1, 2010, 5 a.m. EST

Q: I operate a small ferret rescue, and some of the ferrets bite my daughter. All the ferrets are neutered. My daughter is over every day, and the ferrets all know her but some just come up and bite her for no reason. Some have been here quite long and know her well, but they bite her just the same as others that have been here for less than a year. It’s both male and female ferrets doing this. I don't understand, because they don't bite me, ever.

A: The bites could be happening for a number of reasons, but the most probable is related to the ferrets’ experience with her and her reaction to being bitten. We call this learned aggression (they have a history of biting her) or the reinforcement history (they get something out of it).

If your daughter becomes more exciting to the ferrets by yelping or moving quickly when they bite, the ferrets may see it as a game. She may also be uncomfortable around them, and the ferrets learn to bite her because they can or it is fun for them.

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Why Do Ferrets Bite Only One Person?

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Reader Comments
I'm interested to know your definition of "bite?" I'm not a fool, but my ferrets (I have 3 I adopted) during playtime when I scritch their backs, think I am playing and they open their mouths and lean in to bite, but they don't press their teeth in when they realize it's me. Now that being said, mine have an affinity for socks, and when I take my shoes off, they go for my sock with my feet still in them, and they bite hard, thinking it is empty. It's hard to scold them because they think the sock is empty. When i take my socks off, they don't bite my feet (only the occasional "let's play" nip). some people see the "teeth on skin" thing as biting, but if they are REALLY biting hard, then something is setting them off. is there a particular place they bite? Fingers, hands, feet, etc?
D, Sanford, FL
Posted: 11/10/2011 8:18:20 AM
The ferrets don't trust her. For some reason she has done something they don't like and she hasn't changed.
Dennis, Akron, OH
Posted: 3/18/2010 2:30:42 PM
I think David is probably correct in that the ferrets are getting a reaction from the biting - so they continue this behaviour.

However, ferrets can be socially submissive or dominant - like dogs and many other animals. Have you ever seen ferrets scruffing each other ? They are establishing who is in charge. It is likely that these practices also carry over to their human relationships. When a ferret bites the daughter, she should immediately (gently) scuff them or spritz them with sour apple.


Jeff, Detroit, MI
Posted: 2/19/2010 1:41:17 PM
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