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Ferrets In The Family

Ferret likes and dislikes help determine how ferrets might blend with your family.

Marylou Zarbock
Posted: February 27, 2013, 1:15 p.m. EST

Daisy ferret escapes playpen
© Courtesy Brenda Johnson.
Ferrets are capable of unbelievable escapes. Brenda Johnson caught Daisy ferret doing what seemed impossible.
(Click to enlarge)
Daisy ferret's cage warns of her escape prowess
© Courtesy Brenda Johnson
Once Daisy ferret's escape abilitiy was recognized, her cage was adorned with signs warning areas she cannot be in without constant supervision.
(Click to enlarge)

What you like and dislike reveals a lot about you, and the same goes for ferrets. Will a ferret fit into your household if you prefer everything neat, tidy and in its place? What about a household that’s charmingly cluttered? Every ferret is an individual with unique likes and dislikes, but ferret owners and ferret shelter operators reveal a few common ferret characteristics — some expected and some unexpected.

Smart In Many Ways
Ferrets are intelligent. In fact, a 2012 Plos One article by Anna Hernadi, Anna Kis, Borbala Turcsan and Jozsef Topal titled Man’s Underground Best Friend: Domestic Ferrets, Unlike The Wild Forms, Show Evidence Of Dog-Like Social-Cognitive Skills, suggests that ferrets share some social-behavioral characteristics with dogs and rely on cues from people for information. Their intelligence makes them both a joy and a challenge.

Sukie Crandall has owned ferrets for more than 30 years and said that ferrets are people-pleasers. “Some will alter their behaviors to manage that, so reinforcing the desired behaviors seems to work best, but others will do the undesired things if people are not watching.”

But ferret smarts don’t seem to end with just taking cues from people. Brenda Johnson of the Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue/Shelter in upstate New York said ferrets have a sense of adventure and are like a perpetual 2-year-old child who never grows up, but they are also problem-solvers. “[Ferrets] can look at a challenge and work out how they are going to overcome that challenge,” she said. This includes tasks like how to get over a barrier, get to the top of the table, get a Velcro zip-tie undone and removed from a gate and more. Johnson has owned ferrets since 1992 and opened her ferret shelter in 1995.

Crandall said her ferret Hilbert was good at escaping from his cage at night. “He seemed to realize that we would be more vigilant about that if he was too bad, so he worked at trying to be good and even sometimes would put himself back in after we knew he’d been out at night.” She added that Hilbert could also let himself into a room and then close the door behind himself; she theorized this might be to delay being caught doing mischief.

Curious, intelligent and athletic ferrets sometimes cause worry for ferret owners. Bonnie Tormohlen of the Northern Arizona Ferret Alliance & Rescue Inc. (NAFAR) wishes that ferrets would not climb cages. “There are the most adroit climbers that insist on scaling the cages in the sanctuary with the ease of a seasoned mountaineer conquering Mount Everest,” she said. She has owned ferrets for eight years and opened NAFAR in 2007.

On the Ferrets magazine Facebook page we asked people what they regularly have to stop their ferrets from doing. Climbing things, leaping from things and getting into places they shouldn’t were mentioned several times. The main concern is safety, and the frustration is evident in Maureen Howe Henn’s response. “Getting behind the dishwasher!” she said. “It drives me crazy. He just doesn’t understand that ferrets can’t go there.”
 

Nibbles ferret pulls large stuffed toy
© Courtesy Bonnie Tormohlen
Nibbles the ferret was a champion at stealing and stashing items, no matter the size. (Click to enlarge)
Ferret Boundaries
Many ferret owners soon realize that ferrets believe they own everything. They know no boundaries and their instinct to rearrange things to their liking or stash them away can create problems if the stashed item isn’t a ferret item.

“Some hide things that we would rather they did not hide,” Crandall said, “like my pocketbook for four hours once behind a door, and an $800 pair of back-up eyeglasses.”

Allyson Dickinson complained about ferrets stealing her remote control. Melody Collier’s ferrets steal her shoes and Kay Link Beason’s ferrets steal her underwear and socks.
 
But stealing and stashing isn’t always a source of frustration. Tormohlen had a ferret named Nibbles who she said was a notorious hauler. “He could spend an hour tugging and pulling at a giant teddy bear to get it under the couch,” she said. “We have had many stashers come through our doors, but none have compared to Nibbles. Though our little 8-year-old Lulu has come close with her crocheted egg collection. We have found as many as three dozen stuffed under the couch.”

Crandall said most of her ferrets enjoyed carrying and stashing small, cloth, bell toys. “Some like other things as well,” she said. “We have had males, but no females, who love to drag and stash toy ferrets that are much larger than they are. Some take them by their ears but others prefer the toys’ tails. Our current males loves to stash my soft sweaters, and they are very hard to drag through the house, especially when the younger female decides that she should be riding on the sweater.”

Some Cuddle, Some Don’t
Ferrets are not generally known to be cuddlers, especially young ferrets. A major dislike of Janette McDonald’s ferrets? Being held too long. “They can't stand it,” she said. “I have to get my cuddles and kisses in real fast.”

Johnson sees both types at her ferret shelter. “Some of the ferrets that are here love to be loved, will allow folks to hold them for hours on end,” she said. “and yet their cagemate wants nothing but adventure and where they can find that next adventure.”

Ferret Play Versus Destruction
The ferret instinct to explore, burrow and dig can be hard on a home’s décor. Crandall had a ferret that loved to climb and found a unique way to get down from the top of curtains or a shelf in a clothes closet. “She would find a place where the curtain or a long dress were, then latch in her claws, let her bum hang, and rip her way downward.” Crandall said it was reminiscent of a character in an old pirate movie using a knife on a sail.

More common damage includes digging at carpeting enough to ruin it, scratching a couch, scratching doors and even tunneling into furniture. Amy Fowler said her ferrets climb into a hole they made in her daughter’s box spring. “The bad weezils built a fort in there.”

Ferrets Being Ferrets
Possibly the most frustrating ferret behaviors for owners is when ferrets eliminate anywhere outside the litter box or when they bite.

“Why must these little buggers do their business in front of the door, like laying a field of land mines in a military zone in spite of there being a regiment of clean, filled litter boxes within inches of the mine field?” Tormohlen asked.

Amenda Hembree Lobstein said her ferrets poop in every corner of the house and know that they shouldn’t. “There are two litter boxes in the bathroom,” she said, “and, yes, Snickers and Dane know they are there, because they move the boxes to piddle behind, in front or to either side.”

Juaned Nany Cruz-Figueroa chimed in about biting. "I know they are both playing, but sometimes they both bite really hard."

wet ferret in bathtub
© Courtesy Todd Yamashita
Baths do not seem to be a favorite activity of ferrets. (Click to enlarge)

A List Of Likes And Dislikes
So far we’ve looked at things from a person’s point of view. But what about ferrets? What do they really like and dislike?

At the top of many ferrets’ list of dislikes is probably anything to do with grooming, which includes nail trims and ear cleaning but most especially baths.

“My ferrets hate water unless it is for drinking,” said Patricia Shaskin.

Other ferrets don’t object to water at all. “Mine hate baths, but love showers!” said Aurora Ashley. “They run to and stand under the shower head, lift up their head, close their eyes, and enjoy their mini waterfall.”

Another common dislike involves a health matter. “Mine dislikes medicine, but who doesn't?” said April P. Castelhano.

Certain noises also unnerve ferrets, including squeaky toys for some, the sound of a vacuum and even some unexpected noises like sizzling sounds or, as Karen Pedro found with her ferrets, locational noise. “[They dislike] noises from above, especially gulls.”
 
So what are some common things that ferrets like? Well, aside from everything already listed that owners are trying to stop them from doing, add to the list sleeping, playing with crinkle or squeaky toys (yes, some ferrets like squeaky toys), treats, toys, exploring — the list is long and can change day to day or week to week for some ferrets. Games always seem to be a favorite, from chase to playing with balls and more.

“My little guy loves it when you shake a blanket over his head,” said Yelena Gertzen. “He leaps and pounces and wrestles the fabric.”

And sometimes favorite things aren’t just for fun or entertainment. Sheila Rudolph has a blind older ferret that has a unique use for a toy. “She carries her toy in her mouth when she walks around and uses it as a ‘bumper’ so she doesn't plow into the walls. She is my beauty queen, beautiful and graceful, most of all — incredibly smart! I love our ferrets!”

If your ferret does things you wish it wouldn’t or if you’re considering getting a ferret, know what you might be getting into. Training can encourage or minimize some behaviors, but training might not work for everything.

“I am of the belief that ferrets will be ferrets; you can’t change that fact, so we change how we do things to keep the most adventurous soul out of trouble and getting hurt,” Johnson said. “If there is an interest in something that can be harmful and we can do without that something it gets removed from the shelter.”

Like this article? Check out the following:
The Strange Items That Ferrets Stash, click here>>
Life At The Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue/Shelter, click here>>
A Visit To An Arizona Ferret Rescue, click here>>

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Ferrets In The Family

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Reader Comments
This brought back some wonderful memories of visits to the Lakeroad Ferret Farm. Once while we were visiting and playing in the yard, Odie was running like a wild thing in the enclosure. Suddenly, without slowing down or missing a beat, Odie ran to the turtle sandbox, pounced up and bolted over the top of the playyard. We all just looked at each other, speechless, before giving chase. Needless to say, the turtle was moved further away from the fence. We had no idea he was even casing the joint - he was that sneaky. He KNEW! They are smart little buggers!
Renee, Anchorage, AL
Posted: 2/27/2013 7:02:31 PM
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