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Playtime With Ferrets

For the best ferret play, think like a ferret when you choose toys or play games with your pet.

Erika Sorocco
Posted: July 17, 2014, 6:40 p.m. EDT

When it comes to playtime, ferrets, just like us, know what tickles their fancy and what doesn’t. Take this into consideration when attempting to encourage or initiate play. Now is the time to learn the intricacies of ferret play — from new games to try, to tips on correctly interpreting body language. Your guides in this are ferret owners who have discovered, through their own trial and error, what works and what doesn’t in the world of fuzzy fun!

Body Language And Beyond
"Ferrets will tell you when they are happy, in pain, scared or excited,” said ferret owner Sherry Dickson of New Jersey. "A happy ferret will jump, dook and giggle — sort of speak. It looks spastic as it hops first to the left, then to the right, then again to the left. A ferret in pain will cower and scream; and a ferret that is scared or excited to the extreme gets a bottle brush tail, and cowers.

"The Weasel War Dance, though, is the funniest thing they do when they are happy,” she continued. "It’s a hop sideways, with their bodies bent like a Halloween kitty. My ferrets also keep their back feet on the floor and hop from side to side with their front legs, making them look confused. It’s hysterical and especially funny when they do it with one of my cats, and he does it with them too! They do this when they are super happy and teasing others to play.”

Virginia resident Jane Bradley describes similar behavior. Bradley has owned ferrets for more than 15 years and is co-founder of Big Lick Ferret Shelter & Hospice and an original member of the Star City Ferret Club, both in Roanoke, Virginia. Her experience over the years has given her a special insight into the unspoken language of ferrets, and determining their happiness.

"They radiate joy in their movement and their eyes!” Bradley said. "A happy ferret having fun will fluff out their fur, dook and ‘hehehe’ around the room in total abandon! Our oldest girl, Mia, has a sideways crab walk/hop while she is up on her toes that is a sure sign she is happy. If a ferret comes running back to you for more, they are having fun.”

Lisa Oestereich of Maryland has owned more than 60 ferrets since her first one came into her life in 1985. But she doesn’t rely on body language alone to make the determination of whether a ferret is having fun or not — she listens for a telltale noise.

"The clucking sounds young ferrets make is about the best noise there is,” Oestereich said. "The older ones don’t tend to do it as much; although they do it when they are really fired up. It’s hard to miss it when a ferret is engaged with a toy or an activity.”

Luckily, encouraging ferret play that keeps your fuzzy friend coming back for more doesn’t take much in the way of expense; rather, it relies largely upon creativity, as Pennsylvania’s Tammy Baxter, a member of the Pennsylvania Ferret Rescue Association, and proud ferret parent, has learned.

Baxter recommends giving plush toys, plastic eggs and numerous other safe items to ferrets as toys. "Anything small they can escape with,” she said. "I’ll crumple up a store receipt and throw it at an unsuspecting ferret who just happens to be walking by. Something as simple as that can trigger a Weasel War Dance of sheer joy!”

Game Time!
Though wands and balls with bells that skitter across the floor have forever been associated with felines, and chew toys are quite often associated with canines, there is no standard fare for ferrets when it comes to toys and playtime; this is a fact that ferret owners have taken in stride. Relying upon the right side of their brains, ferret owners have crafted a wide array of games and makeshift playthings that work to entertain both parties — fuzzies and the families who love them!

"Our favorite game is Ferret Burrito,” said Tina Pence of Indiana. "I came up with the name just to have something fun to call it. What I do is I get out a small flannel receiving blanket, and I shake it around, teasing them, saying ‘Who wants to be a ferret burrito?’ Pretty soon, they all come running. I spread the blanket out on the floor, wait for a victim — I mean participant — to climb onto the blanket, then I roll the ferret up in the blanket just like a burrito. Grabbing the edge of the blanket, I gently unroll the ferret out of the blanket while making fun noises like ‘Whheeee.’ When unwrapped, the ferret jumps up, does a quick dance of joy, and then he or she comes running back for another chance to be a ferret burrito.”

Dickson, who has owned ferrets for more than five years, also relies upon blankets during playtime with her ferrets. In fact, she has named one of her favorite ferret activities The Blankie Game.

"I take a large blanket, and while holding one side, throw it up in the air, and let it float down on the ferrets,” Dickson said. "I keep doing this, and they jump up to catch the blanket, jump on the blanket when it’s on the floor, and wrestle each other when they’re on the blanket. Then, with them on it, I drag the blanket across the floor so they go for a ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ across the room. They try to climb up to my hands, and I then gently flip the blanket over and they jump off for me to throw the blanket up in the air and float down on them to start over again.”

New York’s Susann Thiel, who has owned ferrets for more than 20 years, has also discovered that many of her ferrets’ favorite games revolve around supplies you can find in the bedroom — such as blankets and pillowcases.

"My ferrets love Blanket Monster and Pillow Monster. Blanket Monster is playfighting with my hands under a blanket or sheet as a barrier, usually done while they ‘help’ me make the bed,” Thiel said. "Pillow Monster, one of their absolute favorites, is where I smoosh them in the pillowcase and bounce it gently up and down on the bed, or drag it on top of the bed. This game always gets them dancing and laughing!”

Odds and ends found in the bedroom, however, are not the only source of entertainment when it comes to ferrets, as Millie Sanders of the Texas Ferret Lovers Rescue in Balch Springs, Texas has discovered. During her many years of ferret ownership, wherein she always has at least 50 to 100 ferrets in her care at a time, she has learned that ferrets, like cats, can never resist the simple luxury of paper grocery bags.

"Take two or three ferrets, throw them in there, ruffle it all up, shake it and then pour them out,” Sanders said. "They bounce around like popcorn, and then make a dive for the opening so you will do it again. It is loads of fun for them and so much fun to watch.” 

ferret peeking out of big vase
© Courtesy Mary Doyle
If a ferret sees an opening or something interesting, his curiosity compels him to investigate!

Natural Instincts
While playtime is the perfect time for owners to bond with their fur babies, certain forms of ferret fun allow them to engage in activities that tap into their natural instincts — such as burrowing and tunneling, catching prey, and hiding small objects.

"The play tubes are a real hit, and I think that taps into their natural instinct to tunnel,” said ferret owner Cristina Camacho of Arizona. "I also have a rice dig box that they loved the moment I set it up. They can go into it and dig to their heart’s content.”

Nancy Sevier, founder of the Fuzzie Friends Rescue And Shelter in Louisiana, shares her living quarters with many ferrets. She is also a big fan of tubes for helping them to channel their wild ancestors.

"You can be on one end, and they will go through it and even chase each other!” Sevier said.

Though tubes are a huge hit for allowing a ferret’s natural instincts to run wild, Bradley likes to engage in activities that cater to the natural burrowing tendencies of her fuzzies.

"I have a large plastic bin full of puzzle pieces and plastic balls with bells in them,” Bradley said. "The ferrets like to burrow down into the pieces while I scoop more up over them. I often hear the bells jingling as they play in the box together. This also works with plastic eggs. During the warm months, I put them outside in a playpen and give them a big bin of dirt to play in.”

Like Bradley, Dresden Toms of Texas does what she can to treat her fuzzies to outdoor excursions. "We spend time in the garden, or visiting large gatherings for dog owners,” Toms said. "When in the garden, they enjoy digging, running and following me. When out at a large festival, I take one at a time, harnessed, and they are the star of the show. Every child wants to walk them and every adult asks what is on my lap or shoulder.”

When it comes to ferret playtime, Thiel is another fan of the great outdoors, and allows her ferrets to experience it as often as possible.

"Several times a week, I take them in the backyard for a little outdoor play,” Thiel said. "We have a big, fenced yard and live on a quiet street, so there isn’t noise to spook them, and predators/stray animals don’t get inside. I take them out individually, and stay right by their side. Some of my previous ferrets didn’t mind wearing a harness, and we’d go for short, slow walks around the neighborhood.”

While outdoor play is a great way to allow your ferret to take in a bit of fresh air, and truly tap into his natural instincts, Thiel, a coordinator for the County Animal Response Team in Broome County, New York, advises that owners err on the side of caution when out of doors.

"Be very careful if you take your ferrets outside,” Thiel said. "You are their sole protector and must be attentive to the environment and to their every move, just as with a human baby.”

Encouraging ferret play is anything but difficult. With a little time, devotion and patience on your part, you’ll be well on your way to discovering your fur babies game time favorites, while increasing the bond you share with your furry friend at the very same time.

Like this article? Please share it.
And check out:
7 Tips To make Ferret Lives And Yours Better, click here>>
Healthy Ferret Play, click here>>
Ferrets Running Wild In An Outdoor Holding Pen, click here>>

Posted: July 17, 2014, 6:40 p.m. EDT

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