By Brenda Bresloff
New ferret owners often find themselves asking “Why is my ferret biting me, and how can I get him/ her to stop?” While there are various ways you can teach your ferret not to bite, it’s important to understand a kit (baby ferret) is not biting to be mean. Ferrets communicate and play with each other by using their mouth, and as they have very tough skin, their biting can be hard. As their human companions, it will be up to us to teach them the proper way to interact and play with us. The single most important thing to keep in mind is to NEVER hit your ferret or flick their nose (which is very sensitive), as this will only lead to a ferret that will bite more and harder out of aggression.
As each ferret is different, the method of training will also vary, so do not give up hope if your first or second attempt does not work. Key to training is going to be consistency, to ensure your ferret does not receive mixed signals.
As young ferrets are very hyper and easily excitable, chances are your new ferret will go out of his/ her way to get your attention to play. As young ferrets communicate with their mouth, they may nip you as they would another ferret as an invitation. If you believe your ferret might nip you, try distracting him/ her with a toy or offering a treat. Try picking him/ her up and let them lick some Ferretone/ Laxatone/ Nutrical from your hands. This will also reinforce that your hands mean good things.
One of the most widely used methods to curb biting, is by applying a Bitter Apple spray to your hands, legs and/ or feet. The majority of ferrets do not like the taste which is extremely bitter, and will often stop biting at the taste. Overtime, they will associate biting with this awful taste and should stop. Never spray the ferret itself, or close to them where it might get into their eyes.
If your ferret continues to bite, you can try placing him/ her in their cage for a time out period. This should be no more than 10-15 minutes. Longer than that, chances are your ferret will go to sleep and not associate being placed in the cage as a form of punishment.
Another option is scruffing (holding the ferret by the loose skin around the back of their neck firmly). When you scruff a ferret their entire body goes limp often followed by a yawn. While scruffing loudly repeat No, Bad, Stop, No Bite, etc. If the ferret continues to bite when you release him, keep repeating. If this doesn’t work, try scruffing and slowly drag them across the floor showing dominance, in the same manner a mother ferret teaches her kits. Do not scruff or drag roughly, just enough to exert dominance.
If you’re holding your ferret in your hands and he bites, do your best to not put him down right away until he calms down, and NEVER hit him/ her. Putting a ferret down when they bite will only reinforce the behavior you’re trying to break, as they will associate getting put down/ let go of equals biting. The best approach is to scruff him/ her with her free hand and loudly say NO, Stop, No Bite, Bad, etc,. If he doesn’t, you can carefully try prying his teeth open from the side of his mouth, or running some water over him/ her (not hot). Remember do not hit your ferret or flick their nose.
It’s important to nip this behavior as quickly as possibly, and not allow any form of biting/ nipping to be acceptable. As each ferret will learn at their own speed, the keys to accomplishing success will be your persistence and consistency. Just about all ferrets learn biting is not acceptable, while kisses always are.