Ferrets Take On Behavior Of Departed Cagemates

Why would two ferrets at two different times suddenly change behavior to imitate a departed cagemate?

Q: I have had a repeated behavior with three different ferrets who were very close but very different in personality. After my boy Odin died suddenly his bonded cagemate, Ghost, started this peculiar habit of acting like Odin. This included walking and running gait, distaste for the dogs, kissing cuddling and coming to Odin’s name; he was even able to do things he normally could not do, such as climb the stairs. And he began eating treats he did not like but Odin did. My veterinarian ran tests, but everything came up normal; the vet said it was part of his grieving. Ghost did this for the remainder of his life (almost eight months), with each “episode” precluded by a dizzy/spacey spell.

Two months after Odin died, Ghost’s behavior became more erratic and we sent him in again, tests showed his blood sugar was too low and despite medication, daily blood testing along with meal adjustments we could not stabilize his blood sugar and had to put him to sleep.

Shiva is now the oldest of my remaining ferrets and the last of my original brood. Always dainty and aloof like a cat, she has never been interested in rough and tumble play, treats, cuddling, toys, or running and romping. She walks her princess route and supervises as she though she should. Days after Ghost was gone Shiva became clingy, which I believed to be her grieving. But soon she was roughhousing with the young kits, demanding kisses, cuddle time, treats and everything that she has never done. She is 8 now, and I have no explanation for this. My vet said it would be normal if they displayed this behavior while the other ferrets were alive but to do it only after a ferret was gone was beyond him. After several days, he still had no answers.

After Odin first passed, we marveled at Ghost and came to the only conclusion we could: Odin (who had died suddenly without me around) had come to say goodbye and make sure I would be OK (I was going through an awful divorce at the time and he was very possessive of me); however Shiva has also displayed behavior of the other two boys since their passing, and again I have no explanation. A week after Odin died she greeted me demanding kisses, and I remember being surprised how tiny her tongue was compared to Odin’s and how she did not drool like Ghost. It would be nice to think it is my boys coming back, but since Shiva has started acting like the boys she’s slowed down considerably (which may be old age) but it now makes me worry this is a symptom of something else. Do you have any ideas or have you heard of something similar?

A: At 8, your ferret Shiva’s slowdown could certainly be age related. Regarding the other behavior changes, I would attribute these to the group dynamics of the three ferrets while all were alive. Ferrets (like people) often alter their own personality to “smooth over” a situation. Once one ferret passed, the others were able to express different personality traits that they chose not to before. The same when the female was left by herself. She may not have felt interested in rough play until she was alone.

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Critters · Ferrets