Why Do Ferrets Bite?

Get need-to-know information about why ferrets bite.

“Don’t ferrets bite?” This might be the most common question people ask ferret owners. A lot of information is out there about ferret biting — some good, some not-so-good. Once you know the basics about biting, though, your common sense helps you know what to believe. The following six tips offer basic ferret biting information.  

1. Understand the tooth factor. All organisms with teeth can bite. Just because a ferret or a puppy or a hamster or even a rabbit is cute and cuddly, it doesn’t mean a bite can’t happen. Ferrets have teeth, so they can bite. Whether or not a ferret will bite depends on many factors. Most bites occur either because a ferret is exploring/curious (what’s this thing?) or because it is trying to communicate something (I’m afraid, hurt, hungry, playful, etc.).

2. Pay attention to juniors and seniors. A ferret’s life stage is another factor to consider. Is the ferret less than a year old? If so, then it might be nippy because it’s trying to play. It doesn’t realize that being nipped isn’t fun for people. On the flip side, an older ferret that never bit might suddenly turn nippy if it’s feeling sick. If a ferret that never bit suddenly gets nippy, take it to a ferret-savvy veterinarian for a checkup as soon as possible.

3. Know your ferret’s history. How was your ferret socialized? Did it suffer any traumatic experiences in its life? Proper socialization is one of the most important ways to train a ferret so it’s less prone to biting. Ferrets usually learn not to bite, or at least not to bite too hard, while playing with littermates. If a ferret has suffered a traumatic experience, it may become a fear-biter, which requires special attention to overcome. Whether or not a ferret is neutered is also important. A neutered ferret is usually less aggressive. Genetics might affect the propensity to bite, too.

4. Be odor-neutral. Playing with a ferret after you’ve just eaten fried chicken, fries or some other finger food could invite an exploratory nip from the ferret. After all, your fingers smell tasty! This could also apply if you use a scented soap or other strong-smelling product. You never know what a ferret will want to check out. So wash your hands with unscented soap before and after playing with your ferret, which is also good hygiene.

5. Watch for signs of ill health. As previously mentioned, an older ferret might suddenly get nippy if it’s not feeling well. Illness can happen at any time, though, so take your younger ferret in for a regular checkup with a ferret-savvy veterinarian at least once a year; senior ferrets should get checkups at least twice a year. Any sudden change in a ferret’s behavior (listless, aggressive, not eating, not drinking, etc.) or abnormal changes in its appearance (hair loss, lumps/bumps, abnormal discharge, etc.) should be checked out by a veterinarian. Also, a deaf or blind ferret might nip more because it’s more easily startled.

6. Don’t tempt fate. Never leave a ferret unsupervised with other pets or infants/children. This rule actually applies to all pets , and it can’t be repeated enough. To keep your ferrets, other pets and children safe, you must supervise at all times when ferrets are roaming outside their habitat and other pets are loose, or children or infants are in the house. 

To put this into perspective, the National Center For Injury Prevention And Control at the Centers For Disease Control lists that dogs were responsible for approximately 30 percent of the nonfatal bite/sting injuries in the United States in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available). No specific data is available on other animals, but based on the population difference between dogs and ferrets (78.2 million dogs versus 525,000 ferrets, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers’ National Pet Owners Survey, 2011-2012 ),and considering that a lot of other things can bite and sting besides ferrets, the number of ferret bites must be rather small.

For more information about ferrets and bites, click on the article titles below.


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