4. Things Ferrets Say and Do
Help! My ferret is going bald!
Ferrets shed their coats twice a year, in the fall and spring. The times for
these changes vary somewhat for ferrets kept in indoor lighting conditions. Fur
will come out by the handful, all over the ferret, and his coat may look a bit
sparse before the new one grows in. A bare tail, perhaps with black oily spots
or a reddish waxy deposit, is also not uncommon and seems to be a seasonal
problem - try gentle cleansers, or just wait a few months for it to clear up.
A nearly bald tail can also be caused by the shedding cycle or by stress.
Otherwise, baldness can be caused by several things. Poor nutrition, fleas, a
severe mite infestation, and dry skin are possibilities. Finally, baldness is
also the most noticeable symptom of adrenal lesions in ferrets. If it begins on
the back end and progresses forward evenly on both sides, eventually leaving
hair only on the head and extremities, adrenal disease is almost certainly the
problem, even if the hair grows back in the fall. See a vet immediately.
What games do ferrets like to play?
Most ferrets enjoy play fighting, chase, tug-o'-war, hide-and-seek, and
so forth, with each other or with you. If your ferret jumps back and forth in
front of you, grabs your finger, or tugs on your pants leg, he wants to play.
They like to explore new things and places, sniff new smells, dig and roll in
the dirt. Most of them love human interaction and will gladly include you in
their play if you make the time for them. It may take you a little while to
learn what each ferret's favorite games are, but soon you'll be one of their
Ferrets like to jump and climb. They're good at finding complicated ways up
to desks or closet shelves, but not very good at judging heights. Be careful
about how high your pet can get, since he may try to jump down. Ferrets also
love to swipe things and drag them into the most inaccessible
location possible. Protect your keys and wallet.
A happy ferret will "dance," flinging himself about on all fours
with an arched back. Chuckling or "dooking" is common too. Dancing or
just careening into walls or furniture is not at all uncommon.
What does that funny noise mean?
Nothing: Most ferrets don't make much noise. This doesn't mean they're
unhappy, just quiet.
Clucking, "dooking," or chuckling: Indicates
happiness or excitement.
Occasional sneezes: If you crawled under bookcases and couches,
you'd sneeze too. Also, ferrets have a pair of scent glands near their chins,
and sneezing can be a way of forcing some of the scent out so it can be rubbed
Whimpering/whining: Kits, especially, do this as a general
excitement noise. It can also be uttered by the loser in a wrestling match.
Hissing: Frustration or anger. Ferrets often hiss while they're
fighting, even if it's just in play.
Screeching/loud chittering: Fright or pain. This is your cue
that it's time to go rescue your pet from whatever it's gotten itself into. It
can also be a sign of anger.
Is he really just asleep?
In general, ferrets sleep quite a bit, even adults. A one- to four-hour
playtime followed by a several-hour nap is typical. Ferrets sometimes appear to
be sleeping with their eyes partly open, and they sleep very heavily, often not
waking even when picked up, which means you have to be especially careful where
you walk and sit.
What else should I probably not worry about?
Scratching: Ferrets just seem to be itchy little critters. If you don't
see any fleas or "flea dust" (bits of dried blood), it's probably not
fleas, so as long as the skin isn't irritated or balding don't worry about it.
If you see little white flakes, it may be dry skin.
Tail puffing: A ferret's tail will bottle-brush when he's
excited or upset. He's not necessarily frightened. He'd have to be really worked
up for the hair on the rest of his body to stand up.
Trembling: Ferrets often tremble or shiver when they've just
woken up, as a way to raise their body temperatures. Some also quiver when
they're excited. A chilly draft might also be the cause.
Licking urine: It's not uncommon for a ferret to take a few
laps of urine, its own or another ferret's. Nobody's really sure why they do it,
but it won't hurt them.
Sniffing/wiping/licking the rear: This is a normal thing to do,
especially after a bath. They also drag their bottoms after using the litter
pan; put newspaper or towels down to keep your floor clean.
Hiccups: Hiccups are not uncommon, especially in young kits,
who sometimes seem alarmed by them. A comforting scratch, a drink of water, or a
small treat can help.
Summer weight loss, in males: Normally, weight loss is
something to be concerned about, but many males lose a fair bit of weight, even
as much as 40% of their bulk, in the summer and gain it back in the fall. It's
mainly preparation for breeding, but it's common in neutered males, too. If your
ferret seems otherwise healthy and happy, don't worry.
Color changes: It's normal for ferrets to lighten some when
they change coats in the fall and darken again in the spring. Some ferrets have
really dramatic winter color changes, losing masks, gaining white patches, and
Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
Yes, ferrets are plenty smart enough to learn to sit up, turn around,
roll over, stay on your shoulders or in a hood, perhaps walk on a leash, and so
forth. To train your ferret to sit up, for instance, put Ferretone on your
finger and hold it in front of him. As he licks, say "Up!" and slowly
raise your finger. He should get the idea pretty quickly.
The trick to all of these is getting your pet's attention while you teach
him. Don't try teaching tricks, or even trying to get a ferret to perform, in an
unexplored area - it's nearly futile.
It's a good idea to teach your ferret to come whenever you make a particular
noise (for instance, whistle loudly) or squeak a particular toy. Just make the
noise each time you give the ferret a treat for a while, then make it when he
isn't nearby and give the treat as a reward when he comes to you. It's
enormously handy to have a way to call your pet when he's escaped or is lost.
Do ferrets travel well?
Around town: Ferrets love going places. You can fix up a shoulder bag
with a litter pan, water bottle and food dish and carry them with you wherever
they're welcome. Be careful not to let them get too hot or cold, though.
Automobile travel: Car trips don't bother most ferrets. Keeping
them loose in the car is not recommended, since they could get under the
driver's feet or through some undetected hole into the trunk or onto the road.
You can use a water bottle in a car, but fasten a deep dish or cup underneath
it, since it will drip, and put down a towel to soak up the inevitable spills.