Ferrets are very popular pets and while they are often considered caged pets, they actually do much better in ferret-proofed rooms. They love to play, explore, and sleep so they are a lot like a small puppy or kitten and therefore may also bite at times. Knowing more about the normal behavior of ferrets, including why they may bite, can help you stay safe and also avoid upsetting your ferret.
Why Do Ferrets Bite?
Ferrets may bite for a variety of reasons, but these reasons aren't unlike other species of animals that have teeth. Some bites may be intentional while others may be accidental. Some reasons for ferrets biting might include:
- Teething: Like puppies and kittens, ferrets will lose their baby teeth as their adult teeth grow in. This process is usually complete by about nine months of age, so if you have a young ferret, it may bite due to teething if its gums are sore.
- Aggression: Behavioral problems like aggression can be the result of a disease, pain, or a lack of socialization.
- Fear: If you startle your ferret or do something that causes it to be scared, biting is likely to occur.
- Playing: Ferrets often use their mouths to chew and play bite so this can be a normal behavior.
- Eating: If you have food or the scent of food on your hands, your ferret may accidentally bite you in an attempt to get it.
Once a ferret loses its baby teeth it will have 34 adult teeth. These teeth are sharp and used to tear prey apart but can also deliver a nasty bite. Ferret teeth require maintenance so it is important for your ferret to chew and bite at things to keep them clean, but your fingers and toes are obviously not ideal. Incisors, canines, premolars, and molars make up your ferret's teeth but the canines are usually the teeth that grab and hang onto the item a ferret is biting. These are the four large, single rooted teeth in the front of the mouth that are commonly referred to as fangs.
Ferrets and Rabies
Ferrets are able to contract rabies so in most places they are legally required to have a rabies vaccine. This is not only to protect your ferret but to protect you.
Ferret rabies vaccines are usually administered yearly by your veterinarian and if you or another person are ever bitten by your ferret and require medical attention, proof of the rabies vaccine will be required. If your ferret is not vaccinated for rabies and bites someone but appears healthy at the time of the bite, it will be required to be held in quarantine for 10 days. This typically has to be done at an animal hospital and cared for by rabies-vaccinated individuals so boarding fees will be charged. This makes not vaccinating your ferret for rabies not only dangerous to your ferret, you, and potentially others, but it's also expensive to have to quarantine it if it does bite someone. Additionally, veterinarians have the right to refuse to treat a ferret if it is not current on its rabies vaccine. If your ferret needs medical attention, not having had it vaccinated for rabies could delay treatment.
What to Do If Your Ferret Bites You
If your ferret bites you and it breaks the skin, be sure to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your doctor to see if medical treatment is necessary. Antibiotics and pain medications may be necessary, depending on where your ferret bit you and how deep the wound is.
Do not punish your ferret by hitting it, kicking it, or throwing it if it bites you. You should never hurt your ferret; plus, it will not understand that what it did was wrong with punishment. Simply walk away if your ferret bites you or if you need to move them, gently scruff them. A two to three minute time-out is okay but anything longer than that is not helpful.
How to Deter a Ferret From Biting
If you're worried about your ferret biting you then there are a few things you can do to limit the possibility of it happening. Regular socialization from a young age will make it less likely that your ferret will become aggressive towards people; washing your hands after eating and before handling your ferret will decrease the chance of your ferret biting you because it smells food; and being careful not to startle your ferret when it is sleeping can help prevent you from accidentally scaring it.
If your ferret is prone to biting, try to determine what is causing it. Is it teething, scared, or just playing? Provide appropriate chew toys and, last but not least, get it checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying illness or pain that could be causing the unwanted behavior.