You may have heard that any animal with teeth can bite. This is absolutely true, and ferrets have a set of sharp teeth! Ferrets might bite humans if they don’t know better.
It’s crucial to train your ferret not to bite from the earliest age possible. Unfortunately, most ferrets in the United States come from a ferret mill. The company doesn’t care about training, health, or where the ferrets end up.
Reputable breeders, rescues, and fosters will train their ferrets to do well in their future homes without getting anyone injured. They’re your best bet if you want a ferret that’s less likely to bite.
If you already have a biting ferret, however, keep reading! We’ll discuss why ferrets bite, what to do if you’re bitten, how to train your ferret, and more.
Do Ferrets Bite?
Yes. Like any animal with teeth, ferrets can and will bite. Young ferrets go through a teething phase where they explore their environment using their mouth, just like puppies or human toddlers. They also must learn bite inhibition, or how not to bite hard while playing.
Ferrets might also bite out of fear, aggression, or because they mistake you for food (such as if your hands smell like lunch!).
While it takes training to teach your ferret not to bite, this doesn’t mean ferrets will bite forever or that they don’t make good pets. It’s just that, as with most pets, they need to be shown how to interact with you appropriately.
What Happens if a Ferret Bites You?
Never try to tug your ferret off of you while they’re biting. This might make the bite worse, especially if your ferret bites harder. Instead, try these solutions:
- Press against the ferret’s molars to get them to release their jaw.
- Gently shake your ferret’s body back and forth or up and down—this is how ferrets tell each other “no,” and it’ll likely make them let go. Pull away immediately.
- Redirect them to another object by tossing it across the room or inserting a blunt object like a pencil into their mouth.
- Alternatively, add something that tastes very bitter or sweet to the end of an object and insert it in the ferret’s mouth to encourage them to release.
Caring for the Bite Wound
If a ferret bites you and doesn’t break skin, there’s nothing to worry about except training so that it doesn’t happen again. A bite that breaks the skin is at risk of infection. Clean the wound as soon as possible using soap and water. Apply ice if you notice swelling.
Signs of infection include:
- Pus or fluid in or on the wound
- Pain or numbness around the bite
- Restricted movement of the area, especially if bitten in the hand
- Redness, swelling
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever or chills
- Night sweats
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle weakness or tremors
See a doctor if the bite is deep or you notice any signs of infection.
Do Ferrets Carry Rabies?
Most likely, your pet ferret kept indoors their entire life doesn’t have rabies. There is a very low risk. However, ferrets should receive a regular rabies vaccine to keep them and everyone around them safe. In most locations, this is also required by law.
If an unknown ferret bites you, talk to your doctor about a rabies vaccine for yourself. The same goes if your ferret is kept outdoors (which we highly discourage) and is unvaccinated.
Why is my Ferret Attacking Me?
If your ferret is attacking you by running and biting, or perhaps even rolling over onto their backs while biting at your hands or ankles, this could be play behavior—not aggression.
Ways to fix this include:
- Ignoring your ferret when they bite (walk away so they can’t continue!)
- Rewarding your ferret for nice play
- Redirecting biting to toys and appropriate items (try keeping a toy on hand to throw when they’re getting hyper!)
- Ensuring they get enough stimulation in their day
This is known as teaching bite inhibition or not to bite humans. This is especially important for ferrets because they commonly bite to communicate with other ferrets. It doesn’t hurt them because their skin is much thicker than ours, but it hurts us! It’s also important that your ferret knows you aren’t a toy. Never, ever play with your ferret using your hands or feet.
However, it’s equally important that your ferret receives the right care. You should always adopt two or more ferrets because they are social animals, and this is the first and best way to provide enrichment.
Also, ensure your ferrets get at least six hours of free roam time outside of their cage, you’re playing with them every day, and that they have plenty of enrichment both inside and outside of the cage, including toys and tunnels.
It’s also possible, although less likely, that your ferret is attacking you aggressively. Signs that this is the case include:
- Only attacking when you’re near (not running over to attack you)
The most common reason for aggression is that an intact male is ready to mate. In this case, getting your ferret neutered should help.
Improper Care and Abuse
It’s also possible that you aren’t caring for your ferret properly, they have been abused or neglected in the past or are sick or injured.
Ferrets kept in a cage all day, especially if it’s too small for them, will grow frustrated because they are being neglected. This is a result of your poor care and not the ferret’s fault!
Ferrets might also bite if children handle them too roughly. They become fearful and bite as a way to be left alone. If you don’t handle your ferret regularly, this might also cause a fear of people, and you’ll have a ferret that doesn’t know how to interact with humans.
It’s also possible that your rescue ferret has been abused in the past, whether they’ve been neglected, yelled at, or physically abused. This would cause them to fear humans to the point of aggression.
In any of these cases, the answer is to work on taming your ferret. Teach them that people are safe and loving and that you won’t hurt them. Start slow, ensuring you keep yourself and your ferret safe, and work up to closer and more frequent handling.
Illness or Injury
Sick or injured ferrets might not act like themselves. This can include lashing out.
Have you ever felt ill and not wanted anyone touching you? Or, have you ever had an injury that hurt more when anyone touched it? Our ferrets can’t communicate with us in words, so they use what they know. Biting can be their way of telling you they don’t feel well.
Any time your ferret is behaving differently, especially if they’re suddenly aggressive, you should bring them to your veterinarian immediately.
How to Play with a Ferret
The most important thing you can learn is to never play with ferrets using your hands, feet, or other body parts. This will encourage biting. Even if you don’t mind being bit, think about others your ferret interacts with. Are they around people who would mind or children who could be hurt? What if you have to rehome your ferret, and they think biting is okay?
The best ways to play with your ferret, who loves biting, are toys on strings, like cat wand toys, that you can play with from a distance. Let your ferret chase, catch, and bite them. Tossing toys for your ferret to chase is also a great idea!
Make sure your ferret has at least one other ferret to play with. This will help them get out their energy safely, so they’ll be a little less wound up when it’s time to play with you.
Other great ways to play with your ferret include dragging a towel or blanket along the floor for them to chase, creating a burrowing box with dried pinto beans, and setting up tunnels for them to run through.
How to Pick up a Ferret
If your ferret bites you every time you handle them, try gently bouncing them up and down in your arms. This might distract them and keep them entertained, so they don’t bite you.
When possible, put your ferret down and walk away when they bite. This teaches them that biting doesn’t get them attention, and they’ll likely stop. However, this solution works more for playful biters than ferrets who dislike handling—it might be a reward for them to be put down!
Taming your ferret is important so that they feel comfortable with people. It’s best to take this process slowly, though that’s not always possible if you need to remove them from their cage for cleaning, a veterinary visit, or in case of emergency.
Picking your ferret up by their scruff is the best thing to do in this situation. Support their body with your other hand and hold the ferret’s head up so they can’t reach to bite you.
Never scruff your ferret as a punishment, as this will only confuse them when you actually need to scruff them at times like this or when providing other care.
How to Punish a Ferret
Most punishments aren’t going to work on your ferret, and harsh training methods are likely to make them bite even more. Remember that biting is an instinctive behavior for your ferret, and it’s not their fault that they bite. You adopted a pet, and your responsibility is to train them.
Approach biting as calmly as possible—I know this is easier said than done when you’re in pain! Never retaliate by hitting at your ferret, and try not to yell. The best thing you can do is get up and walk out of the room for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can place your ferret in their cage.
Remember, this isn’t a punishment—you don’t want them to associate their cage with being in trouble. It’s just a way to keep them and you safe. Don’t scold them or make a big deal out of the biting. Some ferrets might even find all the commotion amusing and bite more for the attention! Others may become frightened and bite out of fear.
After you’ve calmed down and taken care of your bite wound, if necessary, return to your ferret and give them a chance to try again.
In the future, try to catch them before they bite, such as when you notice they’re getting too hyper during play. Break things up then instead of waiting for the bite to happen, as this will help train your ferret and stop you from getting hurt.
Just important as punishment is the reward. Make sure that when your ferret interacts nicely, you praise them, treat them, or play with them extra! Also, praise your ferret for biting appropriate objects like toys.
We can teach our pets what we don’t want to see all day long, but especially with an instinctive behavior like biting, they also have to know what’s allowed. Remember to keep your expectations reasonable and give your ferret something they can chew on without repercussions.