It seems that every time I bring up owning ferrets, someone will ask the same question: Do ferrets bite?
Unfortunately, I’m forced to give the simple and straightforward answer to that question: Yes, ferrets do bite. However, I think the more relevant question is: Why do ferrets bite?
Ferrets are sweet, playful, easy going creatures, so their tendency to bite doesn’t seem to make much sense with their typical personality. Understanding why they bite and what biting means to them is the only way to keep this unfortunate tendency from feeding into the negative and undeserved stereotypes about mean and aggressive ferrets.
Warning: Predator at Play
Ferrets are so small, so playful, and so outrageously adorable that it’s easy to forget – They’re also predators.
For predators, play is a rehearsal for hunting. Ferrets, probably because they are so small, have a particularly aggressive hunting style. They have powerful jaws that they use to latch onto prey and just don’t let go. While they also have large claws, the ferret’s primary weapon is this powerful jaw with its powerful teeth. I can say from experience that once they get a hold of something they mean to keep, it’s almost impossible to get that thing away.
Their aggressive hunting style comes out when ferrets play with each other. In play, they go for the back of the neck, latch on, and refuse to let go until the other ferret yields. My ferrets bite onto each other so hard I’m always shocked they don’t tear the skin off each other’s backs. At times, they appear to literally be chewing on each other. And for them, it’s not painful. It’s . . . fun.
Ferrets have very thick skin that can withstand these vicious play attacks from other ferrets. Unfortunately, ferrets just don’t understand that your human skin is not as thick as theirs.
So Why Do Ferrets Bite?
Dogs and cats usually bite because they are scared, upset, or threatened. This is because cats and especially dogs are larger predators who can expect to overpower an aggressor.
Ferrets, in comparison, are tiny. Their instinct when threatened is to run and hide, not to attack. They do not bite because they are scared or threatened. They do not bite because they intend to hurt you.
They bite because they are playing.
For some reason, ferrets are just mouthy animals. I think it has a lot to do with their hunting style, and the fact that their jaws are stronger than their arms. But whatever the reason, they like to use their mouths, to chew on things, to lick, to carry things, and yes, to bite.
But it’s never with the intention of hurting you.
Ferrets bite because they’re having fun, and they want you to join in the fun. They want to play with you, and biting is part of how they play.
They seem to know, too, not to bite their humans very hard. While their teeth have left scratches on my skin, I have never known them to draw blood or do any real damage. Considering how strong their jaws and teeth are, this is rather remarkable. If my ferrets were ever to bite me in earnest, I know they would at least draw blood, and probably do some actual internal damage too. But they never have.
Why I don’t mind the biting
Ferrets can be trained not to bite. I’ve never bothered to train mine not to.
This is a personal choice I have made for a few reasons.
First, my ferrets mainly bite my hands, and my hands are already pretty tough. I play musical instruments and do a lot of crafting work that has built up callouses over the years. I also owned a bird for a number of years, and nothing toughens up your hands like holding a bird with their sharp little claws.
Second, I really don’t mind the biting, especially since, when I yell “ouch!” or tell them to stop, they usually do.
Third, I feel like taking biting away would be a little unfair. I’m a lot bigger than them, and I have two hands which are my primary tools for grabbing and holding things. The ferret’s primary tool for grabbing and holding things is his mouth. So, training my ferrets not to bite while we’re playing kind of feels like tying a toddler’s arms behind his back.
I’m really not trying to convince you to allow your ferrets to bite you. Honest. I’m just explaining why I do let mine playbite me.
Can you make them stop?
Many people have succeeded in training their ferrets to stop biting. Below is a great video from a ferret trainer explaining the process step-by-step.
Some final thoughts on biting
Ferrets have a tendency to bite, but only as play. They are more likely to run away and hide than they are to actually bite your in self-defense, or as part of an aggressive attack. They think they’re playing. They think it’s fun. They just want you to have fun with them.
If you want your ferrets to stop biting, then train them to stop biting. Don’t use their biting as an excuse to call them aggressive or mean, and don’t let it scare you away from getting a ferret if you feel ferrets are the right pet for you.
Please, as always, let me know your thoughts and questions in the comment section below!