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THE PLAYFUL FERRET

To say "ferret" is to say "fun" with an extra syllable. Ferrets live their whole lives for what humans have often forgotten: to live is to play and to have fun. With a ferret, you'll always have a reminder, a playmate, a dance partner, a joker, an entertainer and a limitless supply of energy to jolt you out of a funk. A ferret will teach you again what it is to live, enjoy life and have a good time. And don't feel bad if you are not always there for your ferret to play with; he can find things to do, both in and out of his cage, to amuse himself. Even better, if you have more than one ferret, they will play with each other. So having a ferret is not about teaching him how to play with you but about figuring out how to best incorporate your friend's sense of fun into your life.

You must also recognize how vital play is to a ferret's life. If your ferret does not get to play enough he becomes bored, restless and frustrated. He will start sleeping too much, even for a ferret. He may even become nasty and take to biting you when he gets the chance. You definitely do not want to own a ferret if you are single and away regularly for long periods on job-related travel. Not giving your ferret enough opportunities for play borders on abuse, and if you cannot provide for the well being of your ferret, then you should not have one.

Make It Easy for Your Ferret to Play with You

You must make it clear to your ferret that although you are friendly and perfectly willing to play, you play differently with your ferret than your ferret would play with other ferrets. And you, in turn, have to understand your ferret's take on things, including his intelligence, metabolism, inquisitiveness and mischief potential. Keep these guidelines in mind and you'll find playing with your ferret easy and enjoyable.

  • Let your ferret know early that biting you is not acceptable. When you first play with your ferret, use bitter apple on your hands to teach him that biting has unpleasant consequences; you taste bad!
  • If your ferret bites or otherwise misbehaves with you during play, scruff him. Scruffing is grabbing your ferret by the thick skin on the back of his neck and dragging him a short distance. This is accepted, routine discipline between ferrets, and it works between humans and ferrets too.
  • If scruffing your ferret does not get the point across, give him a time-out. Your ferret lives to play, so interrupting his fun by putting him back in his cage or even a special penalty box will definitely get his attention.
  • Never strike your ferret to teach him not to bite or misbehave. In some cases, your ferret will think you are playing, so he will take the blow as encouragement, not correction. If the blow hurts him, he will become afraid of you and not want to play with you anymore.
  • Be gentle when playing with your ferret. Despite his frantic activity and the way he roughhouses with other ferrets, cats and dogs, he can be injured easily. Be especially careful about how you pick up your ferret; his spine is not particularly strong and can be broken. Also, stepping on your ferret can easily rupture his internal organs.
  • Keep in mind how your ferret's mind and body work and their effects on his play. Your ferret has a limited attention span, so he will only focus on an activity for 20-30 minutes at a time. You ferret also has a high metabolism, so he almost always has lots of energy available for playing, and with that energy and his short attention span he will run through a series of games while awake. About the only time your ferret will not want to play (besides when he's asleep) is for a few minutes after he wakes; he uses that time to boost his metabolism to its waking level. Therefore, just about any time your ferret is awake he will want to play. Do not be cross with him because he wants to play at two in the morning after you've had a long day; he will eventually figure out the human factor in the equation and most likely will not try to involve you in his games around the time you go to bed.
  • Play games with your ferret that emphasize his natural curiosity, rowdiness, energy level and attention span, such as the games shown below.

Games Ferrets Play

  • Ferrets like to chase each other, and even dogs and cats, when they play. So chasing games, such as hide-and-seek, are good games.
  • Ferrets have a natural tendency to burrow, but the normal outlet, digging a burrow or just digging, is usually denied to them. You can satisfy that urge and play with your ferret at the same time by giving him some kind of tube to scoot through. It can be made from a plastic tube (including PVC) or even an old pants leg. Your ferret will enjoy tunneling through the tube to the end where you're watching and then darting back in to see if you can catch him before he disappears.
  • Ferrets love to slide, and you can use a piece of Formica or plastic as a slide. Simply put your ferret at the top and let him go, and when he gets to the bottom he will be more than happy to let you pick him up to do it again.
  • Tug-of-war is a good game to play with your ferret; let him tug on one end of an old cloth while you hold the other. Just do not pull back too hard, because you could pull out one of your ferret's teeth.
  • Your ferret likes to play with balls, and he will like to jump to get them too. You can attach a small ball to a piece of string that is attached to a ruler, yardstick or even fishing pole. Then simply dangle the ball over your ferret and let him try to jump to get it.

Playing with your ferret properly will get him to bond to you quickly, and he will come to you first to play, even over other ferrets. The more interaction you have with your ferret, the better he will get to know you and the more he will become another member of your family and not just another pet.