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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-16-2002, 03:30 AM Thread Starter
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Biting Question

I have a biting question for all those experienced ferret owners out there. Vin, who is about 10 weeks old now, used to be the sweetest baby. She -never- even nipped. She didn't bite me or my boyfriend even at the store. That's one of the reasons we picked her, because she was the sweetest one. She'd sleep in our hands, laps, wherever, and seemed to love human interaction. A few days ago though she started biting, and I really mean biting! The first time was when I was giving her a little piece of treat which she'd never shown any interest in before. Suddenly she gave this high-pitched little yelp/squeak and latched onto my palm. That time wasn't too bad, mainly because there wasn't a lot of flesh to get a hold of. I passed it off as she was trying to get more treat and got my hand instead. A few minutes later I got down a different kind of treat for my older ferret and shook the box. Vin came running over and when I tried to push her away so I could open the container, she grabbed hold of my finger and wouldn't let go. It was hard enough and long enough to draw blood on both sides of the finger. I found this unusual, especially considering how she'd never done anything like this, but at that point I thought it was just having to do with food. Next night though she did it twice again, once involving food and once with no food anywhere around. The worst though was a couple days ago when I'd brought home a new toy. She was playing with it and my boyfriend went to pull it away to play with her. Instead Vin went after his hands, biting both and making him bleed pretty good. When I went to take her away so he could look over his hand, she bit me too...
She's still doing this and it's been going on almost a week now. Every time, the bite is accompanied by that strange little high pitched squeak. I know that ferrets go through the "gee I have teeth" phase, but Ezra never went through anything like this. I got him at 10 weeks and the most he ever did when he bit was clamp down some, causing pressure but not real pain. He's -never- drawn blood, but that seems to be all Vin does. Does this sound unusual to anyone or did I just get lucky with Ezra? I've also read that ferret bites should rarely be seen as unprovoked attacks, but I can't see how we're provoking these out of her, and most of the time they really don't seem defensive. We know it's not abuse related since we got her as a baby and she was doing great up until that one day. I want my sweet little girl back, so please, any suggestions/hints/ideas would be greatly appreciated!

:blob8:
Courtney - Animal Tamer of "The Wild Kingdom": 7 ferrets (Ezra, Vin, Starkes, Pacce, Bucky, Spin, and Marty), 3 Puppies (Reece, Pith, and Parker), 3 Kittens (Loki, Dante, and Elly), 1 Rabbit (Benny), 7 Gerbils (Nathan=Mom, Josiah=Dad, Lightning, Thunder, Hail, Rain, & Sleet), and 1 Hedgehog (Goo)
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-16-2002, 03:14 PM
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My ferret, Mercury was like this when he was a baby--it was very frustrating. He'd let that "barking" sound out--the very same one you're describing and bite. It *usually* only happened when I would hold out his kibble to him. It's almost like he thought he had to "protect" his food from me. This behavior sometimes happens with ferrets who come from very large litters or ones that were kept in pet shops with a large # of other ferrets---sometimes they're the smallest or more submissive of the group and don't always get their fair share of food. The others usually push them aside and sometimes leave them with little or no food left to eat. When nursing there may not have been enough nipples to feed all the ferrets, so one or two(or more) had to wait or fight to get into the nursing group. If they go to the bowl to eat, the other ferrets might bite them, beat them up or do that same bark and bite thing to get them to go away. So the little one usually goes off by himself and waits til the others are done. So now this bark and bite thing becomes a defense mechanism...with anyone and over everything. Does he live with the other ferrets? If so, are they eating together? Or do the others bully the new one?
Mercury's behavior didn't start til he was about 10 weeks as well. It was weird cause we had him caged by himself when he was little. However, the pet shop we bought him at had him in a cage that ferrets were literally crammed into. The food bowl always seemed to be empty and instead of a water bottle they had a big water bowl which was either almost empty or had wood shavings or urine in it. No litter box of course
So, when we got him home, now he had a big cage all to himself, his own food, water and bedding. Now that he had his *own* stuff, he wasn't about to let anyone else have it now--even if nobody was trying to take it away from him. To help him get over this, I'd put my hand in the cage(while he was in it), and put my hand in his bowl--the first few times I did this, he went ballistic--barking and biting like crazy. I wouldn't pull my hand away tho(I know, sounds crazy). I'd turn it over to show him there was nothing in it. He'd sniff my hand(and in the beginning, still bite it), then look in his bowl--the food was still there, no one took it. Then I'd pet him(carefully, LOL) and take my hand out. He was a little dumbfounded that I didn't take anything.
Gradually I'd put my hand in the bowl while he was eating and run my fingers through it. He'd stop chewing(sometimes he would hiss) and kind of stare at my hand as if daring me to take something. On occasion I would take him out--hold him in one hand and offer him a piece of kibble with the other, using my index finger and thumb. Yep, he'd bark and bite--but every time I'd feel him getting ready to bite, I'd pull the kibble out of his reach and tell him no. I'd do this every time until he learned to take it gently(took him a while to figure out where the kibble ended and the fingers began). The best way I found to offer kibble by hand to him was to put it in the palm of my hand and keep my fingers splayed out so the skin on my palm was flat. This way if he barked and bit, there'd be no skin to grab. If you cup your hand, there's skin there for the grabbing. And as time wore on and he came to trust me more, then I could cup my hand a little and not be afraid that he would bite. Mercury was also a perpetual crier -- he was a handful LOL
This is how I got Mercury over his bark and bite problem. However, he was not drawing blood--so my methods may not work as well for you. But try them if you want to. Make sure your guy has plenty to eat --they should have a bowl of food available at all times. If need be, put an extra bowl in just for him, so he doesn't feel so pressured to "compete". Watch them when they eat--if the other ferrets are bullying him, you might want to put him in a separate cage(or separate their present one into 2 living areas) until he gets a little older and bigger. He just might be feeling very left out and gets defensive when he sees the others getting attention, treats, etc. When you handle him, I would wait til he's worn out from playing. When you go to pick him up, have a lickable treat, such as ferretone, linatone, or ferrretvite available. Pick him up with one hand while offering the treat(from the bottle, tube) with the other. And always offer praise and treats when he's behaving. Positive reinforcement helps a lot.
I have a few other methods you can try on my web page--here's the url. Just remember to be consistent with him. Don't get frustrated. Be patient and consistent and he will come around. If none of the methods work, then let me know. You can pm me or e-mail me at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help.
Another suggestion--while he's in this "bark and bite" stage, don't let him come to close to your face; I don't care how snuggly he's being. He's biting for what could be any reason: distrust, defense, your hands may smell like food, he might also be able to sense your fear as well.
http://www.geocities.com/imweeze/Training.html
This page needs to be updated; I need to add more info, but this has a good amount to start with.
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-17-2002, 12:38 PM Thread Starter
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Wow Nancy, that's sounds so much like Vin it's eerie. The food "protection" angle could be it. Around the same time she started this, I'd just taken out the bowl that I'd put her food in. I'd been weaning her off the moistened food she'd been eating at the petstore and it was time for her to eat normal food, so I took out the portable bowl since there are two connected to the cage. Ezra has also bullied her a good bit, which hasn't been very fair since he's nearly full grown now and she's still just a little girl. He'd only been an "only ferret" for about a month and half so I'd figured he'd take to a playmate easily. It ended up taking about a week and a half before they could even sleep in the same cage, and he still seems to jump her a lot. Now I think it's mostly playing because she jumps him a lot too, but Ezra still has a real size advantage so she always loses. And, just like Mercury, Vin's a real crier. From the very first day, she cried all the time, even if I was five feet away. It's gotten a lot better but she still cries if her and Ezra are wrestling. I'll take her away and five minutes later she's back over bugging him and crying away.
I haven't noticed Ezra bullying her much around food, especially since there are always two bowls. But since I brought Starkes home (the new kid ), I put the portable bowl back in the cage for his moistened food. Vin always seems to want to eat out of there and not the normal food. Do ya'll think I should leave that bowl in there for a while until she is more secure in knowing she'll get food?
And the websites and advice have helped a lot. I'm employing the hold I heard described on one of 'em where you keep their head controlled. So far, she hasn't gotten me. And, while I'm not quite brave enough to stick my fingers in Vin's bowl yet, I'll try working up to that one. For now, I'm making sure she has enough food and offering her treats whenever she's being good and not biting.
On that note, anyone have any suggestions for treats? If I'm going to be giving her a lot, I'd like to spread out the types. My kids absolutely love the yogurt chips, but they can't have much of those. I also use Ferretone and the Marshall's meat flavor treats.

:blob8:
Courtney - Animal Tamer of "The Wild Kingdom": 7 ferrets (Ezra, Vin, Starkes, Pacce, Bucky, Spin, and Marty), 3 Puppies (Reece, Pith, and Parker), 3 Kittens (Loki, Dante, and Elly), 1 Rabbit (Benny), 7 Gerbils (Nathan=Mom, Josiah=Dad, Lightning, Thunder, Hail, Rain, & Sleet), and 1 Hedgehog (Goo)
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-17-2002, 03:13 PM
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I wouldn't stick my hand in the cage with Vin, you may not get it back Mercury would cry for attention. The minute he knew I was anywhere in the room, he'd start making this loud crying(sounded more like honking). He wouldn't stop until I picked him up--which became a vicious cycle. He was the worst to litter box train because of this. If he knew I was in the room and he had just been getting ready to use the litter pan, he'd start crying and scaling the cage sides...while going to the bathroom
Use treats in moderation. You don't want to give too much or she may end up with stomach upset or diarrhea, or both. Plus it may make her go off her regular diet because she prefers the treats-- you definitely don't want this to happen as it can be a hard problem to fix. You can give her ferretone(or linatone; but not "linatone plus"), ferretvite, nutrical, thouroughly cooked boneless chicken cut up into small pieces as treats. Even hand feeding them their own or a different kibble can be seen as a treat by ferrets. Commercial treats are ok, but I don't use them. I've had some problems with a couple of them. Another thing you can use as a treat or at least get them used to the taste of is gerber's 2nd stage chicken baby food. Just the plain chicken with nothing added tho. When ferrets get sick, you can use the baby food to feed them if they refuse to eat their regular diet. Tho most like the taste, getting them used to it now will avoid any problems later. Hopefully you'll never have to hand feed a sick fert; but they like it as a treat too Off a spoon or your finger works fine. Well maybe not off your finger for Vin

~Nancy
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-21-2002, 04:31 PM Thread Starter
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Vin Update

Well, Vin seems to be getting a little better. She's still doing the bark & bite occasionally, but it's definitely decreased in intensity and occurence. She actually "bit" me today and didn't clamp down. I was so happy! And doesn't that just sound insane? I think of it as progress. She also seems to be settling down a little more...showing more affection, etc. She's started running to greet me again when I come in the room, which she'd stopped doing for a while. The only time she's really gotten me good recently was when I was giving Ezra a treat when she wasn't around. Silly me...I thought she wouldn't notice. She came running and I couldn't get my hand out of the way fast enough before she got there, mouth wide open in search of treats. So I'm definitely not getting my hand in the way of her and food still. I think that might take a while.
Unfortunately, it now seems like Vinnie taught her baby brother some of her social skills...Starkes is occasionally doing the little yelp and bite now, though it's not as bad since he still his baby teeth. I'm hoping we can curb this behavior in him before he gets his fangs.

:blob8:
Courtney - Animal Tamer of "The Wild Kingdom": 7 ferrets (Ezra, Vin, Starkes, Pacce, Bucky, Spin, and Marty), 3 Puppies (Reece, Pith, and Parker), 3 Kittens (Loki, Dante, and Elly), 1 Rabbit (Benny), 7 Gerbils (Nathan=Mom, Josiah=Dad, Lightning, Thunder, Hail, Rain, & Sleet), and 1 Hedgehog (Goo)
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 03-22-2002, 02:19 AM
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Nope doesn't sound insane at all! Any change for the better, no matter how small, is definitely an improvement. She's starting to catch on that biting is unacceptable. You're obviously doing something right
And yes ferrets do seem to mimic their playmates/cagemates habits and behaviors; more often than not, it's the bad ones lol
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