Ferret Behaviour and Play
Pet ferrets have very different and unusual behaviours to other domestic animals we are familiar with. For starters, ferrets sleep very often, and for long periods of time. For adult ferrets, this means they usually wake up for about 4 hours at a time. The older the ferret, the more they sleep and the more quickly they get tired. Kits seem to be awake all the time, especially since they wake up quickly when disturbed, until they are at least one year old. They can have continuous playtimes for about four hours and not get tired at all. The elderly ones cannot stand more than half an hour to an hour, and will soon find a comfy area to sleep in when tired. Owners often provide cages to allow their ferrets to sleep safely as given a choice, a ferret will sleep in all sorts of places like drawers, under beds, inside furniture etc If unsupervised, it can be difficult to find a sleeping ferret hiding in a room.
A ferret cannot be reared in a cage as their play behaviour requires a decent amount of space, about the size of a medium sized room (4x3 metres). Playtime involves massive bouts of energy, and a ferret will literally bounce around the room, forwards, backwards, side to side, with its mouth gaping wide. This is called the weasel war dance, also known as weasel joy dance. A noise that resembles a cluck of a chicken is usually accompanied with this behaviour, which is called dooking.
When awaken from a long and deep sleep, ferrets do not need to be asked twice to come out of their sleeping hole to play. They get very excited when inspecting new toys or new items in their play area. Their curiosity causes them to approach by sniffing intently first, then by using sight, and then they will try to burrow in it if they can (like a handbag), playing hide and seek with their playmates by darting in and out, or if it is a small item, they will carry the item in their mouth and hide it in their hidey hole. Such items range from socks, keys, and cat toys.
If there are tubes for them to play in, they will also play hide and seek where one of them is inside the tube, sometimes on its back. The idea is that the other ferret which is outside has to tag the other whereby the ferret inside has to pop its head bag inside the tube and if the ferret outside misses, he/she will have to go round the other side and try again. Another game which involves tubes is just simply running through the tubes and going back into the hole they just entered consistently, perhaps chasing another ferret at the same time.
Toys are not needed to encourage play. Ferrets naturally play with each other, and games of tag and chasing games can be observed. Their way of inviting play is through biting and they do this by grasping each other’s necks with their teeth and roll around at the same time in a rumble and tumble motion. One of them may release its grip and then runs away, which is invitation for a chase. Another will run along side the chaser or the one being chased. All this time, the ferrets will be dooking at each other which we interpret as joy!
Sometimes a ferret will nip humans to invite play too, usually on the arms and legs, or fingers and toes and many people take this as bad behaviour. But we as owners have to understand that this is a natural behaviour so we should be calm and understanding when we correct this behaviour.
Ferrets absolutely love to chase things! When my ferrets used to play in the garden, they would chase the broom I was sweeping with. It was great fun watching them do so, especially when I swung the broom round and round! You can create this fun indoor by creating or buying those cat toys where a toy is attached to some string and onto a long stick. They will attack the toy and chase it for hours at a time.
Other objects to play with are plastic carrier bags obtained from your local supermarket. You can either shake one in front of a ferret which will drive it mad, or you could just leave it on the floor, and a ferret will jump on it several times because they like the crunchy sound it makes! They will also go inside the bag to make more crinkly noises! However, be sure to cut the handles open as it is easy for the ferret to get its next round a handle and for it to be twisted tightly around it next when they try to roll out of it.