Looking for your car keys? How about your socks, or that tube of lipstick that you love so much? Well, if you have a ferret in the house, chances are he’s claimed them as his own and stashed them someplace. If you ever hope to find them again, my suggestion is to put a tail on him and eventually he’ll lead you to his treasure trove. Quite possibly, you’ll find loads of things that you didn’t even know were missing.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, ferret-proofing your house means ferret-proofing your personal possessions too. Living with a ferret can be full of wonder and excitement, as long as you are fully aware that when given the opportunity, they will steal anything and everything they set their sights on. Ferrets are natural born kleptos, so if it’s not tied down, glued down, or put out of reach, if your little guy gets a chance to put his tiny little paws on them, they are bound to give you hours of time playing “hide and go seek” as you set about trying to retrieve your things.
In fact, the name “ferret”, derived from the Latin “furittus,” itself is a reflection of how stealing is so much a part of their natural personality. Literally meaning “little thief,” you get a pretty good picture of what you’re in for. When your ferret steals from you, he’s not trying to irritate you or inconvenience you in any way; he just can’t help himself. It is practically impossible for him to resist the urge to take those things that intrigue him the most and not hide them away from you.
Why Do Ferrets Stash Things?
Trying to understand ferret behavior can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. There could be numerous reasons why your little guy is stashing things away in unusual places. So, unless you have the Dr. Dolittle type instinct, one of the best ways to understand this habit is to study their closest relatives, the polecat, and how they behave in the wild. These animals, although small, are strictly carnivorous. Yes, those really cute and friendly looking critters are some of the fastest and most agile hunters you can find. It is not uncommon for them to chase down other animals, sometimes 10 times their own size.
Like the polecat, when a ferret kills something too large to consume in one sitting, you can be sure that after all his hard work, he’s not going to just walk away and leave his uneaten food behind. He’s going to stash the leftovers in a secure hiding place so that no other animals can come in and take the spoils.
What do Ferrets Steal?
Soft clothes or stuffed toys seem to be their favorites, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t drawn to other things. If you accidentally stumble upon one of your ferret’s private stashes, there’s no telling what you might find. Trust me, they can be quite ingenious and remove things right from under your nose without you realizing it. If your ferret can find a way, he’ll get it. Ferrets have been known to push, pull, drag, or even roll the object of interest to their secret dens.
To them, size doesn’t matter. They have been known to steal things as large as gallon milk jugs or as small as a button from the sweater in your laundry. When ferret-proofing your home, keep everything you don’t want them to have access to you completely out of reach including, pill bottles, soda cans, rattles, remote controls, or even your favorite house slippers.
Why Do Ferrets Like Shiny Things?
It may seem that your ferret is especially attracted to shiny things, but that is not always the case. Some seem to be drawn to glittery things that reflect light, but if you have more than one ferret you’ve probably already noticed that their personal tastes are quite varied. Maybe you have one that loves the shininess of your car keys, or maybe they just love the sound the keys make when they jingle.
Things to be Careful Not to Let Ferrets Steal
A ferret stealing things can be cute and fun, especially if they don’t get away with things you need. However, you need to exercise care.
Small things can be dangerous to your ferret. While we know he can’t eat everything he sets his sights on, that doesn’t mean he won’t give it a try. Make sure that you keep anything that is small enough to fit in his mouth well out of his reach. Even larger things need to be viewed with care; if a piece can be bitten off and swallowed, it could create a choking hazard or it can cause an intestinal blockage, cause your ferret a lot of pain, and you, a lot of money when you pay for another expensive visit to the vet.
With these guys, anything is fair game, including things like sponges, pacifiers, ear plugs, gloves, balloons, styrofoam, key fobs, buttons, remote controls, flip flops, erasers and lots more.
Do Ferrets Hide Things?
In the wild, ferrets are fiercely territorial and can be quite possessive. When they have chosen an object to steal, there is always a reason. We may not know what it is, but something has caused them to claim it as their own. For that reason, they will find a good spot, somewhere within their domain and hide it away.
You’ll notice much of this possessive behavior is with very specific things. If it means something to your little guy, he’s going to hide it from any other animals in the house, and even from you. When you find your ferret’s stash and reclaim your possessions, you’ll notice that your ferret will become very distressed, and as soon as he can, will try to find another hiding space and steal your stuff all over again.
Why Do Ferrets Hide Their Food?
All ferrets are protective of things they value, so it is natural that they would be that way about their food as well. If they are hiding their food it could mean that they are uncomfortable about their environment. Perhaps a stranger is in your home or they are concerned about the presence of another ferret.
Besides protection, there are other reasons why your ferret may be trying to squirrel away the food you give them. Have you ever noticed that when you give a ferret a treat, rather than eating it, he dashes off to his favorite hideaway? Chances are, he either doesn’t like it and is hoping you’ll give him something different the next time or he does like it and is hoping for more.
In either case, this kind of hiding could become a problem for you for several reasons. Fresh food will eventually spoil, leaving your home with a rather unpleasant odor. Even if you are giving them dried food, their hiding places could become an invitation for other undesirables to enter your home like a never ending trail of pests in search of a food source of their own.
Can You Stop a Ferret From Stealing?
So, can you stop your ferret from stealing things and disrupting your life? Probably not, it’s a part of who they are. It would be easier to stop them from tunneling, digging, or jumping (which are also all near impossible). All of these behaviors are so inbred in these animals that they would sooner stop breathing than to give them up. However, there are things you can do to prevent them from stealing your valuables.
Start by giving them their own stash of things that are safe to “steal” and hide away from you. Choose things that you know won’t harm them or you if they disappear. Make sure you keep anything you feel is of value out of your ferret’s reach. Car keys, jewelry, coins etc., should not only be kept out of reach, but also out of sight.
This is all a part of ferret-proofing your house and adding barriers to entrances that they are prohibited from entering. Since all ferrets are different and therefore are interested in different things, you must first identify those things that your little one is attracted to. Some will go right after the soft, fuzzy things while others will key in on shiny, metal objects. Once you find your ferret’s secret stash, look carefully at his hoard and it will tell you what he really likes. Then you can figure out an alternative he can seal that will keep everyone happy.
If it’s a new ferret you just brought home, spend some time observing him to see what kind of things he spends the most time playing with. If your ferret is enjoying the object, it’s just a matter of time before it disappears.
When choosing objects that are safe for your little ferret to stash away, try to keep the substitute as close to the real thing as possible. For example, if they are keen on hoarding a lot of shiny things, substitute the shiny object with some old keys that you no longer have a use for, just make sure that they are large enough that he can’t swallow it. If he’s drawn to soft, cuddly things, leave some old balls of socks or old clothes for him to stash away.
If, by chance, you catch your ferret in the act of stealing, use that opportunity to discipline him. Firmly tell him “no” and take the object away. If you catch him trying to stash something in his hiding place, give him another firm “no” before taking it away from him and then discipline him right away. Discipline could be in the form of giving him a time out, spraying water in his face, or taking away his playtime.
Keep in mind that this is only a temporary fix. What your ferret will learn is that he should never let you “catch” him in the act of stealing and hoarding. He’ll continue doing it but will make sure you’re not around when he does.
Another way to keep your ferret from stashing things away is to keep him distracted with lots of mental stimulation. The more attention you give him, playing with him, the more reassured he will feel. By using your valuable playtime to train your ferret and keep him occupied, the less likely he will become bored and distracted by things that would tempt him to steal.
Ferret Proofing Your House
Much of your problems with stealing can go away if your home and possessions are properly ferret-proofed. This is an ongoing job so never conclude that once it’s done you won’t have to do it again. Ferrets are very determined little animals and will eventually find ways around your cleverest methods to keep them out. Always make sure that all drawers, cabinets, and doors are closed and securely latched. If you don’t, it’s just a matter of time before your ferret finds a way to get in.
Keep shoes, yes shoes, in a closed location where your ferret can’t get access. If you’re in the habit of kicking off your shoes when you come home from work, those days are over. Either place them on a shoe rack out of reach and out of sight or in a closed closet with a ferret-proofed door, or it may be days before you find your shoes again.
Make it a habit to sweep and vacuum on a regular basis. It is the best way to find your ferret’s secret stashes. This will help you to avoid finding spoiled food that could stench up your house and attract pests. When you find the hiding places, look at everything there to make sure that they have not hoarded away something that could be damaging to them or attract unhealthy pests. Remove anything that might prove to be dangerous and leave the rest so as not to cause your ferret undue stress.
Understanding that your ferret is not trying to annoy you by hiding your things can help to make this adjustment smoother. Learning how to yield to their natural instincts and giving them something to fulfill that need can keep your ferret calm and safe and give you peace of mind at the same time.