If you’re looking for a unique, small animal pet that can provide companionship and entertain you, ferrets might be a good fit. While they’re related to wild weasels and badgers, ferrets are a fully domesticated species. They’re adapted to living with humans and can form a strong bond with them.
Ferrets show affection similarly to other domestic pets by giving “kisses,” cuddling, and showing excitement when they see their owners. In this article, you’ll learn more about how ferrets demonstrate their feelings towards humans and other ferrets and how you can help your pet be as social as possible.
Ferrets and Humans: The Relationship
Ferrets are thought to have been domesticated about 2,000 years ago, initially to serve as hunting companions and pest control specialists. In modern times, they are primarily kept as pets. In the United States, pet ferrets gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.
According to a study from 2012, pet ferrets recognize and respond to similar social cues from humans as dogs1. For example, ferrets and dogs held prolonged eye contact with their owners, but not strangers. Both were more likely to take food from their owners than unfamiliar people.
You Had Me at Hello: How Ferrets Show Affection
As naturally curious animals, ferrets use their mouths to explore unfamiliar objects and show affection to their owners. They may lick or nibble your arm, hand, or face to demonstrate their feelings. Ferrets also lick and groom their ferret friends as a show of affection.
Another way that ferrets show affection is by getting excited when they see their owners. Excited ferrets may vocalize and puff their tails out to demonstrate their happiness. They may also perform what is known as the “dance of joy,” hopping, rolling on the floor, and energetically wiggling from side to side.
Mature ferrets enjoy cuddling with their owners as a sign of affection. Young ferrets usually won’t sit still long enough to cuddle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Look for these energetic young animals to show affection in other ways.
Are All Ferrets Affectionate?
Like dogs, it is believed that young ferrets have a crucial window of socialization, probably between 4–10 weeks old. During this time, ferrets must receive regular handling and interaction with humans, allowing them to imprint and bond with people. If ferrets don’t receive early contact with humans, it can affect their personality and ability to show affection later in life.
Poorly socialized ferrets may be less tolerant of human handling and even show aggression and biting behavior. These ferrets won’t show affection in the same way as others and could pose a danger to humans, especially kids. However, it is possible to socialize a ferret later in life with patience, just as you can a dog, but the task is best left to experienced ferret owners.
How Do Ferrets Communicate with Each Other?
Like cats and dogs, ferrets rely on scent as an important communication tool. Ferrets use scent to mark their territory but are not usually as intensely territorial as cats and dogs. When unfamiliar ferrets first meet, they smell each other’s neck, shoulders, and under their tail to gather information about their new friend.
In addition to the “dance of joy,” ferrets use other forms of body language to indicate play behavior, taking a break from play, and sometimes dominance. Ferrets also vocalize frequently, using different tones depending on what they’re trying to communicate.
The excited ferrets chuckle or chortle. Hissing and sometimes barking are used to indicate anger or frustration. Scared or painful ferrets may scream loudly. As mentioned earlier, bonded ferrets lick, cuddle, and groom each other as a sign of affection. Domesticated ferrets are generally quite social with each other and love to live in groups.
Now that you know how ferrets show affection, you might want to experience it firsthand. However, before adding a ferret to your family, check state and local regulations to ensure it’s legal to own one. Although they’re small, ferrets can be a lot of work to take care of, mostly because their curiosity can get them into trouble. Make sure to research what it takes to keep a ferret safe, healthy, and happy before you commit to bringing one home.