Ferrets can’t talk, and so they have to find other ways to communicate with us. Experienced owners can read signals from the position of a ferret’s eyes to how it holds its body. But, ferrets can be unpredictable even to the most experienced owner, leaving question marks over certain actions they take.
One fairly common ferret activity that some owners need help translating is when their ferret licks them. A ferret lick can be good news; they might be treating you as one of their family and grooming you. It can also be bad news; a sign that they are in pain. Or it could be a warning and a bite might soon follow. Below, we look at 11 of the most likely reasons your ferret is licking you and some possible ways to stop this behavior.
The 11 Possible Reasons Why Your Ferret Is Licking You
It may just seem like a quirk of your ferret’s character and nothing to worry about, but licking could be a sign that your ferret is feeling unwell or even that it is depressed. Identifying the likely cause of the licking can help ensure that your ferret is happy and healthy. Possible reasons include:
1. It’s Checking You Out
Ferrets are deeply inquisitive little animals and as they can’t ask questions or understand explanations, they need other ways to gain answers. Licking allows them to taste and even smell you, and this kind of licking is especially common with a new ferret or when your ferret meets a new person. It may also be checking out a new perfume or some other new smell you carry.
2. It’s Grooming You
Like a lot of other animals, Ferrets groom one another as a means of bonding as well as helping maintain the health of their family. Your ferret licking you could be a sign that it has truly accepted you as one of its own. While you won’t want to lick your ferret, you can return the favor with some stroking and grooming.
3. You’re Being Warned
Ferrets: they’re lively, fun, exciting pets. They can be tolerant of handling and seek out human attention and affection. They can also be prone to nipping and biting, and with sharp teeth, it’s understandable that a lot of owners and occasional handlers are wary. Licking can be a warning sign and it may mean that your ferret is about to strike. This is most likely if you are doing something that is irritating your little one, or if you are causing discomfort in some way.
4. Your Ferret Is Afraid
While they might be quite small animals, ferrets can make a lot of noise. They chatter when they’re happy and screech when they’re afraid. If you are nearby when your ferret gets scared, you might be the subject of a bite, or your ferret might lick you as a means of reassurance when scared.
5. Your Ferret Is Excited
Another cause of ferret vocalization is when they get excited. They make chuckling sounds that are referred to as “dooking,” and this is most often heard when you are playing with your ferret. An excitable ferret may also lick you, although you should take care to ensure that this doesn’t progress to biting.
6. Your Ferret Is Angry
Ferrets get angry for a whole host of reasons, and some ferrets are calmer and less likely to turn angry than others. Your ferret might get angry because you’re stroking it incorrectly or because you’re not stroking it at all. It might be angry because you’ve woken it up or because it feels like it’s due a treat. Anger can be accompanied by licking and other habits.
7. Your Ferret Is Depressed
The loss of a ferret friend is a common cause of ferret sadness. Depression might also be triggered if a ferret’s human friend has left home or gone away. Licking you might be a way to try and gain reassurance and to let you know that it needs some attention and affection. If your ferret is missing a person or another ferret, you can try providing toys as well as extra attention.
8. You Taste Good
As obligate carnivores, ferrets eat a diet that consists primarily of meat and other animal-based ingredients. This doesn’t mean they view your finger as food, but if you have been chopping chicken or have eaten a ham sandwich, the taste and smell are likely still present on your hands and your ferret might be licking you to enjoy that same flavor. They could even be licking you to try and get some of the salt from your sweat.
9. You Smell Good
Similarly, you might have a scent or aroma on you that your ferret appreciates. This can include food but if you have other small animals, the scent of your hamster might pique your ferret’s interest. Other aromas that might be tempting include soap, shampoo, and perfumes. Even the lingering smell of cat litter might be enough.
10. They’re Seeking Comfort
Whether your ferret is in pain, missing a loved one, or is feeling anxious about a loud noise it heard, licking can be a comforting behavior. We see similar behavior in cats and dogs, and ferrets are no different in this regard. Try to determine the source of discomfort and rectify it. Not only will the licking stop but your ferret should be happier and more content.
11. They’re Playing
As well as being inquisitive and sociable animals, ferrets are also playful and fun little pets. They love to spend time playing, whether that’s with you, their ferret friends, or their toys. Because they lick when they get excited, playtime can result in licking behavior so it could just be a sign that your pet is having a great time.
How to Stop Your Ferret Licking You
Ferret licking isn’t an inherently dangerous or unhealthy activity. As long as you are sure that it doesn’t mean your ferret is in pain or discomfort, you can take some actions to help stop your pet from licking.
1. Identify the Cause
First, you should determine the reason for your pet licking you. It could be a sign of depression or even pain, and you shouldn’t overlook either of these. Identifying the cause can also help you prevent the licking. If you know your ferret is licking you because it wants to play, providing and playing with toys could help reduce the licking, at least.
2. Distract Them
Distraction is a good way to prevent any unwanted behavior. When your ferret starts licking you, offer it something else to do instead. Provide a toy or a small, healthy treat. In time, when you start to recognize that they are going to start licking, you can preemptively provide this distraction, so the licking doesn’t start in the first place.
3. Change Your Smell
Ferrets do have a very good sense of smell and yours may be able to sense the food on your fingers or it may be attracted to the soap or perfume you use. If you notice that your ferret licks you more at certain times, for example straight after a bath, consider changing the products you use to those that elicit less licking from your little friend.
4. Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands after preparing food, and if you clear up cat litter or pick up dog poop, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands. Even if you didn’t get any mess on your hands, your ferret may still be able to smell the aroma, and this may be causing them to lick you.
5. Speak to a Behaviorist
If your Ferret is routinely licking you and distraction and other techniques don’t work, you may need to speak to an animal behaviorist. They will be able to determine whether there is an underlying cause of the activity and give advice on what you can do to remedy it.
Ferrets are intriguing, fun, and lively little pets. They tend to enjoy human company and they try to communicate with us in different ways. Licking is essentially a form of communication and, as a ferret owner, it is down to you to determine what your ferret is trying to tell you. Although it is most likely a case of your ferret grooming you and accepting you as part of its family, it could be a sign of pain or depression, so licking is worthy of further investigation.