You may have found a certain spot or corner in your ferret’s cage where they appear to be busily building up a stockpile of food; or if your ferret spends a lot of time out of their cage, there is possibly a stockpile hidden somewhere in the wider room itself!
While it can seem like a constant battle to locate your ferret’s hidden sources of snacks and clear them up, your ferret isn’t trying to be a pain or make your job harder; food hiding and hoarding is perfectly natural ferret behaviour, with a sound evolutionary background to it.
If you wonder about your ferret’s food hiding and are not sure whether or not it constitutes a problem, read on to learn more.
Not all ferrets have a tendency to hide their food, and there is not really any way to predict whether or not your own ferrets are likely to do this! As well as appearing to be an inbuilt trait in some ferrets, ferrets also learn from each other by observation, and so if you own one ferret that likes to build up their own private little stockpile, you might find your other ferrets begin to copy them!
In the wild, ferrets are hunters and foragers, who take their meals where they can get them, with no guarantee of another meal being available to them when they need one in the future. This means that ferrets will often stockpile or hoard their uneaten food, keeping it in reserve in case they are hungry later, rather than abandoning an unfinished meal! Ferrets also seem to treasure some possessions and treats more than others; you may have seen your ferret hiding or making off with their favourite toys to find them a secret place to be kept, and if you give your ferret some of their favourite treats, they may consciously decide to save it for later by hiding this too!
Food hoarding and building up food reserves is an instinctive behaviour, which may be connected to the evolutionary urge to stock up on food during the summer, to eat in winter when food is much more scarce. Even if your ferrets were all domestically bred and have always lived in captivity, in some cases, the evolutionary urge to exhibit this type of survival behaviour is deeply ingrained within the psyche!
You will generally find that your ferrets have very specific locations for where they like to hoard their food, and these are not always easy to find! If your ferret is very stealthy, the first sign you might see of food hoarding is when you inexplicably come upon a stash somewhere out of the way when you weren’t expecting to!
Ferrets will seek out quiet, dark and little trafficked areas to keep their stockpiles, such as under furniture, in cupboards, and within toys and bedding too. If you think your ferret is up to something but cannot catch them in the act, try moving some of your furniture around when your ferrets are out of the way, to see if you can find one of their stashes!
As well as hoarding food, many ferrets are also apt to hide their favourite toys and possessions, or the things that they make off with that they know they should not be playing with! If your ferret has a favourite toy, particularly if he knows that the other ferrets like to play with it too, he is very likely to have a hiding spot for it and become very annoyed if this is disturbed!
The same is true if your ferret has taken something of yours, they are apt to squirrel it away as soon as possible, to keep you from finding and retrieving it!
Food hoarding in and of itself is not a huge problem for your ferret, providing that they have no reason to feel worried or insecure about where their next meal is coming from. Make sure that you feed your ferret at around the same time each day, and do not give them cause to worry that they might miss out on a meal.
However, one problem that you might face if your ferret is an avid food hoarder is the possibility that some of the food they are piling up may spoil given time, particularly if it is a fresh treat. If this turns into a problem, you may need to supervise your ferret when they are eating, and either remove their leftover food when they are finished, or go on a patrol around the cage or house to find and remove stockpiled food!
Even if you do not suspect that your ferret is a regular food hoarder, there is merit in checking under the furniture and behind the curtains now and then anyway- just in case!