How to redirect digging behavior
By Mary R. Shefferman
Ferrets dig. It's a natural behavior. They are, after all, descendants of burrowing animals (polecats). But many people don't realize when they bring home their cute little ball of fur that she's going to scratch at the carpet or dig all the litter out of the box. For some people, it's no big deal. For others, it can make or break the human-ferret relationship.
If you have a digger, understand that you can't stop the behavior, but you can redirect it. It's like taking a little kid who is drawing on the walls and giving him a coloring book instead.
If there's a particular spot your ferret digs (by a doorway, for example), you can get some plastic runner material at Home Depot or Wal-Mart (usually you can get it cut to any size) and put it over the carpet in that spot. The plastic runner is thin, so if your ferret is digging in a doorway, you can still open and close the door with the runner in place. The runner will protect your carpet and likely discourage your ferret from digging.
Deterring your ferret's digging is not enough. You need to provide an appropriate place for your ferret to dig. Like I said: Ferrets dig. The best way to redirect digging behavior is to make a digging box for your ferret. We did an article on this in Issue #27 of Modern Ferret Magazine.
Get a plastic storage bin (fairly large, with a lid that snaps on) and cut a hole in the top of it so the ferret can get in and out. We used a hot knife to cut the hole because it leaves the edges smooth, but you can use a box cutter and then use duct tape to cover the sharp edges (make sure your ferret doesn't chew on the duct tape). We put uncooked rice (not minute rice, but regular rice -- 10 pound bags are very cheap at Costco or other places like that) in our digging box, but you can use potting soil if you're not afraid of the mess, or sand (get sandbox sand like for a child's sandbox so it's clean). Generally, ferrets don't eat the rice, but if your ferret eats a grain or two, it shouldn't harm her at all (this is why it’s important to use regular rice, not minute rice). Of course, if she starts eating a bunch of it, you'll have to find something else to fill the box. As for getting into the ears or eyes, ferrets are burrowers, so they're designed to keep dirt and other things out of their ears and eyes (if you blow gently on your ferret's face, you might get her to fold back her ears -- you'll see that they're pretty well sealed). Whenever your ferret starts digging at the carpet or in the litter box or anywhere else you'd prefer she didn't dig, put her in the digging box instead.
The photo at the top of this article is Trixie in our digging box (rice box) next to the couch.
Remember, your ferret needs to dig, but she doesn't need to wreck your carpet or make a big mess. Issue #27 of Modern Ferret magazine is available in the Super Monster Pack of back issues