Message Number: YG6166 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-08-07 05:51:00 UTC
Subject: Re: Food Stashing

Katharine wrote:

>I am looking for some suggestions to stop Emma's
>obsessive food stashing.

It's not going to happen. Sorry, but you've already indicated it has
been going on for years. That sounds pretty much like it isn't going to
stop in the near future. I wish I could offer more hope, but this is a
core behavior. Core behaviors are not only difficult to change,
sometimes the attempt to change them causes stress, which triggers worse
behaviors, or even health problems.

Many types of mammals stash food, but carnivores are especially
obsessive about it. And for good reason, because starvation is the
primary cause of death for most carnivores. The ferret is no exception;
having a very high metabolic rate, ferrets evolved one serious case of
this cache and carry disorder. Some ferrets display the trait more than
others; obviously your ferret is on the high end of the scale.

While I would be less concerned about ants compared to what might happen
if a ferret eats a fungus-covered treat from a damp stash, there are
some ways to help control the problem without forcing a more neurotic behavior:

1. Feed your ferret in their cage prior to release. Caching behaviors,
while not generally stimulated by hunger, cannot be triggered if food is
not available.

2. If you feed your ferret outside the cage, only give them as much as
they can eat, then remove the rest immediately.

3. Try to "turn" the behavior from caching food to stashing toys. Small,
fuzzy toys, socks, or even strips of lambs wool are all good
substitutes. They usually carry these items to the food stashes, so if
you watch closely, you can figure out where they are.

4. Distract the ferret by taking a more active, physical role in the
out-of-cage play. The idea is to wear them out before they find extra
time to hide food.

5. Buy ant traps.

Try to remember the problem is NOT triggered by hunger; caching is an
independent instinct. BIG piles of food may trigger the behavior because
of the obvious excess. Try pre-release feeding, smaller portions,
redirection (with toys), and distraction (with play). If nothing works,
try resigned acceptance.

Bob C