Pawsimony: Needs Mustelid

Written by Tiro Miller, PhD

We humans are always looking for evidence that our animal friends really do love us. That’s probably why videos like this one, which was described as a ferret mom insistently “showing” her human her new babies by leading him by the hand, are so consistently popular.

Video from the Dodo

We showed this video to Shannan Skitch, IAABC’s favorite ferret expert and author of this excellent IAABC Foundation Journal article on ferret biology and enrichment, for her hot take:

“With the usual disclaimer of we really don’t know what is going on in such a short clip without a history, etc., here’s a few opinions and my take on it.

The most common explanation I’ve seen from other ‘ferret people’ (breeders, show judges, and shelter operators) is that the person likely handled food a few minutes ago, and the ferret is bringing it to feed the babies. I am not completely on board with this explanation myself, but I obviously can’t rule it out–we just don’t have that info in the video.

I have had multiple ferrets that lead me around by the hand, both males and females. We know ferrets cache and anything that is a valuable resource is often tucked away into a special hiding place, or sleeping area for later. Hands can be a valuable resource, they play with, groom, and feed the ferret. Males and females have been seen to take their human by the finger and put them into the cache—male ferrets do not have any role in rearing kits, so it doesn’t appear to be a maternal behaviour in these instances.

I think the ferret in the original video is simply caching a resource, possibly to introduce the kits to the hand, but as they are so young it may just be for the mothers use as well.

The good thing about the video is that the ferret isn’t going to bring a hand to the babies if they are fearful of their person, so it’s likely a very well handled and secure feeling ferret that just really likes their person.”

So there you go. It’s not exactly right that the ferret mom is “showing” her owner her new babies, more like making sure that she has access to the valuable resources the presence of her owner’s hand represents. Does this count as love? Even philosophers are divided on that one….