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Do Ferrets Sometimes Play Dead? What You Need To Know!

Anja Delic

Ferrets are highly energetic pets that love to run around, so it is surprising to hear that they are known to play dead from time to time. But, the ferret’s version of “playing dead” is far from the kind we see in the wild. Let’s dig deeper into what this term means for our ferret friends.

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What Does It Mean To Play Dead?

Playing dead is a defense mechanism some animals developed to protect themselves from predators. An animal that plays dead will lay on its back and stay immobile for a certain amount of time. That can be from a couple of minutes to almost an hour. That way, the predator may lose interest in the prey or it may take the prey to the burrow to save it for later. That way, when a predator leaves its burrow, the prey can escape.

ferret eating crumbs from the ground
Image Credit: Isoman72, Pixabay

Playing Dead Has Different Purposes

Defense is the most common purpose of the “playing dead” act, but it is not the only one. Other, less known purposes are mating and attracting prey.

Animals That Play Dead

The most famous play-dead animal is the opossum. This animal will lay on its back, stick its tongue out, and release fluids that will make it smell bad, like a dead animal. Besides opossums, there are many different creatures like snakes, fishes, frogs, ducks, and insects that will do the same to avoid being eaten.

What Does “Playing Dead” Mean For a Ferret?

Ferrets’ “playing dead” act is much mellower than the one we can see in the wild. There is no threat or prey around them so there is actually no purpose for them to play dead on their own.

Ferrets don’t lay on their back and stay in that position for more than 10 seconds because they usually have better things to do. They are too energetic to lay down and play dead. So, you can be sure that you won’t see many ferrets laying down and staying down in the middle of the game. But, there is one situation where we can see that they play dead and that is during their sleep.

ferret outdoors_GuilleNeT, Pixabay
Image Credit: GuilleNeT, Pixabay

Ferret Dead Sleep

A ferret dead sleep is the closest behavior a ferret can come to playing dead. Once a ferret is asleep, he can sleep so deep he will appear dead. That means you can pick him up and he will be completely limp and relaxed, it will look like you are carrying a doll. There is a chance a ferret won’t react at all no matter what you do and where you pet him, and this state can last a couple of minutes.

A ferret dead sleep doesn’t last a long time, it is not a state your ferret will be in for hours. We actually don’t know the real reason behind it and we don’t know when it will happen, or even how often a ferret can experience it. Some ferrets experience it more often while others don’t experience it at all.

ferret
Image Credit: amayaeguizabal, Pixabay

Difference Between a Coma and Dead Sleep

This ferret dead sleep can easily be confused with a coma or actual death and due to that, it can stress out the ferret owner. It is important to know how to recognize the difference between a dead sleep, a coma, or actual death.

  • Dead Sleep – a ferret dead sleep is a deep sleep, so your ferret looks the same as before. That means healthy pink gums, paws, and nose (if the nose is pink, not brown), regular body temperature, relaxed body. The only difference is in the breathing. Breaths can be slow and shallow, but that is normal for a ferret in a dead sleep. The best indicator if a ferret is dead sleeping and not dead is to check the breathing. Sometimes it can be so shallow you will have to concentrate to hear or see it.
  • Coma – if a ferret goes into a coma, it means there is a serious health issue with the ferret. There can be more than one diagnosis so you have to take your ferret to the vet for a checkup. Signs of a ferret in a coma are unresponsiveness, pale and white gums, a pale nose, blue tongue, cold body, drooling, stiffness, and all that can lead to seizures. Death comes when we least expect it, but it is inevitable. If you want to check whether your ferret is alive, the best way to do it is to check the vitals – breathing and heartbeat.
Ferret lying down
Image Credit: GuilleNeT, Pixabay

How To Wake Up a Ferret From Dead Sleep

If you see a ferret in a dead sleep, don’t wake him up too harshly. Do it gently, you can start by picking him up, gently petting him on the tummy or the head, and calling his name. Then, you can try to stimulate the sense of smell by offering the ferret a treat. Those are the steps you can use to easily wake up a ferret, but don’t get concerned if the entire process lasts a couple of minutes.

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Final Thoughts

Ferrets are special pets, so their interpretation of playing dead is also pretty special. It can be stressful to see a ferret in a dead sleep but you have to remember that it is normal behavior and it can happen. The other important thing to learn is to know the difference between a regular ferret’s dead sleep and sleep caused by a medical issue that can lead to coma.


Featured Image Credit: Ermolaeva Olga 84, Shutterstock

Anja Delic

Anja is the owner of Friendly Ferret blog and ferret expert from Zagreb, Croatia. She is around ferrets for more than a decade and she loves to share her knowledge and experience with other ferret owners. Her journey began in 2010 when she started learning about ferrets as pets. Since 2010 and up until now, Anja created a Friendly Ferret blog to educate other ferret owners, has participated in several ferret shows as a sponsor, a writer and eventually, as a judge on the show. Her main goal is to share good and useful information about ferrets online to erase negative stereotypes about ferrets as pets.