Why Ferrets Yawn When Scruffed [Everything You Need To Know]


Ferrets, these small, playful, and clever creatures, have a way of capturing our hearts with their antics. But like any pet, they have unique behaviors and body language that can sometimes leave us scratching our heads.

If you’ve ever noticed your pet ferret yawning when scruffed, you’re not alone. This common behavior has prompted many ferret owners to question, “Why do ferrets yawn when scruffed?

Quick Answer

Ferrets yawn when scruffed primarily as a submission gesture. Scruffing, a common handling technique used by ferret owners, simulates the way a mother ferret carries her kits (baby ferrets) by the loose skin at the back of their neck, known as the ‘scruff’.

This triggers a passive, submissive state in the ferret, often leading to yawning. It’s a natural reaction and is generally considered harmless. However, always gently scruff your ferret to prevent discomfort or stress.

Understanding Ferrets’ Behavior

Ferrets are intelligent, social animals with a rich repertoire of behaviors that serve various purposes, from expressing emotions to signaling their needs. One interesting behavior you may have noticed is their tendency to yawn when scruffed.

Like other animals, yawning in ferrets is not just a sign of tiredness or sleepiness. It’s a multifaceted behavior that can mean different things depending on the situation.

For instance, a ferret might yawn out of contentment or relaxation when being petted, much like when a ferret yawns so much while enjoying its favorite rubs.

In the context of scruffing, yawning takes on a different meaning, closely tied to the ferret’s natural instinct and communication.

What Does ‘Scruffing’ Mean?

In the world of pet care, especially for small animals like ferrets, ‘scruffing’ is a term you’ll often hear. It refers to the method of holding an animal by the loose skin at the back of its neck, known as the ‘scruff.’

This technique is commonly used when handling pets for various reasons, such as grooming, administering medication, or even during playtime.

Fun Fact: Scruffing is a method adopted from mother nature herself! Mother animals, including ferrets, often carry their babies by the scruff in the wild. It’s a safe way to transport them without causing harm.

But you might wonder, “Is it OK to scruff a ferret?

When done correctly and gently, scruffing is generally safe and can even have a calming effect on the ferret. However, it’s essential to remember that not all ferrets respond the same way to scruffing.

Detailed Explanation: Ferrets Yawning When Scruffed

As we touched on earlier, ferrets often yawn when scruffed as a sign of submission. The act of scruffing simulates the way mother ferrets carry their kits by the scruff, which induces a natural, submissive state in them.

This response is ingrained in ferrets from a young age.

When scruffed, ferrets instinctively relax their bodies and often yawn, signaling they acknowledge the authority of the ‘scruffer’, much like how a kit would behave when picked up by its mother.

It’s one of their ways of communicating submission and acceptance of the situation.

It’s also believed that scruffing can mildly inhibit the ferret’s ability to swallow, which might lead to yawning as a reflex action. This theory, however, requires more scientific research for confirmation.

Other Common Ferret Responses to Scruffing

While yawning is a common response to scruffing, ferrets may also display other behaviors. It’s all part of their complex communication system!

1. Going Limp: Ferrets often go limp when scruffed, similar to how kittens behave when their mother picks them up by the scruff. It’s an instinctual response that signifies submission and trust.

2. Dribbling: Some ferrets might dribble or salivate a bit when scruffed. This is normal and may be related to inhibiting their ability to swallow.

3. Blinking or Squinting: Blinking or squinting are other reactions that your ferret might have when scruffed. This isn’t dissimilar to when you notice ferrets blink their eyes when content or relaxed.

4. Making Noises: Ferrets can make a variety of sounds, from dooks to hisses. When scruffed, some might emit a quiet noise or even hiss if they’re uncomfortable. Always pay attention to these auditory signals from your furry friend!

How to Safely Scruff a Ferret

Proper handling is paramount when it comes to the health and wellbeing of your ferret. When done right, scruffing can be a safe and effective way to handle your ferret, especially during grooming sessions or vet visits.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to scruff a ferret safely:

1. Approach Calmly: Begin by gently approaching your ferret to minimize stress. Remember, ferrets are clever creatures, and they can sense your emotions!

2. Hold the Ferret Correctly: Gently pick up your ferret, supporting its body weight with one hand under its belly. With your other hand, carefully grasp the loose skin behind its neck.

3. Lift Slowly: Slowly lift the ferret off the ground. Be sure your ferret’s body is always supported to prevent injury.

4. Support the Rear End: If you need to hold your ferret in the scruffed position for a while, support its rear end with your other hand or let it rest on a surface like your lap or a table.

5. Release Gently: When you’re done, release the scruff gently and allow your ferret to move away at its own pace.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. Why does my ferret yawn when I pick him up?

It’s not unusual for ferrets to yawn when picked up or handled. This could be due to several reasons, including relaxation, submission, or even a natural response to being scruffed.

Q2. Is it OK to scruff a ferret?

It is generally safe to scruff a ferret, provided it’s done gently and correctly. Scruffing can be an effective handling method, especially during grooming or veterinary visits.

However, it’s essential to note that not all ferrets respond the same way to scruffing, and over-scruffing or rough handling can cause stress.

Q3. Why does my ferret go limp when I scruff him?

Going limp is a common response in ferrets when they’re scruffed. It’s a submissive behavior that refers to when they were kits and their mother would carry them by the scruff.

However, if your ferret remains limp for an extended period after being scruffed, it may be best to consult a vet.

Q4. Can scruffing harm my ferret?

When done properly, scruffing should not harm your ferret. It’s important to support their body weight and never to lift them off the ground by their scruff alone.

If your ferret seems distressed or uncomfortable when scruffed, it’s worth seeking advice from a vet or experienced ferret owner.


Understanding your ferret’s behaviors, like yawning when scruffed, is key to maintaining a healthy, happy relationship with your pet. While it might initially seem peculiar, these actions are part of their complex communication system.

Remember, while scruffing can be an effective way to handle your ferret, it’s important to do so gently and with consideration for your ferret’s comfort and well-being.

And, as always, if you notice any sudden changes in your ferret’s behavior or if something doesn’t seem quite right, don’t hesitate to consult a veterinarian.

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