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It's been several years since my ferrets passed on, but I was quite impressed with just how smart they were (well, really only one of my two... the other was sweet, but wasn't particularly bright).

My male surprised me several times with what appeared to be some fairly clever problem-solving.

For example, he was obsessed with getting into the trash can. To do this, he started by reaching up, hooking his claws into the plastic liner (which he could just barely reach), and then putting his weight on it until the can tipped over (I caught him swinging back and forth while dangling from the liner to tip the can).

I solved this by raising the can up so it was too high for him to reach the top.

He responded by opening the bottom cabinet drawer next to the can, climbing in, then opening the one above, climbing into that one, and on until he reached the top (using them like stairs).

As much as I love my cats, I can't imagine them doing anything quite so involved.

I know intelligence is an incredibly difficult thing to quantify, but have there been any credible studies on ferret intelligence, particularly in the area of problem solving capabilities? How do they rank compared to other common pets?

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    I've had cats do all of those things. I'd guess that ferrets are comparable to other predator pets, as the needs of a hunter are pretty similar for them all. – Oldcat Nov 5 '13 at 19:48
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    @Oldcat I can only agree. I feel that cats are smart enough do the same things as ferrets but they just don't bother. Ferrets will try to open doors and drawers just for the fun of it. Most cats will wait for the owner to open for them. Cats also jump much higher than ferrets so they don't need to build towers to reach for stuff. – Sulthan Dec 23 '13 at 20:48
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    Anecdotal: a friend describes her ferrets as very quick, very clever, but not having much memory. They seem to solve puzzles quickly but need to solve them repeatedly rather than remembering clearly how they solved them last time. Of course that's just one opinion about one set of weasely critters. – keshlam Jan 1 '16 at 13:11
  • My cat is quite clever, but she seems to use most of her brain power for manipulating the people and animals around her; she comes up with quite complex plots. – TheCatWhisperer Oct 20 '17 at 19:40
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I have observed that male ferrets are much more intelligent when it comes to getting somewhere, and female when it comes to hiding something. Due to that I have observed male ferrets do insane acts of acrobatics, but have never seen female ferret do anything like that. However I suspect that female ferret was the better acrobat out of the two.

I have never managed to successfully contain the male ferret to any single room, due to his body being able to squeeze literally through anything. He has learned to open doors, open locks on windows, and flip the light switch(always to off, never on :( which made tripping over them and objects thrown around always easy). Most of that was done by finding random objects, dragging them to the place of interest and tower building. Even if I didn't see the male ferret do a certain act sometimes, the objects being thrown around did tell a story about what happened and what was the goal.

However female ferret was guilty of stashing things she liked in dark areas. I have never observed how the climbing was done, nor have I seen any objects thrown around that would indicate that someone was climbing, but I have found her favorite stuffed toys in places where the male ferret would never be capable of reaching, and there was absolutely no evidence of the climbing being done. The biggest mystery was how she managed to climb all the way to the uppermost cupboard in the kitchen. The surface was mainly marble and everything else was smooth, yet somehow the toys did end up there beside the sugar and other things somehow.

So I think ferrets do make excellent intelligent ninjas as long as they are interested in what they are doing. They have all the cunning and skills of a true ninja.

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I have three ferrets, all of which I would call highly inquisitive animals. They all subscribe to the following practice: Wake up, poop, eat, drink, Walk the Perimeter. Literally every time! And if they find one thing out of place or smelling differently, they will inspect it from every angle until satisfied. So to that I say they have an amazing memory.

All three are very good at tricks; mastering 'roll over', 'play dead', 'beg' 'kiss' (touching their nose on mine) and just tuning around in circles. All in a matter of 2-3 5 minute training sessions. They know what to do to get a treat, and will even start doing tricks without instruction to try and get a treat too!

Finally, one ferret of mine (the youngest and most energetic) is incredibly energetic. Despite her small size (half that of the other two) she can get into all sorts of tall places that they cant. She will climb one object on the other side of the room that is easy, see something interesting from that vantage point and then determine a way to the interesting thing. She will often go back to the vantage point if she gets stumped to try and figure out another way! She always gets there in the end! I think that's why the job of ferret-proofing a home is never done...

  • Mine will also immediately notice any new objects in any room. They have a better memory than I do! – skyandemilia Dec 28 '15 at 19:52
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I have 2 ferrets, a male and female. The male, I'm convinced wouldn't last 2 minutes if he escaped into the wild. Placid, docile & frankly pretty dim I'd say (though I adore him & will be devastated when he pops off). The female on the other hand - smaller, far more agile, clever, resourceful & weary of anything unfamiliar, as a wild animal would be - I'm sure she'd give it her best if she escaped into the wild. She has tested us to the limit in terms of getting around problems presented to her, especially when it comes to escaping and has escaped from their (old) external enclosure about 4 or 5 times. She was gone overnight on 2 occasions, both times I thought we'd never see her again.

I've always read however that ferrets have no homing instinct.. but we know that she used to wander off up the woods behind the house at play time. The times she was out all night (one of which was freezing), she came back the next day. We knew she hadn't been in the enclosure all night as we'd left it open with food and bedding left in a certain position - neither had been touched. I was wandering about calling her & eventually I looked down & there she was with her mischievous little mask looking up at me as if to say 'yeah? I was out all night.. so what? What of it?'

So I'd say between my 2 ferrets there's a notable difference in the level of intelligence. He's thick, she's clever!

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Yet another anecdotal bit of evidence rather than quantitative (which is what I was looking for,) but from my experience it seems as though ferrets aren't clever as much as they are persistent and they have a good memory.

From the ones I had, it seemed like they would just keep trying to get to whatever it was they were trying to get to, and they would remember anything they did that got them closer to their goal.

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