A small mammal belonging to the genus Mustela of the the weasel family. Often kept as a pet. Ferrets were first domesticated from the European polecat around 3000 years ago in ancient Egypt, and modern domestic ferrets are not known to be able to survive outside captivity.

Ferrets are very inquisitive and playful, and make wonderful pets. Every ferret has a distinct personality. They are generally indoors-only; if let outside, they should be kept on a leash or they might get into trouble (ferrets are very good at getting into trouble). Also, if you're going to have a ferret in your home, you'll probably want to ferret-proof it first.

Contrary to some reports, ferrets are not known to get rabies with any frequency. If you worry about this sort of thing, though, there is a rabies vaccine approved for use on ferrets. They are also not vicious and don't usually attack pet birds or children, unless they're jealous. Your modern ferret probably wouldn't know what to do with a rabbit if it saw one (in fact, some people keep ferrets and rabbits together without problems).

Ferrets are illegal in some unenlightened locations, including the state of California. This is probably due to ignorance and/or bureaucratic incompetence.

The domestic ferret should not be confused with the black-footed ferret, which is an endangered species native to North America. The ferrets kept as pets are not endangered.

Some information in this wu comes from Encyclopedia Britanica and Pets Magazine.

Before we start, just to make sure I'm not misunderstood,

Ferrets are NOT dangerous, nor rodents! They are certainly not dangerous rodents.

Ferret behavior

Ferret: Pointy vicious sausage of inquisitive and antagonistic rodent doom. When caged and left to their own devices, un-desexed male ferrets will sleep most of the time. If more than one is in a cage, they will attempt to eat each other in a friendly, inquisitive kind of way. When provided with stimuli of any kind, ferrets go into a hyper-accelerated state and investigate whatever is happening to the very utmost of their physical capacity. The funniest thing about this is that ferrets have a non-existent attention span; If two ferrets are (play)fighting, they will run and leap at each other in a thoroughly entertaining fashion (a sort of polecat-jousting), but if a ferret smells or sees something interesting mid-leap, it will immediately forget what it was doing and investigate, even if it has to drag the other ferret along. When a human tries to touch a ferret in this accelerated state, it will (play)fight the human! That is, it will chew on them - not as hard as it can, just hard enough to assess the flavour of the hand that feeds it. They also love biting people on the feet. The sight of grown men leaping and running away from these 2 foot long psychopathic carnivores is probably as funny as ferret jousting (so called because they run away from each other, turn, and build up speed towards their foe, and leap for the throat).

When investigating stimuli, but not actually attacking, ferrets make an "ack, ack ack" sound which I can only compare with really old hard drives. Ferrets are born hunters, and fantastic ratters, but must be supervised at all times if they are not in a ferret-proof enclosure; they will find or make holes in your perimeter defences. Un-desexed male ferrets, even when washed weekly, have a strong musk smell which can be detected 15 meters away by humans.

Ferrets are not really affectionate, and don't make great dog or cat style pets (ours don't anyway). They are very high-maintenance pets, especially since if they are kept in a cage, they really have to be let out for a couple of hours of supervised fun each day. Even a particularly friendly ferret will try to find out what you taste like now and again. Ferrets are utterly without fear: when we got two un-desexed male ferrets, they had our bull-terrier cross, terrier, and insane cat all on the run in no time; The canine or feline would inquisitively investigate the ferret, and in much the same spirit, the ferret would munch on the dog or cat's nose. It took little convincing for the other animals to decide to appreciate the ferrets from afar, and on many occasions, cat and dogs were sent running from a creature one quarter the weight of the cat.

A word should be said about ferret locomotion. Ferrets move aound in a way which is quite unlike other types of animal; they are sort of semi-articulated. There is a lot of ferret between the front and back legs, and the way they move makes it look like the front and back of the ferret arne't co-operating. They are never quite in-line, and move slightly diagonally. When walking, they arch their long bodies into the air, which adds to the immpression of two bipedal animals in a ferret suit. They jump by quickly arching their midsection and being carried by their momentum. which is a large component of the hilarity of ferret jousting

Ferrets are funnier than anything I have ever seen on television. The ferret in Kindergarten Cop must have been sedated, or just very, very well trained. Ours would have "tasted" every little hand that tried to touch them, and then herded the kids into a corner.


Update: A worthy authority on ferrets tells me that female ferrets behave in a totally different fashion, and are not so hyperactive nor so violent.


I feel the need to clarify my position on a couple of points in light of Akasha's writeup.

Vicious: Ferrets aren't genuinely vicious; they won't attack you or really try to hurt you. However, they are far more likely to bite you than for instance a cat or dog in my experience. These bites rarely break the skin.

Rodent doom: I realise that what I wrote was ambiguous. I know ferrets aren't rodents. They are doom to rodents. Hence they are rodent doom. Just to make it clear.

Now go read Akasha's writeup. It's much better.

Why write another w/u if it reiterates what most have already said? All w/us except k-tron's are only half accurate. Why believe me? I know a lot about ferrets. In fact, I would venture to say I am a ferret connoisseur. I have owned five ferrets and babysat several others. I have read many ferret books, magazines, documents, pamphlets, anything I can get my grubby paws on. I am also somewhat of a political activist for ferret legalization in California. I can tell you now that if you're interested in owning a ferret, this w/u is not enough information and would highly recommend you read as much possible about ferrets before deciding to buy one. There is so much to tell about ferrets that I could not possibly write about it all in one w/u, but I hope you get the gist. Be warned, my w/u is biased because I own and love the ferret.

Ferrets Dymistified: myth vs. fact

  • Ferrets are vicious. - False. Ferrets by nature are happy-go-lucky, playful, and cuddly. If a ferret is "vicious," s/he has probably been abused in some form. All reported cases of ferrets attacking were ferrets that came from abusive families.
  • Ferrets are wild. - False. The common pet ferret is domesticated and has been for many centuries. The black-footed American ferret is wild and endangered, but is not a close relative of the domesticated ferret.
  • Descenting a ferret will reduce odor. - False. Descenting is the removal of the anal odor glands, which a ferret can excrete odors from if it becomes frightened, much like a skunk. Ferrets have scent glands all over their bodies and descenting doesn't make a noticeable difference in odor.
  • Ferrets can become feral. - False. There are no reported cases of feral ferrets anywhere in the United States. If a pet ferret escapes, s/he will most likely die of starvation or get eaten by a dog or various other predators.
  • Ferrets are dangerous because they get rabies. - There are rabies (and other) vaccinations for ferrets. There are no known cases of ferrets passing rabies to a human.
  • Ferrets are carried in trousers. - False. Ferrets are most often leashed and carried in a bag or on the shoulders.
  • Ferrets are rodents. - False. Ferrets are mustelids. They are related to the weasel and otter.
  • Female ferrets can die if it goes into heat. - Fact. "Females must be spayed unless repeatedly bred at each heat; otherwise they will develop a serious disease called aplastic anemia and die." (Page 8, Ferrets: A Complete Owner's Manual, Chuck and Fox Morton)
  • Ferrets can die from breeding. - Fact. Ferrets are domesticated, and as such, if not properly moderated by a professional breeder, ferrets will mate until they die from exhaustion. This results in death or near-death, not rampant breeding.

Ferret History:

  • Ferrets were first domesticated in Egypt around 3000 BC. Some argue they were domesticated before the cat. I haven't found any documents to prove or disprove that. Allegedly there are dated mummified ferrets, which is how they know ferrets were used as pets that far back. Ferrets were kept as pets and trained to keep out rodents and such, but were later replaced by cats who are more efficient at hunting.
  • Ferrets first came to the United States about 300 years ago (which is part of the evidence disproving many myths about ferrets being wild/feral/etc. At one point in history, ferrets were believed to be the "new mink." Their fur, when used for a coat/clothing, was called fitch. There are still towns, mostly on the east coast, named after this "new" fad (such as Fitchville).
  • The ancestry of the domesticated ferret beyond Egypt is unknown. Allegedly the ferret was finally linked through genetic tests to the European polecat (also Mustela Putorius furo), but I have not seen these documents to verify. The only two candidates for ferret ancestors are the Steppe polecat (Mustela Eversmanni furo) and the European polecat. The three are so closely related that they can be crossbred. The domesticated ferret is not closely related to the black-footed American ferret (Mustela Nigripes).

Ferret Politics:

  • Ferrets are not legal in 2 states (USA), and several counties of various other states. If you plan to own one, you should check into this first. Beware of rumors. I know for a fact that ferrets are not yet legal in California, but many people believe they are legal to own and/or breed here.
  • There are various political debates over ferret laws and standards. One of the most recent big to-dos other than legalization was safety standards for shipping ferrets, more specifically kits. Until last year, there were no set standards for shipping kits, but there are safety standards for shipping kittens and puppies. Due to the lack of standards, kits were stored (and neglected) in cargo containers on airplanes and shipped at far too young an age. For details, see: (http://www.ferret.org/news/evansvillecourier.htm)

Ferret Terminology:

  • A group of ferrets is a business.
  • An unneutered male is a hob. A neutered male is a gib. When a male is ready to breed, he is in a rut.
  • An unspayed female is a jill. A spayed female is a sprite. When a female is ready to breed, she is in heat.
  • Baby ferrets are called kits.
  • Ferrets are not related to raccoons, and are not rodents. They are in the Mustelid family (Mustelidae), Mustela Putorius. They are not the same, but related to the (wild and native) black-footed American ferret, Mustela Nigripes. Other "cousins" of the ferret include the otter, mink, ermine, badger, weasel, pine marten, fisher, skunk, and polecat.

Ferret Owning:

  • When handling a ferret, be careful not to lift him/her with one hand around the chest. This can restrict their breathing and potentially damage their lungs. Always support their lower end with your other hand. If you hold a ferret in your arms, hold it like you would a baby.
  • Be sure a ferret is right for you before obtaining one. Many ferrets go from home to home because someone thought they wanted a ferret but didn't know enough about them first to make a responsible decision or didn't know how to properly raise one. Ferrets are not for everyone.
  • Yes, ferrets have an odor, just like cats do, just like dogs do. If you don't like their odor, don't get one. Like any animal, if they are properly cared for, the odor is mild to non-existent.
  • Ferrets are not always compatible with pets you may currently own, or plan to own. If you own an hunting dog, it is NOT RECOMMENDED for you to get a ferret. A hunting dog will think your ferret is a tasty morsel. The only exception is if you get the ferret first, then train the hunting dog as a puppy to be kind to small critters. However, this is risky business because the chemistry might not be there between the two pets. Most other dogs should be compatible. Birds are also not a good idea to have around ferrets. If the birds are too small, a ferret might try to "play" with it and injure it. If they are too big, the bird can injure the ferret. Reptiles are also not a good idea. Most cats can be trained to tolerate a ferret. If the dog or cat is introduced to smaller animals at a young age, a ferret should be no problem. In some part of the nation, people have found that pet skunks (that's right, folks) are compatible with ferrets. Hedgehogs are allegedly a good ferret companion.
  • If you live somewhere that you cannot control the temperature of your house, do not buy a ferret. Ferrets can tolerate relatively cold temperature due to their fur coats. But do not buy a ferret if your house/room gets higher than 80 degrees farenheit on a regular basis (like in the summer). Ferrets don't have a heat regulating system for their bodies. If their body temperature exceeds 80 degrees, they will die of heat stroke.
  • Ferret-proofing is a very important ingredient to a happy, healthy, and safe ferret. If you are not willing to accept the responsibilities of caring for a perpetual 2-year-old in a ferret's body, don't get a ferret. If you are not willing to fix/adjust/repair your house/room for the safety of the ferret, don't get one. Ferrets are synonymous with trouble and curiosity (moreso than cats in my experience). Even if you have a "caged ferret" (ferret is locked in a cage most of the time) you still need to ferret-proof a room. Caged ferrets require exercise and must be let out at least once a day. I prefer to have free-roaming ferrets and so have ferret-proofed half of my house. Things ferrets should avoid: All sweets/sugars (including alcohol), dairy products, rubber, clothing (if they eat it), anything that could break into small bits and cause an intestinal blockage.
  • Choosing a ferret is also very important. You want to choose one that has a personality that matches yours (cuddly v. playful, etc.). Some people care about coat colors. My family has a strong preference for silver mitts (white socks, the only coat that grays with age), but the most common coat is the sable, which is medium brown coat with a dark brown mask, dark shoulders, dark tail, and dark feet. For more on coat patterns, see: FURO Ferret Show Standards and Rules. Albinos and "mixed" pattern coats have a tendency to come with complications/defects. Based on my personal experiences, females tend to be more independent and keep to themselves, while males tend to prefer lots of human attention. Most books say the only difference is that males tend to have more odor than females.

Ferret Training:

If you do not properly discipline your kit when you first get him or her, it will be very difficult to "re-train" a ferret. That is why it is of utmost importance that you are very strict about its upbringing. Most bad ferret experiences happen with poorly trained ferrets, and that is the owner's fault, not the ferret. They don't know any better. Luckily, experienced ferret owners who are patient and are willing to invest their time in it, can actually reverse bad behavior.

  • Ferrets can be potty trained. The first 6 weeks of owning a kit determines how your ferret will behave the rest of his or her life. Unfortunately, potty training isn't 100% and sometimes they miss. Missing becomes more frequent with old age. You start a ferret off in its cage. Put a turd in the litterbox so s/he can learn that is where to poop. Eventually s/he will catch on. Ferrets are very clean pets despite myths and rumors. They like to poop in one or two spots, always in a corner. They catch on pretty quick. After they learn this, you can begin to let the ferret out after s/he has pooped for about 20 minutes, about the amount of time until they'll have to poop again. Ferrets usually go to the bathroom within minutes of waking up. (When they're fully grown they can hold in pee/poo for longer than 20 minutes.) Once the ferret realizes you will let him/her out to play after they poop, they start faking like they are pooping. At this point, you decide a location for a secondary litterbox in the room, also putting a piece of turd in it. Introduce them to this litterbox and let them play for a while. When it gets to be about that time for him/her to poop, place them in the litterbox so they get the idea. The general rule of thumb for litterboxes is one box per room/floor level, always placed in a corner of the room or hall. For our out-of-cage litterbox, we put a piece of plastic that extends past the litterbox in case if a ferret misses. Ferret will not go in a dirty litterbox. Typically you change it one every other week for one ferret, about once a week for two, and every 3-4 days for three ferrets. Some people own more than 5 ferrets...
  • When you first get a kit, s/he will be especially playful and will nip. This is a play bite. Nipping is acceptable, but you need to train them not to bite too hard. As they are very young, they are not aware of the fact that they could harm anyone, so you need to let them know what is acceptable nip/playbiting and what is not. What we found works best is to use a harsh tone of voice if it gets too hard. Also, pushing your finger/hand into their mouth (not too hard, but hard enough) to the point that they decide they no longer want your limb in their mouth. Scold them, but don't abandon them after. You have to let them know you care. After they realize they've done something bad, be sure to remind them you love them. Pick them up, calm them down, and cuddle. Talk to them in a soothing voice. I dislike Bitter Apple, but chemical biting deterrants are also another option. If they persist, flick them gently on the nose, but do not hit your ferret. If they nip you while you are holding them, don't put them down. They will soon learn they can train you to do what they want by nipping you.
  • Training your ferret to be on your shoulder is important because if they don't know how to properly balance, they can fall and injure themselves. The best way to do this is to put them on your shoulder while you are sitting on a couch or somewhere it wouldn't hurt for them if they fell off. One book (I don't remember which) recommended standing over a trashcan filled with shredded newspaper to break their fall. The safe, but unpleasant experience will train them to be more careful.
  • It is very crucial to teach a ferret to come in case if they ever get lost. Ferrets often have a favorite toy, sound, or treat. Use whatever necessary to train them to come to a sound of some sort.
  • Ferrets can learn tricks, too. Some of the most common tricks are to stand and beg, dive for treats in water, roll over, tug of war, etc. Be sure to give them much love or a treat of some sort to tell them they've done what you wanted.

Ferret Maintenance:

  • As I've mentioned earlier, ferrets are typically clean creatures, but they like to crawl in small, dusty, and dirty spaces. They are dust magnets. Cleaning them more than twice a week is bad for their skin. Two weeks is the most often you should bathe a ferret. Ferrets can go for a month or two and be considered relatively clean if you be sure to keep the small crawl areas clean, and clean the bedsheets, and take out the litter regularly.
  • Ferrets sometimes need their ears to be cleaned due to wax build up and such. All ferrets I know hate this. The best way to do it is to grab them by the scruff (the back of their neck, scruffing a ferret is often called the "dead man switch" because they look and act paralyzed, but it does not hurt them) while supporting their body (on your lap, a table, whatever) and use q-tips to clean out their ears. You can purchase an ear cleaning solution which really helps clean ears out. Clean ears reduce "bad" ferret smell.
  • Ferrets need their nails trimmed about every month or so. If this is not done, their nails can split and get caught on cloth and carpet when they dig. If they panic, they could potentially harm themselves. Do not trim too close to the quick of the nail (the pink nerve). If you cut the quick, they will bleed profusely. If you are careful to begin with, you won't have to take them to an emergency veterinarian.
  • Feeding a ferret is pretty straightfoward. Buy ferret food and have a bowl of food available at all times. Due to their relatively short intestines, ferrets have to eat high-protein foods all the time. Don't buy cheap ferret food. Cheap ferret food is more often than not recycled mink food that does not provide the proper nutrients a ferret needs. Look at the ingredients, make sure the main ingredient is not fish products. Good ferret chow is high in crude fat and protein, and low in crude fiber. The most advertised high quality ferret food on the market is Totally Ferret (www.totallyferret.com). There are one or two more high quality brands, but I cannot think of their names. One comes in a white plastic bag with a fancy air seal, a scoop, and the kibbles are star shaped. Until recently, ferret food did not exist and you would have to feed them kitten chow. But seeing as how the ferret is the third most common pet and kitten chow is not good enough for a healthy ferret, companies finally formulated ferret-specific food. A ferret can die of starvation within a small amount of time of not eating, so there must be food available at all times.

Ferret Behavior:

  • Ferrets play less when they get old (usually considered old by 4 years with a life expectancy of 6-10) and prefer to cuddle up in a ball in your arms, shirt, or lap.
  • When ferrets play, they get really excited and will jump and bounce around, often bumping into things. This is often when they are vocal, too. This jumping and bouncing is often called, "the weasel war dance." They are just expressing their happiness. This can often scare ferret newbies because a ferret will open their mouth and expose their teeth, making the n00b think they are being malicious. They are not.
  • Bottle brushing is when a ferret gets excited and fluffs up his/her tail. This is not a bad thing, they are just excited.
  • Ferrets can "talk." If they get excited, they make a chuckle noise that many ferret fans call, "dooking." If you can imagine the noise chickens make when they are feeding, not the usual "bok bok" noise, but the chuckle noise, that almost sounds like a kind of ferret chuckle. There are several chuckles ferrets can make, but the most famous is the "dook."
  • If a ferret hisses, s/he is probably intimidated and afraid. Figure out whatever it is that is stressing your ferret and calm him/her down by talking in a soothing voice and cuddling (assuming it isn't you that is stressing the ferret).
  • Ferrets can scream if they are in extreme pain. It is the most horrible noise in the world. If you step on a ferret, it will scream. Make sure the ferret has not been seriously injured and again, talk to it in a soothing voice and apologize. To avoid stepping on your ferret, put a small collar on it with a bell attached. Make sure the collar fits snug or it will come off, but don't make it too tight. If you can fit a finger through the collar, that should be about right. Do not use one of the elastic stretchy collars, those can be dangerous and snag on things. Get the classic cloth strap with buckle. Trim the extra cloth end but not so close that the buckle will come undone. Harnesses also work, but they are less comfortable for a ferret. If the ferret hasn't worn a collar for most of their life, chances are likely you will not be able to keep it on the ferret. You must collar the ferret as a kit.
  • Ferrets can give warnings. My current ferret will nibble my hand only when he is running low on food. Pay attention to your ferret's behavior. If it changes, s/he may be trying to tell you something. There have been stories of ferrets saving people by waking them up when their house was on fire and such (obviously non-caged ferrets).
  • Ferrets sleep a lot. Sixteen to 18 hours on average. All of our ferrets have adjusted their schedules according to ours so they can be awake when we are most likely to be around. They also begin to recognize the sounds of when you are home and will wait for you.
  • Ferrets also "pancake." I call it pancaking, but sometimes it's called flat ferret. When a ferret is bored, trying to think of something to do, or wants to be held and cuddle, s/he will lay flat on the floor. It is the cutest thing in the world. When our ferret does that, it is his way of saying, "I'm too tired to get up and go to you, but come pick me up." The meaning of pancaking is different for each ferret.

Ferret Hobbies:

Ferreting is popular in the UK, Australia, and various other countries like Portugal. Ferreting does not involve the ferret killing anything. What happens is you take nets and put them over the entrances and exits of rabbit holes or various tunneling animals, and put the ferret in. Ferrets are extremely flexible and are meant to crawl around in awkward spaces. Because they are very curious creatures (quite possibly more than a cat), they will crawl around in every nook and cranny of the tunnels. Ferrets look like predators to the rabbits and various other animals, so they flee in a panic and end up in the nets. From there, the person ferreting kills the animal. A friend who went ferreting in Portugal with his father, who does it regularly, snaps the necks by hand. I would like to reiterate, "the ferret does not do the killing."

Ferret showing is also another popular hobby. I like this one better because the ferret is not often treated like a wild beast whose only purpose is to chase other animals around. The most common characteristics a ferret is judged by are looks/grooming, breeding (no visible defects), and personality (friendliness).
Apparently there is ferret racing too, which is new to me. In England, they create tunnels and race the ferrets in them. Similar to ferreting, but without the rabbit.

Recommended Reading:

  • The Ferret : An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet, by Mary R. Shefferman
  • http://www.ferretcentral.org
  • http://www.ferret.org

Fer"ret (?), n. [F. furet, cf. LL. furo; prob. fr. L. fur thief (cf. Furtive); cf. Arm. fur wise, sly.] Zool.

An animal of the Weasel family (Mustela ∨ Putorius furo), about fourteen inches in length, of a pale yellow or white color, with red eyes. It is a native of Africa, but has been domesticated in Europe. Ferrets are used to drive rabbits and rats out of their holes.

 

© Webster 1913.


Fer"ret, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Ferreted; p. pr. & vb. n. Ferreting.] [Cf. F. fureter. See Ferret, n.]

To drive or hunt out of a lurking place, as a ferret does the cony; to search out by patient and sagacious efforts; -- often used with out; as, to ferret out a secret.

Master Fer! I'll fer him, and firk him, and ferret him. Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.


Fer"ret, n. [Ital. foretto, dim. of fiore flower; or F. fleuret. Cf. Floret.]

A kind of narrow tape, usually made of woolen; sometimes of cotton or silk; -- called also ferreting.

 

© Webster 1913.


Fer"ret, n. [F. feret, dim. or fer iron, L. ferrum.] Glass Making

The iron used for trying the melted glass to see if is fit to work, and for shaping the rings at the mouths of bottles.

 

© Webster 1913.

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