Comparing Ferret Mills and Breeders
Ferret mills are the ferret equivalent of puppy farms. They are large businesses whose priority is meeting a market demand to make a profit, rather the health and well-being of the ferrets. They frequently breed for “exotic” colors, without regards to the genetic health of the parents, leading to a proliferation of genetic disorders and congenital defects. (See Waardenberg’s Syndrome). The ferrets are often housed in inumane conditions, with a high population of ferrets in small, cramped spaces with little room to move an play, and wire-floored cages that damage sensitive feet. The kits are torn away from their mothers before they are old enough to wean, spayed and neutered at 4-6 weeks of age, and shipped off! Because they are taken from their mother too early, they often do not learn appropriate behavior such as proper hygiene (potty training), bite inhibition, social behavior, ferret vocabulary/body language, etc. This can result in a variety of behavior problems including as well as significant health issues. In particular, through being spayed and neutered too young, ferrets are experiencing a significant increase in adrenal disease, and it is being seen in younger ferrets each year!
Marshall Farms (MF)
Behavior: Tend to be more docile and very submissive and may find more aggressive ferrets to be a bit overwhelming.
Body structure: Tend towards smaller stature, though in recent years they have brought in some larger breeding stock. Due to higher incidence of Waardenburg’s you may see some with broader skull and wide set eyes.
Personality/attitude: Previously considered “bite proof” (this has changed since the new breeding stock import)
Coloration: A large proportion of “exotic” colors (higher incidence of Waardenburg’s) such as mutts, silver, panda, mitts, DEW and marked DEW, Blaze, etc in addition to albino, champagne, chocolate, and sable.
Health: Prone to Waardenburg’s Syndrome, which causes deafness and in ferrets is associated with a spectrum of mental and social dysfunctions (seen particularly in ferrets with high white markings such as blaze, panda, DEW, silver, etc). Extremely prone to Adrenal Disease even at young ages. Seem to have increased rates of insulinoma, lymphoma, etc, with overall shorter lifespans.
Tattoo: Two Blue Dots in the left ear
Fit Info: Marhsalls ferrets are mill bred and prone to many chronic and genetic diseases, including deafness, but if you accept supporting Marshalls’ breeding practices, they are a very docile, mild-mannered ferret who are reputably “bite-proof” and smaller in stature. They tend to be less expensive than breeder ferrets, but will cost more in the long run due to health problems.
Real Canadian (RC)
Behavior: Higher energy and intensity, prone to biting. Extremely intelligent problem-solvers that need a lot of stimulation or they become bored and will bite more frequently/harder and develop significant problem behaviors. Are avid jumpers and climbers.
Body structure: Tend to be significantly bulkier than Marshall’s – bigger in general but not as stocky as breeder ferrets and generally smaller than Path Valley ferrets.
Personality/attitude: High energy and high maintenance as kits but become very loyal as they mature. Easily become bored and are great at “problem solving,” such as foraging toys and getting into trouble. Explorers. Bond very strongly with their humans.
Coloration: Varied, includes “exotic” colors.
Health: More prone to heart disease in particular, as well as the typical ferret cancers. Also prone to Waardenburg’s Syndrome which causes deafness (seen in ferrets with white heads – albino, DEW, Blaze, etc). RC is known for a bad Mycoplasma outbreak several years ago and reportedly closed down; however with the reappearance of new RC kits it was learned that RC sold some of their breeding stock to other mills and has reopened some of their mills.
Tattoo: Black Bar in Right Ear
Fit Info: RC is a great choice of you want a bigger, high energy ferret with a LOT of intelligence, and a Big personality that will be very loyal to you as an adult. Be prepared to put a lot of time and work and for letting an RC ferret have free time, attention, and new intriguing toys to satisfy their high energy and intelligence. While this goes for any ferret, RC ferrets are often higher maintenance. Bite training may take extra work. Be prepared to spend time to thoroughly ferret proof – they are problem solvers! However, RC ferrets are very loving and form strong bonds to their humans and will return to your lap for a good snuggle and some kisses after they have tired themselves out exploring.
Path Valley (PV)
Behavior: Very high energy require a lot of free time and stimulation to avoid developing behavior problems.
Males: very mellow compared to females but still high energy and intelligence compared to Marshalls
Females: very territorial and tend to become the alphas
Body structure: Larger and more bulky than Marhsalls, smaller and more sleek compared to breeder ferrets.
Personality/attitude: Frequently biters, biting more frequently and with more force than Marshalls (similar to RC, possibly worse). Becomes nasty if caged too long/often. No inhibition – very much dare devils. Do not tolerate discipline well (i.e. scruffing) and may fight back.
Coloration: varies, includes “exotic” coloring
Health: May be slightly less prone to adrenal than Marshalls, but are more prone to heart disease and, like all ferrets, cancers. Prone to Waardenburg’s Syndrome which causes deafness (seen in ferrets with whit heads – albino, DEW, Blaze, etc).
Tattoo: No markings
Fit Info: PV is a great choice of you want a bigger, high energy ferret with a LOT of intelligence, and a Big personality. Be prepared to give a lot of time to letting a PV ferret have free time, attention, and new intriguing toys to satisfy their high energy and intelligence or they may become ill behaved. Bite training may take extra work and be prepared to spend time to super ferret proof – they are problem solvers!
Manitoba Mill Ferrets
Behavior: Tend to be very dominant ferrets. The females especially are alphas! They have an attitude and will let you know it.
Personality/attitude: Alpha ferrets, prone to biting.
Coloration: Varied, includes “exotic” colorings
Health: Prone to respiratory problems. It is suspected that the Manitoba mill purchased RC ferrets during the RC mycoplasma outbreak. Prone to adrenal disease.
Tattoo: Green H in the Ear
Body structure: Varies
Coloration: vVaries, includes “exotic” colors
Health: Similar to other mill ferrets
Tattoo: Black H or Blue Bar in ear
Behavior: Often come pre-trained, but may have behavior issues to to abuse, poor conditions/treatment from prior owners, shelter shock, and depression from potential separation of bonded pairs. May or may not get along with other ferrets. There is also potential to adopt a ferret who has been a “teddy-bear” (carried around and not allowed to play normally) or who has spent their life in a cage, and does not know how to play and must be retaught how to be a ferret.
Females: Rescued females may need immediate vet attention if they are unaltered
Body structure: Varies based on original breeder (see other categories)
Personality/attitude: Sometimes bite-trained already though they may bite more in the beginning as they adapt to their new home and test boundaries. May be harder to reach and bond with, and may take longer to warm up to you. Often potty trained, though shelter shock, stress, and moving into a new territory may cause them to go outside of the litter box. On the other hand, Some adopted ferrets may have a rough history causing serious behavior problems including biting. If you adopt from a known Ferret Shelter, the shelter parents can tell you about the ferret’s specific personalities and behavior.
Health: Prone to shelter shock. Prone to insulinoma from poor diet from previous owner. Risk of ADV. Risk of previously undiagnosed/untreated adrenal disease.
Tattoo: Varies by original breeder (see other categories)
Fit Info: Adopting is always recommended to help save the life of a ferret and avoid supporting mill breeders. Adopting is a great idea if you want a ferret that is already litter and bite trained, and already matured (age), though babies can often be adopted too. They do run the risk of unknown health problems from previous diet and living conditions which may or may not be known. Adopting can be a very rewarding experience for both you and the ferret(s). Please try to adopt bonded pairs together rather than letting them be separated. If you adopt from a known Ferret Shelter, the shelter parents can tell you about the ferret’s personalities and if they would be a good fit for you.
Ferrets from a reputable breeder are often significantly healthier than ferrets who have come from a mill/pet store or a BYB (Back Yard Breeder). A responsible breeder carefully monitors their genetic for potential genetic disorders, and strives to breed for the healthiest ferrets possible. Ferrets are handled and socialized from a young age and are allowed to be properly and fully weaned before going to their new homes. This leads to stronger, healthier (mentally and physically) ferrets that have been trained how to be proper ferrets by their mother. Many breeders raise kits on both kibble and raw. This means that regardless of the diet you decide to go with, the ferret will already know how to eat it! Also, breeder ferrets are not spayed/neutered too young, resulting in a decreased rate of adrenal disease. However, breeder ferrets also tend to be MUCH higher energy and intensity than mill ferrets. They have better musculature and are highly intelligent, allowing them to find ways into more trouble. They also do not tolerate physical discipline well, and can develop behavior problems if not offered sufficient free roam time and stimulation. Most breeders will require an experienced owner.
Private Breeder (Breeder Ferret):
Behavior: Breeder ferrets tend to be more active, robust, and intelligent than mill ferrets. They require extra handling, extra patience, and extra socialization. Some may have polecat hybrid backgrounds and be more prone to biting if not handled regularly. They are very intelligent and amusing ferrets who are constantly solving puzzles and finding trouble. They will keep you on your toes!
Males: tend to be significantly larger than mill ferrets
Females: May be smaller than mill females, especially if late altered but this does vary by breeder. Very independent and often dominant.
Body structure: Can very greatly by breeder from stocky and a more European look (especially if the breeder began with European import ferrets), to petite “micro” ferrets. (Note that HFF does not advocate the breeding of “micro” ferrets due to health risks to the kit and mother).
Personality/attitude: Varies by breeder and parent personalities – talk to the breeders near you to ask about the personalities of their lines.
Coloration: Reputable breeders will only have naturally occurring colors/markings. These include sable (“poley”), champagne (“sandy”), and albino ferrets. Beware of “fancy” colors and markings as these are more associated with genetic disorders, Waardenburg Syndrome, and proposed to also be linked to increased propensity for lymphoma.
Health: Less prone to adrenal due to later altering. May be less prone to heart disease and some cancers. OVerall healthier with strong immune systems and longer lifespans.
Fit Info: Breeder ferrets are a fantastic option if you do not want to adopt, and want a kit – but do not want to support mill-breeders. They tend to be healthier and you can talk to the breeder about personality and health issues. Be prepared to spend more money than you would on a mill-ferret (Marshalls, RC, PV) but it will be worth it.
***Please note that there is a difference between professional, reputable breeders and backyard breeders. Check to make sure that your breeder is a reputable breeder or you may have a higher risk other health issues such as are commonly seen in farmed ferrets from thoughtless breeding or breeding for fancy colors/markings. Also be aware that even the best breeding cannot guarantee a completely disease-free ferret, but it can greatly minimize the risks of disease.
European Imports (Privately Bred)
Behavior: Varies by breeder but in general tend to be much more intelligent, active, and higher intensity than Mill ferrets.
Body structure: Tend to be stockier and larger (heavier, longer, wider) with shorter faces; they frequently have polecat hybrid in their near background.
Personality/attitude: Can depend on breeder: talk to the breeder to ask about the personalities of their lines.
Coloration: Higher occurrence of Polecat coloration (“sable”), may also see albino, or champagne (“Sandy”). Beware of ferrets with fancy colors/markings.
Health: See breeder ferrets above. Many EU imports also have a degree of Angora (see below) in their background, which does increase their risk of certain health problems.
Tattoo: Breeder Dependent
Fit Info: European ferrets are a fantastic option if you want a bulkier, healthier ferret that is more strongly related to the polecat (due to cross-breedings that often occur in Europe). However, take care to ensure you are purchasing from a reputable breeder.
Behavior: More “wild” and very intense. Can be more difficult to train, and prone to biting without consistent and frequent handling. Will bite harder and more frequently. Require significantly more socialization. Very independent. Super intelligent animals who need an abundance of mental and physical stimulation.
Males: Tend to be larger, and more laid back than females – unless in rut, during which they can become very intense
Females: Tend to be much more dominant, may be smaller but are much feistier
Body structure: Tend to be stockier and much larger than other ferrets.
Personality/attitude: Less domestic, far more independent; stronger wild instincts. Great hunters.
Coloration: Polecat coloration is most common (“sable”), with dark or heavily spotted noses.
Health: Less prone to adrenal and heart disease, and are often healthier in general though if the polecat lines are not well known, there is some risk of yet-uncovered heritable disease. Tend to have a longer lifespan.
Fit Info: A “wild” ferret that has many of the characteristics of both the domesticated ferret and polecats. May have stronger instincts, so be prepared to provide the necessary environment and enrichment. Much more time intensive to train and bond. Significantly more challenging to own but very rewarding for the right person.
Behavior: Varies by breeder.
Body structure: Have no undercoat and a very long, fine topcoat – extremely prone to blockages from “hairballs.” Commonly have problems with cleft palate and abnormally structured noses and sinuses. Noses often have fur.
Personality/attitude: Varies by breeder.
Coloration: Varies; may see black self coloration in some angora lines.
Health: Prone to eye problems, respiratory problems and various genetic issues associated with the angora mutation – cleft palate and nose are very common. Prone to blockages from “hairballs.”
Tattoo: Breeder dependent, usually unmarked
Fit Info: May be higher maintenance due to their increased needs for coat grooming and hairball prevention during shedding season, as well as their higher propensity for genetic and congenital deformities and health problems.