What Are Ferrets Anyway?
Ferrets are small, domesticated weasels belonging to the Mustelidae family. They are obligate carnivores (check out Feline Nutrition’s article on Obligate Carnivores), meaning that they are built to survive on a diet consisting of only animal products (meat, bones, organs- NO plants). Ferrets have been domesticated for roughly 2,500 years. They are believed to be descended from the European Polecat; in fact, they are physiologically identical to polecats, and many private breeders still incorporate wild polecats into their lines. Unlike their wild polecat cousins, ferrets have been bred for centuries to create a more friendly, docile animal that enjoys human companionship. However, ferrets have still maintained their wild instincts and biology – they do require a meat and prey based diet like their wild cousins, and most still have a wonderfully strong hunting urge.
Originally, ferrets were domesticated for hunting (often referred to as “Ferreting“) and were used to hunt rabbit and other animals for food for their humans. In some places in Europe, working ferrets are still used for rabbit hunting. Ferrets have also been used for pest control (much like cats), running electrical lines (read about the famous Electrician Ferret Freddie), cleaning pipes (read about “Felicia the Ferret Pipe Cleaner“), and in recent years have even been used as service animals.
Read some more fun articles about working ferrets:
Do Ferrets Make Good Pets?
In modern days, ferrets are primarily kept as pets and companions. They are goofy, silly little creatures with incredible intelligence and a strong propensity towards mischief. The scientific name for ferret, Mustela putoris furo, means “smelly little thief”- and little thieves they are! Ferrets love to steal toys, keys, socks, your heart, and anything they can get their teeth on, and hide them away in secret “stashes.” They will charm you with their wild Weasel War Dances, their adorable Dooking, their goofy sleeping positions, and their endless capacity for love.
Ferrets, like humans, all have different personalities. Some ferrets are strong-willed and independent, while others are content to lay in their human’s lap an snuggle for hours. Kits (baby ferrets), are very energetic and active and are typically too “busy” playing and exploring to sit still long enough to cuddle. But with patience and love, most ferrets will grow into very affectionate adults. The more time you invest into bonding with your ferret, the more they will bond with you.
Ferrets bond very strongly to their cage mates and humans, and will return your love a hundred-fold. Because of this, they are prone to becoming severely depressed when re-homed or separated from their cage mates; some ferrets have even died from the extreme grief of separation. Ferrets are also a LOT of work, and are very prone to a long list of health issues, making them very EXPENSIVE pets to own. As an “exotic” pet they require more dedication, research, time, money, and work to provide appropriate care. They can live up to 10-11 years, so they are a huge COMMITMENT.
Should I Get a Ferret?
- Ferrets take a lot of work and commitment.
- They need a large cage and at least 3-6 hours of play-time a day.
- They are very prone to health issues (particularly if not fed a proper diet)
- vet bills add up FAST.
- Most ferrets CANNOT be 100% potty trained. Even if they know how to use a litter box, they may throw temper tantrums and leave a mess on the floor.
- Ferrets, like puppies, play with their teeth and while most ferrets can be trained not to bite, some can be prone to nipping in play, particularly when they see fast movement and their prey drive kicks in (for this reason they are not typically recommended as pets for very small children).
Despite all of this, most ferret owners will tell you that for every bit of trouble and stress they cause, they bring even more love and joy.