Ferret Myths and Facts

Zero says "the internet said whaat?!"

Myth or Fact?

There are many myths floating around the internet and public opinion about ferrets. Read below to learn what is truth vs myth – Myths and Fun Facts galore!

MYTH!

Ferrets are crepuscular (most active around dawn and dusk)

TRUTH!

Ferrets are burrowing animals - hence the claws, whiskers and long thin bodies.

MYTH!

Ferrets have been domesticated for approximately 3000 years (Ancient Egyptians are depicted with ferrets). However, there are many regions in the UK/EU in which there are Feral/Wild ferret populations, as well as wild Polecats who are the ancestors and close cousins of our domestic ferrets, and are often interbred with domestic ferrets. In the US the Black Footed Ferret is a different species of ferret that truly is wild. While they are mustelids, they are not the same species and do not interbreed with the domestic ferret species. 

MYTH - and a DANGEROUS one at that!

While they have been domesticated for thousands of years, ferrets remain obligate carnivores (they can eat meat and nothing but meat). They lack a cecum, a piece of intestine required for the digestion of plant matter. They also produce little to no amylase in their saliva, an enzyme that breaks down starches and carbohydrates. To put it into perspective, ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, but kibble was not invented until 1956, and was first marketed towards dogs - it did not become a popular item to feed cats or ferrets until much later. Instead, ferrets have historically been fed what they hunt - whole prey, and rabbit, as well as other leftover meat cuts. (Furthermore, feeding an animal something does not directly trigger them to develop/evolve new anatomy). This means that pretty much ANYTHING THAT ISN’T MEAT IS NOT HEALTHY FOR THEM (read your kibble ingredients). A raw diet is the best choice (for many reasons) for your ferret.

This also means that they are predators. They should not be kept near or exposed to other pets that they would consider prey animals. Even if you ferret is kibble fed their instincts may kick at any time and you won’t like the results. If you do have prey animals in the house you have to be extra diligent about securing your ferret’s cage. We have seen several cases where a ferret got out and things did not end well for the other animals (this is in no way shape or form the ferrets fault. It was only doing what nature intended it to do).

TRUTH - sometimes.

Ferrets with high white markings on their heads, including a blaze, Panda (fully/almost fully white head) or Dark Eyed White commonly have Neural Crest Disorder (often referred to as Waardenburg Syndrome), and are very commonly deaf. However, not all ferrets with high white markings have Neural Crest Disorder/Waardenburg, and not all of them are deaf. If your ferret is deaf, this doesn’t mean you should love them any less, but they may have some unique needs. For example, deaf ferrets may be easily startled and many owners have noticed it helps if their deaf ferret can see them or feel a vibration (i.e. stomp on the floor) before being picked up. Many owners have found their deaf ferrets are still quite bright and have even trained them to respond to hand signals. 

Signing with Hollis the Deaf Ferret

TRUTH!

Ferrets are notorious thieves. They love to stash anything and everything. Often times even items you’d think were way too large or heavy for them to move. In fact, the name ferret is thought to be derived from the latin “furittus”, meaning “little thief”.

TRUTH!

Ferrets are still considered working animals in the U.K and Australia where they are used to hunt (European, not North American) rabbits and sometimes rodents.

Ferret have also historically been used to run wiring through electrical conduits in large buildings (such as particle accelerators) and airplane frames (including for Lady Diana & Prince Charles wedding).

MYTH - another Dangerous one!

Ferrets are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t and chewing on non-food items. This can and does lead to intestinal blockages that will require expensive surgery ($1000+) to prevent a very painful death. Never give your ferret toys unsupervised, and NEVER allow your ferret access to any rubber toy or other rubber/silicone items. The toy may be certified as dog proof, but I can guarantee you it isn’t ferret proof. Keep anything made of rubber, latex or foam out of their reach and regularly inspect any fabrics they have access to. 

"But my ferret never chews" - FAMOUS LAST WORDS! Over the years we have seen many ferrets end up on the operating table, or worse - dead, from intestinal blockages because their owners assumed that the ferret would not chew something. A ferret may never chew...until the day he does. It is NEVER worth the risk of your ferret's life to give them access to rubber toys. Also, keep in mind that ferret teeth and jaws are made to rip through flesh and cut bone - they can make easy work of rubber, and NO RUBBER IS INDESTRUCTABLE for a ferret - check out our page on Blockages see the picture below of an "indestructible rubber" Kong toy that a ferret made short work of.

A ferret made short work of this "indestructible rubber" Kong toy. Photo by Kevin Farlee

TRUTH!

Ferrets are very intelligent and curious. Think of them like two year olds with ADHD on speed. They will get into things you don’t want them to get into (and thought was impossible for them to get into), they will immediately find new things in their environment, they will sulk, they will cage rage, they will attempt to manipulate their owners. Don’t say you weren’t warned… 😉

TRUTH!

Ferrets are notorious escape artists and explorers. Often climbing things you thought would be impossible for them to climb. Ferret proofing a room or a house is serious business (they can even open cupboards). A good tip is to lay on the floor of the room and look at everything from their perspective. Always check under kitchen and bathroom cabinets to make sure there are no openings (use your hands to feel if you cannot see under them). If a ferret's head can fit into a space, so can the rest of them (usually).

Never let your ferrets have access to large home appliances or mechanical furniture (fridges, stoves, recliners, washing machines, dryers, etc). All of the above have small spaces with dangerous wires, moving parts, motors, hot elements, etc that could easily hurt or kill your ferret. Always double check the laundry pile and appliances before turning on the machine. Many ferrets have met their end in laundry machines and dishwashers.

MYTH! (with a seed of truth)

Female ferrets that are “intact” DO need to be brought out of heat when they come into season. While this can be done by breeding them, this is NOT ADVISED. Breeding is a very complicated and risky business that can endanger the life of your female, as well as risk the health of the potential kits without proper planning. 

SAFTER, EFFECTIVE alternatives to breeding to bring a female out of heat include: a "Jill Jab" (a hormonal injection given once each heat cycle to bring them out of heat) which may be done as-needed, OR may then be followed up with surgical castration (spay) or chemical castration with a Suprelorin F (deslorelin acetate) implant. Another alternative is a mating with a hob that has had a vasectomy (v-hob). If one of the above is not done, the hormones surging through their system can kill them over time (via aplastic anemia). 

If you are concerned about your female, please contact your vet immediately. We are also happy to offer support (but not medical advice!) on the Facebook Group.

TRUTH!

Ferrets imprint on their food at a young age. If your ferret is over 8 months of age they most likely will need to be taught to eat something different from their normal food. It can be a slow, frustrating process, but it can be done.

TRUTH!

A ferrets weight can vary drastically from summer to winter (up to a 40% difference)

MYTH!

Owning a ferret is NOT like owning a cat or a dog. They are very unique animals and require special care. They are considered exotic animals for a reason. Please do lots of research on diet, behavior, illnesses (vet COSTS)  and the amount of attention they need before purchasing one.

There are many ferret specific shelters / rescues out there. Please consider adopting a ferret before purchasing a kit from a pet store (MANY rescues have kits as people end up dumping them after they realize that a ferret is not for them).

MYTH!

Ferrets are notorious for making all sorts of obnoxious noises including banging toys against or biting and rattling cage bars, knocking items over for fun, or squealing loudly while play fighting. Because they are crepuscular (most awake/active at dusk and dawn) their noisy escapades are most often during the hours we humans like to sleep - i.e. 2-4am!

Ferrets can also make several different sounds (dooking, laughing, screaming, barking, etc). If you happen to have a deaf ferret their vocalizations are usually mixed up and they can sometimes be quite loud at inopportune moments. Check out our page on Ferret Vocalizations to learn more and hear some ferret sounds!