What is a Ferret? It is a very close and silly relative of the weasel, polecat and the mink. Ferrets are also related to otters, skunks and badgers. They are all part of the Mustelidae family. The scientific name for a ferret is Mustela furo. Furo is Latin for thief. Also See-What’s the science behind mink and coronavirus?Ferrets are not related to rodents. They are carnivores. In fact, wild ferrets enjoy a tasty mouse. All Mustelidae have various scent glands for marking and protection. Most reknown is the skunk. While the ferret cannot spray, it can mark its territory or emit a smell when frightened. Today, most pet stores sell ferrets that have been descented. The anal scent gland is surgically removed when they are neutered or spayed. While ferrets have various scent glands throughout the body, the anal scent gland seems to be the main culprit. Both male and female ferrets are also surgically altered so that they cannot reproduce. This has the added benefit of reducing certain hormones in ferrets and in turn leads to a further reduction in their scent. Therefore, the descented animal’s smell is no more an issue with a ferret than it is with a hamster, dog or cat.
There are both wild ferrets and domesticated ferrets just as there are wild cats and domesticated cats, wild dogs and domesticated dogs. In North America, the wild Black- footed ferret is an endangered species. However, while it is a ferret, it is biologically and genetically different from your run of the mill pet ferret. The ferrets you see in your local pet store are domesticated and have been especially bred so for perhaps two thousand years or longer. Your pet ferret is not wild and would most certainly die if let loose in the the wild. A pet ferret may kill a mouse if it comes across one, but it not longer possesses the instinct to eat it.
The pet-store domesticated ferrets are most closely related to the European polecats which have the same number of chromosomes and similar colorings. Ferrets can be cross-bred with the European polecat and have fertile offspring. This lends credence to the theory that they are indeed very closely related. One common theory is that the pet ferret is really just a domesticated European polecat. Sort of like a German Shepherd being a domesticated version of a wolf. It is the fact of domestication which makes all the difference, not the difference in appearance of the animal.
Ferrets were thought to be first domesticated by the Egyptians to control rodents around 1300 B.C. However, they were probably displaced by cats which were domesticated shortly thereafter. While hieroglyphic records depict a ferret-type animal, some argue that this animal was actually a mongoose. Also, ferrets are not really hot or warm weather animals and can easily get heat stroke. So unless the weather in ancient Egypt was much more temperate than it is today, ferrets probably did not come from the pharaohs.
- Today’s domesticated pet ferrets, the lineage that you will find in todays pet stores, probably came from the Romans and later Europeans who used the ferret in hunting. “Ferreting” meant the chasing of small game from their holes. The painting on the right is from a French book know as The Book of the Hunt written by Gaston Pheobus, around 1389 a.d. It demonstrates the hunting of rabbits with ferrets. The man in the green sleeves is placing a muzzled ferret into a rabbit hole. The rabbit’s exits have been covered with nets. Ferrets are most adept at tunnel-hunting but are susceptible to larger carnivores above ground. They are knowm to kill game twice their size. They were also used by farmers to rid barns of rodents and mariners to control rodents on ships. What rodents weren’t killed by ferrets were frightened from the barn for months due to the ferrets’ scent. Rodents are deathly fearful of the ferret’s scent. Queen Victoria had ferrets in 1875. Ferrets also appearing in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Kindergarten Cop.” Ferrets were used in rodent control in the U.S.A. until they were displaced by chemical poisons and traps. Ferrets were even used by Boeing to run wires through tight spaces in aircraft assemblies. Strangely, in 1999 Lt. Co. Blaisdell came to the U.S. Space Commands rescue when it was having trouble wiring its new missile warning center. The good Lt. Col. recalled the aircraft exploits of ferrets long ago and volunteered his ferret named Misty. Misty ran wires for computers in conduits at the the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado in areas that no humans could access. The ferret apparently worked for strawberry Pop Tarts.
While commercial and hunting uses for ferrets have disappeared, ferrets seemed to explode in popularity as pets once someone figured out how to descent them back in the 1970’s. Once the odor of the ferret was controlled, the ferret became a pet you could keep in you house without stinking it up.
Female ferrets weigh from 1.5 pounds to 2.5 pounds. Males are much larger in comparison, weighing from 3 to 5 pounds. Male ferrets are said to be more “lap ferrets” while females are notorious for being fidgety. Ferrets come in a variety of colors such as sable, albino white, cinnamon, silvermit and black. There are also many color permutations such as white paws, bibs around the neck, stripes on the head or back and colored tips of the tail. In the old days, albino ferrets were bred because they were particularly easy to spot and retrieve when used in hunting.
Ferrets reach adulthood rapidly in around six months and live an average of 6 to 8 years. The age rule for ferrets is 1 year of a ferrets life = 12 years of a human’s life. Ferrets retain their playfulness throughout their lives. But the older a ferret gets, the more likely it is that he will like to sit in your lap. Young ferrets are very fidgety, old ones are more likely to be cuddled.
Adult ferrets sleep around 15 hours a day. They usually coordinate their sleeping habits to conform to their owner’s schedule. They will awaken when you’re ready for breakfast and go back to sleep while you’re out at work. They will awake and be ready to play when you get home again.
Ferrets love to play. They will play with you, another ferret and usually another pet. They love to be chased and to chase you. They enjoy playing tug-of-war, running in tubes of pvc piping, jumping on blankets, hiding behind throw pillows, chasing small fuzzy balls, attacking squeaky little cat toys and in general, being very silly. They are also somewhat uncoordinated. When a ferrets gets excited and begins to dance and jump in little circles of joy, don’t be surprised if he jumps himself off of a sofa or runs zig-zaggedly into a wall. Fortunately, they usually aren’t phased by this.
All ferrets seem to like to steal whatever they can drag away, either in their teeth or by dragging something like a shoe with their paws. Even things as big as a boot. They like to hide whatever they steal. They usually just put things they find interesting in a place that they consider safe and convenient for themselves. They usually have one or two stashes in your home. Once you find them, you can find anything that turns up missing.
Ferrets are also relatively intelligent for having such silly small brains. They are able to solve problems which interest them. For example, how to get into the cabinet to drag away all the rolls of paper towels. However, this ability to get into and open things can be a problem, so see the section on ferret-proofing. Ferrets have good memory and know where they put things, like a squirrel remembers where he buries a nut. If you move a ferret’s “possession,” it won’t be long until they are back where your ferrets thinks they belong. Ferrets can also develop special attachments to certain toys. Female Ferrets can develop attachment to toys and goes crazy over her squeaky sound of toy as a panicky mother of the toy. Males do not seem to care for squeaky noises.
One of the great things about ferrets is that they love to explore and are so curious, they especially love a ferret tunnel because they will want to know what is at the end of them, even if it is just the same room or another level in their cage they still love the journey through the tunnel.
If you are looking to create your own ferret tunnel or ramp then one of the best things to use will be plastic drain pipe/guttering it is perfect size for your ferret, if you do use this make sure the edges are not sharp, sand them down and also because they are slightly slippery you will need to make sure the angle of the pipe is not very steep or your ferret will not be able to climb up it! The great thing about a ferret tunnel you build yourself is that no one else will have them, but also you can build them around your ferret, no one knows more about your ferret than you!
THE BOTTLE-BRUSH TAIL
When ferrets are nervous, scared, upset, or exploring new territory, they often exhibit a characteristic known as the “bottle-brush tail.” When this occurs, ferret tails get really big and puffy and the hair sticks straight out in a most silly fashion. But fear not. This is a normal ferret reaction to environmental stimuli and does not mean your ferret is sick. It usually lasts only a few minutes and then the tail will return to normal. It’s probably good for a ferret to get excited once in a while like this. It makes them feel all wild and silly.
FERRETS AND OTHER PETS
Ferrets will kill your birds, hamsters, mice and insects if they can get to them. However, ferrets can easily coexist with cats and some dogs. The most important factor is whether the other pet has a friendly disposition. New ferrets and other young pets have the best chance to bond over time but that is not the necessarily the rule. An established pet may accept a ferret into your home, but it is rare they will really bond with your ferret. Very territorial animals and ferrets should not be placed together. A ferret can handle its own with a declawed cat, but a dog must be friendly and trustworthy to have around ferrets. Ferrets learn their place in most instances and if a cat does not like your ferret, the ferret will not harass the cat, usually.
You should not allow ferrets and cats to share the same litterbox. Cats may use a ferret litter box from time to time so the box should have a lid and holes in it so only a ferret can get in and out easily.
What kind of ferret you end up with will largely depend on how you raise your ferret. One that is neglected and kept in a cage in the garage will never develop bonds with humans nor show affection to his captor. You hear stories about someone’s ferret that would always bite and had to be kept in a cage. Well, if you were kept in a dirty cage, beat all the time and kept sticky because no one want to bathe you or clean your cage, wouldn’t you be a little unfriendly? Just remember, in the year 1997, there were over 320,000 reported dog bites in the United States.
A ferret that is raised with love, shown plenty of affection, kept clean and healthy, played with and allowed adequate time out of his cage will return your efforts. You must start young with your ferret in your raising and training. Young ferrets are easier to train than older ones. You would do the same for a dog or cat, so why wouldn’t you do it with a ferret? Ferrets are very intelligent and learn quickly. Just because they are small, do not assume you should treat them like hamsters. Ferrets can be taught to do simple tricks like this one that understands “up” for a raisin.
Young ferrets should be discouraged to nip at human hands. They do not know that if they bite us too hard it hurts. Ferrets have very thick skin and bite the living tar out of each other without much fuss. This is part of their sibling play behavior. By biting you, they are really just playing. Young ferrets do not have the aggressive instincts that an adult may have. When handling a ferrets that is nipping, it is useful to firmly pat his head or hind quarters while saying “NO!.” Scruffing, or the holding of a ferret by the loose skin behind the neck, has also been shown to be effective. Do not beat the ferret. After a few times, the ferret usually gets the hint that biting your hand has its repercussions and will stop. If you allow your ferret to nip as a youngster, it will probably do it when he is an adult. Put an end to it once and for all. Another alternate option you may want to try is putting a little ferretone or lanotone on your finger and letting the ferret lick your finger. You may find that you ferret finds that licking your finger is more enjoyable than nipping it.
The difficult part with ferret biting is that you must remain determined and focused, always be alert to how your ferret is reacting and make sure they do not get the chance to bite, if they do bite then use the two techniques above. Ferrets are extremely curious creatures and one of the times they will bite is when they want to be put down to explore, this will be countered with shrugging or showing dominance.
Just remember after some weeks of training you will have your ferret friendly loveable and no longer nipping at your hands, some ferrets will take longer to train out of the biting, but eventually if you persevere they will love you as much as you love them !!
Also see-Ferret Biting
When a ferret is young, you should spend as much time with him as possible. Play with him, give him treats, and refrain from beating him for accidents. Remember, ferrets are small, so a spank may seem like a brutal attack to them. If you are going to punish your ferret for misdeeds, only pat lightly on the hind quarters or scruff him. Negative reinforcement has been shown to be a useful technique in training of all animals, including people. A very useful punishment is to grab your ferret immediately and put him back in his cage and lock it up. Ignore him for ten to fifteen minutes. Ferrets do not like to be ignored. Another useful approach may be to encourage good behavior, such as giving a treat when he runs across the room just to use the litter box. You should always remember that ferrets seem to have short attention spans. So if they do get into trouble, punishing them or rewarding them even only a few minutes after the fact will not have much effect. Your ferrets will simply not connect the behavior and your reaction. You must punish or reward immediately. Likewise, an extended stay in jail for your ferret will not have much effect since the ferret will have forgotten why he is in there after a while.
Ferrets love toys. Whether it is the furry toy mouse you bought at the store for them or making their own toys (like unrolling a roll of toilet paper all over your house). Ferret toys should be first and foremost safe for them. They should not have small pieces on them that can break off and be swallowed by a ferret.
Do not give a ferret a latex dog toy for a ferret will likely chew small pieces off and swallow them. This runs a very serious risk of intestinal obstruction. Latex toys are not durable enough for ferrets. Also, do not give your ferrets toys filed with catnip. While it does not make ferrets “high,” it may not be safe for them. Other great toys are fuzzy things on the end of strings, tubes, an old pair of pants, small soft balls, and small toys that squeak and jingle.
Ferrets need a cage and various other areas to nap or relax in outside of the cage. The more ferrets you have, the bigger the cage needs to be. Here you see the two cages combined into one. Perfect for two ferrets. Within the cage, you need a food bowl and a water bottle. A two-story cage is a must. The litter box goes in one end of the bottom of the cage, the water and food go at the other end of the bottom of the cage. The second level should have sleeping and play areas with things such as a bag or some sort of soft, partially enclosed area. The cage should be some sort of wire cage with a wire bottom and a tray. The better ones have epoxy-coated wires which makes the wires feel softer. Ferret feet get sore from too much exposure to wire-bottomed cages. The carpeting really helps make the sleeping quarters more pleasing to them. Why not carpeting on the lower level then you may ask. Well, when ferrets eat, food often falls around the food bowl. Water also drips and spills. If you have carpeting, food and water will just sit on the carpeting and rot instead of falling below the wire bottom of the cage to the tray. The same is true of the litter box area. Litter is tracked out of the litter box and will fall below the wire floor. It’s just not healthy for carpeting in a cage to have litter and food particles laying around where ferrets are exposed to it. As a compromise, you might want to put a small plastic mat next to the food bowl to make feeding a little more comfortable for them. The ferret cage should have at least one door which can be left open or latched open. Ferrets often return on their own to their cages to eat and sleep and need access to it any time they get out of the cage. You may also want to cover the cage with a blanket or big towel on cold nights. Place the cage where the ferrets will get some sun light, but not too much, and it also should not be drafty.
Outside of the cage, ferrets like nap sacks like the one on the right. It’s machine washable and nice and snugly. Bags and tubes with the warm sheepskin-like interiors are very popular with ferrets, as are enclosed cat houses. If you are lucky to find a ferret house, it makes for a better hangout. Ferrets are burrowers, not climbers by nature. Ferrets prefer their private places to be in secluded, out-of-the-way areas, like behind sofas, in the corners of rooms or even inside of drawers. You will likely find a ferret’s own toy collection inside one of these silly ferret hideouts.