What is A Ferret?

By Jennifer Phillips

Ferrets Loki and Tacoma play with a soccer ball. (Photo by Jennifer Phillips)

It seems as though many people have heard of a ferret, but they often aren’t quite sure what exactly these unique little creatures are. Ferrets are mammals in the Mustelid Family, which includes a variety of interesting animals, such as skunks, badgers, mink, wolverines, weasels, the Steppe and European Polecat, and the endangered black-footed ferret. All of these animals, including pet ferrets, are born with scent glands. However, most pet ferrets purchased from a pet store have these glands removed before you ever meet them. If a ferret still has its scent glands, it can release a small amount of unpleasant scent when frightened or upset, though it’s not very strong and goes away within a few minutes.

The ferret has a long slender body, with short stubby legs, and a tail that comprises about a third of his entire body length. Male ferrets are commonly up to twice the size of the females. This is most noticeable in the head and upper body area. The males have a wider, less pointy face, while the females have a skinnier, pointy face. In the upper body, you’ll notice the males are wider and bulkier, while the females keep a pretty thin, sleek look.  A typical female ferret usually weighs between 3/4 of a pound to 2 1/2 pounds and is often 13 to 14 inches long, not including her tail. The males usually weigh between 2 and 3 pounds, and are usually between 15 to 16 inches in length, not including their tail.  The ferret’s tail is usually 3 to 4 inches long.

They are both designed to be excellent at tunneling, taking tight turns in the tunnels, and are expert diggers. They shows us many of these abilities during play, when they move through a winding tunnel with an amazing speed and grace. They have an impressive ability to bend their bodies in ways unknown to most other animals.  Another similarity between both male and female ferrets is that they both can gain up to 50% of their body weight in addition to growing a very thick, fluffy coat to keep warm in the winter.  Then, in the spring, they will lose some weight and become more sleek, as well as shedding again in order to attain a thinner, cooler coat for summer.

Just like cats, ferrets eat meat as their main source of food.  They are strict carnivores that require a diet of animal protein, or meat, with little to no carbohydrates.  A ferret can’t even digest plant matter, so fruits and vegetables are not a good food to feed them.  There are foods made specifically for ferrets and some people also find it acceptable to feed high quality kitten food.  Either way, there should be at least 3 meats in the first 5 ingredients, and it should also have a high protein content, about 36% and a fat content of about 20%, and low carbohydrates.

Ferrets are considered babies, or kits, until they are around 1 year old, at which point they become adults. Don’t let this fool you though. Ferrets are young at heart and playful their entire life!  They live, on average, for about 6 to 8 years, so once they reach 4 to 5 years of age, they are then considered to be geriatric and may begin to develop health problems and show some signs of old age. This does vary, however, as have been ferrets that have living up to 11 or 12 years old!

Ferrets can make great pets with their playful, fun loving attitudes.  Some people describe a ferret’s personality as being a combination of dog and cat-like traits, with some additional interesting characteristics of their own.  They are very intelligent animals that enjoy interaction with people and other ferrets.  They are small quiet animals that have a level of independence much like a cat, yet they are playful like dogs.

Ferrets are a wonderful addition to your furry family.  In addition to their charming personality, ferrets are fairly easy to care for and are likely to get along with a variety of other pets.  As with any pet though, it’s best to thoroughly research the animal to make sure you’re ready to commit to their lifelong needs.


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