Ferrets: facts, food, habitat and top care tips

Things to know about the “court jesters” of the animal world

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By Alex

ferrets

The scientific name of ferrets is mustela putorius furo, which literally means ‘thieving stink marten.’ It may not sound like a great introduction, but behind these ‘flatulent rascal’ guises lies a tame, sweet and affectionate little animal. Let’s learn more about the secrets of this domesticable pet.

Where do ferrets come from?

Ferrets are commonly likened to foul-smelling petty thieves because of their habit of picking up and hiding food. Unsterilized ferrets also give off a very strong and less than pleasant odor.

The origins of the domestic ferret are very ancient. In fact, the process of domestication of these animals dates back at least two millennia ago and can be attributed to the Greeks and Romans, who began the selection of ferrets from a subspecies of European polecat.

In the beginning, ferrets were trained to hunt rabbits, but over the years they became more and more a pet so much so that they formed a completely symbiotic relationship with humans. Domestic ferrets, in fact, are unable to survive in the wild. They are totally dependent on their carer, with whom they have an affectionate and complicit relationship.

ferrets
This pet ferret can’t survive without humans, with whom it has a totally symbiotic relationship.

Facts about ferrets

Ferrets belong to the mustelidae family (the same to which the mink, marten, badger, otter, etc., belong), so it is a predator, carnivore, and with mainly nocturnal habits.

Like most mustelids, ferrets have an elongated and tapered body. Legs are short and equipped with retractable claws. They have a long and thick tail and usually boast excellent physical agility. The length of a male specimen can reach up to 60 cm by 1.5-2 kg in weight. In contrast, females can measure 40 cm and weigh an average of 500 gr-1 kg.

The fur of the ferret is very thick and compact, predominantly dark in color, lighter in the undercoat. Watch out for teeth: like other mustelids, the ferret has 34 well-developed and sharp teeth, particularly the canines that can deliver very painful bites. On average, a domestic ferret lives 7-10 years.

ferrets
The ferret’s fur is very thick and compact, predominantly dark in color

Ferrets: behavior and care tips

Ferrets are generally docile, affectionate, sociable and playful pets. Somewhat like dogs, ferrets develop a strong sense of belonging to their family. They are not at all wary of strangers or other pets, and if trained to obey, recognize their name when called. They loves to sleep in laundry baskets, play with balls and other small objects, and litter in the sandbox, just like cats.

The only drawback is that they can bite, so you have to be very careful with children, although they hardly prove aggressive or dangerous. Although their instincts lead them to explore and learn about new places, great care must be taken when taking them out and keeping them under observation, perhaps with the help of a leash. Not surprisingly, they tend to get off easily.

All about the ferrets
Ferrets are not cage animals, so get them an open kennel where they can sleep and that’s it

Ferrets; habitat, food and education

It is good to make it clear from the start that ferrets are not cage animals. They need an enclosed space dedicated to them, but in general they love to experience the house in its entirety and roam freely exploring every corner of the home. Obviously, they will need a sandbox for their needs. They will certainly like a cage, preferably hot, comfortable and accessorized with a few toys to spend time with.

Remember that like most mustelids, ferrets have rather peculiar day and night habits: they alternates long periods of deep sleep with phases of hyperactivity and intense play, especially in the evening hours. As for the foul smell, it must be said that it depends on paranal glands. These glands secrete an unpleasant smelling, pungent substance when the animal is frightened or extremely excited. Rather than removing these glands – a very complex and dangerous operation – it will be enough to sterilize the animal.

As for feeding, it should be remembered that ferrets are carnivore: therefore, its diet should be based on raw and tender meat, especially rabbit, chicken and quail.

How long do ferrets live?

Ferrets can live up to 10 years and longer, but it really depends on multiple factors. Actually, pet ferrets have an average lifespan between 5 and 7 years.

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