Domestic Ferret

Mustela putorius furo

Ferret Gallery

About the Domestic Ferret

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genus: Mustela
Species: putorius
Domestic Breed: Domestic ferret

Descended from the European polecat, domestic ferrets have varied colorations and more than 30 different marking patterns. Kept as pets worldwide, domestic ferrets will interact positively with other pets, although they may eat pet rodents and birds. They are playful, inquisitive, attention seekers that will do a little hopping “dance” when happy or excited. The black-footed ferret is the wild cousin of the domestic breed.

Domestic Ferret Facts

The ferret’s long, slender body allows it to enter tight animal burrows in search of prey.  Descended from the European Polecat, domestic ferrets can have a variety of fur colors and patterns. Colors include sable (most common), silver, black sable, albino, dark-eyed white, cinnamon, and chocolate. It has more than 30 different marking patterns including pointed, panda, Shetlands, badgers, and blazes. The European polecat has a buff to black colored coat and a black face with a white mask. The black-footed ferret (a wild cousin of the domestic ferret) has a yellowish colored coat, pale underparts, with a dark tail tip and black feet. Each paw has a set of five, nonretractable claws. Its muzzle, throat and forehead are white and it has a black mask around the eyes. It will grow a longer, thicker coat in the winter. Ferrets have a musky scent, which fades if the animal is fixed and deglanded. Domestic ferrets have large canine teeth and 34 teeth total.

Males: 1 to 5.5 pounds (neutered males may weigh less); Females: .45 to 2.25 pounds
Males: Head and body: 11.6 to 18.1 inches; tail: 3.5 to 7.5 inches
Females: Head and body: 8.1 to 15.2 inches; tail: 2.8 to 5.5 inches

Ferrets are obligate carnivores.  In the wild they eat rodents, birds, eggs and reptiles.  The black-footed ferret feeds almost exclusively on prairie dogs.

A ferret reaches maturity at 6 months. Males are ready to breed when their undercoats start to yellow; this is due to an increase in the oil production of their skin glands. The ferret’s breeding season is between March and August, with a gestation period of 42 days. There can be up to 15 offspring in a litter, but the average litter consists of three to eight pups. Young are cared for by their mother until about 8 weeks of age. 

Except for breeding, wild ferrets are solitary. However, domestic ferrets will interact positively with other pets, although they may eat pet rodents and birds. Ferrets keep rodent populations down, and they were historically used on ships to control rodents. The ferret is naturally crepuscular, meaning it has active periods during dawn and dusk. Often, a ferret will sleep 18 to 20 hours a day. It's playful, inquisitive, and seeks attention. Ferrets love to tunnel into or under objects, and they can be taught tricks and respond to discipline. Ferrets will “dance” when happy or excited by hopping, and they have a designated “toilet” area, though not all pet ferrets can be litter box trained. They have many forms of verbal communication, including clucks, screeches, barks and hisses.

The domestic ferret is kept as a pet worldwide. European Polecats are found near water sources in forested and semi-forested areas as well as around human settlements throughout most of Europe and Asia. They’ve also been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. There's evidence of domestic ferrets in Europe over 2,500 years ago. As prairie dogs are the ferret's main food source, ferrets have been found in black-tailed prairie dog colonies across U.S, Great Plains, and white-tailed and Gunnison’s prairie dog colonies across the intermountain west. By 1986, ferrets were completely gone from the wild. Currently they have been reintroduced to 15 locations within their former range in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and Chihuahua, Mexico.

Median Life Expectancy:
Wild: 5 to 8 years
In Captivity: 6 to 10 years average, but up to 14 years

Population Status:
The population of European Polecats is recovering in the United Kingdom while its population is stable in continental Europe. The black-footed ferret is endangered due to habitat loss, decline in prey populations, disease and hunting. Once having numbered in the hundred thousands, in 1979 it was declared extinct in the US. However, in 1981 in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a dog named “Shep” discovered a population of 130 black-footed ferrets.  Today, approximately 750 live in the wild while another 250 live in breeding facilities.

Ferrets as pets:
Although ferrets are legal to own as pets in most states, licensing is often required. Ferrets require attention and a lot of time outside their cages.If you keep a ferret as a pet, they require distemper and rabies vaccinations. They can also catch a cold or flu from human contact. If let loose, domesticated ferrets may form feral populations and harm native birds and other wildlife.

Fun Facts:

In Europe, some people use ferrets for hunting, which is known as ferreting.

In 1986 the Massachusetts Colonial Navy named the ferret as its official mascot.