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Domestic Ferret
Scientific classification
Trinomial name
Mustela putorius furo

A ferret can be any of several small, elongated carnivorous mammals belonging to the Mustelidae, which includes (among many species) the weasels, polecats, otters, and badgerss. There is a rare and endangered North American polecat known as the Black-footed Ferret, but in general use a ferret is a Domestic Ferret (Mustela putorius furo), a creature first bred from the wild European Polecat at least 2,500 years ago.

Table of contents
1 Ferrets as pets
2 Other uses of ferrets
3 History
4 Terminology and coloring
5 Legality

Ferrets as pets

In a lot of ways, ferrets act like kittens that never grow up. They have energy, curiosity, and potential for chaos all their lives. However, they are far more people-oriented than cats, and many want to play with their owners. It has been suggested that ferrets were bred for curiosity; whether this is true or not, their curiosity is greater than their common sense and this makes the chances of a domestic ferret surviving in the wild very slim (many die by exploring in reclining chairs without their owners knowing). In addition, virtually all pet ferrets are neutered, so there is no danger of pet ferrets somehow escaping and forming a wild population.

Dangers to ferrets

Ferrets are very good at getting into holes in walls, cupboards, or behind household appliances, where they can be injured or killed by electrical wiring, fans, and other dangerous items. Fold-out sofas are very dangerous for them, since they will often climb inside the springs and then be squashed to death. For these reasons steps are often taken to "ferret-proof" a home before acquiring one as a pet. Ferret-proofing a house often involves removing items dangerous to ferrets and covering over any holes. Many owners opt to restrict the ferrets to a cage at night or when there is no one home.


Ferrets can be fed cat food, though their requirement for protein is higher than that of cats, which has to be taken into account by supplementing their diet with some protein source. One solution is to give them food designed for kittens, which has more protein than regular cat food. Also, food designed specifically for ferrets' dietary needs is available in some places. Ferrets usually have fondness for sweet, and raisins, banana, apple, nuts etc. can be offered as treats. While plant products can provide ferrets with some additional micro-nutrients and dietary variability, due to their relatively short gastro-intestinal tract they can not derive much energy out of them, and for that reason they should only be used as supplement, not replacement, for their regular diet.


Ferrets spend most of their time sleeping, but when awake they are very active, exploring their surroundings relentlessly. If kept in a cage, they should be let out daily to get exercise and satisfy their curiosity; they need time and room to play. Ferrets, like cats, will use a litter box with little training, but it will be necessary to have boxes in several rooms, as they will not go far in seeking out a box.

Ferrets are also fine backyard companions and especially enjoy 'helping' you in the garden. However, they should not be allowed to wander; ferrets are fearless to the point of foolishness and will get into whatever holes they will find, including storm drains. Whenever they are outside they should be closely supervised, and preferably kept in a harness leash.


Since ferrets are social animals, many ferrets are also very playful and will be happy to play with humans. "Play" for a ferret can involve hide-and-seek games, or some form of predator/prey game in which either the human attempts to catch the ferret or the ferret attempts to bite the humans' fingers or toes. Like a playful kitten, ferrets usually will not actually "bite" their human companions but instead gently grab a toe or finger in their mouth and roll around with it. However, ferrets who have been abused or are in extreme pain, will bite a human. Ferrets have extremely strong bites and can bite clear through human skin. Domesticated ferrets will almost never bite humans, however.

Most kitten toys work well with ferrets. When ferrets are especially excited, they will perform the weasel war dance, a frenzied series of sideways hops.

Ferrets with children

Small chilren should be supervised around ferrets. Children often get the impression that the ferret is simply a small stuffed animal and will "hug" it, either choking or squeezing the ferret. The animal often reacts by squirming, scratching, or, if truly desperate, even biting. While there is nothing wrong with children playing with ferrets, all activity should be supervised by an adult.

Social nature

Ferrets are extremely social animals, and love to play with other ferrets. Ferrets will often pile on top of one another while sleeping. It is advisable that when keeping ferrets as pets, the owner has at least two, preferably three ferrets at a time in order to keep them from loneliness. However, there is nothing wrong with owning one ferret, provided that he receives lots of playtime and attention.

Other uses of ferrets

Ferrets have in more recent time been used to run wires and cables through large conduit. They have been employed in this way at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and by event organizers in London. TV and sound cables were run by ferrets for both the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and for the Millennium concert in Greenwich Park.


No one knows exactly when the ferret was first domesticated, though archeological remains of the ferret have been dated to 1500 BC. Most estimates place it sometime around the domestication of the cat. Some say the ancient Egyptians had ferrets, but it is more likely that Europeans visiting Egypt saw cats, and thought using a small carnivore to protect grain stores was a great idea. The ferret was probably bred from the European Polecat (Mustela putorius), and some use the scientific name Mustela putorius furo. It is also possible that ferrets have the Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanni) in their ancestry.

Another purpose in the domestication of the ferret was almost certainly hunting. With their long, lean build and aggressive nature, they are very well equipped for getting down holes and chasing rabbits or other vermin out of their burrows. They are still used for hunting in some countries, including the United Kingdom and, particularly, Australia, where rabbits are a plague species and, despite the availability of a great deal of modern technology, the combination of a few small nets and a ferret or two remains very effective.

Mostly, however, ferrets are simply kept as pets. As a pet, ferrets rank third in the US, behind dogs and cats. Ferrets are sometimes accused of being dangerous to small children but this claim is false - proportionally, ferrets do much less harm to children than dogs or cats.

Terminology and coloring

Male ferrets are called "hobs"; female ferrets are "jills." A neutered female is a "sprite", and a neutered male is a "gib."

Ferrets come in a variety of coat colors, including sable, cinnamon, silver-grey, siamese, dark-eyed white, and albino. White ferrets were favored in the Middle Ages, and ownership was restricted to those earning at least 40 shillings a year (a rather large sum then). Da Vinci's painting "Lady with Ermine" is probably mislabled; the animal is probably a ferret, not an ermine. Similarly, the "Ermine portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First" shows her with her pet ferret, who has been decorated with painted-on heraldic ermine spots.


Two United States states, California and Hawaii, have laws that restrict the ownership of ferrets. Opponents of anti-ferret laws claim that these laws stem from ignorance and the mistaken idea that ferrets are wild animals. They argue that the bans make about as much sense as banning poodles because wolves are wild animals.