Ferret facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Domestic ferret
A domestic ferret.
Fretts 301004 selbstfotografiert, GNU-FDL
Several ferrets with different colors.
Ferrets at play
Ferrets at play

Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are domestic animals. They are the domestic form of the European polecat. They are in the weasel genus of the family Mustelidae.

Ferrets have an average length of 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg). They live for about 7-10 years. Males are larger than females. They are sociable animals, and are usually kept in groups of two or more.

Characteristics

Jake 0314
Male ferret

With their long thin body, ferrets look like a large weasel. They may have different colours and markings on their fur. A lot of ferrets in one place will sometimes have a strange scent. This is caused by natural oils produced by the ferrets.

Behavior

Ferrets tend to sleep during the day and are most active at night. This deters many people from getting them although most ferret owners say their ferrets change their sleeping schedules to that of their owners.

Ferrets and humans

Mustela putorius furo profile
Ferret profile

Domesticated ferrets are used for hunting, or can be kept as pets. Hunting with ferrets is called ferreting. Because of their thin body, they can go down into holes and hunt rodents and rabbits. Ferrets have been kept as pets from as far back as the Middle Ages.

Teeth

Buffy teeth
Ferret dentition

Ferrets have four types of teeth (the number includes maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth):

  • Twelve small teeth (only a couple of millimeters) located between the canines in the front of the mouth. These are known as the incisors and are used for grooming.
  • Four canines used for killing prey.
  • Twelve premolar teeth that the ferret uses to chew food—located at the sides of the mouth, directly behind the canines. The ferret uses these teeth to cut through flesh, using them in a scissors action to cut the meat into digestible chunks.
  • Six molars (two on top and four on the bottom) at the far back of the mouth are used to crush food.

Ferrets as pets

Vinnie the Ferret in a War Dance Jump
A ferret in a war dance jump.

Ferrets are legal to have as a pet in most places though a few places in the United States have banned them. Ferrets should be vaccinated. A breeder or pet store will get it spayed or neutered and also de-scented. Ferrets can spray the natural oils from their anal glands similar to that of a skunk if not de-scented.

Ferrets are very flexible and can fit into small holes to flush out rabbits or rodents. No open vents or holes in walls or floors should be left open or they will get through. Ferrets are good climbers so if curtains are touching the floor they can easily scale them, keeping them 10-12 inches off the floor will prevent you from finding your ferret on the curtain rods.

Ferrets should be kept in a group, unless you can provide them with multiple hours of activity, they get quite bored when alone. Ferrets tend to sleep curled up together in a ball usually making them undistinguishable from one another.

Diet

Ferrets are carnivores and cannot tolerate grains or vegetable matter well. Their diet should consist of around 20% fat and 80% meat. Ferrets need a high calorie diet: commercial dog and cat foods do not contain enough fats and protein to suit them. Feeding them such a diet while convenient will ultimately shorten the ferrets life.

Ferrets are subject to insulinoma and as such they should not be given fruits except on rare occasions as a treat. Raisins are a favorite of most ferret but should be given extremely sparingly. Fresh chicken, turkey or even duck is a good choice for your ferret. Commercial ferret foods are available but many contain grains and also fruits and as such are not suitable for them. Research brand ingredients or find a recipe to make your own.

Ferreting

Ratting ferret 2
Muzzled ferret flushing a rat, as illustrated in Harding's Ferret Facts and Fancies (1915)

For millennia, the main use of ferrets was for hunting, or ferreting. With their long, lean build, and inquisitive nature, ferrets are very well equipped for getting down holes and chasing rodents, rabbits and moles out of their burrows. Caesar Augustus sent ferrets or mongooses (named viverrae by Plinius) to the Balearic Islands to control the rabbit plagues in 6 BC.

Ferrets were first introduced into the New World in the 17th century, and were used extensively from 1860 until the start of World War II to protect grain stores in the American West from rodents. They are still used for hunting in some countries, including the United Kingdom, where rabbits are considered a plague species by farmers. The practice is illegal in several countries where it is feared that ferrets could unbalance the ecology. In 2009 in Finland, where ferreting was previously unknown, the city of Helsinki began to use ferrets to restrict the city's rabbit population to a manageable level. Ferreting was chosen because in populated areas it is considered to be safer and less ecologically damaging than shooting the rabbits.


Ferret Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.