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Ferret Facts

What You Need to Know About Ferrets

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Introduction

  • Live 6-8 years on average (sometimes up to 11 or 12)
  • Females are called jills, and males are hobs. Baby ferrets are called kits. In North America, spayed females are sometimes called sprites and neutered males called gibs. A group of ferrets is a "business of ferrets."
  • Males tend to be larger than females in length and weight. Females are 13-14 inches long and weigh anywhere from 0.75 to 2.5 lbs, whereas males are on average 15-16 inches long and weigh 2-3.5 lbs if neutered and are even larger (4 or more lbs) if not neutered.
  • Most ferrets obtained in North America are spayed or neutered and descented at a very young age before being sold.
  • Ferrets sleep a large part of the day, commonly around 18 hours. They naturally tend to be active at dawn and dusk, but usually adapt their sleeping and active times to the fit the schedules of their owners.
  • Ferrets are very playful, and are very entertaining to watch.
  • Ferrets have relatively poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell and hearing.

Are Ferrets Domestic Animals?
There are often misconceptions and debate about whether ferrets are domesticated animals, and the short answer is yes, they are domesticated. They have been domesticated for probably 2000 years or more, and were brought to America as pets as long as 300 years ago. Nevertheless, in many places they are still not recognized as a domestic animal for the purposes of laws pertaining to animals kept in captivity. The domestic ferret is sometimes also confused with its wild cousin, the black footed ferret.

What about the Odor?
Ferrets have an undeserved reputation of being smelly. It is true that they have a distinctly musky odor about them, but it is neither offensive nor overpowering. This musky odor comes from their skin glands and is present whether the ferret is descented or not. While occasional baths are recommended, frequent bathing will not reduce the scent, and will likely make it worse as the skin will get too dry and the skin glands will produce more oils in an effort to combat the dryness.

As mentioned above ferrets are usually descented in North America, which involved removal of the scent glands. They do have scent glands similar to skunk scent glands, and they will release (not spray) the contents if threatened. However, ferret scent gland secretions are milder than that of skunks and the smell dissipates quickly and washes away easily. The routine removal of scent glands, which is most commonly done in North America, is now being questioned since the musky odor of ferrets is not due to the scent glands and discharge of their scent glands is not a big problem.

Did you Know?

  • The name ferret is derived from the latin furonem, which means "thief." Ferret owners can attest that this is a well deserved name, as they will happily steal anything they can get their paws on and hide it in their house.
  • Ferrets come from the same family ("Mustelidae") as badgers, wolverines, otters, mink, weasels, black footed ferrets and polecats.
  • The distant ancestry of the domestic ferret is somewhat of a mystery, although they are very closely related to the European polecat.
  • The scientific name for ferrets is a somewhat controversial area - Mustela putorius furo is traditionally used, although recent scientific evidence has suggested they should have a name of their own, Mustela furo.
  • Ferret owners have a variety of fun nicknames for ferrets: ferts, fuzzies, carpet sharks, furballs, and more!

Next Page: Ferret Care Guide

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