When someone says ‘pet’, most people think of dogs and cats. Some pet owners prefer rodents like rabbits, rats and mice while more adventurous people may opt for birds or reptiles. The more unusual animals are becoming more popular as we begin to understand more about their behavior. In this pet profile, we will look at a pet ferret in the weasel family.
What is a ferret?
Ferrets are small weasel-like animals that look like a cat with a long body and the face of a bear. Male ferrets (hobs) will grow up to 15 inches, with females (jills) being smaller at 12-13 inches.
Ferrets are descended from the European polecat, which still lives wild and are generally not kept as pets. They are carnivores, hunting small rodents like field mice, voles and rabbits, birds, frogs and insects. They do not possess the enzymes needed to break down vegetation.
Ferrets were first domesticated around 2500 years ago. Although it is unclear of the reasons for domestication, it is widely accepted by experts that ferrets were used for ratting and hunting rabbits.
They are believed to have been used for rabbit hunting as early as 600 CE in Spain and by the early 1200s, Germany and England were also prominent ferret breeders. It was not until the 1700s that ferrets made their way to America with colonists, but they did not become widely used as ratters until the 1900s.
From the middle of the 19th century, ferrets were also bred for their fur. Fortunately, this practice is now almost obsolete and is either banned or strictly regulated in many countries. As ratting and hunting become redundant thanks to advances in rodent eradication, domesticated animals became companion animals instead. For ferrets, this happened in the 1960s.
Ferrets can be credited for helping scientists to made huge leaps in terms of advancing our understanding of certain diseases such as influenza and asthma. A small number of ferrets are used for biomedical research for studying respiratory illnesses like cystic fibrosis and the development of annual flu vaccines.
Can you have a ferret as a pet?
Ferrets are by far the most popular of all the pets in the weasel family. From their spritely character to their love of puzzles, these furry fellows have made a big impact over the last few decades.
An unsupervised ferret can quickly chew through the lining of a sofa or find a gap behind the fridge. If you cannot provide them at least 4 hours of playtime per day, plus the time to clean their cage, prepare their meals and walk them, then a ferret is definitely not the pet for you. They can live as long as 8 years, so they are a serious commitment.
Do ferrets make good pets?
Any experienced ferret owner will tell you that they make excellent pets, but they require near-constant supervision and are a lot more demanding than dogs or cats. While ferrets are easy to tame and love interacting with humans, they have a very high enrichment requirement. This means they need a lot of mental stimulation to prevent themselves from getting bored.
They are naturally inquisitive animals and will investigate new surroundings and objects with apparent fearlessness. They also love to dig. A healthy, happy ferret will engage in vigorous play sessions with other ferrets or nearby objects. Sleeping generally covers around 15 hours of the day, however, ferrets sleep longer during winter and also as they age.
What pets do ferrets get along with?
Ferrets are hunters so they should never be kept with rodents. This includes larger rodents like guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits. Even a calm and placid ferret has the potential to react to a rodent animal as this is their natural prey.
Ferrets can live quite happily with cats or dogs if they are introduced at an early age and socialized properly.
What do pet ferrets eat?
Pet ferrets can be fed on commercially produced kibble specially formulated for ferrets or they can be fed a raw diet. This means feeding them raw organ meat such as heart and kidneys, chicken thighs or wings with bones and whole prey items such as duck and rabbit.
Ferrets should not be given dog food as this contains ingredients that ferrets are not able to digest. While they can eat cat food, they cannot be fed on cat food alone as there is not a high enough fat or protein content.
Can I take my ferret for a walk?
Yes, you can walk your ferret! Many ferret owners find that their furry friend loves a stroll around the neighborhood as they get to explore a whole new environment with different sounds and smells.
You can purchase specially designed ferret harnesses and leads that prevent them from wriggling out. It is very easy to train a ferret to walk on a harness thanks to their intelligence and curiosity.
Reference: Long-Haired Ferret