Most people have a misconception about the small, spirited and, at times, mischievous ferret. They assume that this animal is a rodent because it closely resembles the other members of the rodent family.
Ferrets are not rodents. Ferrets are domesticated European polecat type mammals classified under the Mustelidae family.
The ferret has an average body length of 20 inches, short legs, a long tail and a cone-shaped nose. It generally weighs between 0.7 to 2 kg and lives for 7-10 years.
The ferret’s domestication history is uncertain, but it is thought to have been bred about 2500 years ago from a European or steppe polecat.
There is a wild ferret variety that is black-footed and lives in the Midwestern part of the U.S. The majority of ferrets are, however, domesticated and would not survive for more than three days without human intervention.
This is because they cannot hunt their food as other wild animals can. With the recent dedication of April 2nd as world ferret day, this is an excellent time to sharpen your knowledge on these animals.
What Do Ferrets Eat?
Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. This is unlike rodents that are omnivores and prefer plant-based feeds. The wild black-footed ferret generally feeds on small mammals like prairie dogs, rodents, possums, hedgehogs and rabbits.
It will sometimes supplement its diet with amphibians, birds, fish and carrion. The wild ferret eats about 50-70g of meat daily.
The domesticated ferret usually eats factory-made chow. This is a healthy diet for the animal and contains about 36% proteins and 20% fats with little or no carbohydrates. Ferrets can also eat whole and raw prey diets.
Raw prey diets are those that comprise meat, organs and bones in adequate proportions. Some commercial brands have these diets sold at pet stores. Whole prey diets are the frozen chicks and mice often fed to reptiles.
Your domesticated ferret should have access to dry feeds throughout. This is because the animal has a short digestive tract and will metabolize the food it eats quickly. To maintain the calories it needs for its activities, it should eat frequently.
Animals Related To Ferrets
The Mustelidae family to which the ferret belongs features carnivorous mammals with long, tubular bodies, thick necks and short legs.
The members of this family are renowned for their intelligence, fierce nature and willingness to fight stronger animals. Here are tidbits on the common mustelids related to the ferrets.
- Sea otters: These are bigger than domesticated ferrets and inhabit the Pacific Ocean. Sea otters can be spotted ashore though they prefer floating on their backs in the swells. There also exist river otters that are bigger than ferrets but love playing as much as the latter.
- Badgers: These have rounder bodies compared to the slinky-bodied ferrets. Different badger subspecies live in burrows in America, Japan, Africa and Europe. Wild badgers are hunted for their exceptional fur that is used to make fine shaving brushes. The badgers are also a part of Russian cuisine.
- Minks: American minks are renowned for their fur. Though they share the same body structure as ferrets, they have a deep natural brown color. Some animal dealers sell minks while there are others rescued from fur farms. While you might be tempted to get one, minks are not suitable pets since they retain some level of wild instinct and might attack other domestic animals.
- Weasels: These furry animals live in the grasslands, meadows and forests of North Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Weasels have long slender bodies, short legs and long snouts. While some have long tails, others will have short tails. These animals have yellowish-brown fur with pale fur on their bellies. Though weasels are harmless to humans, they can attack the other animals in your household when kept as pets. Therefore, if you have kittens, birds and hamsters in your home, you should reconsider keeping weasels as pets.
Are Ferrets Good Pets?
Yes, ferrets make good pets. They interact well with humans and are quite playful.
Moreover, you can easily train them to use litter boxes such that they do not soil your home or their bedding. You, however, should be careful since they love burrowing soft materials like carpets.
Can You Keep Ferrets and Rodents Together?
No, you should not keep rodents and ferrets together. Ferrets are very social animals and can live well in groups. Even so, keeping them with different species needs careful consideration.
They are strict carnivores that prey on small animals like rodents in the wild. Putting a ferret in the same cage as a small rodent puts the latter’s life at risk.
Some domesticated ferrets have even reportedly hunted and killed hamsters. This might be because of their instinct to hunt small animals for food.
Can You Keep a Ferret and Cat Together?
Yes, ferrets and cats can live well together. Cats and ferrets are predators and carnivores. Cats will often treat animals outside their species as unworthy of attention, but ferrets generally find cats fascinating.
Ferrets to most cats are odd creatures that hop up and down. Moreover, they love sneaking up to cats and burying themselves in their soft fur. Kittens that grow up with ferrets get used to playing with ferrets and might even sleep together.
Older cats will, nonetheless, often only tolerate the ferrets. Always supervise the ferrets and cats for the first few days you keep them together to ensure they get along.
With the facts above, you can now make a conscious choice on whether ferrets will make good pets for you. When you get a ferret, it is advisable to get it vaccinated against canine distemper.
This is a fatal disease spread to ferrets after contact with infected animal body fluids or aerosols. It is characterized by high fevers, changes in behavior, seizures, feet lesions, lethargy, appetite loss and diarrhea.
With the high mortality rates of canine distemper in ferrets, some vets recommend humane euthanasia for your pet. Vaccination thus saves you from losing your ferret prematurely.