Ferrets: a history

The ferret, also known as Mustela putorius furo (which in Latin means ‘bad smelling weasel’) comes from the ‘Mustelidae’ family and is a domestic pet, not a wild animal. However, ferrets are descendants of the European polecat (weasel) and are, therefore, close relatives of skunks, mink, otters and badgers.

Ferrets are unusual animals, but not “exotic.” They have been domesticated for thousands of years and can be treated under the same set of disciplinary rules you would use for any other domesticated animal. Ferrets are also extremely intelligent and can be easily trained.

Is has been documented that the Romans brought ferrets into the UK in the 1st century, but they weren’t recognised until the 11th century when the Normans brought them over as a form of rodent control.

Since then ferrets were only really used on farms and estates as a form of pest control, and it wasn’t until the1960’s that ferrets became popular as pets.

There are two main varieties of ferrets based on coloration: the fitch and albino ferret.

Fitch ferrets, more commonly known as polecat ferrets, are buff-coloured with black masks, feet and tails. These seem to be the most popular.

Albino ferrets, also quite popular, range from pure white, to cream and yellow, but will always have pinky red eyes.

Other colours now seen include sandy, silver, black, cinnamon and chocolate.

Female ferrets are called jills, male ferrets are called hobs, and babies are called kits.

Hobs are typically twice the size of jills, but both sexes undergo periodic weight fluctuations. It is not uncommon for the average ferret to add 30-40% of its body weight in fat deposited beneath the skin in the autumn, and lose this fat the following spring.

The gestation period of ferrets is 42-44 days, with the average being 42 days.

The average litter size is 8, but it can range from 2-17. Kits are born deaf, with their eyes closed. Their eyes open and they begin to hear between 3 and 5 weeks of age.

Their deciduous (“temporary”) teeth begin to erupt at 2 weeks of age, at which time they can begin to eat solid food. Kits are usually weaned onto commercial kitten feed at around 8 weeks of age, and they will reach their adult weight at about 4 months of age.

The average lifespan of a ferret is 9-10 years.