Ferret Introduction and Origin

The domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is thought to be a domesticated Western or Eastern European polecat. The ferret can interbreed and produce fertile offspring with either of these species of polecat. The domestic ferret is not a domesticated form of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) which was native to the western United States. Black-footed ferrets recently became extinct in the wild, but they are gradually being reintroduced through captive breeding programs.
The name Mustela is a Latin derivation of the term 'mus' for mouse. Animals in the Mustela genus include weasels and other “mouse catchers”. Putorius is from the Latin word putor, which means a stench referring to the musky odor of the ferret. Furo comes from the Latin furonem meaning “thief”.

So we have a “mouse-catching, smelly, thief”! The word ferret most likely comes from the Latin furo or the Italian furone with the same meaning of “thief”.

Ferrets as Pets

Ferrets make great pets as they are small, easy to care for and have entertaining and responsive personalities. They are available in a variety of color variations and now there is even a long-haired ferret available. Devoted ferret owners attend ferret shows where their pets compete in areas such as color classes, best-dressed ferret, yawning contest and races involving bags and long tubes. It is perhaps fitting after a history of working for humans that ferrets should now enjoy a life of luxury as a beloved companion!

Ferret Characteristics


Ferrets are carnivores, meaning that they are predators of other species of animals. So in their former wild life, it was essential to learn effective hunting techniques as well as means of protecting their territory from strangers. Therefore, aggressive play behavior can serve as a tool to teach aggression and protection skills as well as hunting skills. This behavior starts around 6 weeks old and can eventually merges into more serious adult aggressive behavior. 


The domestic ferret thoroughly enjoys digging in soft materials, including carpeting, furniture stuffing, and litter box material. Ferrets also appreciate being able to explore tunnel-like areas and having an enclosed sleeping area.

Another habit retained from the polecat ancestor is the storage of items in these burrows. Females that are raising kits will always bring food back to the den. Some pet ferrets like to carry out this behavior with not only bits of food, but other "toys" in their environment such as car keys. If you are missing some small items, you might look in your pet’s “den” or adjacent areas.


Ferrets use urine and feces to mark their territory as well as their anal gland secretions. Ferrets, like polecats, prefer to back up to a vertical surface to defecate or urinate and then proceed to leave their scent with anal gland secretions by dragging their anus over the surrounding area. 


Being close to the ground, ferrets spend a great deal of time with their noses to the floor investigating their environment. This behavior results in the inhalation of dust and debris and a subsequent sneeze to remove the foreign material. A ferret’s sneeze, which is very loud and sounds like a combination of a cough and a sneeze, may be alarming to the humans in the house. Unless sneezing is frequent or associated with other clinical signs, you need not be concerned with this behavior.

Ferret Behaviour

Although playful and social, they will normally spend 14 to 18 hours a day sleeping. When awake they are full of energy and will find great pleasure in exercise. When you match this with their naturally curiosity it’s easy to understand why they make such great hunters. 

When agitated, it’s likely to see a stiff back and a lowered head. Hissing is also a clear sign of distress and will normally mean you should keep your fingers well away.

Have you ever wondered what the strong spell that ferrets give off is? A scent gland near the tail end is used for scent marking. This smell is used to recognize individuals and define gender. Its also common for urine markings to take place for the same reasons. And as a warning, they may dispel this scent if frightened.

Ferret Diet and Water

Ferrets need a diet high in animal protein and fat with very little carbohydrate. In fact, Ferrets are unable to digest plant fibres at all, so unlike most domesticated species fibre does not benefit them.

Cooked foods, particularly cooked bones, should be avoided as cooking and processing changes the structure of food and its digestibility. Don’t be too worried about food poisoning though as Ferrets have been shown to be relatively resistant. Raw foods such as egg and meat are therefore fine, however, Ferrets are not scavengers, so you need to ensure any meat provided for your Ferret is fresh and fit for human consumption.

Ferrets should ideally eat 2 to 4 small meals each day. This may vary depending on your ferrets age. Dry foods can be left out, but meat should always be removed it if is not consumed within an hour. 

You should also be aware that Ferrets have a habit of stashing any excess food. This can lead to a smelly surprise if they decide to hide food items in your couch. To avoid this you should offer food for 30-60 minutes then remove any leftovers. Alternatively, you can provide your Ferret with a ‘hide’ for extra food, a controlled space for them to stockpile food that is easy for you to check and clean regularly. This might be a cosy plastic box with a small hole cut in it.

Ferrets are natural hunters, so providing them with opportunities to express their natural behaviour through hiding food will help with their development. You can also use food to promote game play and reduce boredom. For example, using treat balls with kitten biscuits or simply place food in various places around the room.

Treats should not make up more than 10% of the total daily caloric intake of your ferret. Avoid vegetables and fruits.

Cooked or raw egg and chicken pieces make excellent treats. You can also use liver treats that have been softened in hot water. Avoid any hard vegetables such as raw carrots as they can be a cause of intestinal obstruction.

9 Foods that you should avoid are:






Anything that contains xylitol and is ‘sugar free’ can be toxic to dogs, cats and ferrets. Chewable vitamins, gum and toothpaste all contain xylitol and can be tempting to these adventurous little creatures so be sure to keep them well out of reach.



Grapes are also toxic to dogs, cats and ferrets and excess consumption will cause kidney failure.



Ferret Housing

A suitable cage with an escape-proof latch is an absolute must for safe keeping. Large, two-to-three story cages are ideal. Ferrets need roomy cages that are at least 30 to 36 inches long. Also, appropriate flooring is needed because ferret paws are not designed to walk on wire floors.

The cage should be kept in a cool, shaded, dry area away from direct sunlight. Ferrets have poorly developed sweat glands and cannot tolerate temperatures above 30degrees. They could easily die of heatstroke.

Ferrets should not be left in a cage for an extended period of time; they need plenty of exercise, love and companionship on a daily basis.

Ferret Cage Decoration

Avoid wood chips and shavings as these can cause respiratory infections in ferrets.
Hammocks, hidey holes, tubing and ferret toys make great additions to thier home. If Ferret toys are limited, you can also try small dog toys and cat toys!


Download Ferret Fact sheet here.

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FACT SHEET © Copyright 2014 Kellyville Pets - The information in this brochure is meant as a guide only. Kellyville Pets take no responsibility of any description for any consequence and or result that may eventuate as a consequence of any information obtained from this brochure.