Ferrets are either loved for their cuteness or despised because of their perceived kin to rodents. Cuteness is a matter of opinion (though I lean in that direction), but who their relatives are is a matter of fact. They are NOT rodents. They are not kin to rats, mice, or anything else that might send you screaming and climbing tables and chairs. They are in fact related to badgers, wolverines, weasels, mink, and otters. (Not such a bad family tree.)
The first time I saw a ferret was in a movie that was a cult classic when I was growing up. Beastmaster had the cutest duo of ferrets that were troublemakers and rescuers. They got into everything and were great at sneaking around and stealing stuff for the hero. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that ferrets were not so exotic after all. Many homes boasted pet ferrets.
These cute (my opinion) critters are quite fun to have as a pet. They are extremely playful and get into such funny situations. They are great pets to have with cats, dogs, and even children. Though they do have very sharp teeth, they are not known to simple attack and hurt their family members. During play they might nip you like a dog or cat would do, but just like those same kind of pets they can be taught not to do that. Dogs can be trained to do about anything. Cats can be, too, if they are so inclined on that particular day. Ferrets are even more inclined to be willingly trained. They can be trained to rollover, sit, or anything else you would train a dog. But don’t limit them to just rolling over. Each ferret has their own personality and therefore each one can be trained in their own unique ways.
The average ferret lives about seven years. There have been some recorded with longer lives, but overall you can expect seven years of entertainment. When you go to get your first ferret, you will need to know a little bit of terminology so that there is no confusion and unexpected surprises when you get them home. A female ferret is called a jill. They are not just giving the furry animal a name. That is their gender. A male ferret is called a hob. (“Jack” must have been taken.) If you are wanting babies, you want a kit (not referring to the owner’s starter kit for ferrets). If you want a group of ferrets, you want a business. That is a business of ferrets and not a business selling ferrets. Getting all this straight is important as you venture into the world of ferrets.
When you get your new pet home, you’ll notice long periods of inactivity. For about an average of 18 hours a day you’ll feel like the ferret is either sick or lazy. No need to worry. They have so much energy the other 6 hours that they need that rest to recuperate. Their activities are constant and funny. Keep your jewelry and small objects tightly locked up. They won’t ingest them, but they will disappear and be carefully stored in their homes (cages). They love small objects. In fact, their name comes from the Latin for “thief” and it seems to fit them just fine.
If you are planning on breeding them, you’ll need to be aware of what you might get. The average litter size is 8. But a few people have reported as many as 18! Breeding is not for the casual owner. You might be getting more than you bargained for. What is interesting about these babies is that they are born deaf. This lasts for just over thirty days when their eyes begin to open so do their ears. They are all born white. So don’t assume that you have an albino ferret. Wait about 3 weeks to see what their true colors really are. (A side note, they only see the colors of red and blue. So don’t leave out your sapphires and rubies.) If you do not want more kits, you need to be aware that sexual maturity is reached around 5 months. The average female weighs about 3 pounds at maturity and the males reach about 6 pounds. This is information that you cannot live without when raising ferrets.
A myth or misunderstanding about ferrets is their smell. It is true that they are born with scent glands similar to that of skunks. When they are threatened, they release the scent to protect themselves. Most ferrets purchased have already been descented. The smell is not near as strong as a skunk’s but it is not as pleasant as a rose. Even after descenting, they will have a slight musky smell about them. This is natural. It comes from the oils secreted for their coat to keep it healthy and shiny. It is not an overpowering odor so that should not be a concern.
Owning a ferret can be an adventure. But like with any pet that you are considering purchasing, please research them. Don’t purchase your pet and then realize that they are inappropriate for children, small spaces, or if they require more care than you can give. Pets should be loved and cared for.