What is a Ferret? Studying the Curious Animal

What is a ferret?

It seems like a strange question to ask, but it’s necessary to start from here. What is a ferret? We all “know” what a ferret is. It’s sort of a rodent-like creature, but much cuter, and it kind of resembles a chipmunk or a squirrel.

That’s what an everyday response to that question might be. But let’s get into detail to really study the ferret. Did you know that the better you understand your pet’s biology and history, the better connected you are to it? Learning about the nature of ferrets is a great way to forge a better relationship with them. So let’s get into it and learn about ferrets.




Where do ferrets come from?

First thing’s first: a ferret is not a rodent. Rodents are a family of mammals that include mice, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, and a few other animals. Ferrets, however, come from a family known as Mustelidae. Mustelids include ferrets, otters, badgers, weasels, and wolverines. A distinguishing feature, besides their outward appearance, is that rodents have a single pair of sharp incisors (teeth), whereas ferrets have several and different types of teeth, much like a human.


Quiz: Which one is the ferret?


The animal on the left is a guinea pig. The ferret is on the right.

The word “ferret” is derived from the Latin word furittus which means little thief. Though a little mean, it refers to the tendency of ferrets to secretly steal and run away with small items. Or that could just be a stereotype, just like the stereotype of rodents being cheese thieves. But you’ll read more about ferret behavior later in this article and their tendency to “steal” items.

The mention of ferrets can date as far back as 2,500 years ago. However, doctors suggest that some ferret remains are as old as 1,500 B.C., which would make them over 3,500 years old. The origin of the ferret is said to have occured in dynastic Egypt, and it was bred from the European polecat. They are biologically related to other creatures in the Mustelid family. Ferrets are tough animals; for thousands of years they’ve been put on the frontline for hunting other animals because of their agility and dexterity.


Types of ferrets

Ferrets are mainly distinguished by the color of their coats. There are two main types of ferrets. There are also several sub-categories of ferrets and they are separated by their colors and a few minor distinguishing features.

The two main types of ferrets are:

Albino ferrets – Albino ferrets have white fur, a red nose, and can have red eyes or black eyes. They’re one of the more common types of ferrets.

Sable ferrets – Sable ferrets are more common than albino ferrets. They have sable fur, which is different shades of brown, and a white mask.

The sub-categories of ferrets are as follows:

White-footed sable – This is a sable ferret that has white-colored feet and usually a white throat on the front as well.

Red-eyed white ferret – As mentioned before, albino ferrets, or white ferrets, can have red eyes.

Black-eyed white ferret – White ferrets with black eyes. They also can have some black hairs.

Chocolate ferret – These ferrets have a fur with a brown, chocolatey color. They have black eyes and a pink nose. Another type of ferret is a chocolate mitt, which has the same features except with mitts.

Silver ferret – Silver ferrets have a white or cream-colored fur, with their guard having silver hair. Their eyes are brown. Silver mitt ferrets have similar features but also with mitts.

Cinnamon ferret – Just like the color of cinnamon, cinnamon ferrets have a red/scarlet-colored fur and a pink nose. Their eyes can be brown or black.

Blaze ferret – Blaze ferrets have a stripe of white hair on their forehead and they have four mitts. Their coat has different colors of black and brown.

Champagne ferret – Champagne ferrets have guard hair that is colored like milk chocolate with a white undercoat. Their eyes are usually pink.

Dalmatian ferret – A rare type of ferret, the Dalmatian ferret has white fur with a few black spots. They also have a cute little pink nose.

Panda ferret – A panda ferret resembles a panda, as it has a white head with light brown fur. Their eyes can be colored black or brown.

Siamese ferret – Siamese ferrets are similar to sable ferrets but with slightly darker fur. This class of ferrets also contains Siamese mitt ferrets.

How you can use this information

Now that you know about the different types of ferrets and their breeds and classes, you’re more knowlegeable in studying ferrets. You can now identify ferrets based on how they look. This is a fun activity to do when watching videos of ferrets or looking at pictures of them. When you’re buying a ferret, you’re also better able to identify the exact type of ferret before purchasing it. Additionally, some ferrets have a slightly different nature based on their physical characteristics, so it’s also useful to know what kind of nature a certain type of ferret has before buying it.


Ferret behavior

One of the reasons people love having ferrets as pets is their fun and ecstatic behavior. Ferrets are very fun to play with and have around the house. Here we will discuss some common ferret behavior and why you need to know about it.

Ferrets are really deep sleepers. In fact, sometimes they may sleep so soundly that you’ll think they’re dead. Don’t worry if you see this though, your ferret most likely needs to just rest. This dire need for sleep in ferrets come from the fact that they expend a lot of energy throughout the day. Because of their fast metabolism, they digest food quickly. They’re very energetic and play around during the day, which leads to another common type of ferret behavior.

Here is some peculiar behavior that ferrets engage in when they’re being playful: flipping other ferrets upside down. It may sound crazy, and look even crazier, but ferrets do this to establish dominance while playing with other ferrets. Thankfully, ferrets don’t get badly injured by this because they have a tougher skin than other animals. A ferret may also try to flip you over by biting at your toes, so be careful!

Another playful behavior is that a ferret will sometimes try to dig towards something, whether its sand, a litter box, or its food. It comes from the nature of ferrets, as they have always been good at digging and have often been used for that purpose. Another behavior, going back to the origin of the ferret’s name, it tends to steal some items. Ferrets might steal several small items in your house, such as keys, glasses, phones, toys, cups, and even some clothes. It can be pretty funny to watch, but once again be careful about your delicate or important items. Ferrets also like stealing food. They see it as a survival instinct to keep food stored at all times, particularly because they need to eat food so frequently, because of their short digestive tract.

What do the ferrets do when stealing these items? This brings us to another curious and distinct ferret behavior: hoarding. Ferrets hoard items as a natural instinct. Ferrets want to builds nests as well as keep prey/food hoarded for times when they’re hungry. Here is a funny compilation of ferrets stealing stuff. As you will see, they steal anything; from fish to bra, you name it. Ferrets also clearly think they’re clever as they think they’re getting away with the theft even when someone else can see them. They particularly like stealing stuffed animals, maybe because they like having pretend playmates!


Let’s talk about more eccentric behavior of ferrets. When ferrets are angry or scared, they tend to make a hissing noise. It’s a good idea not to further annoy a ferret that’s hissing, because they can get aggressive and try to bite. Another reason why ferrets are much tougher than they look! Also, when the ferret is threatened or very scared, the fur on its back will stand up, and it will jut out its tail.

On the other hand, if a ferret is happy, then it will wag its tail, much like a dog. Ferrets’ pupils also usually dilate when they’re happy and excited. Often you’ll find that your ferret is wagging its tail when you feed him. Another cute behavior of ferrets is that they will drag their butt across the floor after eating food. This is done as a signal to let others know that the ferret is there and that this is his territory.

As you probably figured out by now, ferrets tend to be very aggressive at times. They will wrestle with other ferrets or even animals other than ferrets. This is to establish dominance. The ferret will often flip the other ferret as mentioned before. Another similar behavior that might seem aggressive is when a ferret bites another ferret on the neck and then shakes him again and again. Ferrets usually don’t get hurt by this as they have tougher skin and are used to this kind of behavior. Here is a ferret fight in action.


One really fun and delightful ferret behavior is called the Weasel Wardance. This is an enthusiastic and joyful dance that ferrets often do because they’re so full of energy. It’s difficult to explain it in words, so there is a video of that dance.


We’re almost finished with describing the different and idiosyncratic ferret behavior. If you’re already a ferret owner, you might notice that your ferret sometimes backs into a corner. If the ferret is backing into a corner and has its tail jutted out and is not frightened, then it needs to relieve himself and go to the bathroom. In that case, try to put the ferret in a litter box soon before he makes a mess on your floor. If the ferret is backing into a corner and looks frightened, then he’s feeling exactly how he looks. In this case, it’s a good idea not to startle the ferret, but to gently try to calm it down or leave it alone to calm down.

Sometimes, a ferret might dunk his head in his water bowl and cover its ears. It’s doing that to relax and/or look for food. In the wild, ferrets would often search for food in rivers and ponds. Another strange ferret behavior is when they bite themselves. They do this because they have an itch on their skin.

Lastly, my favorite ferret behavior, is when they chase their owners! Ferrets love to chase, and you will often find yourself being playfull chased by this ferocious yet cute animal. Usually it’s bored and is trying to initiate some kind of game. To finish this section, here is a compilation video of ferrets doing funny things.



How to Train a Ferret

For our last study on “what is a ferret”, we’re going to talk about training ferrets. After you’ve learned about ferrets, studied their history and zoology and learned about their behavior, you can put this knowledge to the test by training a ferret to be a better pet.

One of the most useful skills in training ferrets is to teach them to come to you when called. There are many reasons why you would want to do this. When you’re running late for work or school, and you need to get your ferret quickly, they might be hiding somewhere. Instead of having to spend an extra 20 minutes looking for your ferret, you can train them to come to you when you need them.

Ferrets can be trained to come to you using a sound, and I don’t mean your own voice. Using a percussion instrument or clicker when you call our your ferret’s name will train the ferret to come towards you. Eventually you can stop using the sound, and the ferret will naturally come to you when you say the ferret’s name, or when you say “[ferret’s name], come!”.

Using a clicker is a great way to train your ferret in many ways. You can use it when the ferret does something that you like, followed by a treat, to let him know that behavior is rewarded. Similarly, you use a different noise for when the ferret does something bad. Eventually your ferret will get trained to respond to the clicker and become very easy to manage.

There are several more training drills to carry out for your ferret, including litter box training, training to teach them not to smell, bite, nip, etc. Unfortunately, this article is already too long to cover these, but you can read about all of them in detail in the book Find Out About Ferrets.


How Long do Ferrets Live?

A ferret’s lifespan is typically from 7 to 10 years. It’s important to stay on top of your ferret’s health to make sure he lives the longest natural lifespan that nature allows him.

Lastly, concluding this article, I think we can answer the quesiton “What is a ferret?”. A ferret is a gentle, sweet, ferocious, resourceful, and diverse animal with eccentric behavior and a delicate balance between strength and sensitivity.


    • Appreciate it, thanks 🙂


      January 9, 2017

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