home : 1. the basics : basic facts
a bit about ferrets
different sexes and colours
what is a polecat
A bit about ferrets...
When describing a ferret, the word "misunderstood" would have to be at the top of the list.
Small, playful, inquisitive, intelligent and friendly, ferrets are a domesticated animal that have been used for centuries to clear storage areas of vermin and chase rabbits from their burrows. Sadly though, it is this attitude as a "working animal" that has been their biggest downfall, with a lot of owners not giving them the same care and attention as they would with a dog or cat.
Despite the large number of ferret owners, common knowledge about this unique animal is very poor, if not wrong and often even based on myths and legends.
As our attitude begins to change and ferrets are brought from the shed into the home, a better understanding and the availability of knowledge about these small animals is improving.
It is important to understand that ferrets are not related to dogs, cats, rats or rabbits, so you should never take anything for granted and research their special needs if you are going to successfully keep one happy and healthy.
What are they?
Ferrets are a small mammal from the mustelidae family (Mustela furo), making them cousins to otters, minks, badgers and skunks. Of all the animals in the mustelidae family, the ferret is the only domesticated species, and the only species legally permitted to be privately owned in Australia (except Queensland and NT where they are illegal).
They are inquisitive, friendly and playful pets, growing between 44 to 60cm in length. A healthy well looked after ferret can live between 7 to 13 years and will require a similar level of attention to a small dog.
This information sheet has been written as a guide to help you understand some of the basic care requirements of this unique animal, but you are recommended to invest in a good book that gives more detailed advice, and contact the club for any further information you need.
In some ways ferrets make the perfect pet, they are small, cute, quiet and very entertaining, but
they are not for everyone. There are a few things you must consider when deciding on a ferret.
A ferret should never be considered a cheap pet. Reputable and responsible breeders will sell their ferrets from $50 to $200 each. The ferret will then require regular vet checks, vaccinations, worming, de-sexing (this is a must), licensing and premium foods.
A healthy ferret can live between 7 -13 years and will require a level of attention higher than other more commonly kept domestic animals. Ferrets usually bond very strongly with their human family making re-homing very stressful.
What are the differences between sex's and colours?
Once de-sexed, male and female ferrets have a very similar temperament, so the sex and colour of your new family member is strictly a matter of personal choice.
There are many different coloured ferrets available with every thing from silver and chocolate to butterscotch and cinnamon, but the two most common seem to be the albino (white with red eyes), and sable (raccoon style markings, often referred to as polecat*). Whatever pigment your ferret has, one thing is very clear: colour does not influence the nature or size of your pet. As with all animals, ferrets come in different sizes and have very individual personalities.
At a very young age baby ferrets (kits) are of a similar size, but once fully-grown males are generally twice the size of females (approx. 2kg). Ferrets also have a winter and summer coat so their size and colours may appear to change from season to season.
The only real consideration when choosing between the sexes, is the different costs involved in de-sexing.
*What is a polecat?
Most sources refer to the ferret (also known as the Domesticated Ferret) as Mustela putorius furo, as it was generally accepted that ferrets were domesticated from the European Polecat (Mustela putorius), hence were given sub-species status.
More recently, the ferret has begun to be reffered to as Mustela furo, as it is becoming clear that it is unknown which animal the ferret was domesticated from. Possibilities include the European polecat (Mustela putorius), or the Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmannii).
"Since it is unknown whether ferrets were domesticated from the European polecat (Mustela putorius), or their eastern European congener, the steppe polecat (Mustela eversmannii), they are usually given species (rather than subspecies) status as Mustela furo." *
Further confusion: For many years (and still today in some places) the term polecat was used to distinguish DARK coloured ferrets from their albino siblings (ferrets were more commonly albino, as they were originally used for hunting rabbits and albinos were easier to see at night). The term polecat (as a ferret colouring) is not as commonly used as it used to be, but is still used as another name for sable or dark-coloured ferrets. The animal's colour cannot be used to indicate whether it is a wild polecat, or a domesticated ferret!
If someone tells you they have a "polecat", they are generally referring to a dark-coloured ferret, not the European Polecat (Mustela putorius) - a wild animal, not generally suitable as a companion pet!
* Mustelids in a Modern World, Griffiths.
Ferret Society of Canberra
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