Basic Information Sheet: Ferret

Ferret (Mustela putorious furo)


Natural history

The domestic ferret is probably derived from the European polecat (M. putorious putorious). Ferrets serve as working animals (in the age-old tradition of “ferreting”), pets, and laboratory animals. In the United States, ferrets are raised on ferret farms where they are spayed or neutered at 6 weeks of age. After each procedure, a tattoo is placed on the ear pinna. Male ferrets are called “hobs”, females are “jills”, and juveniles are “kits”.


Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae – weasels, skunks, stoats, otters, badgers


The American Ferret Association recognizes 42 breeds.

Ferrets come in a variety of colors with albino and sable or fitch being the two original ferret colors.


Feed a ferret food or high-quality cat food that contains animal-based protein. Avoid kitten food as this contains higher fat levels than is necessary.

Crude protein should be 30-35% and fat content should be 15-20%.


Although technically nocturnal, ferrets easily adjust their schedule to human activity. House ferrets in multilevel cages with solid-bottom flooring. Provide toweling and other items for burrowing and hiding. Ferrets are also commonly litter pan trained.

Never allow ferrets free roam of the home. Instead supervised play should be limited to a ferret-proofed room or region of the home.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature100-103 F37.8-39.4 C
Pulse180-250 bpm
Respiration30-40 bpm
Body weight600-2000gMales are larger
Mean life span6-10 y
Sexual maturity9-12 months
Gestation41-42 days
Litter size8
Birth weight6-12 g
Teeth first erupt3 weeks
Eyes open32-34 days
Weaning age6-8 weeks
Daily water intake75-100 ml
Target environmental temperature:65-70 F
Target environmental humidity:40-65%

Anatomy / physiology

IntegumentarySeasonal molts occur, especially in ferrets living outdoors, coats lighten during the summer and darken during the winter. Even when descented, sebaceous skin glands convey a musky odor. A lack of sweat glands makes ferrets vulnerable to heat stress.
Dental formula GastrointestinalI3/3 C1/1 PM3/3 M1/2
Short, simple digestive tract with no cecum or ileocolic valve.
MusculoskeletalSeasonal molts occur, especially in ferrets living outdoors, coats lighten during the summer and darken during the winter. Even when descented, sebaceous skin glands convey a musky odor.
Special SensesLarge ears with thin-walled pinnae and well-developed bullae.
UrogenitalRenal cysts are common incidental findings. The male ferret possesses a J-shaped os penis. Females are induced ovulators.
CardiovascularThe heart lies more caudal in the chest than in similarly sized dogs and cats.
RespiratoryA very narrow ventral space in the nasal conchae makes passing a nasogastric tube difficult.
HematopoieticBlood types have not been identified in ferrets and cross-matching is not required.
EndocrineEarly neutering and a lack of natural photoperiod may predispose ferrets to adrenocortical disease.


Ferrets are sweet natured, gregarious animals that may be minimally
restrained. Ferrets may be manually restrained:

  1. Scruff and stretch. Instead of holding the rear limbs as in a cat, grasp the pelvis in one hand.
  2. Roll the ferret up in a thin towel to create a ferret burrito.

Large volumes: Jugular vein, cranial vena cava.
Small volumes: Cephalic vein or lateral saphenous vein.
The ferret jugular vein is located more lateral than in a cat.
There is thickened skin over the skin of the neck in hobs.

Preventive medicine

Annual examinations are recommended until ferrets are 3-4 years old, then biannual exams are recommended. Almost all pet ferrets in the United States are descented and neutered before they enter the market. As induced ovulators, all female ferrets should be spayed to prevent the risk of persistent estrus and potentially fatal anemia.

Vaccinate against rabies virus and canine distemper virus (CDV). Ferrets are exquisitely sensitive to CDV and should never be vaccinated with products intended for use in dogs.

Important medical conditions

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