Blue Cross doesn’t take in or rehome ferrets but there are specialised rescue organisations that find homes for unwanted or stray ferrets.
Ferrets, like their wild ancestor, eat small animals like mice, frogs and insects. It is likely that the ferret was introduced to the UK to hunt rabbits as they are used this way throughout Europe and North Africa. In captivity ferrets are often fed a dry ferret mix, or cat food, rather than meat.
Ferrets aren’t the easiest to handle and they can bite hard if startled so they don’t always make ideal pets for young children.
Claws may need to be trimmed regularly, this doesn’t have to be a chore as many ferrets like the taste of oil (wheat germ, soya, olive, linseed) and, when drizzled on their bellies, this can make claw trimming with small claw scissors very easy.
They should have daily exercise either in the house or in a large run. They can also be trained to walk with a harness and lead.
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When excited, they may perform a behaviour commonly called the weasel war dance, characterized by a frenzied series of sideways hops, leaps and bumping into nearby objects. Despite its common name, this is not aggressive but is a joyful invitation to play. It is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as "dooking". In contrast, when scared, ferrets will make a hissing noise; when upset, they will make a soft 'squeaking' noise.
"The Ferreter's Tapestry" is a 15th-century tapestry from Burgundy, France, now part of the Burrell Collection housed in the Glasgow Museum and Art Galleries. It shows a group of peasants hunting rabbits with nets and white ferrets. This image was reproduced in Renaissance Dress In Italy 1400–1500, by Jacqueline Herald, Bell & Hyman – ISBN 0-391-02362-4.
Ferrets were probably used by the Romans for hunting.
Ferrets have four types of teeth (the number includes maxillary (upper) and mandibular (lower) teeth):
You should get your ferret checked out by a vet every year. Vaccinations against distemper are also advised because this disease is usually fatal to ferrets. Ferrets can be microchipped to permanently identify them and help to reunite them with their owners if they go missing.
There is no one “perfect” way to care for ferrets because every ferret and every situation is different. It is up to you how you look after your ferret, but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all of their needs.
Ferrets need an insulated sleeping area, large enough for them to huddle together or sleep separately if they want. It should be wind and rainproof and out of direct sunlight. Ferrets don’t like extreme weather, particularly temperatures over 26ºC (ferrets can suffer and die if exposed to temperatures of 30ºC and above).
If well taken care of, healthy ferrets can live up to 10 years of age. However, their average lifespan is approximately 6 years.
However, if you are truly ready to bring a ferret into your home the rewards will quickly become obvious to you and your family.
White ferrets were favored in the Middle Ages for the ease in seeing them in thick undergrowth. Leonardo da Vinci's painting Lady with an Ermine is likely mislabelled; the animal is probably a ferret, not a stoat, (for which "ermine" is an alternative name for the animal in its white winter coat). Similarly, the ermine portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First shows her with her pet ferret, which has been decorated with painted-on heraldic ermine spots.
Usually options include spaying, a hormone implant every 18-24 months, a hormone injection (a jill-jab) every few months, a combination of these methods or using a sterile male ferret that has had a vasectomy for a infertile mating. This isn’t recommended due to the risk of spreading disease or potential injury to the female.
Ferrets are domesticated animals. Their most likely wild ancestors are the European polecat and the Steppe polecat. Since no wild counterpart exists, we are still learning about the ferret’s natural needs, habitat and behaviours.
For millennia, the main use of ferrets was for hunting, or ferreting. With their long, lean build, and inquisitive nature, ferrets are very well equipped for getting down holes and chasing rodents, rabbits and moles out of their burrows. Caesar Augustus sent ferrets or mongooses (named "viverrae" by Plinius) to the Balearic Islands to control the rabbit plagues in 6 BC. In England, in 1390, a law was enacted restricting the use of ferrets for hunting to the relatively wealthy:
Like many other mustelids, ferrets have scent glands near their anus, the secretions from which are used in scent marking. Ferrets can recognize individuals from these anal gland secretions, as well as the sex of unfamiliar individuals. Ferrets may also use urine marking for sex and individual recognition.
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Ferrets are naturally curious and interact readily with their owners. Dry food can be scattered around their enclosure to encourage foraging or it can be placed in feeding toys available from pet suppliers.
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Like many household pets, ferrets require a cage. For ferrets, a wire cage at least 18 inches long and deep and 30 inches wide or longer is needed. Ferrets cannot be housed in environments such as an aquarium because of the poor ventilation. It is preferable that the cage have more than one level but this is not crucial. Usually 2 to 3 different shelves are used.
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Litter trays should be cleaned every day and the rest of the ferret’s enclosure should be cleaned at least weekly. Ferrets will hide food, so it’s important to remove this when cleaning them out so it doesn’t go mouldy.
As with skunks, ferrets can release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared, but the smell is much less potent and dissipates rapidly. Most pet ferrets in the US are sold de-scented (anal glands removed). In many other parts of the world, including the UK and other European countries, de-scenting is considered an unnecessary mutilation.
European polecats are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Historically they were widely hunted for sport and fur, though this has reduced in recent years. A reduction in the availability of prey species across their range has reduced population. There are several possible additional threats, such as competition with invasive American mink and hybridisation with ferrets.
Ferrets were domesticated from European polecats (Mustela putorius) approximately 2,500 years ago. However, we still do not know where they were first domesticated. Ferrets originally had the same markings as their wild ancestor, with a cream belly and face, dark back and legs, and a distinctive dark mask over the eyes. Like their polecat ancestor they have elongated bodies, short legs and sharp teeth.
Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are small members of the weasel family that have been domesticated for more than two thousand years. These energetic little bundles of curiosity are a big responsibility, often requiring as much, if not more, care than a cat or dog.
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Owning and caring for a ferret can be great fun and very rewarding, but it can also be quite challenging and is a big responsibility and long-term commitment. If you own or are responsible for a ferret, even on a temporary basis, you are required under the Animal Welfare Act to care for him/her properly.
Good quality hay or shredded paper can be used for bedding and the floor should be lined with newspaper and wood shavings. Many pet ferret owners now favour fleece blankets, hammocks and fabric nesting boxes for bedding as this makes less mess and also adds a little comfort.
Ferrets, like cats, are obligate carnivores. This means that they must have meat in their diet. High protein commercial ferret food (kibble) or a raw diet (including skin, organs and raw bones) or mix of the two is best. Don’t give them processed meats like ham, or cat and dog food. Whole raw eggs in their shells can be given as occasional treats and ferrets will also enjoy breaking through the shell.
Ferrets live for 6 to 13 years and during that time they will require regular vaccinations and veterinary check ups to remain in tip top shape. In particular, Ferrets are at risk of fleas and heartworm, so monthly preventative treatments like Advocate (for kittens) should be used. They are also at risk of canine distemper, and annual vaccination can prevent this.
it is ordained that no manner of layman which hath not lands to the value of forty shillings a year shall from henceforth keep any greyhound or other dog to hunt, nor shall he use ferrets, nets, heys, harepipes nor cords, nor other engines for to take or destroy deer, hares, nor conies, nor other gentlemen's game, under pain of twelve months' imprisonment.
Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) belong to the carnivore family of the Mustelidae. Despite their rather misunderstood nature, they have recently become very popular pets for their charming and cheeky characters. Why not view our full Ferret factfile (PDF 44KB)
Ferrets are lively, curious and fun-loving pets. They are part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, stoats, weasels and badgers. Ferrets are a domesticated version of the European polecat. They have been used for hunting and pest control since ancient times and are still kept for this purpose today though are becoming increasing popular as pets. They are crepuscular, so are naturally active during dawn and dusk and can sleep for 18-20 hours a day.
Ferrets brought from anywhere except the US require a Permit to Import from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Animal Health Office. Ferrets from the US require only a vaccination certificate signed by a veterinarian. Ferrets under three months old are not subject to any import restrictions.
Ferrets love to dig and are very good at escaping through small holes. To stop them disappearing from outdoor runs, wire mesh can be fitted to the underside, but this should be covered with something like turf or carpet to prevent injury, and it is always a good idea to put bolts on hutch doors.