Mustel putorius furo


Ferrets, commonly called ferts and fuzzys, are members of the Mustelidae family, and are cousins to the otter, mink, weasel, martin, ermine, badger and skunk. Mustela putorius furo is a great classification for the species, literally meaning "little fur thief."

HISTORY


The Egyptians were the first to keep ferrets as pets, dating back to 1500 BC. Ferrets have always been a domesticated animal; they cannot survive out in the wild, unlike their cousins, the black footed ferrets. The Egyptians used ferrets to catch mice. Later, cats replaced them. In the 1870’s, the Spanish brought ferrets to the United States. Like in England, ferrets were used to hunt rabbits and rodents. Although this custom is still present in England today, this function of U.S. ferrets quickly faded, due to the invention of rodenticides. Ferrets were then used to pull underground telephone wiring through tight pipes.
Modern day ferrets are not just household pets. Ferrets are also used in laboratories to test new cold medicines, since they tend to catch the same colds that humans do.

PHYSICAL


Ferrets come in many different colors, like cinnamon and silver, but the most common is the sable-colored ferret, which has a dark mask that closely resembles a cross between a raccoon and a skunk. All ferrets have limited eyesight and color vision. They compensate for these by having a sensitive sense of smell and touch. Ferrets tend to be full grown at one year old, and they live no longer than 10 years. Ferrets tend to be avoided as pets because of their musky odor. All ferrets have apocrine and preputial glands on their necks. They also have a scent gland on either side of the anus. This is the ferret’s defense system. It is used when the ferret becomes extremely frightened or angered. Males do tend to have a stronger odor than females, which is why it is not uncommon to find a descented male- a male who has had its anal glands surgically removed.
There also tend to be a lot of behavioral and health problems when a ferret is not spayed of neutered, particularly with females. Unless the owner is a breeder, it is highly recommended that all ferrets be spayed or neutered. Baby ferrets, called kits, can be spayed or neutered between 8 to 10 weeks of age. Adult males are called hobs; neutered adult males are called gibs. Adult females are called jills; spayed adult females are called sprites.

BEHAVIOR

Ferrets tend to have a short attention span. When they are excited they will swish their tales back and forth and they will dance. When frightened, the tail will stand at attention and become prickly. Ferrets are very playful and toe nipping is usually used to engage the owner in a game of tag. Ferrets learn quickly when rewarded, so it is important to keep a supply of treats handy. Ferrets like to hide in small places and chew on wires, so it is important to safe guard to house by blocking small areas that are bigger than one inch in diameter, and electrical wires. Ferrets usually sleep from 15-20 hours a day. They sleep very soundly in curled up balls, so soundly that their owners often mistake them for being dead. Ferret experts call this deep sleep the SND mode: Sleeping, Not Dead. Ferrets are very active and hyper when not asleep. They essentially have two speeds: stop and go. They have very high metabolic rates and their heart beats about 3 times per second. They tend to not like water, but a ferret should be bathed about once a month, but no more than once a week, because it dries out the skin.
Ferrets still retain their behavior of attacking and killing small mammals, like mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, and birds. They should be carefully watched when around such animals. If a ferret does not behave in an acceptable manner, it should be scruffed, but never hit. Scruffing is what the mother would do.
Ferrets tend to nip, especially at younger ages, for this is how they behave with their siblings. To get them out of this bad habit, scruffing or the use of Bitter Apple will suffice. Ferrets can also be potty trained. They have a tendency of using a corner, so it is best to stick the litter pan there. Every time the ferret properly uses the litter pan, it should be rewarded until it finally understands the purpose of the pan.

REPRODUCTION


Ferrets are seasonal breeders. The male ferret is not sexually active all year and does not produce viable sperm in the female mate is not in heat. The average litter produced by a ferret is 6 to 8 babies. When a ferret is born, it is pink and hairless and both its eyes and ears are shut, making it completely helpless. The ferret has a 6-week gestation period.
DIET
Ferrets like to eat food high in fat and protein. They can eat cat food, but chocolate is toxic to them. For treats, they like to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Dry food is good for their teeth because it requires them to chew more in order to properly digest the food. Food is digested and passed through in about 3-4 hours. Ferrets drink water and must drink it often in order to stay hydrated. They can drink milk every once in a while, but it must be mixed with water so that the ferret does not experience diarrhea. Treats are good to reward the ferret, but they should not be given in amounts greater than 1 tsp. per day. Besides manufactured treats, ferrets also like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sources:


CDFA. Ferret Facts. 2 Oct. 2001.
<http://www.cdfa.com/facts_area/facts_ss_info.html>.
Code, Christine. Ferret Net: Help, My ferret Bites! 1999.2 Oct. 2001.
<http://www.ferret.net/training/nobiting.html>.
Ferret Behavior. 2 Oct. 2001.
<http://www.mactyre.net/scm/ferrets/behavior.html>.
Ferret: Fun & Fundamentals. Video. Duprey Video Productions, 1996.
Jeans, Deborah. A Practical Guide to Ferret Care. Miami: Ferrets, Inc, 1994.
Johnson, Sylvia A. Ferrets. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1997.
Schilling, Kim. Ferrets for Dummies. Foster City: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc,
2000.
Winsted, Windy. Ferrets. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1989.