Ferrets are members of the Mustelidae family. Other members of this family include: the weasel, mink, otter, stoat, badger, and even the skunk.
The scientific name of the Domestic ferret is Mustela furo in latin “furo” means “little thief” and if you’ve ever owned a ferret you definately know why this is one of there many names. The word Mustelidae is derived from the latin word for “musk”.
They have scent glands located on each side of the rectum, just like a skunk. Some ferrets that have not yet had their scent removed are able to exude a potent and musky odor through the afore mentioned glands, at times when they feel either scared, threatened, surprised or over stimulated. The smell quickly goes away and can be easily washed off with soap and water. De-scenting is not a necessary action however, once a ferret is fixed the “musky odour” that they are known for is virtually eliminated. However most ferrets sold have been de-scented by the breeder.
It is questionable as to who the ferret’s wild ancestors really were. Scientific evidence points to two possible choices. The Steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanni) found in Siberia, or the European polecat (Mustela putorius), both are considered possible ancestors.
Contrary to popular belief ferrets are not wild animals. Ferrets have been in the United States for over 300 years. They were used in the 1800’s for rodent control. They even replaced the cat at one point. The “ferretmeister” would come with his ferrets to a farm or grainery and release his ferrets. These working ferrets ran into the holes and hiding places of the rodents and the rats ran out.
Early ferrets also travelled far and wide on sailing ships, working as rodent patrol. Nooks and crannies on these ships were extremely tiny except for a ferret’s small body, since ferrets can turn around in very tight places, allowing them into areas off-limits to the cat.
Ferrets have also been used successfully to help wire planes in hard to reach places. Ferrets have also been used in scientific research. Since they catch the same “common cold” as humans, they have been used in medical investigations. Ferrets were even raised for their fur (fortunately, they were not well suited for this purpose).
It is only fairly recently that so many people have “Discovered” what wonderful pet’s ferrets can be. They are the 3rd most popular pets behind the dog and the cat. Today the domesticated ferret is a cherished and often pampered member of the household throughout Canada, U.S.A, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Fun Fact: Ferrets in Canada & the USA as regular practice are de-scented (anal scent glands removed) while Ferrets in England are not de-scented as this practice is considered to be mutilation by some people. Ferrets who feel safe and are treated well by their owners will generally not express their anal scent glands unless they are extremely frightened.
Just like their ancestors Ferrets are obligate carnivores – meaning they can only eat animal by products. Some Ferrets enjoy a raw food diet, others do not. The closest household pet with a similar diet would be cats, although ferrets do require higher protein and fat – always do research and read the ingredients on food you purchase.
The most common one is that ferrets are European polecats bred in captivity “wild animals”.
As you have learned, this is NOT true. If it were, they would be able to re- establish in the wild. Ferrets have been in the United States in large numbers for over 300 years and have never been able to do this. The Domestic ferret cannot go “feral”. Domestic Ferrets existence and “breedings” are completely controlled by People. There is a wild animal found in the United States that is referred to as a “ferret”. This is the Black-footed ferret whose scientific name is Mustela nigripes. This animal is on the ENDANGERED SPECIES list.