The domestic ferret is a smaller member of the weasel family and an ancestor of the European Polecat. They come in a variety of colours (sable, chocolate, silver, and cinnamon), albino being the original colour. Patterns are mitts (white feet), panda (white head), badger (white blaze), and Siamese (dark legs and tail). Male ferrets are referred to as "hobs". Female ferrets are called "jills" and are half the size of the males. Baby ferrets are called kits and are considered “adults” at 6-7 months of age. A group of ferrets is called “a business of ferrets.”
Ferrets are photoperiodic breeders which means they come into season when the length of daylight hours compared to hours of darkness are in the correct ratio for them (approx. between the months of September and April). The hob usually comes into season first and remains that way until the end of the season or until access to females in season is stopped. He develops a much stronger odour, may become violent towards other males, and will mark his scent everywhere with urine. The jill may come into season up to several times during the breeding season and are induced ovulators which means that the ripe eggs stay in the ovaries until a specific stimulus causes them to be released. If no stimulus is forthcoming, the jill remains in heat until the end of the breeding season. If left in season for this length of time, she can develop aplastic anaemia and has a general lowering of immunity, which can be fatal. The jill is allowed to stay in season no longer than a month at the most, the aim is then to bring her out of season as soon as possible which may be done in one of four ways:
- hormone injection (causes the eggs to be released from the ovaries ending the jill’s season;
- mating with a full male;
- mating with a vasectomized male. The jill is taken to a hob when she is receptive to mating. The hob will grasp the jill by the back of the neck with his teeth, eventually dragging her away and mate with her. They stay joined together from 10 minutes – 1 hour. They may mate several times during their time together. The jill is usually left with the hob for 12 to 24 hours. Within 2 weeks of the mating, the jill’s vulva should be noticeably less swollen, signifying success. Rough play with another ferret, particularly a male, or the scent of a full male in close proximity may also bring success;
After a mating with a vasectomized hob, a jill usually goes through a “phantom” pregnancy that may last from 42 to 45 days. She may then have a “phantom” litter, may include biting and driving all other ferrets and people away from her chosen nest site or trying to drag ferrets and people to her nest site and trying to make them stay there. This condition only lasts 3 to 14 days.
Ferrets are energetic, inquisitive, fearless, and capable of getting into places that you never imagined. They have very poor eyesight (can only see about two feet ahead), their peripheral vision (side to side) is better than their frontal vision and they also have very poor depth perception. When frightened, they will arch their back with bristled fur, jumping from side to side, backing away and hissing, releasing an odour from their scent glands. Ferrets do tend to sneeze a lot due to their close proximity to the ground and their habit of smelling everything in sight. Ferrets can catch human viruses.
Ferrets need a high protein diet consisting mainly of meat or animal byproducts rather than grain. Enjoy eating treats such as raisins, grapes (peeled or cut in half), unsalted popcorn, peanut butter, banana and an occasional veggie or two. Steer clear of foods very high in fibres such as nuts, lettuce and carrots which may cause intestinal blockage and raw onion contains a substance that may cause serious blood disorders. Even raisins are fairly high in fibre and no more than 2-3 as a treat should be given in any one day. Milk and milk products may cause diarrhea in some ferrets.