Mustela putorius furo

Domestic ferrets are descendants of the European polecat, but are no longer found in the wild. They are fairly common as pets throughout the world, and are also useful for scientific research. Males and female are very different sizes, a female ferret can weigh up to two pounds, while a male may be nearly six pounds. Ferrets typically live 6-10 years in captivity if cared for well. They are typically most active at dawn and dusk and will sleep up to 20 hours a day. They are very curious animals and can be destructive if not trained and given proper attention and enrichment. Ferrets have special glands for marking their territory and this gives them a musky odor that many find unpleasant.

Did You Know?

Domestic ferrets are descendants of the European polecat, but are no longer found in the wild.


Does the harvest for wildlife trade or captive breeding of this species harm wild populations?

Little Cause for Concern

Domestic ferrets are bred solely for human use. They are closely related to the European polecat but are considered a separate species. Since they are species that is not found in the wild their use in the pet trade does not negatively impact wild weasel populations. In fact, scientists are using ferrets to help research how to preserve endangered weasels.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

When acquiring a pet ferret only acquire from a reputable pet store, hobby breeder or shelter.

Invasion Threat

Does the release or escape of this species into the wild harm the environment and/or economy?

Some Cause for Concern

It is unknown if ferrets could become established in the United States. They are not listed as an invasive species by the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before obtaining any non-traditional pet, check that it is legal to own one in your state of residence and check for permitting requirements. Always keep your pet inside a safe and secure enclosure. Never release a pet into the wild.

Ease of Care

Does harvest, captive breeding, transport, or being kept as a pet harm individual animals?

Significant Cause for Concern

Ease of care of many non-traditional pets depends on the individual owner’s years of experience and knowledge caring for a particular species. For the purposes of this website, we have geared information toward the benefit of the beginner.

Ferrets are intelligent and social creatures that do well in a pair or small group, but can thrive alone if given proper attention by their owner. They need time out of the cage daily, ideally at least 4 hours. Ferrets can be troublemakers and it is important that they are trained to be on their best behavior when out of the cage. It is also essential that the area they are allowed in is ferret proof with nothing they can get stuck in or damage. They are known to ingest items around the house so be sure to monitor them closely. Ferrets need a large cage for sleeping with plenty of comfortable spots for them to curl up. Their diet should consist of a high quality ferret feed that has animal protein as the main ingredient. Ferrets are carnivores and should be fed as such, they can be fed wet cat food as a treat, but avoid fruits and vegetables. Ferrets can be a rewarding pet and very affectionate with their owner but they take a considerable amount of care. They may not be a great choice for young children as they have very sharp teeth and bite when scared and sometimes when they are playing. There is a high incidence of adrenal and pancreatic cancer in ferrets as they age. These diseases are difficult and very expensive to treat.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Before acquiring a ferret, be sure to research its specific care requirements. Make sure to buy from a reputable source.

Health Threat

Does this animal pose a health risk to native wildlife, humans, livestock and agriculture?

Some Cause for Concern

Ferrets can carry a few intestinal bacteria and parasites including Salmonella and Campylobacter that may also cause gastrointestinal ailments in humans. Ferrets are also highly susceptible to the Influenza virus, and not only can you catch this illness from your pet but your pet can get it from you. Although it is very rare, ferrets are susceptible to rabies if exposed. It is therefore required that you have your pet vaccinated for rabies each year.

EcoHealthy Recommendation:

Make sure you purchase or adopt your ferret from a reputable source to increase your chance of receiving a healthy animal.

EcoHealth Alliance works at the intersection of ecosystem, animal and human health through local conservation programs and develops global health solutions to emerging diseases.
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