Ferrets are small mammals related to weasels, badgers and otters. Until recently it was thought that they were also related to skunks.  Ferrets were first tamed over two centuries ago, and were used for hunting small animals and pests. They are particularly useful for hunting rabbits, being able to get down the rabbit holes to chase them. It is thought that they were probably bred from polecats originally.

A male ferret is a hob, a female is a jill, and the young are called kits.  A group of ferrets is called a 'business of ferrets'.

Pet ferrets should be given toys to play with. ©Getty Images

Pet ferrets should be given toys to play with. ©Getty Images

Ferrets are intelligent, highly energetic, curious animals.  They are friendly and playful. 

Ferrets have a long lean body and narrow head.  Adults are about 60 cm long including their tail, and males are larger than females. There are two kinds of ferret: the domestic ferret and the black-footed ferret.  

The domestic ferret is the one most kept as a pet. They have a variety of colours, from white to black. Black-footed ferrets have black feet, black fur around the eyes, and a black-tipped tail.

Pet ferrets can be fed dried meaty cat food. ©Getty Images.

Pet ferrets can be fed dried meaty cat food. ©Getty Images.

Ferrets are carnivores, and their natural diet is entirely meat. They can be fed a dried food product as long as it is meat- based. Many ferret owners feed them a mixture of dried cat food and raw meat. A good supply of clean water must be available. Because they are so energetic, ferrets should be fed several times a day.

 

Housing  a pet ferret

Pet ferrets can be walked on a lead. ©Getty Images

Pet ferrets can be walked on a lead. ©Getty Images

Ferrets escape easily, so escape-proofing a room inside or a yard outside is a challenge. Ferrets are not territorial, so if they escape they are unlikely to come back.

If ferrets are kept outside, they should have an enclosure that gives them plenty of exercise and play opportunities, but which has narrow spaces between the wires. 

They are playful, and should be provided with toys such as poly plastic tubes, cardboard boxes, and balls attached to string. They get great enjoyment from playing in tubes or tunnels.

Ferrets are high energy for short bursts of time, and then sleep. Once asleep they are hard to wake up.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

In their cage or enclosure there should be a sheltered area, a place for a litter tray like a cat's, and plenty of bedding because they like to snuggle up when they sleep.Some pet owners hang a hammock bed for their ferrets to lie in. They can be trained to wear a harness so they can be taken out for walks on a leash.

 

Read more about caring for a pet ferret:

Read the kidcyber pages about other animals kept as pets

Responsible pet ownership

Pet ferrets depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before becoming a pet owner think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly.