The Ferret Guide: What Is a Ferret and Is It A Good Pet?

You’re reading the Introduction in Ferret: The Complete Guide for Beginners. Quickly navigate to other chapters: Intro | Preparing for a Ferret | Buying a Ferret | Ferret Care

So you decided to buy a ferret – or you want to know a bit more about this curious and smart pocket pet. The ferret is a playful pocket pet that is getting increasingly popular among pet owners. But what is a ferret and is it a good pet?

What Is a Ferret?

Before we start learning about the ferret, let’s take a look at the animal in question!

As you can see, the ferret is an animal that looks a little bit like a polecat or a weasel. They’re domesticated forms of the European polecats and can even mate with them to create ferret-polecat hybrids. The domesticated ferret we know today doesn’t live in the wild and is a species that is only known in captivity. They’re also called nicknamed carpet sharks by their owners.

So what is a ferret? A ferret is a domesticated form of the European polecat. Ferrets were used for hunting purposes but are only popular pets in certain parts of the world. They sleep for 18 hours a day and are very active when awake. They require a lot of playtime and stimulus to stay healthy and happy.

Let’s explore all this information a little bit further to give you a full idea of what a ferret is and where they come from.

Basic data and measurements

Body length (including tail)20 inches (51 centimeters)
Tail length5 inches (13 centimeters)
Weight1.5 to 4 pounds (0.7 to 2 kilogram)
Lifespan7 to 10 years


Ferrets have a long history of domestication and it’s been suggested by research that they were domesticated around 2,500 years ago. They were probably used by humans for hunting small animals such as rabbits.

For almost their entire history ferrets were used primarily for hunting, which was also called ferreting. They’ve got long and slender bodies and can easily get down small holes and chase the animals out. Only the last few decades ferrets were becoming more held as a pet and not for hunting purposes.

Behavior of ferrets

Crepuscular behavior

Ferrets are crepuscular pets like their family members in the wild. They’re more active at twilight periods, so at dawn and dusk. During the day and night, they will sleep for long periods. Ferrets have periods of high activity that are followed with long periods of sleep.

Although a ferret is crepuscular, it can adapt its sleeping habits to your habits. If you’re active during the night, it will slowly adjust their sleeping habits. The same goes for activity during the day.

Prey or predator?

Ferrets are sometimes used to hunt small animals such as rabbits and have a predatory instinct like the European polecat. A ferret will look at other pets like pet birds and small rodents as prey and will have an instinct to hunt them. Make sure that you keep your ferret away from these pets.

But they aren’t just predators but can also be attacked by dogs and cats. If your dog or cat can’t live happily with your ferret you will need to take measures to keep them separated and create a space of their own in the house. Always keep an eye and be alert when you have a ferret and dog or cat in the same room.

Social behavior

Ferrets can be kept as a solitary animal but they can also be kept in a small group. It’s a very social animal that loves to play and be busy. If you’ve got a lot of time to keep your ferret busy and play with it you can keep only one. However, if you’ve got a busy schedule and don’t have the time to play with your ferret it’s best to give it a friend.

Ferrets can get quite territorial and will have a place of their own in their cage and can fight each other. It’s best to get ferrets from the same litter when you want to keep more than one ferret. Introducing a new ferret is also possible but requires a little bit more patience.

Legality of Ferrets

It’s important to understand that ferrets are not legal in all regions. Some regions in the world, and even in the United States, have strict regulations concerning pets. In some areas, keeping a ferret is illegal or requires a permit. You should always check if you can keep ferrets in your region. Regulations in your country or city can prohibit keeping ferrets or can request a license.

Legality in the United States

In the United States, most states have accepted ferrets as legal pets. There are some states that still ban the keeping of ferrets such as California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. In some cities, there are restrictions on keeping ferrets, and a permit may be needed to keep or breed them.

Because regulation tends to change it’s best to contact the following organizations to be sure that ferrets are legal and that you don’t require a permit:

  • the state department of natural resources or the fish and game department
  • county
  • township

Legality in the Australia

Australia has one of the strictest policies on importing animals and keeping unique or exotic animals. A lot of pets that are legal to keep in the rest of the world are illegal to keep as a pet in Australia. The ferret is a legal pet in Australia except for Queensland and the Northern Territory. In the Australian Capital Territory, they can be kept with a license.

Legality in the New Zealand

New Zealand has, just like Australia, a strict policy on importing and keeping (exotic) animals. Besides cats and dogs, importing animals is limited to certain animals like rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs from Australia and Great Britain. Ferrets could be kept as pets until 2002 but nowadays the sale, distribution, and breeding are forbidden.

Is a Ferret a Good Pet for You?

Now that you know what a ferret is, you probably want to know if it’s a perfect pet for you. This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on a lot of different factors, which I’ll try to cover.

Is a ferret a good pet? A ferret can make an excellent pet for people that have enough time to play and keep the ferret busy. Ferrets will require training to learn not to bite but will return a lot of love. Because ferrets can and will bite they’re not that suitable for children.

Something very special you need to know is that they’re “smelly” pets although not all people have problems with the smell. The smell is musky and becomes worse with regular bathing so limit the bath times.

Questions to ask yourself

When you consider buying a pet it’s important to know if you can take care of it. Before you buy yourself a ferret you need to know a bit more about its needs. Below are some of the most important questions that will finally determine if a ferret is right for you.

  • does it require a lot of space?
  • does it need a lot of attention?
  • how easy it to take care of?
  • are they easy to handle?
  • is it easy to feed?
  • does it match my budget?
  • can I take care of it for a lifetime?
  • is it child-friendly?

Does it require a lot of space?

Ferrets are pets that love to play outside and inside their cage. A cage should be large enough but you’ll also need to let your ferret outside the cage for several hours each day to avoid boredom and stress. The most popular housing for ferrets is a vertical cage, a little bit like a birdcage, with enough room for toys and hammocks.

To give you an idea of the space you need; a ferret cage for up to two ferrets will need to have at least the following measurements:

  • 3 feet (90 centimeters) wide
  • 2 feet (60 centimeters) deep
  • 2 feet (60 centimeters) high

When you want to house more ferrets you’ll need to get larger – multilevel – cages with enough place to run and play.

Does it need a lot of attention?

Ferrets are crepuscular pets that are active during the day, but more so at twilight periods of the day. They’re also social animals that need the companionship of other ferrets or you to be happy. If you keep them as a solitary pet, you’ll need to give a lot of attention to it. If not, it will become stressed. But if you’ll keep a pair or a small group of ferrets, they will have a lot of fun together. They will play together and will need less attention from you.

It’s important to spend at least 4 hours each day handling and playing with your ferret(s) to bond with your ferret and keep it stimulated and happy.

How easy it to take care of?

Ferrets are high-maintenance pets that require a lot of attention. They need all the care that other pets also require such as daily feeding and cleaning the cage weekly. They only need to get a bath once every three months.

Are they easy to handle?

Ferrets can be easily tamed, especially when they’re still young. Make sure that you handle it daily to strengthen the bond. Although a ferret is bigger than other pocket pets and has a robust body that can easily be picked up it can get hurt when not handled right. In most cases, it won’t like to be handled but will want to play with you.

A ferret can be handled by placing one hand under or around the chest and lifting up the hind legs with the other hand. Keep it close to your body for security and safety reasons.

Is it easy to feed?

Ferrets are not that popular as pets as some other pocket pets. This means that you may find it hard to find food for them in your region. Ferrets are obligate carnivores and only need to eat meat to stay healthy. If you can’t find specialized food you can give high-quality cat food that contains meat and doesn’t contain grains, fruits, or vegetables. The food also needs to be low in carbohydrates.

So, contrary to dogs and cats, ferrets aren’t always easy to feed and a lot will depend on the availability of ferret food in your region.

Does it match my budget?

The price of a ferret ranges from $75 to $250 depending on the color variation and region you’re in. You’ll also need to buy a cage, toys, and food. Estimate a budget of at least $800 as a startup cost for holding a ferret. It’s important to be aware of these high startup costs and also know that there are recurring costs, such as food and cage bedding.

Can I take care of it for a long time?

Most pocket pets only have a lifespan of a few years. The ferret has a lifespan between 7 and 10 years. This means that you need to be certain that you or your children will take care of it for that time. If this is a little bit too long of a commitment, you can also try looking at pocket pets that have a shorter lifespan such as hamsters or rabbits.

Is it child-friendly?

Ferrets are really friendly animals that can bond well with their owners. If you’ve got children, you want to be sure that your pet is child-friendly. Children can be really interested in pets and want to hold and play with them. These furry pets will certainly spark the interest of your children as they’re curious animals themselves and look really cute.

In general, they’re not child-friendly animals and you need to be careful. You have to make a distinction between young and older children. In either case, you should always supervise your child when it handles an animal.

Young children

It’s best for young children to not have access to the cage and to just let them watch the ferret in its cage. It’s also possible for them to pet the ferret when you handle them or when they stay in their cage. In both cases, you have to be certain that the ferret is properly trained not to bite.

Older children

Older children can handle a ferret but it’s again really important that your ferret is trained not to bite. Make sure that your child knows the right way to pick it up and handle it.

Why wouldn’t you want your children to handle your pet?

It’s fairly simple. Your child might not know the right way to handle a ferret and might hurt it. Or while handling, your child might frighten or anger your ferret.

If your ferret gets frightened it will try to escape or will bite. It can be really difficult to catch because it’s slender and fast. A bite, on the other hand, will be a terrible experience for your child.

To Sum It Up

NicknameCarpet Shark
Scientific nameMustela putorius furo
Lifespan7 to 10 years
Characteristicsa social animal, crepuscular, playful

Related Questions

Do ferrets kill cats?

Ferrets and cats can live together but should be kept under supervision. They can bite hard and your cat might get injured even when it just wants to play. When a ferret bites really hard, for example when attacked by a cat, it can cause serious injuries and possibly the death of a cat.

Are ferrets dangerous?

Ferrets are generally not dangerous animals although they can bite. It’s important to learn them from a young age not to bite you or other people. Besides that, ferrets will not be dangerous and will seldom cause health issues.

Are ferrets cuddly?

Ferrets are pets that love playing with other ferrets and with you. You should spend at least four hours each day playing and cuddling. Ferrets love to sleep near you and also love cuddling, especially when tired of playing.

Now that you know what a ferret is and if it’s a suitable pet for you, you can continue to the next chapter in the guide: Preparing for a Ferret.

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