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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Fun Ferret Facts

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 Cover of Fun Ferret Facts Activity Page
CVM’s Office of Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Drug Development (OMUMS for short) works hard to make sure safe and effective drugs are available for minor species, like ferrets and pheasants.

  • Ferrets belong to the weasel family (Mustelidae), which includes polecats, stoats, and ermines. Domesticated ferrets most likely descend from the European polecat.
  • Ferrets were domesticated about 2,500 years ago. Historically, ferrets were used to hunt rabbits and rodents. Their lean bodies and curious nature make ferrets naturals at getting down holes to chase rodents and rabbits out of burrows. This is the origin of the expression “ferret out.”
  • From 1860 to the start of World War II, ferrets were widely used in the American West to protect grain stores from rodents. They gained popularity as pets in the 1980s and 90s.
  • The name “ferret” is derived from the Latin word furittus, meaning “little thief.” This name likely refers to the common ferret habit of secreting away small items.
  • A ferret’s normal heart rate is 200 to 250 beats per minute.
  • The average lifespan of a domestic ferret is eight years.
  • Ferrets are most active at dawn and dusk.
  • An intact female ferret is a jill, and a spayed female is a sprite. An intact male is a hob, and a neutered male is a gib. Baby ferrets (less than 1 year) are kits. A group of ferrets is a business or fesnyng (fez-ning).
  • All kits are born with white fur and get their approximate adult color at 3 weeks of age.
  • Ferrets can get heartworms from the bite of an infected mosquito. Ferrets are similar to dogs in their susceptibility to heartworm infections, but their symptoms are more similar to those seen in cats.