What is a Ferret?

Panda Ferret in Plastic DrawerFerrets, because they are meat eaters, belong to the Carnivora order, as do dogs and cats, wolves and lions. As we move further down the classification line, we see that ferrets belong to the Mustelidae (which means loosely “weasel” or “mouse killer”) family, and this makes them remotely related to badgers, sea otters, wolverines, and polecats. So far, then, it seems our pet ferrets, our favorite fuzzies, are in the company of some pretty tough (and perhaps stinky) critters.

Next, we find ferrets in the genus putorious, a Latin word that means “stench.” (Just think of the word “putrid.”) Then, they are in the species called furo, which come from furis, which means “thief.” Big surprise, huh?

So, taxonomically, a ferret is . . . a weaselly, mouse-killing, smelly thief. But pet ferrets aren’t really very closely related to weasels, and most of them don’t kill mice (unless they are fed a whole-prey diet). They are, however, incorrigible thieves, so that part’s pretty accurate.

This description, though scientifically sound, doesn’t really tell us much about what this creature we love really is. So . . . just what IS a ferret?

Well, first off, a ferret is a small, elongated, long-whiskered bundle of energy – when it isn’t sleeping, which is most of the time. It is a creature that when active (which, again, is only about 6 hours a day) is furiously playing – running, jumping, hiding, chewing, stealing. Or not . . . because it may be asleep. A ferret, then, is a seeming contradiction – a living paradox.

Second, a carpetshark possesses the attributes of several different animals all bundled together in one lovable package. It displays, for instance, the zany playfulness of an otter. (Just think of otters in all the Disney shows we watched when we were kids.) It has the sneakiness and curiosity of a cat – which, just as with cats, can get a ferret into some less-than-ideal predicaments. And a ferret is like a dog in that it often engages in hilariously entertaining (to us) and embarrassing (to the ferret) antics.

Finally, on a more serious note, ferrets are great pets – but only for those willing to make the necessary investment. For just like people – and they are a lot like humans, too – they require vaccinations and regular medical check-ups, as well as a quality diet, to remain healthy. They need their own living space and quality sleeping quarters. They have to have scheduled play times and lots of chances for socialization with both you and others of their own kind.

Pet ferrets are, in short, members of your family. And here are a couple of our picks in ferret-care books for tips on how to keep your paradoxical, multi-faceted, furry family members healthy and happy . . .

Ferrets for Dummies by Kim Schilling

Getting Started with Pet Ferrets by Karen Hearing


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