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What kind of animal is smaller than a cat and as playful as a dog? A ferret fits this description. Learn about ferrets, including where they live, what they eat, and their life cycles.

What Is a Ferret?

Many people have a dog, cat, fish, or hamster for a pet. But there are some people that keep ferrets as pets.

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Even though these animals were originally wild, there are now also domesticated ferrets.

Ferrets are small animals that live in tunnels in the wild. Domesticated ferrets live in houses.
A black-footed ferret
Black-footed Ferret

Black-footed ferrets eat meat, and their main source of food is prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are ground squirrels that build massive underground tunnel colonies.

Black-footed ferrets are solitary mammals and spend most of their lives alone. They are nocturnal (they hunt and are active mainly at night) and fossorial, meaning they live mostly underground. In fact, black-footed ferrets live in old prairie dog burrows. Their slender bodies make it easy for them to navigate these small spaces.

Wild black-footed ferrets only live three to four years in the wild. Babies, called kits, are born in the spring, usually in litters of around 3 to 4. Kits only stay with their mother and siblings until the fall when they are ready to go lead their solitary lives.Black-footed ferrets have many predators, like birds of prey and coyotes.

They are also dependent on large prairie dog populations to survive.Black-footed ferrets have been on the endangered species list because the diminished prairie dog lands and predators have made it difficult for these ferrets to do well in nature.

The Domesticated Ferret

The domesticated ferret is native to Europe. They are tame and cared for by humans. Ferrets have been kept as pets in Europe for at least 2,500 years. They were originally domesticated to help kill rodents in homes and fields.Domesticated ferrets come in a variety of colors: white, tan, brown, light red, grey and even black.

Unlike wild ferrets, domesticated ferrets need owners that will take care of them. They cannot live on their own in the wild.

A domesticated white ferret
Domesticated White Ferret

Domesticated ferrets also differ from wild ferrets in that they are very sociable. They will often change their sleeping patterns to be up during the day so they can play with their owners, other ferrets, or even fellow pets like cats and dogs.

Taking care of a ferret is a lot of work though; they chew things, aren’t that great about using the litter box, and some people don’t like their smell. For this reason, sadly, many people have abandoned their pet ferrets to fend for themselves. If taken care of, domesticated ferrets can live six to ten years.

Lesson Summary

There are wild and domesticated ferrets.

Both types of ferrets look similar, but they have many differences. Wild ferrets, like the solitary black-footed ferret, are nocturnal, fossorial mammals that feed primarily on prairie dogs. Domesticated ferrets are sociable family pets, which have been trained to live in harmony with humans.

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