Are Ferrets Domesticated Weasels? Facts and Myths You Should Know!

Ferrets are believed to have originated from the European polecat (Mustela putorius), a species of weasel. The polecat is a wild animal that is found throughout Europe and Asia. Ferrets were likely domesticated from polecats more than 2,000 years ago, primarily for hunting purposes. Ferrets were used in Europe to hunt rabbits and rodents because of their small size and ability to navigate tight spaces.

The Definition of Domestication

Before we can determine whether ferrets are domesticated or not, we need to understand what domestication means. Domestication is the process by which animals are selectively bred and raised in captivity to become more human-friendly and better suited for human purposes. Domestic animals are typically different from their wild counterparts in terms of behavior, appearance, and genetics.

Physical Characteristics of Ferrets

Fur and Coloration

Ferrets have a soft and dense undercoat, which is covered by longer, coarser guard hairs. Their fur can be a variety of colors, including white, black, brown, and cream. Some ferrets have a “blaze” or white stripe on their face, while others have a dark mask.

Anatomy and Size

Ferrets are small mammals, typically weighing between 1.5 and 4 pounds. They have long, slender bodies, short legs, and a pointed snout. Their tail is long and bushy. Ferrets have sharp teeth and claws, which they use for hunting and play.

Behavior and Temperament

Social Structure and Communication

Ferrets are social animals and live in groups called “businesses.” In the wild, polecats are solitary animals, but domesticated ferrets have adapted to living in groups. Ferrets communicate with each other through body language, vocalizations, and scent marking. They are known for their playful antics and love of exploration.

Hunting and Eating Habits

Ferrets are carnivorous animals and are obligate hunters, meaning they need to eat meat to survive. In the wild, polecats hunt small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Domesticated ferrets are typically fed a diet of high-quality commercial ferret food, supplemented with occasional treats of fresh meat. Ferrets have a high metabolism and need to eat frequently throughout the day.

Domestication Process

Ferret Domestication History

The domestication of ferrets likely began more than 2,000 years ago in Europe. Ferrets were primarily used for hunting rabbits and rodents, as they were small and could navigate tight spaces. Over time, ferrets became popular as pets, and selective breeding led to the development of different coat colors and patterns.

Selective Breeding

Selective breeding is the process of choosing animals with desirable traits and breeding them to produce offspring with those same traits. In the case of ferrets, selective breeding has resulted in a wide variety of coat colors and patterns. Some breeds, such as the angora ferret, have longer, silkier fur than others.

Similarities with Weasels

Shared Ancestry

Ferrets and weasels share a common ancestor, the European polecat. Both ferrets and weasels belong to the Mustelidae family, which also includes animals like otters, badgers, and minks.

Physical Similarities

Ferrets and weasels have many physical similarities, including their long, slender bodies, short legs, and pointed snouts. Both animals have sharp teeth and claws for hunting. However, ferrets are larger than most weasel species and have longer, bushier tails.

Differences from Weasels

Behavioral Variations

Ferrets and weasels have different temperaments and behaviors. Ferrets are social animals that live in groups, while most weasels are solitary. Ferrets are also much more playful and curious than weasels.

Domestication Impact

The process of domestication has had a significant impact on ferrets, both physically and behaviorally. Domesticated ferrets are much more human-friendly than their wild counterparts and have adapted to living in captivity.

Myths and Misconceptions

Ferret Aggression and Wild Nature

One common myth about ferrets is that they are aggressive and wild by nature. While ferrets can be mischievous and playful, they are not naturally aggressive towards humans. However, like any animal, they can become aggressive if they feel threatened or frightened.

Ferret vs. Weasel: Common Misidentifications

Another common misconception is that ferrets and weasels are the same animal. While they share a common ancestor and have many physical similarities, they are different species with different behaviors and temperaments.

Benefits of Owning a Ferret

Companionship and Bonding

Ferrets make great pets and are known for their playful personalities and affectionate nature. They enjoy interacting with their owners and can form strong bonds with them.

Low Maintenance Pet

Ferrets are relatively low maintenance pets, requiring daily feeding and cleaning of their living space. They do not need to be walked like dogs and can be left alone for short periods of time.

Considerations Before Getting a Ferret

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Before getting a ferret, it is important to check with your local laws and regulations to ensure that they are legal in your area. It is also important to consider the ethical implications of keeping a wild animal as a pet.

Time, Space, and Financial Commitments

Ferrets require time, space, and financial commitments. They need to be fed daily and have their living space cleaned regularly. They also need space to play and explore, as well as regular veterinary care.


Ferrets are fascinating creatures that have been domesticated for thousands of years. While they share a common ancestor with weasels, they are a distinct species with their own unique characteristics. Ferrets make great pets and can provide years of companionship and entertainment to their owners. However, it is important to consider the ethical and practical implications of owning a ferret before making the commitment.

ThePetFaq Team