Ferrets are small domesticated animals related to weasels, otters, minks, badgers and wolverines. Their closest wild relative is the European polecat. People first domesticated ferrets about 2,000 years ago for controlling vermin and hunting rabbits. They are popular pets in North America and Europe.
People brought pet ferrets to North America about 300 years ago. They started becoming popular pets in the 1970s, but not all state and local jurisdictions recognize them as domestic animals. Would-be ferret owners should research local laws and obtain any needed licenses before getting a ferret. Ferret breeders usually spay or neuter young ferrets and remove the animals' scent glands before selling them.
Ferrets are usually 13 to 16 inches long and weigh from 3/4 pound to 4 pounds. Males are larger than females. Both sexes have a musky odor that has nothing to do with the scent glands. Ferrets usually sleep about 18 hours a day and adjust their waking hours to their owners' schedules. When awake, they are very playful and enjoy interaction with their owners.
Pet ferrets should be kept indoors as they are vulnerable to heat stress at temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also vulnerable to canine distemper, rabies and heartworms. A single ferret needs a cage at least 3 feet long by 2 feet high. Ferrets also need food and water dishes, bedding, ferret-safe litter, grooming supplies and toys.