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The ferret has been a domesticated animal for 5000 years. Sketches and paintings, and even bodies, of ferrets have been found in numerous Egyptian burial sites. They have been used for rabbit and rodent hunting, both out of necessity and for sport. Queen Victoria of England presented visiting royalty with ferrets as gifts. Despite this lengthy existence with close proximity to humans, there are still many myths and fallacies surrounding ferrets in general, and especially with reference to them as pets.

Ferrets are not rodents, and statistically are no more likely to bite humans than dogs or cats. They are members of the Mustelidae family, which classifies them with weasels, mink, ermine, martens, skunks, badgers, otters, wolverine, and the black-footed ferret. They share many of the physical traits of their family, including scent glands; however, they lack the muscle mass and wild instincts of their feral relatives. Males tend to weigh 2 - 3 1/2 pounds, while the females are significantly smaller, weighing 1 - 2 1/4 pounds. They come in two basic color groups: sable and white. Within the sable group, there are the derivatives of chocolate, cinnamon, champagne, silver mitt, and black, while the white group also contains albino and black-eyed whites.

Breeding females are called "Jills" and spayed females are called "Sprites," while breeding males are called "Hobs" and neutered males are called "Gibs." Ferret offspring are called "Kits," whether male or female. In the wild, the breeding cycle of Jills and Hobs is dictated by temperature and length of daylight. The gestation period of a Jill is approximately 6 weeks and usually results in 5-8 Kits. The Kits are weaned between 6 and 8 weeks. The Jill then needs to be bred again, if she isn't, she will remain in heat and will eventually die from aplastic anemia. Therefore, if a Jill is going to be kept as a family pet, she needs to be spayed between 5 and 7 months of age.

The average lifespan of a ferret is 5 to 7 years; sometimes one will live as long as 10. As pets, they are extremely social, intelligent creatures who love to engage in sometimes rambunctious play, whether with humans or other ferrets. They then will sleep so soundly that they are often mistaken for dead, which they do from 15 to 20 hours a day! They love to steal "treasures," from socks to bits of aluminum foil. They can be litter trained, taught their names, and taken for walks using a harness and leash.

In conclusion, ferrets are not "wild animals" but long-domesticated creatures. Although they may differ from cats and dogs, with a little knowledge and understanding, they can be just as rewarding, providing a companionship that will be filled with fun and excitement.


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