When you walk into a pet store rodent section, you’re likely to see guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and ferrets. But are all of these animals actually rodents?
We’ll talk all about ferret classification below, from if ferrets are rodents to the family where they belong.
Is a Ferret a Rodent?
No, a ferret isn’t a rodent. Although they may look similar, they don’t meet the requirements for being a rodent, which includes having continuously growing incisors. While rodents have long, continuously-growing incisors, ferrets have sharp, carnivorous teeth. Ferrets are also characterized by their long bodies, necks, and tails; their short legs; and their fierce hunting skills.
Ferrets belong to the Weasel family alongside weasels, polecats, minks, otters, badgers, skunks, wolverines, ratels, and zorillas. Some examples of rodents include guinea pigs, rabbits, and beavers.
The main reason people believe ferrets are rodents is that pet stores keep them in the same section as rodents like mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs. This likely happens because they are furry, and pet stores don’t tend to have a “weasel” section!
It’s also important to note that pet stores are bad places to adopt animals or receive care information. These stores usually buy their animals from mass breeding situations known as mills. You’ve probably heard of a puppy mill, which is the same concept.
Pet store employees are rarely experts, so they also won’t provide you with correct care information most of the time. In addition, pet stores sell items labeled for animals they’re unsuited for—like cages that are way too small or treats that could lead to sickness or even death.
It’s so important to do your research when adopting a pet. Adopt from a rescue, shelter, or reputable breeder.
What is the Difference Between a Ferret and a Rodent?
Ferrets belong to the genus Mustela and the family Mustelidae. All mustelids are predators with small but long bodies. They are skinny with short legs and long spines. Ferrets don’t have the ever-growing incisors of rodents, and rodents don’t have ferrets’ long, slender body shapes.
In addition, most rodents are herbivores, while ferrets are fierce hunters. Their prey includes rodents, and they should never be housed together with rodents as pets.
Other animals in the Mustela genus include weasels, polecats, and minks. The family Mustelidae is commonly referred to as the weasel family, though it expands to include otters, badgers, skunks, wolverines, ratels, and zorillas.
Are Ferrets Related to Dogs or Cats?
Ferrets and dogs aren’t closely related. However, some people use this analogy when dispelling the rodent myth: ferrets are more closely related to cats and dogs than to rodents! This is because they belong to the order Carnivora, while rodents do not.
Like cats and dogs, ferrets eat a meat-based diet. They are known as obligate carnivores, like cats. This means that their digestive systems are designed to process meat, not plant matter. Fiber and complex carbohydrates are difficult for them to digest.
Dogs, on the other hand, can process and benefit from plant matter. Their systems can process carbohydrates, and they benefit from fruits and vegetables in their diet. Rather than true carnivores, dogs are known as omnivorous animals.
A Deeper Look at the Weasel Family
To give you a better idea of ferret relations, let’s look into a few of their close relatives:
Weasels are long and slender with short legs and long necks, just like ferrets. They are typically brown and white or brown and yellow.
However, ferrets are larger and thinner than weasels, and weasels have longer tails. While both are kept as pets, ferrets have been domesticated—while weasels are still wild animals.
Weasels eat rodents, frogs, birds, and bird eggs. Their greatest predator is humans, who hunt them for their fur. Animals that eat weasels include foxes, snakes, and birds of prey.
Common weasels, the weasels closest related to ferrets, have two litters per year. They are known as the smallest living carnivore!
Minks are dark brown with white markings. Their diet consists of frogs, salamanders, fish, crayfish, and rodents. They hunt primarily in the water. They are semi-aquatic, so keeping them as pets can be more complicated than keeping ferrets because they must have an adequate water source.
While both ferrets and minks are domesticated, minks are sadly farmed for fur more often than they live in our homes. Aside from humans, other predators of minks include coyotes, bobcats, otters, badgers, and birds of prey.
Skunks aren’t as closely related to ferrets as weasels and minks, but they belong to the same family. Knowing this relation might better explain why ferrets are so smelly!
Like skunks, ferrets also have scent glands that release odor. These are typically removed at a young age, which is called descenting. This procedure is also done on pet skunks, though they’re less commonly kept!
Descenting is a controversial procedure because it’s an unnecessary surgery that’s without benefit–it doesn’t even make your ferret less smelly! Unless your animal must have these glands removed for medical reasons, we strongly advise against it.
It’s important to know that descented ferrets will still smell. They have a natural odor that won’t go away. Some people bathe their ferrets with hopes of removing the odor, but this can actually make them even stinkier and is only recommended on an as-needed basis.
Of course, skunks are black with white stripes down their backs. While they have similar bodies to ferrets, they tend to be stronger. On the other hand, ferrets get into more trouble with their climbing skills and ability to fit into tight spaces!
Skunks are omnivores that prefer meat like insects and rodents. They eat plant matter when prey is less available. These scavengers have no problem going through human trash to find food, either! They are more adaptable than ferrets when it comes to diet.
The main predators of skunks are birds of prey and canines like wolves, coyotes, and dogs.
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