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Ferrets - History

Mustela putorius furo, the European polecat was probably the forerunner of the domesticated pet ferret.

Ferrets have been useful working members of British households for a thousand or more years. Pet ferrets are kept today as companions as well as working animals throughout much of the world.

ferretThe ferret was probably kept first as a mouse and rat catcher before the introduction of the domestic cat from the Middle East. It has been suggested that the ancestors of the domestic ferret originate in Northern Africa, spreading to Europe with the Roman invasions.

The spread of ferrets through Europe may have accompanied the spread of rabbits that they hunted. The use of ferrets to hunt wild rabbits is called ferreting. Ferrets are used for rabbit population control and to obtain food. Muzzles were used to stop the ferret from killing and eating the rabbit within the warren. Light coloured ferrets are favoured because they are easier to see and retrieve after a hunt. There is little need for training because ferrets naturally run through warrens, seeking out rabbits.

Ferrets were used on board ships for the control of vermin. They were bred for the fur trade their fur being made into ‘fitch’ coats.

Harnessed ferrets have been used to get into restricted spaces by telephone engineers and the like, taking advantage of the ferrets natural habit of frequenting dark tunnels.

In recent times ferrets have fallen prey to bio-medical researchers, first used in the study of the human form of the influenza virus. Fortunately, the most common relationship with humans today is as a pet. What pet ferrets have going for them is that they are small, easy to care for and entertaining. They respond well to humans. Ferrets are now bred in a number of colour variations. There are even longhaired ferrets. Many devoted ferret owners attend pet ferret shows where they compete.


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