There is a general misconception among people that all small or rat-like creatures are rodents. When you see animals like gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, and squirrels, you tend to think of rodents.
But is the ferret really a rodent? Ferrets are not rodents and they do not belong to the Rodentia order or any rodent family.
This article will address this question and show you the order and family to which ferrets belong. If this is what you want to see, you would want to read this article.
Is The Ferret a Rodent?
Despite their striking resemblance to most rodents, ferrets aren’t rodents. Rodents are mainly known for their long, sharp, ever-growing incisors but ferrets have sharp canine teeth, which are prominent in carnivorous animals.
Ferrets lack the requirements and characteristics of rodents. They aren’t members of the Rodentia order but belong to the Mustelidae family, making them related to weasels, minks, honey badgers, otters, polecats, ratels, zorillas, and wolverines.
Ferrets are excellent hunters. They have short legs and long bodies that can be compared to a rat or mouse. Many pet lovers assume and consider ferrets to be rodents.
People mistake ferrets for rodents due to their small size. Ferrets typically weigh between 1.7 pounds and 3 pounds and can measure from 12 to 24 inches. Their size is pretty small for a creature that feasts on other animals.
Perhaps, the major reason why ferrets are believed to be rodents is that they are kept in the same section as most rodents like guinea pigs, hamsters, squirrels, and mice. Funny enough, I have yet to see a pet store with a weasel section.
Most small animals with carnivorous teeth like skunks survive in the wild by eating small animals, fishes, reptiles, birds, and even rodents.
Why Are Ferrets Not Rodents?
Several studies and features suggest why ferrets aren’t rodents. To start with, all rodent families belong to the Rodentia order but ferrets come from the Mustelidae family and belong to the genus Mustela.
The Mustaelidae family is widely regarded as the weasel family and it consists of several animals, including zorillas, otters, skunks, ratels, wolverines, and badgers.
The main attribute of rodents is their long, continuously growing incisors, which they use to gnaw items and defend themselves. Rodents have a problem with their teeth because if they don’t gnaw constantly to regulate their teeth growth, their teeth will outgrow their mouth, preventing them from eating or even causing brain damage.
While ferrets lack the ever-growing teeth of rodents, they have canine teeth. Ferrets have two canine teeth in their mouths, which they use to kill their prey and tear its meat.
Also, rodents do not have the long, slender body shapes of ferrets. Virtually all mustelids are predators with small, long bodies.
As predators, ferrets are skillful hunters, they hunt different animals. Ferrets are carnivores and can eat many small animals such as poultry, birds, and even rodents. Ferrets rely on meat for food and this is why it is not a good idea to keep them in the same enclosure as rodents.
As carnivores, ferrets require a meal consisting of meat, bones, and organs. Their dietary needs differ from typical rodents and they aren’t used to eating grasses, dairy, vegetables, and fruits because their body system does not accept such types of food.
Feeding a ferret with fruits and vegetables can cause it stomach upset and problems. Virtually all ferrets owners know this, so they feed their pets a rich nutrition of meat in sufficient quantities without any plant-based ingredients.
Rodents are mainly herbivores but some species are classified as omnivores. For instance, capybaras, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and mice are herbivores, and hamsters and rats are omnivores. Hence, rodents can be herbivores and omnivores depending on the species, meaning they can either feed on plants only or plants and animals.
Furthermore, rodents and ferrets aren’t the same due to their behavioral differences. Most rodents are shy animals and they tend to stay hidden and unseen. They are cautious while scurrying around, and tend to move around the corners or edges of the room they are in.
When a rat or mouse sees you, it probably will run away from you for fear of being attacked. Rodents see themselves as endangered prey and they live with this consciousness.
If you see a rodent and start running in its presence, there is a tendency that it will run too (not with you but to any hole or hideout it can find).
Ferrets are excellent hunters from time and have been domesticated for many years. These small animals are used to hunting small animals, including mice and rats for food.
Ferrets will move or run after almost everything that runs around them. Like dogs, if you run in the presence of a rodent, it is likely for that rodent to run after you.
Can You Raise Ferrets and Rodents Together as Pets?
Now that we know why ferrets aren’t rodents, is it a good idea to keep them together? No!
You may have seen ferrets kept in the same section as rodents in pet stores, it is not ideal to let them live together and I will tell you why.
Ferrets eat rodents and if you have both animals in your home, the ferret will likely eat or attack the rodent someday.
If you own a pet guinea pig, rat, hamster, mouse, and ferret, you should keep both of them apart from each other by keeping them in separate rooms or cages. No matter what rodent you have in your custody, it won’t live in peace when it shares the same roof with a rodent. Ferrets are good hunters and can hunt the rodent at any time.
Raising both animals from birth or young won’t change anything because the ferret will crave to eat the rodent when it is grown and mature. The prey drive of ferrets is bigger than you can imagine, even more than that of cats and dogs.
Moreover, rodents can get tensed or stressed near a rodent, which isn’t good for their health. Ferrets tend to have a strong musky smell that will activate the “prey” sense of the rodents and cause them to overdrive, stressing the rodent.
This is why it is important to wash and sanitize our hands after handling a rodent or ferret, as both animals have a powerful sense of smell and can perceive themselves on our hands and clothes.
Are Ferrets Related to Dogs or Cats?
Another popular misconception is that ferrets are related to dogs. Although ferrets and dogs aren’t closely related, people use this analogy to debunk the myth of rodents being related to rodents. Those in this school of thought feel that ferrets are more related to cats and dogs than they are to rodents because they are members of the Carnivora order while the rodents are members of the Rodentia order.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores like cats and they relish a meat-based diet like cats and dogs. As mentioned, the digestive system of ferrets is created and designed to process meat and not plant matter.
Should ferrets eat grasses and plant diet, they may run into digestive issues and stomach problems because their body finds difficulty in digesting fiber and complex carbohydrates.
For dogs, their system can process carbohydrates, so they can have fruits and vegetables in their diet and benefit from it. While dogs are canines, there aren’t true carnivores but omnivores.
What Animals Are Related To Ferrets?
Since dogs and cats aren’t closely related to ferrets, it is important to see what animals are their close relatives.
Weasels are the close relatives of ferrets. They have short legs, long necks, and long and slender bodies like ferrets. However, weasels have longer tails while ferrets are thinner and larger than weasels.
Weasels can have various colors, they can be brown and yellow or brown and white. Common weasels are the smallest living carnivore. They are hunters and can eat birds, bird eggs, poultry, frogs, and rodents. However, they are prey to snakes, birds of prey, foxes, and humans, who hunt them for their fur.
Common weasels are the closest relatives of ferrets. They can have two litters a year. It is possible to keep both ferrets and weasels as pets, as the former have been domesticated for years but the latter is a wild animal.
Another animal closely related to ferrets is the mink. Minks are known for their dark brown fur with white markings.
Like ferrets, minks hunt several animals in the wild, including fish, crayfish, frogs, salamanders, and rodents. They are semi-aquatic, so they can stay in water and on land.
Their semi-aquatic nature allows them to go in the water to hunt for food. Like ferrets, minks can also be domesticated but their diet and lifestyle make the process a bit complicated, as owners must provide adequate water sources for the animal.
Humans are the biggest predators of minks, they farm and hunt the animal for their fur. Apart from humans, minks are prey to badgers, bobcats, birds of prey, coyotes, otters, and other predators.
Although skunks are not as closely related to ferrets as weasels and minks, they are classified in the same family. Ferrets have a smelly odor and handlers of this creature can have this smell after coming in contact with them.
Skunks are popular for releasing a foul-smelling liquid. Skunks are black but have white stripes on their backs. Like skunks, ferrets also have scent glands that can produce and release a similar odor. However, these glands are removed through a process called ‘descenting’ while the ferret is still young.
Apart from ferrets, descenting is done on pet skunks but it is a controversial move and is said to be unnecessary because it doesn’t stop the animal from being smelly. Many animal organizations advise ferret owners against removing the scent glands of their pets because it has no benefits.
Descented ferrets still have their natural odor. Many ferret owners bathe their pets regularly, hoping to remove the smell but this only makes them stinkier. So, they only bathe their ferrets when necessary.
Skunks are stronger than ferrets. They are omnivores, and their diet consists of mostly insects and rodents. Skunks can turn to grasses and plant matter when their main food is unavailable. They can also go to the trash and waste bins to scavenge for food.
Skunks live in various habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and woodlands, and are eaten by birds of prey as well as canines such as dogs, foxes, wolves, and coyotes. Their foul-smelling liquid helps them defend and evade predators.
They can spray this harsh, smelly liquid from over 10 feet away and the smell is strong enough to be perceived by a human over 3.5 miles away. Apart from skunks, another animal that can produce and release a foul-smelling liquid spray are stink badgers.
Ferrets can make great pets, they are social animals, they can live in groups can bond with various animals but aren’t suitable to be matched with rodents. While they share physical characteristics and traits with most rodents, they aren’t rodents.
If you are bringing a ferret into your home, be sure to keep it away from your guinea pig, mouse, gerbil, rat, hamster, chinchilla, and other rodents. Ferrets are hunters of many small animals, they are meat-eaters and can hunt your pet rodent.