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Home > Ferrets > Are Ferrets Rodents? What Does Science Say

Are Ferrets Rodents? What Does Science Say

ferret_Daniel Steinke_Pixabay

If you are interested in owning a pet ferret, one of the first things you probably want to clarify is, are ferrets rodents? No, ferrets are not rodents, though they are commonly mistaken to be part of the Rodentia family. Keep reading while we explain which family they are a part of and how they are different from their rodent cousins.

divider-ferret What Family Does a Ferret Belong To?

Ferrets belong to the Mustelidae family right next to the otters, minks, weasels, and even honey badgers. All these wild animals are actually carnivorous and most of them eat rodents to survive in nature alongside small birds, reptiles, fish, and other small animals.

common small domestic animals bird ferret bunny guinea pig lizard
Image credit by Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock

Ferrets Eat Rodents

Just like the majority of the Mustelidae family, ferrets are carnivores. That means they have to eat meat. People who own ferrets as pets can give them a whole prey diet, which consists of rodents and other small animals like rabbits and small birds like quails and chicks.

Why Do People Mistake Ferrets for Rodents?

If ferrets are so far from rodents, why do people consistently confuse them as being part of the Rodentia family? What in their general appearance reminds us of them?

holding ferret II_Mitskevich Uladzimir_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Mitskevich Uladzimir, Shutterstock

Ferrets Are Small Animals

A ferret is a small animal, often weighing around 1.7 pounds up to 3 pounds, with a length that varies from 12 inches up to 24 inches. That is actually a pretty small measure for a beast that eats other animals, which is why its diminutive status may remind people of rodents.

Ferrets Look Like Rodents

Another reason why people often confuse ferrets with rodents is their bodies. Ferrets are animals with long bodies and short legs. With that general appearance, they remind us more of a rat, a mouse, or even a cat (a carnivorous part of the pet world) compared to a standard domesticated dog.

rodent ferret sits on dry hay_Inna astakhova_shutterstock
Image Credit: Inna astakhova, Shutterstock

Proof That Ferrets Aren’t Rodents

So, how can we be sure that ferrets really aren’t rodents? There are some pretty straightforward facts. When you scratch below the surface, you can easily notice the differences.

Differences In Their Teeth

Rodents are famous for their teeth thanks to their sharpness and growth. Rodents’ teeth constantly grow throughout their entire life. Rodents use their teeth to eat, defend themselves, and as a tool so they can shorten them to ideal size simply by using them every day. If a rodent doesn’t use its incisors, these teeth can grow and cause injury to the animal’s skull, even preventing the animal from feeding.

Ferrets, for example, don’t have that problem with their teeth. Two of their teeth are canines, teeth commonly seen in carnivores. Canines hold and tear meat, and we can easily recognize them because they are four of the longest and pointiest front teeth you can find on both the upper and lower jaw on an animal (and human), two on each.

ferret yawn
Image Credit: Pixabay

Differences In Diet

We can classify rodents as herbivores and omnivores, depending on the species. This means they can either eat only plants, or they eat both plants and other animals. For example, mice, capybaras, chinchillas, and guinea pigs are herbivorous. Rats and hamsters, on the other hand, are omnivorous.

Ferrets, unlike rodents, are strict carnivores. That means the best and the only nutrition for them consists of meat, organs, and bones. Ferrets aren’t used to any type of fruit, vegetables, dairy, or sweets. Their bodies don’t know what to do with these types of food. If we give a ferret fruit or vegetables, it can often result in an upset stomach. That is why most ferret owners feed their pets with balanced raw meat nutrition without any plant-based ingredients.

Behavioral Differences

Rodents act like prey most of their lives. That means they will lay low and try to stay hidden and act cautiously, always having one eye on their surroundings. If you start running in the presence of a rodent, that rodent will probably run, too. But, not to run with you, but to hide in the first hideout he can find. That is because they aren’t predators, they are prey and their mind is in the “prey model” all the time.

Ferrets were domesticated a few thousand years ago to hunt rabbits and other pests (mice, rats, etc.). They are famous for their high prey drive, which means they will run after almost everything. If we start running in the presence of a ferret, that ferret will start chasing us. It is a similar story with dogs.

ferret with leash
Image Credit: Pixabay

Can Ferrets and Rodents Live Together?

Now that we see why we can’t classify ferrets as rodents, the next question emerges: Can or should we let ferrets and rodents live together? The simple answer to this question is no. and here is why:

Ferrets Eat Rodents

We have to remember that ferrets eat rodents, meaning a ferret will be interested in any rodent we have in our home. That is why we should keep rodents and ferrets apart at all times, to prevent a ferret from hunting the rodent down. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a ferret and a rodent (no matter whether it is a mouse, rat, or hamster) to live together in harmony. There is always a chance for a ferret’s hunting instincts to kick in and that can be the end of their harmonic life.

feeding little ferret
Image Credit: Pixabay

Keep Them in Separate Rooms

Not only is there a chance that a ferret can attack a rodent, but there is also a chance that a rodent will feel stressed near a ferret, which is bad for their health. Ferrets have a strong musky odor that will kick rodents’ “prey” sense into overdrive, which can result in owning a stressed rodent. That is why it is also very important to wash our hands before and after handling a ferret or a rodent. They can smell each other on our hands and clothes.

What If They Are Raised Together?

Even if we let a ferret and a rodent grow up together, things won’t change. We all know that most animals can live in harmony if they grow up together, but that is not the case with ferrets. Their prey drive is much higher than with an ordinary cat or dog. That means a ferret can attack the other animal in a second, no matter how close we think they are. This is not the story only with rodents, it is the same with birds, reptiles, and other small animals.

divider-ferret Final Thoughts

Although ferrets are social animals and they love to live in groups, they aren’t a good match with rodents and they definitely aren’t rodents themselves. They might look alike, but if you want to keep your rat, mouse, chinchilla, or hamster safe and happy, keep them away from your ferret. Ferrets are hunters of prey, no matter how small they are and no matter how much they remind us of rodents.

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Featured Image Credit: Daniel Steinke, Pixabay

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