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Do Ferrets Have Spines? How Are They So Flexible?

black footed ferret

Cats are known for their flexibility and agility. But when we compare cats to ferrets, ferrets are on a whole different level. They are so flexible that people often ask—do ferrets have bones? We can assure you that ferrets have bones, spines, and lots of structural makeup, even though they act like they’re made up of nothing but liquid. Let’s take a deeper look at how these animals move.

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Do Ferrets Have Spines?

Ferrets are mammals with extremely flexible spines. Ferrets have 15 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar, and 3 sacral vertebrae, which allows them to bend their long bodies in unnatural positions. Those positions may look extremely painful to us, but to them, they are as common as standing straight or sitting in a chair. Actually, one of their favorite sleeping positions is called a “ferret donut.” They use their bottom as a pillow and their body is curled up in the shape of a donut, hence the name.

Ferret in the wild
Image Credit: MichaelSehlmeyer, Pixabay

Why Is a Ferret’s Spine So Flexible?

Their unique spine is an evolutionary adaptation that allowed them to chase rabbits, mice, rats, and other small animals through tight spaces. Thanks to their spine, they don’t lose agility while running in underground tunnels, which makes them so efficient hunters. They can also make a u-turn in a small space thanks to their amazing spine.

Usually, we can see a ferret running around with an arched back. But, when a ferret is underground, his entire torso straightens, making him around 30% longer but with the same speed as he has above ground. That is because a ferret’s back vertebrae are designed differently than other animals.

In other animals, vertebrates have small tips called processes that stop the movement of the spine if it bends too much. In ferrets, those processes are much thinner which allows the spine to bend more, creating the ability to move in the most impressive ways.

ferret eating crumbs from the ground
Image Credit: Isoman72, Pixabay

Do Ferrets Have Bones? Are They Flexible Too?

A ferret’s entire skeletal system is flexible, which allows them to enter holes smaller than 2 inches. If their head can fit through a hole, you can be sure their entire body can fit too.

Another feature that allows ferrets to enter such small spaces is their ribs. Their ribs come in pairs of 15, which is slightly more than 12 pairs in a human. The most interesting part about the ferret’s ribcage is the fact that it is collapsible. When a ferret is going through a narrow space, its ribcage flattens out for easier and faster travel. That is why ferrets can crawl under the door or escape through the wires of their cage.

ferret-cage-pixabay
image Credit: kemll, Pixabay

Can Ferret Break Bones?

Yes, ferrets can break their bones, even though they are flexible. The biggest problem with ferrets is the fact that they are fearless, sometimes to a fault. They will climb, burrow, dig, jump, and run around without thinking about their safety or consequences. That is why there are many injuries in ferrets that can end in the worst way possible.

One of the biggest dangers when it comes to ferrets and breaking bones is breaking their impressive spine as a result of falling from a great height, like from the top of a closet or out the window. Back injuries in ferrets are very serious and most of them can end up fatal, so it is very important to keep your pet ferret safe at all times.

A ferret’s back is not the only thing they can break, but it is the hardest one to heal after it happens. They have one of the longest spines in the animal kingdom and it is the most important part of their skeleton. Every other bone is prone to breaking as much as the spine, but the entire healing process can be faster and much simpler on other parts of the body.

black footed ferret
Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay

The Importance of Ferret-Proofing Your House

The best way to keep a ferret safe is to ferret-proof your home. Keep a ferret-safe room where your ferret can’t climb on the furniture, explore the interior of the cabinet, or fall asleep in the recliner. Those are the most common places accidents with ferrets happen and end up with ferrets being squished in the mechanism or falling from the furniture.

How To Hold a Ferret?

If you hold a relaxed ferret, they should be so loose you could theoretically touch his bottom to his head and he wouldn’t move a muscle. Despite being so flexible, it matters how a person holds a ferret. If you hold it the wrong way, you can cause muscle sprain, back pain, and other injuries.

holding ferret II_Mitskevich Uladzimir_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Mitskevich Uladzimir, Shutterstock

There is a proper way to hold a ferret. If you don’t want a ferret to nip you and you want a ferret to feel comfortable in your arms, here is what you have to do:

  • Grab the ferret under his front legs with your fingers right around his ribcage. Hold the ferret gently, but with enough force to prevent the ferret from escaping. That way, it won’t be able to bite you or scratch you with his toenails.
  • Your other arm should go under the ferret’s bottom. It is important to support the ferret’s back legs, so you are removing the strain from the ferret’s back. You don’t have to squeeze the back legs up to the ferret’s front legs. It is enough to support the legs that way so that the ferret looks like it is standing on its back legs. A ferret will be comfortable this way because its body won’t hang in the air.
  • When you are holding the ferret the right way, you are actually doing two things. You are keeping the ferret comfortable in your arms, and you are controlling his back legs. When a ferret is bored and wants to get out of your grip, the ferret will use his back legs to escape. It will bend that way so it can grab your fingers with his back legs and try to release the grip. So, by holding and supporting his back legs, you are also holding the back legs in one place, preventing him from scratching you on the hand below the front legs.

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Final Thoughts

Looking at ferrets sleeping, jumping, or running around does raise a question: do ferrets have bones? Their flexible spine is what makes them so impressive, but it also gets them into trouble. That is why every ferret owner needs to know the importance of ferret-proofing their home before welcoming one of these little creatures into their home.


Featured Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, shutterstock

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