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Weasel vs Ferret: What’s the Difference?

Nicole Cosgrove

Weasels and ferrets look similar and have similar habits, but they are quite different animals. Ferrets are typically a little larger than weasels, but weasels are usually much more vicious when it comes to hunting. They are both cute and look cuddly, but the weasel is not much a cuddler like the ferret is.

There are many subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the weasel and the ferret to learn about, especially if you are considering buying one as a pet. We put together an eye-opening guide about the differences between weasels and ferrets for you. By the end of this guide, you should know everything about what makes the ferret and the weasel so different.

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Visual Differences

weasel vs ferret visual

The first visual difference between these two species is that the ferret tends to be larger and longer than the weasel. They also have longer legs than weasels do. Ferrets have black or dark brown coats, sometimes with cream markings, and weasels have lighter brown or beige coats and white underbellies. The weasel’s tail is usually longer than that of a ferret. Also, ferrets and weasels both have tubular bodies, but ferrets tend to be thinner than weasels.

At a Glance

The Weasel
  • Average length (adult): 4-12 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 1-13 ounces
  • Lifespan: 4-6 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Minimal
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Sometimes
  • Trainability: Poor
The Ferret
  • Average length (adult): 13-15 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 5-4.5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Minimal
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Moderate

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Weasel Overview

Weasel
Image Credit By: Cecil Sanders, commons wikimedia

The weasel is traditionally a wild animal that is small but ferocious as a hunter. These animals are known for chowing down on rats, birds, and rabbits, but some weasels can kill and eat prey that is up to 10 times as large as they are! Weasels can eat up to 50% of their own body weight every day. They will hunt even when they are not hungry, due to their intense prey drive. Anything small that runs around in their vicinity will be seen as prey.

Weasels are true carnivores, so you will not find them munching on any fruits or vegetables, whether in the wild or captivity. They can get along with humans and other larger animals if properly socialized from the time they are babies. Otherwise, they prefer to be left to their own devices, just like they would in the wild. Potential owners should be aware that weasels can harm puppies and kittens if they feel threatened. Cat and dog pets should be full-grown before introducing a weasel to the household.

Personality / Character

Weasels are lively little animals that do not spend much time lounging around while they are awake. When they are not hunting, these animals can be found dancing, climbing through trees looking for bird eggs, or building burrows to sleep in. But most of the time, they hunt. They will hunt even when they are not hungry, and they store the food underground near their nest or burrow for later. Weasels are known for doing a “war dance” to confuse and hypnotize their prey before going in for the kill.

Weasels are not cuddly creatures, although they prefer to have another weasel around when living as pets in captivity. Most experts agree that weasels should not be kept as pets because they have not been domesticated. In fact, it is illegal to own a weasel as a pet in many states throughout the United States. Weasels are happiest when living in the wild. Their deadly ways can be downright dangerous in the household.

Weasel Training
Image Credit By: Keven Law, commons wikimedia

Health & Care

Weasels tend to live longer in captivity simply because the wild is so dangerous. They are not prone to the same health conditions that pets like dogs and cats are, because they eat a natural diet made up of freshly killed animals, not manmade commercial foods that include grains, fillers, and artificial ingredients.

Because weasels are not typically kept as pets, there are not any special beds, foods, or habitats available on the market just for them. Those who insist on keeping a weasel as a pet could use items made for ferrets to meet their pet’s needs, though.

Suitability

Simply put, weasels are most suitable for the wild. They can adapt to almost any kind of terrain and weather, so they can be found in the grasslands of Asia, the forests of Central America, and the deserts of North America, just to name a few places. They can live just about anywhere in the world, even where it snows all winter long. If they do live as pets, they should be an only pet and should always be supervised when not in their enclosed habitat.

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Ferret Overview

Ferret Overview
Image Credit By: christels, pixabay

Ferrets look similar to weasels, but they have been domesticated and do not have nearly as high of a prey drive. They can happily live as pets within a family household, with or without other pets around. They are carnivores, just like weasels are, but they do not try to hunt down everything that moves.

These animals have elongated bodies that scurry. Their slender legs make them fast creatures that can dart from one place to another so quickly, some owners find it tough to keep track of them. They have small bodies but big personalities that are known for making people laugh. Ferrets are generally nice, but they will bite if they feel threatened.

Personality / Character

The ferret is a social creature that enjoys spending time with other animals and humans when living in captivity. They are gentle yet playful, and their curiosity keeps them busy when nobody else is around to hang out with. These animals do not mind spending some of their time in a caged environment, making it easy to manage them when people come over for a visit.

Ferrets are carnivores like weasels are, but unlike weasels, they will eat just about anything they can get their hands and mouths on. Therefore, they should never be left to roam around the house when nobody is home to watch them. These animals can be taught to do tricks like “come” and sitting on their owner’s shoulders.

They can get along well with kids, other ferrets, cats, and dogs that might live in the same household. They can even become friends with smaller animals, like rabbits and hamsters, but they should be supervised whenever spending time near animals that are small enough for ferrets to turn into prey.

Ferret Training
Image Credit By: eluxirphoto, pixabay

Health & Care

Ferrets should see a veterinarian regularly to ensure their optimal health as time goes on. Like other domesticated animals, they should be vaccinated yearly against rabies and distemper. Once they get to know their owner, they will allow their nails to be trimmed periodically, which will help keep them from leaving marks on the furniture.

These animals should eat an all-meat diet comprised of chicken, beef, pork, turkey, bison, or other land animals. There are many foods made just for ferrets, such as Marshall’s Premium food, which can be purchased at pet supply stores and on the internet. Ferrets like soft beds to sleep in, toys to play with, and soft bedding to hang out on when spending time in their confined habitat.

Suitability

Ferrets are suitable for households of all sizes. They do not mind children being around if no teasing or chasing is involved. They like spending time with affectionate cats and low-key dogs, but they also do not mind spending time on their own in the comfort of their caged habitat. They can also adapt to most social situations, making them the life of the party when visitors arrive.

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Which Animal Is Right for You?

Both weasels and ferrets are cute and they are closely related, but the weasel is still wild, while the ferret has been domesticated for decades now. You can find ferrets in pet stores throughout the United States, aside from a couple of places likes Hawaii and California, which bans them.

On the other hand, weasels are not easy to find unless they are being sold by hunters who capture them in the wild. If you are looking to bring a weasel or ferret home, we highly suggest that you focus your attention and efforts on a loveable ferret. Feel free to let us know what your thoughts are in our comments section below.

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.