Ferrets and their coats of many colours
Fun-loving ferrets are lively and curious pets who are actually a domesticated version of the European polecat. They are part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, stoats, weasels and badgers. Ferrets don’t have varying breeds, but they do come in all manner of stunning colour combinations.
Common colours in the UK are: Fitch/Sable/Poley, Sandy/Champagne, Albino, Dark Eyed White (Dew) or Black Eyed White (Bew) and Silver. However, the different combinations of colours, patterns and markings produce an infinite number of variations.
Colourful little carnivores
- Fitch/Sable/Poley: The dark body colour is a combination of different coloured hairs, with the lower layer of the coat being cream or pale coloured, topped off with black or brown guard hairs, or top hairs, usually accompanied by a mask of darker colour around the face and black feet
- Sandy/Champagne: These ferrets have light to burgundy-coloured eyes, a nose that is beige, pink or pink with brown in a T-shape, white or cream undercoat and tan guard hairs.
- Chocolate: With brown to dark burgundy-coloured eyes, a nose that is beige, deep red, pink or pink with brown in a T-shape, a white undercoat and chocolate brown-coloured guard hairs, their deep mahogany coat may appear to have a soft sheen to it, usually accompanied by a cream or gold undercoat.
- Albino: Albino is not so much a colour in itself, but an absence of colour. Albino ferrets don’t have any colour pigmentation in their skin, resulting in a coat that is pure white and eyes that appear either red or pink.
- Dark-eyed White (Dew)/Black-eyed White (Bew): A dew or bew ferret is not missing the pigmentation of albino ferrets and does not have pink or red eyes. The white colour can range from snow white to light cream. Eyes are black or dark ruby red.
- Silver: Silver ferrets come in several shades, from a very light, pearlescent grey to a dark steel shade. They tend to have the same shade of colour all across the body, with little to no markings such as a mask or colour points.
DID YOU KNOW?
Because they are domesticated, ferrets need to be cared for by humans and would not be able to survive in the wild.
A plethora of patterns
In addition to overall coat colour, ferret coats can also be classified by pattern – although Individual ferrets can have multiple colour patterns, so it can be tricky trying to categorise them definitively. Common pattern terms include:
- Bib: The white fur under the neck
- Blaze: A white stripe down the face.
- Mask: Darker markings around the eyes
- Mitt: The white fur on the feet that ends at the ankle
- Panda: Any coat colour (other than white), with a white head and a darker coat across their shoulders and hips
- Points: The fur over the mask, shoulders, legs and tail
- Roan: Any coat colour (except white) with have 40 to 60% white guard hairs over the body and points, with coloured guard hairs evenly sprinkled over the body.
- Stocking: The white fur on the feet that ends halfway up the leg
- T-bar: A strip of solid-coloured fur surrounding and between each eye extending to the top of the head
- V: A thin strip of solid-coloured fur surrounding each eye and extending down the nose
To throw even more confusion into the mix, when ferrets shed their coats – usually twice a year in autumn and spring – their coat texture and colour can change. As they age, ferrets also may develop more white guard hairs, especially on their hind ends, making them appear lighter.
Caring for your ferret’s coat
Depending on whether they live indoors or in an outdoor ferret house, ferrets generally sport a thicker, longer coat in winter and a shorter, silkier coat in summer. And, while ferrets are really good at grooming themselves and each other as part of social bonding, regular grooming by their human with a suitable brush (ask your vet for advice) should also be part of their routine.
Not only does this help you bond with your playful pets, it enables you to keep a close eye on their general health, by checking for any unusual lumps and bumps or other health issues.
DID YOU KNOW?
When ferrets are feeling happy, they’ll often perform the ‘dance of joy’. This involves puffing up their tail, baring their teeth and throwing their head back and hopping around in all directions. If your ferret is pawing at the ground, they’re inviting you or another ferret to wrestle with them. Happy, excited ferrets also produce bark-like vocalisations and chirping noises, known as ‘dooking’.
Just like cats, when ferrets groom themselves, they will naturally ingest a small amount of the loose fur that comes off their coat when they lick themselves. This generally passes out through their digestive system. However, at times of heavy shedding, a ferret can ingest hair that then may form into a hairball, or matt of clumped hair. This can get lodged in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to a potentially life-threatening obstruction requiring surgery to treat. To prevent this, spend extra time each day in the spring, brushing your ferrets’ coats. Older ferrets will also benefit from regular brushing as they tend to shed more as they age.
If your ferret friend is losing handfuls of fur, shedding heavily out of season or even beginning to display bald patches, it’s unlikely it relates to a normal shed, and may indicate a problem, so always consult your vet.
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