What Is The Difference Between a Ferret and a Weasel

Ferrets and Weasels are part of the same genus, Mustela, in the Mustelidae family, but they are different animals. Weasels have a very long and rich history, while today’s ferrets are the domesticated form of the European polecat. Many people confuse them and they see ferrets as vermin because of how similar they look to weasels.

In this article, we’ll talk about the differences and similarities between Ferrets and Weasels.

Ferret vs Weasel – How Are They Different?

The most basic difference is that Weasels are part of one of the 10 species that belong to the Mustelidae family. But ferrets are actually a subspecies with the Polecat branch of the Mustelid family. This makes them quite different. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that Weasels are wild creatures, while Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years from the European Polecat.

When it comes to appearance, Weasels tend to be a bit shorter in body but have a longer tail. On the other hand, Ferrets are actually longer in bodies and have a shorter tail. And a Weasel’s coat is usually brown or red-brown but with white underbellies. Ferrets usually have black-brown coats mixed with white, but there are quite a lot of albinos in captivity as well.

Weasels can be found pretty much anywhere in the world, except in places with extreme living conditions. They have also remained wild throughout history and are often seen as pests as their hunting skills are incredible and can catch a very wide range of birds, rodents, fish, etc. Weasels are also known to be the smallest land carnivores in the world.

Ferrets come from the European Polecats, and there are also American Polecats and Steppe Polecats (Asian). They all thrive in their native continents. But the domestic ferret can be found in captivity pretty much everywhere. However, they don’t survive long in the wilderness. Polecats (wild ferrets) are bloodthirsty killers and sometimes will even kill prey to drink their blood. But house ferrets eat commercial food and the occasional whole prey.

When it comes to reproduction, they are a bit different from each other. Ferrets live in groups and they get into heat between late March and early August. Females can die if they get in heat and they don’t become pregnant, which is why it’s very important to neuter them when kept as pets. Males don’t really compete for females but they fight to establish dominance.

On the other hand, Weasels live separately throughout their lives. The males only leave their territory to search for females during the breeding season, which is from April to August. After that, the female will protect her territory against both males and females if she is pregnant or lactating.

Ferrets are crepuscular creatures, which means that they are active around the dawn and dusk. On the other hand, Weasels are nocturnal, which means they hunt at night and sleep during the day.

Things They Have In Common

Behavior-wise, Weasels, and Ferrets are somewhat similar. They are natural hunters and do a great job killing a wide range of creatures. They’re typically very stubborn and can get very angry when they are hungry. Both of these types of animals are also very active, intelligent, and need a lot of playtime and ways to exercise their brain.

Ferrets and Weasels are strict carnivorous creatures, which means that they need to eat whole prey to get all the nutrients they need. They have a very fast metabolism and they need to eat frequently. And this is one of the biggest reasons why a few ferrets can bring down entire species of birds, rodents, etc. They either hunt or sleep, and that’s all they do throughout their lives.

Ferrets live between 1 and 3 years in the wilderness but around 6 years, maybe 10 in captivity. Weasels live around 1 or 2 years in the wild and up to 10 years in captivity. Both species are excellent hunters and have an excellent sense of smell. Their amazing hunting skills are also why they are often considered dangerous to the ecosystem and can cause quite a lot of damage if introduced where they shouldn’t be.

Weasels are nocturnal and their eyes are very good during the night. But Ferrets aren’t too far behind as they have amazing eyes during low-light conditions. Both Weasels and Ferrets can end up sleeping between 15 to 20 hours a day, especially while they are younger.

Another thing they have in common is the way they mark their territory. They have anal glands that release a very strong, pungent, and disgusting smell each time they poop. This is why they are also known to be stinky animals.

Can You Keep Weasels as Pets?

If you think Ferrets are too much work as pets, but you’d like a Weasel, you should keep in mind that Weasels actually require a lot more attention than Ferrets. They are also much more aggressive and will bite everyone if they are not trained properly, which can take quite some time.

But once you bonded with your Weasel, they can be as sweet, smart, and mischievous as Ferrets. You should also always keep up with the vet checkups and vaccines as they are a must for them to remain healthy.

Spaying and neutering your Weasel is also highly recommended. This will reduce the risk of them getting sick And as mentioned before, they also have anal glands that release a very pungent odor. You should mention to your vet that you want these removed as well. The procedure is completely harmless and it will prevent your house from stinking all the time.

Despite the fact that in the wilderness they prefer living separately, in captivity, it’s much better to get them in pairs or groups. This will keep them entertained when you’re not around. They love to play and you will be able to teach them various basic tricks, such as “Sit”, “Come”, “Shake Paw”, etc.