One of the most unconventional pets to bring into your home is a ferret. These popular and adorable family additions have been domesticated for over 2000 years. Originally, ferrets were used for hunting and pest control in Europe, but now, they are cherished pets and family members to owners around the world.
One of the most fascinating things about ferrets is the reproduction cycles of the females. People who are new to ferrets, and haven’t had them spayed and neutered, often ask how long female ferrets are pregnant. The gestation period of a female ferret lasts 40 to 42 days, or around 6 weeks. Let’s take a deeper look at the reproduction cycle of ferrets so you can have a better understanding of what to expect if you plan on allowing your ferrets to breed.
The Life of a Ferret
Ferrets are members of the Mustelidae, or weasel, family. This family includes weasels, skunks, ferrets, otters, badgers, and minks. Ferrets are often chosen as family pets due to their playful natures and inquisitive actions. They love being with their humans and will spend lots of time playing and basking in their company. Ferrets come in several color patterns but the most popular is the sable ferret. Sable ferrets have buff coloring with dark markings on the face, tail, and feet. Sable ferrets can also have light markings instead, giving them a slightly different appearance.
Like most pets we bring into our homes, ferrets need socialization and training. These little critters simply love chewing and getting into places they shouldn’t. When not properly socialized a ferret can be a bit bitey. This makes it more difficult to have them around children or strangers. Instead of dealing with these issues, ferret owners should put forth the effort and spend lots of time with their pets when they are young.
The Reproduction Cycles of Ferrets
Now that we’ve learned a bit about ferrets in general, let’s take a look at their reproduction cycles. This will help you understand the entire process, including the gestation periods of breeding females.
An unaltered male ferret is called a hob. The unaltered female ferrets are known as jills. Jills and hobs reach sexual maturity between 8 and 12 months of age. The breeding cycle of ferrets is photoperiodic. This means the breeding cycle is triggered by longer daylight hours making late March through August peak breeding times. If not bred or altered, a female ferret will go through constant heat cycles during this time. You’ll also find that males will show signs of territoriality and aggression during these times of the year.
When placed together for mating, the process that takes place between the two ferrets is quite aggressive. Throughout a day of being placed together to mate, ferrets will go through this aggressive, almost violent behavior several times. While the sight of mating in ferrets is difficult to witness, it is natural for these animals.
After breeding, when a female ferret is pregnant, gestation will last around 6 weeks, or 40 to 42 days. As the mother-to-be progresses in her pregnancy she will need specialized care to ensure her and the upcoming kits, or baby ferrets, are healthy. Around a week before the expected birth, the mother should be removed from other ferrets so she can give birth peacefully.
The jill in question will begin the whelping process where she will nest and prepare for birth. She will use any materials at her disposal. Some jills even pull out tufts of their hair to use for a nest in preparation for their babies. While she is getting ready, make sure the female ferret has access to lots of food and water. Once she begins giving birth, you shouldn’t disturb her even to offer food and water.
A litter of ferrets can range from 1 to 18 kits. When the mother begins giving birth and starts the nursing process, they must be left alone. If you disturb the jill or try to intervene in any way, this could trigger her to eat her young. This is especially true if it is her first litter.
If you have reason to believe something is wrong with your jill during birth, seek out veterinarian care immediately. Glossy eyes and weakness are two major signs your jill needs medical assistance. The birthing process shouldn’t take longer than 3 hours or so unless the jill is older or the litter is large. Pregnancy that goes beyond 24 hours also requires medical attention from a veterinarian.
The New Kits
Like with puppies and kittens, ferret kits are born with their ears and eyes closed. You’ll also find that their fur doesn’t begin to grow until after the 1st day. Nursing will be nearly constant. By week 5, the ears and eyes should open and by 8 to 10 weeks of age, kits should be eating and drinking on their own.
Spaying and Neutering Ferrets
If breeding your ferrets is not something you want, you can easily have them spayed and neutered by your veterinarian. Altering your ferrets will help control the long heat cycle jills go through each year and the aggression males tend to show at this time. For best results health-wise, you should also have your veterinarian provide your ferrets with all the vaccinations they need to live a long, healthy life.
With the heat cycle of ferrets being so long, and the gestational period being fairly short, without proper precautions being taken you could find yourself with several ferret kits if you aren’t cautious. If breeding isn’t an option for you, reach out to your veterinarian to schedule having your ferrets spayed and neutered. For those who wish to breed their ferrets, use the tips above that we gave to help care for a birthing mother to ensure your jill is well cared for during the process. This is the best way to give new kits a great start in life.
Featured Image Credit: Sergei Avdeev, Shutterstock