Domesticated ferrets are small mammals belonging to the same genus as weasels. Ferrets have a typical mustelid body-shape, being long and slender. Their fur has various colorations including brown, black, white or mixed. The males in this species are substantially larger than females.
Domesticated ferrets spend 14-18 hours a day asleep and are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk, meaning they are crepuscular. They are social and live happily in groups. These are territorial animals, which like to burrow, and prefer to sleep in an enclosed area. Like many other mustelids, ferrets have scent glands, the secretions from which are used in scent marking. Ferrets can recognize individuals from these anal gland secretions, as well as the gender of unfamiliar individuals. Ferrets may also use urine marking for gender and individual recognition. They can also release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared. If excited, they may perform a behavior called the "weasel war dance", characterized by frenzied sideways hops, leaps and bumping into nearby objects. Despite their common name, ferrets are not aggressive; they are joyful and playful. The playing is often accompanied by a unique soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as "dooking". When scared, ferrets will hiss; when upset, they squeak softly.
Domesticated ferrets are carnivores. Their wild ancestors’ natural diet consisted of whole small prey, including meat, organs, bones, skin, feathers, and fur. Domestic ferrets eat prepared dry foods consisting almost entirely of meat, but some owners feed pre-killed or live prey (such as mice or rabbits) to stay closer to their natural diet.
Domesticated ferrets are polygynous and males mate with many females. They usually breed from March and until August. The average gestation period is 42 days and females may have 2 or 3 litters each year. The litter size is usually between 3 and 7 kits. They are born deaf, blind and weigh about 6 to 12 grams. Baby incisors appear about 10 days after birth. The eyes and ears open when kits are 5 weeks old. They are weaned after 3 to 6 weeks and become independent at 3 months. Ferrets become reproductively mature at approximately 6 months of age.
Ferrets have been domesticated around 2,500 years ago from the European polecat. It has been claimed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate ferrets, but as no mummified remains of a ferret have yet been found, nor any hieroglyph of a ferret and no polecat now occurs wild in the area, that idea seems unlikely. Ferrets were probably used by the Romans for hunting. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world, but increasingly they are kept only as pets.