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Ferret/Albino Ferret

Ferret/Albino Ferret Facts

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The appearance of white fur, like that of a white ferret, is often an exhilarating success or a fatal failure in nature, rarely in between.

The snowshoe hare — which displays white fur in winter to hide in the snow and brown fur in the off-season — has learned that white isn't always pretty, even in the right environment. But what is unique about the common ferret is that the incidence of white in this species is actually bred intentionally into members of the species for purely aesthetic purposes. Since the common ferret is a distinct subspecies of the European skunk with no wild counterpart, predators do not affect the survival of white members of the species. In fact, white ferrets can actually come in two forms: fully albino ferrets and those that only have all or mostly white fur.

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ferret facts

  • Dark-eyed whites are more likely to be deaf, while albino ferrets are often hard of hearing, but rarely completely deaf.
  • All ferret pups are born with all-white coats, although most begin to develop a darker set of colors and patterns at about three weeks of age.
  • The critically endangered black-footed ferret is the only animal to bear the ferret title, even though they are distantly related, sharing a common ancestor with the European skunk.
  • Thanks to selective breeding, neither black-eyed white ferrets nor albino ferrets are particularly rare — and both cost about the same as ferrets of other colors and patterns.

Ferret scientific name

Since they're just common ferrets with instances of albinism, or black-eyed whites, white ferrets don't have a definitive species name—but the common ferret's scientific name actually tells us a lot. The species' taxonomic identification is Mustela putorius furo , which technically makes the ferret a subspecies of its direct ancestor, the European skunk ( Mustela putorius ). As members of the mustelid genus, the European skunk and the common ferret are both part of the Mustelidae family (Weaselidae) and are related to the mink and ferret. The taxonomy of ferrets tells us a lot, but we can also learn a lot by translating Latin literature.

  • Mustela: full word – referring to the genus to which European skunks and ferrets belong – directly translated as weasel, itself derived from "mus" or "rat".
  • Putorius : The English word putrefaction is a particularly graphic way of referring to the process of decomposition. It also derives from this Latin word, designating the smell of carrion as a point of identification for these creatures.
  • Furo : This is most likely a reference to the Latin word "fur," which translates to "thief" or "robber." The name is fitting given how dexterous and curious these creatures are. But the word can also be translated from Latin as cat.
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White Sable Appearance

Other than their fur, these adorable ferrets are indistinguishable from their darker, more colorful counterparts. The difference is just one of pigmentation. However, there are some differences between these two different types of ferrets. The easiest point to identify is the eye. Albinism causes ferrets to develop bright red eyes, while dark-eyed ferrets happen to have black eyes. Black-eyed ferrets sometimes have a slight tint or pattern of other colors or shades, which can be another sure sign that you're not dealing with an albino ferret. While short-haired ferrets are the most common breed, you can also find albino and black-eyed white ferrets with long-haired and even Afghan hairs.

A white house mink walks on a leash in green grass.
A white house mink walks on a leash in green grass.

© Tom Lester/Shutterstock.com

ferret behavior

Behaviorally, ferrets are the same as ferrets — energetic, mischievous creatures with tight, nimble bodies that can dive almost anywhere and climb up any surface. Being white at least means you can find where they're hiding more easily. It's important to remember that ferrets are wild animals and obligate carnivores that are easily startled. This is something to be doubly careful when dealing with ferrets. Albino ferrets have a smaller inner ear component, so their hearing is often poor, and the lack of pigmentation in the eye lens gives them poor vision. Black-eyed white ferrets are also a variety that is more prone to deafness from what is known as Waardenburg syndrome. You may need to adjust your behavior to avoid startling white ferrets due to these sensory limitations.

ferret habitat

If ferrets lived in the wild, they would likely follow instincts they inherited from skunks to either dig holes and hide, or abscond with burrows left by moles, rabbits, or snakes. They still love to dig up anything, and many of the ferret's human companions will make sure to outfit their habitat with plenty of different materials to dig into. Perches should typically be 2' x 2' x 3' and include a security gate. Ferrets are known for being escape artists, and white ferrets are no exception. You should pay special attention to light when working with people with albinism, as they are particularly sensitive to light.

Ferret/Albino Health and Recreation

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ferret diet

In fact, ferrets as we know them today never existed anywhere resembling the wild, but they were once more than mischievous sidekicks and itinerant thieves. Ferrets were first domesticated to prey on rats, mice, and rabbits during the first five centuries AD. This is also where they get a high sense of energy. Ferrets are voracious hunters with long, flexible bodies that allow them to chase prey into burrows and holes. They're not all that capable hunters these days, but this legacy makes a compelling argument for feeding raw meat like chicken and beef, or even live food, to ferrets. There are also many different brands of dry food to suit the needs of ferrets as well as a wide variety of treats.

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Ferret Predators and Threats

While dogs left in the wild have been known to sometimes revert to their instincts and run in packs, and domesticated feline herds can drastically reduce bird populations in communities, the domestication of ferrets makes them completely useless in the wild Survive. A ferret as it exists today would never have had to exist in the wild, thousands of years of domestication rendered it incapable of functioning in the ecosystem it was thrown into.

While their domesticated animal companions can breed and reproduce when released into the wild, the closest living relative to the ferret in the wild is the European skunk. Unless they are long-haired and left in the snow, their white fur just makes them an obvious target for predators. In the average community that keeps pet ferrets, this can mean anything from birds of prey like hawks and hawks, to wild scavengers like coyotes and foxes, to house cats and pet dogs.

Ferret reproduction and life cycle

While some people convey the red eyes and white fur of albino ferrets as pathological, these adorable ferrets actually have no apparent disease or poor health. Generally ferrets are fully weaned after three to six weeks and reach sexual maturity around six months. Ferrets live the same lifespan as any other ferret — seven to ten years. The mating season for ferrets runs from spring to summer, and mothers can give birth to up to seven pups in one litter. Since ferrets are a fully domesticated breed with no real predators, populations could quickly spiral out of control were it not for serious human breeding habits.

Ermine population

While there are no global estimates of the population size of albino or black-eyed white ferrets, the prices associated with these pets can tell us how rare they are in the overall ferret population. Both types of white albinism can sometimes be as little as $50, making them some of the more affordable options. In the wild, these traits are rare – but we've been carefully cultivating them, generation after generation, for millennia. There are believed to be at least 5 million pet ferrets in the U.S. today, and neither the subspecies nor its white-coated members are going anywhere anytime soon. But the related black-footed ferret is another story. Their numbers hover around 300 individuals and they are the most endangered mammals in North America.

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White Ferret / Albino Ferrets FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are ferrets carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they need nutrients that can only be found naturally in meat to survive. Still, many pet ferrets enjoy eating vegetables, fruit, or dairy occasionally.

What qualifies a ferret as an albino?

While white ferrets do exist that are not albino, albino ferrets have a genetic disorder. Albinism reduces the amount of pigmentation a creature produces, resulting in white fur and red eyes. Many breeders have selectively bred albinos out of demand for uniquely lovable ferrets, and the trait is no longer particularly rare.

How much is an albino ferret?

Breeders can charge between $50 and $150 for albino ferrets. That makes these ferrets with rare diseases one of the cheaper options. You can buy a rare cinnamon ferret for $500.

Where can I buy albino ferrets?

If you want an albino ferret, your best bet is to go to a breeder. Just be sure to scrutinize their credentials to make sure they breed and raise their animals humanely.

Are all ferrets albino?

Albino ferrets can be identified by their bright red eyes, but dark-eyed white ferrets are a popular alternative. Their fur is mostly or completely white, the result of natural expression of pigmentation genes rather than a genetic disease.

How rare are albino ferrets?

While the facts about the incidence of albinism are somewhat murky and may vary by species, estimates range from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 1 million in the wild. But due to conscious breeding efforts to domesticate ferrets, albino ferrets are often common.

What do albino ferrets eat?

Albino ferrets eat the same food as other domestic ferrets. As obligate carnivores, they require a diet of approximately 35 percent protein and 20 percent fat. The healthiest diet for ferrets is raw meat, although there are many dry food options for ferrets as well.

Are Albino Ferrets Deaf?

Although their small inner ears make many albino ferrets deaf, they are not often deaf. In fact, you're more likely to find a deaf ferret by investing in a black-eyed white ferret, as these ferrets are especially prone to Waardenburg's syndrome, which is associated with deafness.

Are Albino Ferrets Blind?

All ferrets are prone to vision problems, but the lack of pigmentation in the eyes of albino ferrets can make them especially vulnerable to bright or harsh light. If you have an albino ferret, you should be especially sensitive to mood lighting in your home, but blindness need not be a major problem.

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