The ferret is a much maligned and misunderstood animal, widely believed to be a smelly, quarrelsome, amoral, biting beast. All you have to do is take a quick look at some of the most popular children’s stories like Wind in the Willows to observe this phenomenon.
However, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Ferrets are often kept as working animals due to their agility and intelligence but are also increasingly known to make loyal and rewarding companions. National Ferret Day promotes the true virtues of this cute, cuddly critter and furthers the welfare of ferrets everywhere.
History of National Ferret Day
The word ‘ferret’ comes from the Latin for ‘little thief’, which perfectly captures these creatures’ nature of ‘ferreting’ things out. Humans are thought to have domesticated ferrets from the European polecat about 2,500 years ago, and historians believe this was most likely for hunting purposes, for example by the Romans. When Europeans traveled to America, they soon decided to bring ferrets to their colonies as a way of getting any rodent problems under control. And they’re still used to manage so-called plague species, such as rabbits, to this day.
Nowadays ferrets are of course relatively common household pets, but that’s not their only role in the modern era. These animals have also been used in many areas of research, such as the pathogenesis and treatment of various diseases, with fields such as virology, endocrinology and neuroscience using ferrets as experimental subjects. They’ve even been used in studies of Covid-19 and the development of a vaccine.
Ferrets also play a role in the construction industry due to their adeptness at running through pipes and cables. Thanks to their slender build, they’ve run wire for some of the most important events in recent UK history, such as the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Buckingham Palace and the London Millennium Concert in Greenwich Park.
National Ferret Day was officially recognized in 2014, although it had in fact been created several years before that by Carol Roche, a New Yorker enchanted by her new pet, which she said was “as affectionate and social as a puppy and independent and playful as a kitten”.
National Ferret Day seeks to celebrate these remarkable and resilient creatures as well as raise awareness about the best standards of welfare, nutrition and care. National Ferret Day provides a focus for ferret lovers to work together and share their passion, as well as educate the wider public about this fine, upstanding member of the weasel family.
Ferrets in popular culture
In the UK, rural fairs and festivals organize ferret racing competitions in which the ferrets run through pipes while their owners bet on which animal will make it through first. There’s also a rather niche and unusual sport called ferret-legging – not for the faint-hearted, it involves putting a couple of ferrets down your trousers and seeing how long you can stand it, with the world record holder lasting five and a half hours!
Ferrets have even featured in well-known artworks. The most famous artistic portrayal of a ferret is undoubtedly Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine painting, dating back to 1490, which many scholars believe in fact features a ferret. There’s also a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First with a pet ferret that’s wearing a tiny crown as a collar!
How to care for ferrets
As with all pets, it’s important to ensure ferrets are well-cared for. They’re sociable animals (in fact a group of ferrets is called a “business”, and they definitely have fun like nobody’s business!) so it’s best to have at least two if you can and to spend lots of time playing and exercising with them. They can also be a real handful if not properly trained, so put them on their best behavior from a young age, for example by training them to use a litter box.
Ferrets are carnivores, meaning a diet of cat-food or tailored ferret food suits them well. Older ferrets tend to turn their nose up to food they haven’t tried before, so give them as varied a diet as possible in their first six months.
They love to sleep, dozing for up to 18 hours daily, and are most active at dawn and dusk. However, don’t be alarmed if your ferret starts jumping about excitedly and bumping into things – this behavior is known as a “war dance” and is a way of expressing joy!
How to celebrate National Ferret Day
If you have a ferret, celebrating this day is as simple as spending some extra time with your pet – like all pets, nothing could make your ferret happier than just having some fun with you. Ferrets love having their curiosity and quick wits satisfied, so set up some games and challenges for them such as mazes and obstacle courses or teach them a new trick!
Even if you don’t have a pet ferret (yet!), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t celebrate National Ferret Day! Why not head over to your local pet store and say hello to their ferrets? Even if you’re not looking to get one, you can still have a cuddle and see these animals up close and personal. And who knows – you may even be inspired to welcome one or more into your home! You could also try pet sitting for someone you know or via a website – volunteer your services and make some furry friends.
If you’re really serious about these creatures, then consider supporting an animal welfare center or shelter that rescues lost and abandoned ferrets, either through donations or volunteering. You could also contribute to a charity such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that works to protect the black-footed ferret from extinction. These wild ferrets, native to North America, are endangered due to habitat loss and disease, but dedicated conservation efforts mean they’re starting to see a comeback!
There are also some great movies and documentaries featuring these amazing little animals. Check out the documentary Ferret Town to learn more about the rediscovery and conservation of the black-footed ferret. Kindergarten Cop features a ferret as the class mascot (although ironically the star of the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed a bill lifting a ban on ferrets in California when he was governor!), while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire sees Draco Malfoy turned into a white ferret as punishment!
With so many ways to celebrate, you can be sure to have a whole bundle of fun this National Ferret Day!