Biologically, ferrets have two genders: male and female, and with each of these genders comes a unique set of needs and personality quirks that you can embrace. To have a better idea of what care your pet will need, you probably want to know their gender. Let’s take a look at how to tell if your ferret is male or female.
Fun fact: female ferrets are known as “jills” and male ferrets are “jacks”, in a cute nod to the classic nursery rhyme, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water; Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after”. This is quite the fitting reference, given the bumbling, weasley nature that comes from the dynamic critter that is a ferret.
You may think sexing your ferret is as simple as looking at the information tag at the pet store but, unfortunately, unless you are picking your pet directly from a reputable breeder, these labelings may be incorrect. Many people have reported thinking they were buying a male ferret and later discovering their pet is a female and vice versa!
Due to this, it is quite important to know how to check for yourself.
You can get a somewhat accurate guess at your ferret’s gender by looking at its overall physical appearance. You see, generally males are larger and more muscular with larger heads than females. In turn, females are more delicate in appearance with thin noses and narrower faces.
Still, this is not a wholly perfect method, as ferrets can vary greatly in appearance, even when they are in the same litter. You may end up with a particularly chubby female or a lanky male. It is best to be a bit more thorough, when you can be.
As awkward as it is, you’re going to have to look at your pet’s genitals if you want to know for sure that they are a boy or a girl. They can’t exactly tell you and labels are deceiving so let’s look at how to take matters into your own hands!
Just a heads up, it might be a good idea to have some help with this, especially if your ferret is not fond of being handled or is relatively new or a prospective adopt that does not know you yet. You are going to have to flip them onto their backs and look at their tummies, which they are definitely not a fan of.
Once you have your ferret flipped, look at the lower half of his or her torso. If her abdomen is smooth, she is a girl. If there is a small bulge, you have found your male ferret’s penis. If you do not see a penis, you still may have a male. Check below his anus; if you see testicles inside of a scrotum, you have a male.
The ferret’s penis is often hidden away inside of a pouch known as the prepuce; you may notice slight urine staining in the area, which can also indicate that your pet is, in fact, a male.
Like any mammal, it is important to get your pet fixed if you do not intend to breed them. A veterinarian can perform the procedure in their office and it is rather routine and safe for the animal. Typically, it costs between seventy five and one hundred dollars but can run a bit higher, especially if you opt to also have your ferret descented.
You may have heard that female ferrets can die if they go into heat. As crazy as this sounds, it is actually completely true. At around six months of age, a female ferret will mature sexually, resulting in her becoming fertile. Once she goes into heat, her body will produce extremely high levels of estrogen.
Unlike other animals, a female ferret will remain in heat until she breeds. If your ferret cannot breed, her body may develop bone marrow suppression and anemia which can be fatal. Due to this, it is important to have your female spayed early on.
If you are hoping to breed your ferret at a later point in her life, you can opt for chemical spaying. The veterinarian can give your pet an injection that will suppress her hormones and prevent her going into heat for a given period of time. This can be an expensive procedure and must be repeated to prevent her from going into heat once the medication wears out.
While male ferrets remaining intact is not a risk to their health, there are some other concerns that must be addressed in order for you to make an informed decision concerning getting your pet neutered. To be clear, neutering is the removal of the testicles that renders the animal sterile.
Though personality varies from ferret to ferret and each animal is an individual, intact male ferrets are more likely to become aggressive and territorial. This can lead to them attacking other ferrets, family members, or even their owner. Ferret bites can be nasty and pose a serious health risk to younger children and other ferrets, so these behaviors should be prevented when possible.
Intact ferrets also can be rather stinky. They produce more musk and tend to be more pungent than males that are fixed. If you are not planning on breeding your pet, be sure to get them fixed to help prevent them making their cage and everything they touch smell like ferret funk.
Can male and female ferrets be housed together in the same cage?
Sure! Ferrets are highly social animals and love being housed together in pairs or groups. A male and female should get along swimmingly if their personalities and preferences mesh well.
The one caveat to this is that the female, at least should be spayed to prevent bone marrow suppression and anemia from prolonged heat and the male should be, as well, unless you have plans to breed him since he may be more inclined to aggressive behaviors, especially if he claims a certain area of the cage as his own, which unfixed males are prone to do.
Is it true females will die if not mated?
As stated above, female ferrets can sometimes die or become very, very sick if they do not mate. To clarify on this, not all females will experience this if they do not mate. Unfixed female ferrets become sexually mature at around six months of age and will go into a prolonged heat which can result in bone marrow suppression and anemia, which can prove to be fatal if not remedied.
Ferrets who are fixed will not experience this due to not going into heat. Therefore, a female ferret does not have to be mated, so long as she is fixed or chemically treated until you choose to have her mate to produce a litter.
The best way to tell if your ferret is a male or female is to bite the bullet and examine its genitals. While this is not fun for you or the ferret, it is necessary and is the most accurate method to help prepare you for what is to come and help you make informed decisions regarding your pet’s health and life.
Remember: unwanted litters are completely preventable; make the responsible choice if you do not plan to breed!