Ferrets are entertaining and inquisitive animals that make excellent pets. They’re sociable creatures that love to interact with their owners, others pets, and other ferrets.
Breeding ferrets, however, is not as simple as placing a male and female together. If you are thinking about bringing some baby ferrets into the world, you will need to know all about the breeding process and invest time and money into their health and upbringing.
Which Ferrets Should I Breed?
Breeding ferrets takes great responsibility. Ferrets that are related or suffer with health or behavioural issues can pass on undesirable traits into the ferret population. Breeding ferrets that are closely related can cause blindness and deafness in the babies, or pregnancy related issues for the mother, such as small litters or premature death of her babies.
If you already have a jill (female) and hob (male) that you would like to introduce, a visit to the vet is best. Vets can offer genetic testing options and also give your ferrets a general health check to ensure they are in the best health for breeding.
When Are My Ferrets Ready To Mate?
Ferrets reach sexual maturity during the first spring after their birth. As a rule, jills are ready to mate after 4 months of age, whereas hobs reach maturity at around 6 to 8 months. Spring coincides with the ferret breeding season and as the days get longer and warmer it is an ideal time to check for signs that your ferret is ready to mate.
Both male and female ferrets that are ready to breed develop a pungent smell and also have extremely greasy skin. A jill in heat will have a swollen and enlarged vulva that is very noticeable. You may also notice a pink and watery secretion coming from her vaginal area.
Your hob will ignore his personal hygiene when he is ready to breed. He will secrete oil to mark his territory, and further cement this by urinating on his bedding and dragging his stomach through it. Physically, you will notice that the testicles of your male will drop and swell larger. The hob equivalent of being in heat is referred to as a rut.
Interaction Between the Jill and the Hob
Before placing the hob in with the female, make sure you have ample time to be around during the beginning of the process. The mating ritual between ferrets is by no means romantic. Do not be alarmed if the male bites the females neck or brutally drags her around the cage. This is completely normal and you may even hear the female scream.
The biting may look savage but it actually serves an important purpose. Jills are known as induced ovulators which means she has to be stimulated to start egg production. The biting of the neck releases hormones into her body that triggers ovulation.
As an owner, you may be in for the long haul as the mating process can last for hours or days, and occur over a multitude of sessions.
Although the mating ritual looks disturbing, do not separate your ferrets at any point. The male ferret’s penis is curved, which causes a ‘lock’ with the female until mating is over. Trying to separate them whilst engaged can cause harm.
Your Jill After Mating
Once you sense that mating has finished, move your ferrets back to their respective cages. If the pairing was successful, you will notice your jill gaining weight. Furthermore, she will start pulling out fur from her tail and body for nesting.
You will be able to tell if your jill is pregnant at around 2 weeks after mating. You can have your vet perform an ultrasound but this can be expensive. You may also notice your female making clucking noises which is another sign of pregnancy.
However, jills can have phantom pregnancies. High hormone levels can cause some females to bloat and even act like they are pregnant when they are not.
Through her pregnancy, your jill will need to eat more so that she can handle the demand of the birth and nursing.
Do not be worried if mating was unsuccessful, simply try again. Your female will remain in heat unless she is bred, which can lead to health issues such as pyometra (infected uterus), bladder infections, and anaemia. Your female ferret must either be bred or spayed. An unspayed female who is not bred can die.
Caring For Your Pregnant Jill
Your jills pregnancy will last around 42 days and both the pregnancy and birth can take a toll on her health. As a result, she will need an increased calorie and protein intake to match her energy expulsion.
Feeding your jill a high quality ferret food will ensure she is in optimal health for giving birth. The diet for a jill during pregnancy should be around 35% fat and supplemented by meats such as chicken and liver.
A pregnant jill that does not eat enough, specifically later in the pregnancy, can develop pregnancy taxemia. This would be an emergency situation, requiring your vet to perform a caesarean section to save the lives of your ferret and her babies.
As with her food intake, your jill will also drink a lot more. She should have access to fresh, clean water as it is likely she will consume 2 or 3 times her norm. It’s best to swap the usual bottle for a dish during pregnancy as it is likely she will drink more this way.
It is perfectly fine for your jill to stay with the hob through most of her pregnancy. About 2 weeks before she is due to give birth, move her to a separate cage containing paper bedding or pine shavings. Place the cage in a warm and quiet part of your home where she will make a nest and prepare herself for giving birth. It is important to increase her food and water intake further when she moves to her separate birthing cage.
Caring for Your Jill After Birth
When your jill has given birth, leave her alone for a week to be alone with her kits (babies). It is not unheard of for jills to eat their offspring if they are threatened or scared so it is best to stay away as much as possible.
Inevitably, you will need to feed her during this private time. Be very stealthy and keep contact to a minimum. Whilst doing this, cast a quick eye over mum and her babies. Jills can develop mastitis (mammary gland inflammation) and some kits may die after birth, so you will need to act accordingly after a non-intrusive check.
If you are at all concerned, ring your vet for advice.
Even though your jill has given birth, continue to feed her as you did in the latter stages of pregnancy. Now she is nursing, she will need the increased intake for energy. Bear in mind that if your jill has 10 or more kits she will lose weight no matter how much you feed her. With a big litter, the calories and energy demands will always outweigh how much she can eat.
After your jill has given birth, her cage will become extremely smelly and ventilation of the room you are keeping her in is a must. Bedding changes should be kept to a minimum, and only done to check for neglected or abandoned kits. As with providing water and food, remain furtive.
Caring For the New Kits
When the kits are born they are 2 inches long and completely dependent on their mum. Their eyes and ears are sealed shut and they are covered in a fuzz of wispy fur. You can handle the kits at one week old, but remember they are reliant on on mum and she will soon let you know if she isn’t keen on your actions.
If the jill isn’t happy with you handling her babies early on, try again at a later date as you do not want her to eat her young.
At first, kits simply sit in the palm of your hand. As they get older, you should pick them up by gently grasping them between the neck and shoulders with one hand, and supporting their hind legs with the other hand.
Start by holding the kits for a few seconds and scale this up to a few minutes as they get older. However, if the kits are feeding do not interrupt them to handle them.
Feeding The Kits
You can start introducing the kits to solid ferret food at around 3 weeks old. They will still be nursing at this point and have their baby teeth, so it is best to soak the food before they tuck in. Kits are also partial to baby food and, for those ferrets that are picky, adding some kitten milk to the softened kibble can make it a little tastier for their palettes.
The ferret food should be high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and meat based.
Weaning The Kits
By 6 weeks old the kits will have started growing their adult teeth and they should be weaned. You can now start soaking their food in less and less water until you can feed them their kibble completely dry like that of an adult ferret.
Kits should stay with their mother until 12 weeks of age, despite being able to eat solid food and handling well, kits will still rely on their mothers and they should not go to new homes until after 12 weeks of age.
The kits will have a full set of adult teeth at around 9 months.
Kits Vet Check and Vaccinations
It is best to take all the kits to the vets to make sure they are healthy and growing well. The vet will check the kits for parasites, ear mites, fleas and birth defects; any treatment will reflect the findings of the physical examination.
The kits will receive several vaccinations: canine distemper vaccine at 2 and 3 months, and the rabies vaccine at 3 and 4 months.
Breeding ferrets can often involve major investment of time and money. It is not advised to breed ferrets if you have any concerns. Breeding ferrets is complex and not for amateurs. However, if handled correctly, your ferrets can stay perfectly healthy and parent lots of happy babies.