By Laurie Hess, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
While cats and dogs come in many breeds, the domestic ferret – kept as a pet all over the world – is a single breed that comes in many different colors and patterns. Unlike their wild counterpart, the black-footed ferret, the domestic ferret does not always have black feet and, in fact, does not come in any one standard color or coat pattern.
Learn more about how to distinguish ferrets from each other, as well as how to keep your ferret’s coat healthy throughout his or her life, below.
Common Ferret Colors
While sable, dark-eyed white, and albino-colored ferrets seem to be most common, according to the American Ferret Association, there are actually eight basic colors recognized in ferrets:
- Albino: these ferrets have pink eyes and nose, a white or cream-colored undercoat and white or cream-colored guard hairs, the outermost hairs on a ferret.
- Dark-eyed white: same coloring as Albino ferrets, except for their eyes, which are black to burgundy-colored eyes.
- Sable: with black eyes, a nose that is light or speckled brown or pink with brown in a T-shape, a white or cream undercoat and deep warm brown guard hairs.
- Black sable: with dark brown eyes, a black nose that may be speckled or solid, a white or cream undercoat and black or dark brown guard hairs.
- Black: these ferrets have black eyes, a nose that is solid dark brown or brown speckled with black, a white undercoat and black guard hairs.
- Cinnamon: with a nose that is beige, deep red or pink with brown in a T-shape, a white undercoat and reddish-brown guard hair.
- Chocolate: with brown to dark burgundy-colored eyes, a nose that is beige, deep red, pink or pink with brown in a T-shape, a white undercoat and chocolate brown-colored guard hairs.
- Champagne: these ferrets have light to burgundy-colored eyes, a nose that is beige, pink or pink with brown in a T-shape, white or cream undercoat and tan guard hairs.
In addition to overall color, ferret coats are also classified by pattern. Individual ferrets can have multiple color patterns, so sometimes it is difficult to categorize a ferret’s color pattern definitively.
Ferret Coat Patterns
To understand color patterns in ferrets, you must be familiar with some basic terms used to describe ferret coat patterns, many of which can also be used to describe coat patterns of cats and dogs:
- Bib: the white fur under the neck
- Mitt: the white fur on the feet that ends at the ankle
- Stocking: the white fur on the feet that ends halfway up the leg
- Points: the fur over the mask, shoulders, legs and tail
- Roaning: white guard hairs that can be scattered through the coat
- Standard/full: a strip of solid-colored fur surrounding and between each eye
- T-bar: a strip of solid-colored fur surrounding and between each eye extending to the top of the head
- V: a thin strip of solid-colored fur surrounding each eye and extending down the nose
Using these terms, there are nine basic color patterns are recognized in ferrets:
- Blaze: can have any color coat (other than white) and has a long white blaze extending from the top of the head down the back of the neck. Eyes are red to brown, nose is pink and feet have white tips or mitts with a white tip on the tail. A bib and guard hair roaning may be present and mask color may vary.
- Mitt: can have any coat color (except white) and will have a white bib and white feet.
- Mutt: can have multiple coat colors without any distinct color pattern.
- Panda: can have any coat color (other than white), with a white head and a darker coat across their shoulders and hips. Eyes are dark red, and nose is pink. Mitts or stockings are on all four feet with a white tail tip. Color rings may surround the eyes, but there is no mask. Guard hair roaning may be present.
- Point: can be any color (except white) and will have markedly different color fur on the points. They will have a thin V-shaped (rather than a full T-bar shaped) mask and a light-colored nose. Champagnes may have no mask at all.
- Roan: can have any coat color (except white) and must have 40 to 60 percent white guard hairs over the body and points, with colored guard hairs evenly sprinkled over the body.
- Solid: can have any coat color (except all white) with no white guard hairs, so that the animal looks like it is a solid color from head to tail. Masks may be full or T-bar shaped.
- Standard: can have any coat color (except white) with no white guard hairs, but the coat color concentration is not as heavy as in a solid-coated ferret. Points are easily distinguished, and masks may be either full or T-bar shaped.
- Striped/Patterned: can have any coat color (except white) with a minimum of 90 percent white guard hairs and with colored guard hairs sprinkled throughout or colored spots and/or a colored stripe down the back.
While it’s difficult enough to classify pet ferrets based on color and pattern, it’s even harder when the seasons change, as ferrets may shed large amounts of hair in the spring and completely change coat and mask color, as well as coat texture, resulting in a thicker, longer coat in winter and a shorter, silkier coat in summer. As they age, ferrets also may develop more white guard hairs, especially on their hind ends, making them appear lighter. Older ferrets may also develop tumors in their adrenal glands (two small glands that sit in front of each kidney and that produce hormones). The most common sign associated with development of these tumors is hair loss – initially either on the tail or in patches over the body, ultimately leading to complete loss of the hair coat, making it difficult to distinguish a pattern.
Caring for Your Ferret’s Coat
Normal shedding associated with season changes, as well as the increased loss of hair in older ferrets, means that ferrets owners need to spend extra time each day in the spring and with their older pets, brushing their coats and administering an oral laxative (typically like those made for cats) to prevent the development of hairballs. A ferret that sheds a great deal can ingest hair that then may form into a hairball, or matt of clumped hair, that can get lodged in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to a potentially life threatening obstruction requiring surgery to treat. Ferret owners that notice an increase in hair loss in their pets should have them checked out by a veterinarian to rule-out the possibility of adrenal gland disease (seen in ferrets as early as a year of age).
As most ferret owners realize, having just one of these adorable little creatures is very difficult, and many ferret owners end up with a group of ferrets – commonly known as a “business” of ferrets — in all different colors and patterns. So, while domestic ferrets are all one generally playful and mischievous breed, the fact that they come in so many colors and patterns and that they might actually change color and pattern from year to year makes them even more extraordinary!
Image: Couperfield via Shutterstock