The VFS Ferret Breed Standard has been developed to promote the breeding of healthy ferrets that conform to the structure of what the ferret was meant to be. Anything outside the ‘norm’ is discouraged as is the selective breeding of traits that are not normally found within the species Mustela [putorius] furo.
Domesticated from the European Polecat (Mustela putorius), the ferret is well-adapted to its burrow invading and dwelling niche wherein the animal chases, captures, and kills prey that can be, in some cases, many times its size. As a result, the ferret’s muscular-skeletal anatomy is characterized by two outstanding features: its strength and its flexibility.
Overall, the body’s skeletal frame is remarkably elongated, gaining its length from extraordinarily long vertebrae (particularly those of the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine). The legs, in contrast, are especially shortened to accommodate access to burrows and tunnels.
In order to support the elongated frame and to capture, kill, and carry prey in a subterranean environment, the ferret has developed a phenomenal musculature, displaying strength disproportionate to its size.
If the robust frame and muscles were not enough, the ferret is also a master of flexibility. Driven by the confines of its hunting and dwelling environment, the ferret’s skeletal system (notably the spine, sternum, wrists and ankles) have evolved to permit contortions worthy of Houdini.
Together, the skeletal and muscle systems of the ferret comprise an animal admired for both its power and its elasticity. When evaluating one of our domestic companions, keep in mind the following four factors that can have substantive effects on both skeletal frame and muscle tone/condition.
The domestic ferret is a product of human selection more so than natural selection. Humans can select for characteristics that may or may not be desirable were the ferret to be in a wild population. Reputable breeders are mindful of breeding for genetically sound characteristics and should always breed for physical characteristics that are consistent with M. putorius.
Neutering or spaying a ferret changes his or her physiology. If a ferret is altered before maturity, he or she will display a different growth pattern than a ferret that is either unaltered or altered after maturity. Early desexed ferrets possess somewhat less bone mass and density than late alters or unaltered ferrets. Even more so, they will exhibit less muscle mass due to the removal of the steroids responsible for muscle growth. Ferrets that are altered after maturity will lose some muscle mass, but are still often more muscularly robust than early alters.
The vast majority of domestic ferrets are fed a dry cat/ferret food diet. Even the optimal commercially produced food is manufactured simply to meet most ferrets’ dietary needs, but it is very unlikely to exceed them by much. Factors such as growth, illness, stress, an active lifestyle, etc. can raise a ferret’s dietary needs beyond the capabilities of the average dry cat/ferret food diet. In response, the ferret may eat a larger quantity of food to satisfy a particular dietary need. The result can be that the ferret exceeds its dietary needs of another food element. The end product can be an overweight ferret, a ferret lacking proper muscle mass or tone, or a ferret displaying abnormal bone development.
Ferrets are caged for their own safety and for their owner’s convenience. While some caging may be necessary, over-caging and a lack of stimulating exercise can lead to a loss of muscle mass. In turn, the decreased muscle mass may, over time lead to a deterioration of the bone mass. Other factors aside, ferrets will naturally maintain muscle tone that is commensurate with the amount of exercise that they receive.
The basic shape of the head should be triangular – broad between the ears tapering towards the muzzle in an elliptical shape. The profile should be straight without a facial bump in hobs and may have a very slight bump at the plane of the eyes in jills.
The ears should sit squarely at the top rear portion of the skull in an even line with each other. They should be round in shape and proportional to the head size and gender of the ferret.
Eye should be large and rounded with even pigment dispersion allowing for the iris and pupil. The eyes should be placed equidistant from the ears and the nose and be in an even line with each other.
The nose should be triangular in shape with evenly placed nostrils. To check the alignment of the head, check that the midpoint line of the nose lines up with a straight line drawn from a mid-point between the ears with no deviation to the left or right. Another method to check that the head is even and straight is to turn the ferret onto its back and look at it from the underside. The line that runs from the nose down to the mouth should be exactly straight with no deviations to either side.
Teeth and jaws should meet so that the canines, upper and lower, meet snugly and evenly with the upper canines fitting behind the lower canines.
NECK AND SHOULDER
The neck should be straight and relatively short. The shoulder blades should be flat and well angulated at an approximate 45° angle with no protrusions. They should be far enough apart from side to side for the proper size and width of the ferret.
The rib cage ideally should be symmetrical, deep and well sprung to allow sufficient heart and lung room. There should be no protrusions or noticeable angles on the ribs or the breastbone (sternum). The shape of the rib cage is nearly round. All of the rib bones should come down from the spine in a smooth curved shape and end in a smooth even manner so that no knobs or protrusions are present.
There are allowances for size differences, especially between hobs and jills and between intact, late altered and early altered ferrets.
The spine must be supple and straight with no noticeable protrusions. The arch of the spine should be a smooth curve and should be centered between the shoulders and the hips.
The pelvis should be a size that would make the hip joints well spaced from side to side and should be symmetrical without any bony prominence. They need to be adequate size and thickness to support the ferret’s size and ideal weight. The size of the pelvis should be an appropriate size for the ferret and should match in size to the rib cage. The hip joint should not be too loose.
The legs of the ferret should be an appropriate length and width for the size of the ferret and should be symmetrical between the left and right limbs. The legs should not be bowed.
The feet should have five (5) toes each and should be sized in proportion to the body structure. They should be round in overall ground covering capability without excessive splaying or camping of toes.
The tail should be straight and flexible for its entire length and should be approximately one-third (1/3) the entire body length (nose to base of tail). No kinks, fuses, or protrusions should be present.
Bone density is a very important part of the skeletal structure. The bones of a ferret should be strong, thick and dense enough to support the ferret’s healthy body mass. The bone density of an intact or late neutered ferret should be considerable and should have a healthy, solid feel.
MUSCLE STRUCTURE AND TONE
Ferrets should exhibit a firm, solid feel to the muscles – not flabbiness, which would indicate fat, not muscle. Hobs should have heavier muscle development overall, especially in the head (jowls), neck, chest and shoulders (secondary male characteristics). A ferret that shows more muscle coverage than is average for their age or sex, is a positive trait unless it is outside the scope of what a ferret should have. The ribs, shoulders, neck and hips should have a good, firm feel, showing muscle development in these areas. Abdomens should be firm, not pendulous.
Breeder ferrets show a denser muscle mass than the altered ferret. Altered ferrets will exhibit less muscle tone, especially if they were altered early (prior to 12 weeks of age). Later alters should exhibit more muscle tone and mass than the early alters. Overall, the ferret should feel firm – not mushy.
The ferret may show a little less muscle bulk as w ell as fat when in their summer weight as opposed to winter weight. One is not to be preferred over the other. Both should be solid and have a ‘well exercised’ feel.
The ferret should present an overall symmetry of body. Both sides, left and right, should be even in length, width, and bulk. Front and hind feet should point squarely forward.
Head, neck, body, legs, feet and tail should all be proportional. The ferret should stand square and balanced on all four feet with the hind legs under the body. The top line should be smooth with the spine curving evenly from mid back to rump. The highest point of the flexed spine should be half-way between the shoulders and hips (not the dock of the tail). Leg length should be proportionate to the body length.
Weight should be evenly dispersed over the body. If the ferret is held at mid-point of body, it should feel equal in weight on both ends.
OVERALL HEALTH AND MAINTENANCE
The manner in which a ferret is cared for throughout the year plays a significant role in the development of a healthy attitude, as well as a healthy body and coat.
A ferret that receives sufficient exercise will have a firm layer of muscle cover through which its bones may be palpated, but through which bones do not protrude.
Obesity is not a common occurrence in ferrets, though it can happen when an owner feeds too much fat and/or protein to a ferret that should be on a lower calorie diet. A light layer of fat is normal in a healthy active ferret.
A healthy ferret will have a thick, glossy coat whether it is a summer coat or a winter coat. The winter coat should be long, luxurious and soft to the touch. The summer coat will have little undercoat, but should be soft and silky to the touch. Hairs should not be coarse, dry, or break off if bent. The ferret’s whiskers should be long and unbroken, not brittle.
The ferret’s teeth should be white. Older ferret’s teeth will have other an off white colour or translucent teeth.
The eyes should be bright and alert, the nose moist, not dry or chafed. A ferret with dull eyes and dry nose is not a healthy ferret.
A good disposition is an important attribute of any ferret. The ferret should be alert, inquisitive, playful, affectionate and calm while being handled. Altered ferrets should be exceptionally amenable to being handled. Breeder ferrets should be given some consideration due to the effect their hormone level may have on their behaviour. Hobs in full season are prone to being very fidgety. While this is not a desirable trait, it is a worse offense if committed by an altered ferret without the excuse of raging hormones.
In general, fidgety behavior is not desirable. However, adolescents who are 6 months of age or younger are more inclined to be fidgety.
FERRET COLOUR STANDARDS
The following colour standards refer to the colour of the points (legs, shoulders, tail and mask, if present) and body colour.
Can include: BLACK SABLE
FERRET PATTERN STANDARDS
Each of the colours except Albino and DEW may have white feet (mitts) and white patches under the neck (bibs). If mitts are present, a bib must be present along with white patches on back knees also. Mitts should be even and clearly defined. The front mitts should be even in comparison to each other and the hind mitts should also be even in comparison to each other. The front mitts may or may not be even with the hind mitts.
COLOUR POINT (SIAMESE)
DARK-EYED WHITE PATTERN
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