About Ferrets : breeding

As a general rule the Ferret Society does not encourage pet owners to breed their ferrets. The ferret gene pool in WA is fairly small, records of breeding are not well kept by some breeders, and the tragedy of deformed offspring due to inbreeding is not unheard of. Keeping ferrets as pets has had a sudden resurgence and after several years we are already seeing the problems of over-supply including abandonment of ferrets and a long list of ferrets needing homes. If you do intend to breed, however, we do ask that you research the subject thoroughly and choose ferrets of known parentage. Unlike cats and dogs, the breeding of ferrets is much more exacting and fraught with hazards for the mother and offspring.  

Ferrets are photoperiodic breeders which means they come into season when the length of daylight hours compared to hours of darkness are in the correct ratio for them. In WA this is generally between the months of September and April, but does vary.  


If he is not sterilised, the male ferret, or hob, usually comes into season first and remains that way until the end of the season or until he has stopped having access to females in season.  

During this time his testes grow, he develops a much stronger odour and may become quite violent towards other males, human and ferret, even those that he knows quite well. His coat may take on a ginger hue and he will be keen to mark his scent everywhere he can with his pungent urine.  

He will also be keen to mate with any female ferret available and if she is unresponsive to his advances, he can be quite rough in his insistence. He may also become more anxious to escape during this time in order to find more female ferrets.  

Obviously, when he is in season the hob may not be the ideal family pet nor the perfect companion for other ferrets in the household. Unless you are a serious breeder, it is best to have your hob sterilised. This operation requires a short visit to the vet and the problems will be solved. Without the hormonal excesses disrupting his behaviour, the hob will be a much more content and sweeter smelling pet. He will not become fat and lazy and he will still love to play and hunt as much as before.  

A hob may also be vasectomised. This operation simply stops the hob's sperm from getting from the testes to the penis, so while he cannot make a female ferret pregnant, he is still very much a male in every respect. Hobs are usually vasectomised so that they can be used to bring a female ferret out of season. They still present the same difficulties as an unsterilised hob when they come into season, so it is not a suitable operation for all male ferrets.  


The female ferret, or Jill, may come into season once or several times during the breeding season. This is shown by a marked swelling of the vulva from being quite unobtrusive to as much as 50 times its size! She may also develop a slightly different odour and, like the hob, will be more determined to escape to find a mate. You may find that she is bullied by other ferrets at this time, so may need to be isolated from them until her season is over.  

Jills are induced ovulators which means that the ripe eggs stay in the ovaries until a specific stimulus causes them to be released. If no stimulus is forthcoming, the jill remains in heat until the end of the breeding season. If left in season for this length of time, however, she can develop aplastic anaemia and die. She is also prone to uterine and vaginal infections, bone marrow disease and a general lowering of immunity, all of which can have fatal results. The aim, then, is to bring her out of season as soon as possible which may be done in one of four ways;  

1. Hormone Injection. The Vet will administer a hormone injection which causes the eggs to be released from the ovaries and ends the jill's season. This is safe to do occasionally but using this method for each season appears to increase the risk of tumours, the loss of hair and loss of condition. It is generally used for jills who are recovering from injury or where other means have failed or are not available.  

2. Mating With a "Full" Male. Because of the chance of the jill becoming pregnant, unless you are a serious breeder, this is not the best method.  

3. Mating with a Vasectomised Male. This is the method of choice for most owners. The jill is taken to a hob when she is ready for mating. This is best done 2 weeks after the vulva becomes visibly swollen when the jill is ready. (Prior to two weeks the jill will resist strongly causing an unnecessarily violent mating and distress to both the ferrets and their owners). The hob and jill are best placed together where they can be undisturbed and where they have a fair amount of room. The hob will grasp the jill by the back of the neck with his teeth. She may play "hard to get" for a short while but eventually she will say "take me I'm yours" and go limp, allowing the hob to mate with her. They stay joined together from 10 minutes to an hour. They may mate several times during their time together. The jill is usually left with the hob for 12 to 24 hours. Within 2 weeks of the mating, the jill's vulva should be noticeably less swollen, signifying a "successful dalliance".  

4. Sterilisation: A permanent method of preventing a jill coming into season is by sterilisation. This is done by a Vet who removes the ovaries under a general anaesthetic. Except in emergencies, a Vet will not perform a sterilisation on a jill who is in season so it is best performed before her first season or during the "off" season. Timing of the operation is important so please consult your Vet or ask a committee member for more specific details.  

Female ferrets may also be accidentally brought out of season by rough play with another ferret, particularly a male, or the scent of a full male in close proximity. These methods cannot be relied upon to work every time so the jill's condition will need to be monitored closely. Whichever method is used, it is best if the jill is allowed to stay in season no longer than 2- 3 weeks at the most. It is also recommended that, no matter the reason for delaying, your jill is sterilised by about four years of age to prevent health problems caused by her coming into season so many times throughout the year because of our wonderful weather.  

The Ferret Society has a list of members in different suburbs who have vasectomised hobs. Contact the Society if you need the services of such a hob for your jill. The owner of the hob sets the fee which may be a small amount of money or a cuppa and a chat. Negotiate the terms before you bring your ferret to visit.  

After a mating with a vasectomized hob, a jill usually goes through a "phantom" pregnancy. During this time she puts on weight, her nipples enlarge and she is more sleepy than usual. This condition may last from 42 to 45 days. She may then have a "phantom" litter. Behaviour at this time differs between ferrets and may include biting and driving all other ferrets and people away from her chosen nest site or trying to drag ferrets and people to her nest site and trying to make them stay there Whatever her behaviour, humour her, as this condition only lasts 3 to 14 days and then her hormones will settle down and she will be her old self once more.  

We hope you find this information helpful. If you need further details, please do not hesitate to contact us.