The first tip anyone new to ferret breeding should hear is “Don’t”. It sounds rude, but breeding ferrets is much more difficult than breeding dogs. At first blush one might think the ferrets are doing all the ‘work’. But throughout the process, the breeder will be involved in some way. It’s a lot of effort and certainly not worth it for any money you might make by selling the kits (baby ferrets).
You’ll need to make sure the pair are not too closely related, as mother and son for example, in order to reduce the chances of birth deformities. Kits often don’t survive birth, and that can be heartbreaking for the breeder and any fascinated children nearby. Vet bills will increase substantially, as each kit will need at least his or her first shot, and possibly a second one, before they’re sold or given away.
Still want to try? Ok, here are some signs to watch for.
The first essentials are, of course, two breeding ferrets – one male, one female. This isn’t as obvious as it sounds, since many ferrets are spayed or neutered. A neutered male is usually easy to spot, but a spayed female may not be. But once the female, called a ‘jill’, comes into heat, it will become clear.
Female ferrets are polyestrous. They can have more than one heat per season. In the Northern Hemisphere, that’s March through August, on average. If they don’t mate, they can remain in heat for the entire time. Look for an enlarged vulva and wait two weeks before introducing the male, known as a hob.
Hobs who sense a jill in heat act a lot like dogs, only more so. They run around restlessly, urinate then drag themselves through it, and generally make a pest of themselves around the female, if they’re allowed to. Once they begin, the fun really starts.
An aroused hob will grab a jill by the neck and drag her around, then mount. A willing female allows this, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are willing or not. Just make sure the male doesn’t get too rough.
Once the male mounts, there is no safe way to separate them. The male has a ‘barbed’ penis bone that locks the pair together. So be careful. The actual insemination takes only a few minutes, though they may stay coupled for much longer. Once the hob is done, the pair will often eat and drink, then begin the process over again later.
Check the female for any deep puncture wounds, and treat them as needed. Males will often bite a female on the neck and scratch them during mating. The process can be fascinating to watch, but it definitely isn’t ‘cute’ or pretty.
If mating has been successful, the jill’s vulva will return to normal in a couple of weeks. Gestation lasts about 42 days and, about halfway through, you’ll notice the female become larger and gain weight. She’ll often pluck her hair out at the tail or elsewhere.
Make sure you’re prepared with all the necessary equipment and tools for helping out during birth. Seek the advice of your veterinarian.