The question of whether ferrets are nocturnal or not is a surprisingly controversial one. Some people will say yes, ferrets are nocturnal.
Other people say that ferrets are definitely not nocturnal.
Who is right and who is wrong? Find out now!
Are Ferrets Nocturnal
Ferrets are actually neither nocturnal (awake at night) or diurnal (awake during the day).
The ferret sleep and wake cycle can best be described as crepuscular. This term means active during low light periods (dusk and dawn).
This means ferrets are going to be most active in the in-between hours when most other animals are either just waking up or just going to sleep.
Read on to learn more about why so many people believe ferrets are nocturnal and how to encourage your pet ferret to get enough rest.
Learn About Ferret Sleep Habits
In this helpful YouTube video, you can learn from a ferret owner how to encourage your ferrets to sleep through the night – or at least stay quiet enough so you can sleep through the night!
There are lots of different factors to think through about the daily schedule you provide for your pet ferret and also the type of habitat you offer.
Why Do People Think Ferrets Are Nocturnal
As the American Ferret Association points out, one main reason why many people believe ferrets are nocturnal is that they sleep as long as 18 hours each day.
It can be very difficult to tell whether an animal is nocturnal or not when they are asleep when you leave for work and still asleep when you get home from school or work.
Because ferrets are quite social and playful, it is common for a pet ferret to wake up and get more active when their owner gets home from school or work. This can make it seem like the ferret only gets active at night.
But in actuality, a ferret can adjust their brief waking hours to be awake when their owner is home, which is also when they are more likely to get fed and have a chance to come out and play.
Are Wild Ferrets Nocturnal
Biologists believe that modern ferrets are descended from a European species of the polecat.
Ferrets – both domestic and wild – come from the Mustelidae family, which includes polecats, mink (ermine), weasels, skunks, badgers, wolverines, martens, and otters.
While the wild North American ferret, which is the only true wild ferret alive today, is considered to be nocturnal, the modern wild polecat is not truly nocturnal.
As the Journal of Exotic Pet Behavior points out, modern wild polecats may hunt during the day or at night.
Their hunting behavior depends on the availability of prey, competition for food, type of terrain, and time of year.
In other words, wild ferrets and ferret relatives also adjust their wake and sleep cycles to optimize their chances for survival.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the wild North American black-footed ferret is actually nocturnal.
They are solitary with the exception of mating and live mostly in their underground burrows. Wild ferrets have a very different daily schedule and lifestyle than do domesticated ferrets, which do not exist in the wild at all.
Learn About the Ferret Sleep Cycle
The Journal of Exotic Pet Behavior reports on a laboratory study examining domestic ferret sleep cycles.
The study looked at ferret sleep patterns and how these intersect with the ferret’s age, the owner’s schedule, and also the habits of other ferrets housed together.
Ferrets spend 60 percent of the day sleeping
The study found that, on average, domestic pet ferrets spend about 60 percent of their day asleep, or between 12 and 16 hours per day from one day to the next, and 40 percent of their time awake.
Ferrets have an interesting REM sleep cycle
During the sleep period, approximately 40 percent of the sleep cycle is devoted to REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Ferrets have many short REM cycles back to back and sleep very deeply and soundly when they are asleep.
Ferrets sleep very deeply
In fact, a pet ferret can fall into such a deep sleep that their owner thinks they are dead! It doesn’t help here that sleeping ferrets can have greatly reduced respiration and heart rate and take longer to wake than most other pet animals.
Older ferrets sleep more than younger ferrets
The younger the ferret is, the more likely they are to alternate long cycles of the wake with long cycles of sleep. Older ferrets sleep more overall and also have shorter wake periods in between sleep periods.
Ferrets break up their sleep and wake cycles
While younger ferrets may choose to stay awake for longer periods of time at a stretch, no domestic ferret will sleep for 18 hours and then stay awake for six hours.
Rather, you are far more likely to see a ferret sleep for a few hours, wake up for a brief burst of activity, go back to sleep, wake up again, and so forth. This is especially the case for young ferrets who cannot go for too long without eating.
Ferrets have favorite sleep positions
Like domestic dogs, pet ferrets often develop favorite sleeping positions, whether straight out, curled up, or legs in the air.
When housed with other ferrets, it is common to see all the ferrets piled up together sleeping soundly.
Wild ferrets sleep and live underground in specialized burrows they build to live in and store (cache) food. Domestic ferrets like to burrow into their bedding to simulate a burrow-type secure hiding space.
Should Ferrets Sleep In a Cage
Another controversial topic in the ferret owner community is the topic of habitat.
Some owners believe that domestic ferrets should be allowed to live freely in the home without confinement.
Other owners believe that caging a ferret is the only safe option since ferrets are notoriously curious and fearless and are amazing escape artists.
Even when you factor in that ferrets spend the majority of each day asleep, a curious and active ferret can get into a lot of trouble in a very short time while awake, especially if no one is home to supervise!
Because ferrets do tend to adjust their wake periods to the owner’s schedule, this often means your ferrets will be awake when you want to go to sleep.
If you are a light sleeper like the ferret owner you met in the YouTube video you watched earlier here, this can make a ferret cage the only logical option.
You want to be able to train your ferrets to sleep (or at least to stay quiet) when you are asleep. It is hard to do this if your ferrets are allowed to roam free while you are trying to sleep.
As the American Ferret Association emphasizes, ferrets are agile and quick and can easily escape out a door or window if allowed to roam free inside the home.
Because domestic ferrets have no survival skills for life in a wild setting, they are unlikely to live for more than a day or so on their own. It is the owner’s responsibility to “ferret-proof” the hot and the habitat to keep pet ferrets safe.
Domestic Ferrets Are Crepuscular
Vet Explains Pets outlines what it is like to live with a crepuscular animal like the domestic ferret.
As we mentioned here earlier, crepuscular is a word that means active during dawn and dusk.
Being active during these low-light periods each day doesn’t require the same degree of specialized eyesight as nocturnal animals require.
A truly nocturnal animal will need to adapt every sense – hearing, scent, vision – to hunting and finding mates and caring for young and foraging at night.
But ferrets don’t exhibit these types of extremely specialized sensory adaptations. In fact, ferret eyesight isn’t their keenest sense. Ferrets do not see the full-color spectrum and they can really only see colors in the blue and red spectrum.
Ferrets have much more sensitive hearing and very sensitive paw pads that are more useful in navigating their environment in low light conditions such as during dawn and dusk.
Rather, ferrets have evolved to be able to alter their daily schedules to take advantage of both high light and low light conditions.
This is especially true for pet ferrets whose owners are more active and available at night.
In some sense, this means that a domestic pet ferret could be diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular depending on what your own schedule is like, as the Wiley Catalog explains.
But under ideal conditions, a domestic ferret is going to opt to be most awake near dawn and dusk during low (but not no) light conditions. If you can’t make that work with your schedule, it is nothing to worry about since ferrets are very adaptable.