Ferrets, like many other domesticated companion animals, can grow up to display a number of different coat colors and color patterns.
And as with many other domesticated species, different breeder associations in different countries have different schedules of the official or recognized ferret coat colors and patterns.
Behind it, all is a sometimes complicated genetic dance that isn’t always easy to predict in advance. But it is a lot of fun to learn about so let’s dive in!
The American Ferret Association recognizes eight basic coat colors and nine basic color patterns.
The British Ferret Club recognizes anywhere from six to nine different color groups which include both color and color patterns.
We will review the categories for each official association in detail in the sections to follow here.
See Examples of Different Ferret Colors
This fun short YouTube video helps you visualize the different ferret coat colors and patterns we will be talking about in more detail in this article.
American Ferret Association Official Colors
These are the eight officially recognized ferret coat colors that are used by ferret breeders affiliated with the American Ferret Association. Each color might more accurately be described as a color range or color group.
NOTE: You can see examples of each color range on the AFA website.
True albino ferrets have pink to red eyes and a pink nose. Their outer coat (guard hairs) and undercoat range from white to light cream.
The black ferret has black eyes and a black to near-black or speckled black nose. The outer coat is black and the undercoat is white.
The black sable ferret has near-black or dark brown eyes and the nose is solid brown-black or speckled/mottled. The outer coat is ash/black/brown and the undercoat is white to cream.
The champagne ferret has light to dark burgundy eyes and a beige to pink nose with a T-shape pattern. The outer coat is tan or chocolate (brown) dilute and the undercoat is white to cream.
The chocolate ferret has brown to burgundy eyes and a pink to beige nose with a T-shape pattern. The outer coat is milk chocolate and the undercoat is white.
The cinnamon ferret has burgundy spectrum eyes and a pink to beige nose with a T-shape pattern. The outer coat is a light red-brown and the undercoat is white or gold-white.
The cinnamon ferret coat color is so rare not all breeders agree it even exists.
As the name suggests, the dark-eyed white ferret has burgundy to black eyes. The nose is pink. The outer coat is white to cream and the undercoat also white to cream.
The sable ferret has brown to near-black eyes and a pink to light brown solid or speckled nose with a T-shape pattern. The outer coat is a warm dark brown and the undercoat is white, cream or gold.
The sable is the most common of all the ferret coat colors and color patterns.
British Ferret Club Official Colors
These are the six to nine officially recognized coat colors used by ferret breeders associated with the British Ferret Club.
Unfortunately, the club does not present publish text explanations of each color and color pattern.
NOTE: You can see examples of each color range on the BFC website.
- Dark Polecat
- Black-Eyed White (Dark Eyed White)
Genetics of Ferret Coat Colors and Color Patterns
As Mischief Maker Ferrets explains, the terminology used to describe ferret coat colors and color patterns sounds very different when describing the genetic basis for each.
In fact, the genetic terminology is the same as that used in the world of purebred dog breeding.
As Dog Genetics explains, here are the basic terms you will want to keep in mind.
All the genes an animal inherits are called that animal’s genotype.
Genes are like tiny instruction manuals encoded into an animal’s DNA. There are genes for every aspect of the animal, including color and color pattern.
However, there are only two basic color pigments: eumelanin (black) and phaeomelanin (yellow/red).
Considering how many different coat colors and color patterns can exist, this means the genetics of how one ferret can look so different from another ferret can get quite complicated!
Alleles are pairs. Each ferret parent contributes one allele to a kit (young ferret).
These alleles come together in pairs.
Typically when alleles are discussed, each allele within a pair is denoted as “a” and “b.”
Dominant and Recessive
A dominant allele means only one copy is required for that allele to express or show up. A recessive allele means two copies are required before that allele will show up.
Typically dominant alleles are denoted with a capital letter (such as “B”) while recessive alleles are denoted with a lower-case letter (such as “b”).
Locus refers to a specific point on a strand of DNA where each pair of alleles resides.
A series of pairs is called loci (multiple loci). There may be anywhere from two to five alleles present, which is called a series.
Where the genotype is the specific genes that make up the animal, the phenotype is how those genes express or show up to make the animal look a certain way.
Ferret Color Categories Based on Genetic Loci
There are nine different recognized genetic loci in the ferret genome that can influence what an adult ferret looks like when fully grown.
Each locus is associated with a different ferret coat color or color pattern as follows.
Remember, there can be up to five alleles present, which can produce a surprising range of colors and patterns within each locus.
The A locus is associated with the common sable color, self (solid colored with a white bib across the nose and under the chin), and solid (single color).
The B locus controls for black and brown coat colors.
The C locus controls for an albino, dark-eyed whites, chocolate (a brown variant), cinnamon, and champagne.
The D locus stands for “dilute” and controls for color variants that are so rare as to be unheard of in ferret colors, including red, cream, blue, and black/grey.
The E locus controls for dark (basic black) and the rare cinnamon color.
The I locus specifically controls for coat color patterns like points and sable.
The S locus specifically controls for coat color patterns including spots, harlequins, piebalds, mitts, badgers, pandas, blazes, and possible dark-eyed whites in some cases.
The G locus stands for “graying” and may control for roans as well as progressive age-related greying of the coat (that really arises from an increasingly white undercoat).
S(ab) and R loci
The S(ab) and R loci are incompletely understood and may not be present in all ferret genetic lines.
These two loci may also control for some mitts, roans, dark-eyed whites, and also for some dilute colors like lilac and silver.
How to Find the Ferret Colors You Want for Your Pet
If reading through this brief overview of ferret coat colors and color pattern genetics is starting to make your head spin, you now know why ferret breeders often spend a lifetime studying genetics just for their breed lines!
As you search for your pet ferret, you will also notice that not all ferret breeders will breed for all the possible colors and color patterns.
Many breeders choose to specialize in just a few coat colors or color patterns, which increases the chances that their ferrets will consistently breed true to the ferret breed standard.
This means the first step in finding the ferret color you want is to find breeders that specialize in breeding for that coat color.
You can then reach out to those breeders and inquire about when a new litter is planned. If you want a very rare color like lilac or cinnamon, you may need to be patient as these colors can be in high demand.
Other Ferret Coat Color and Pattern Combinations Exist
The ferret coat colors and color pattern combinations you have read about here represent the breed standards for two of the largest and best-known ferret associations.
However, these are not the only terms used to describe ferret eye, nose, and coat colors. The terminology used often varies from one breeder to the next.