Many animal lovers wonder if they would be able to keep a wild animal as a pet at one time or another. Whether they came across an injured baby animal or simply thought it would be fun to own an unusual pet, it’s a common thought. While ermines resemble ferrets, however, they are completely different. In this article, we’ll talk about what you need to consider before you try to keep an ermine in captivity.
What You'll Learn Today
Can Ermines Be Kept As Pets?
Ermines, while cute and fuzzy, do not make good pets. They might look sweet, but they are wild, fierce predators.
Ermines have extremely sharp teeth and claws, which they use to trap and kill their prey in the wild. They also have a ton of energy and move quickly, which makes them tricky to live with.
While owning a wild animal like a weasel is not illegal according to federal law, most states have restrictions governing the practice. Several states specifically prohibit owning ermines, such as California, Hawaii, NYC, and Washington, D.C.
Here are some of the reasons to think twice before owning a stoat:
Ermines are Aggressive
All weasels are carnivores and prolific hunters. This cannot be bred or trained out of them.
Although ermines are small, they have been known to take down and kill animals up to ten times their size. They simply cannot be trusted around pets and children.
Ermines Need a lot of Food
These little creatures consume two-thirds of their body weight in food each day. They are constantly running around and expend a ton of energy, so it makes sense that they need to replenish often.
Attempts to breed and domesticate ermines in the past have failed, partly because it’s difficult to keep up with their feeding needs. Stoats only eat meat, and they much prefer to hunt and kill their meals themselves.
They Make Terrible Roommates
Even if their energy level or aggressive nature doesn’t bother you, surely their hygiene habits will. Ermines spray a foul-smelling liquid as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened or are hunting. Many people liken the odor to a skunk smell.
Ermines Hunt Anytime
In the wild, ermines hunt even when they are not hungry. Since they largely depend on luck to spot their next meal, stoats will hunt and kill their prey whenever they can.
Ermines often tuck extra food away to ensure there is a consistent supply – especially for the winter when food can be scarce.
It’s Bad For the Ecosystem
Ermines are considered invasive in many areas due to their breeding capabilities and relentless hunting skills. If you decide to own one and it somehow gets loose outside, it could have a devastating effect on the local ecosystem.
Can You Tame an Ermine?
Countless examples of humans attempting to tame and keep exotic animals as pets exist, but the fact remains that they will always be wild. No amount of training or domesticating can change that.
Ermines shed their normal brown fur in exchange for pure white coats in the winter. Since people have attempted to keep ermines and farm them for their fur, we have evidence of how they behave in captivity.
While captive, stoats experience a high level of stress – so much so, that their fertility is affected. The handful of times that ermine breeding has been attempted, it did not result in enough births to succeed in the trade.
When raised from a kit, it’s true that ermines are tamer and can get used to being around humans. However, they still have natural instincts and aggressive tendencies that are unpredictable at best.
What Do You Feed Ermines?
It’s possible to get a special license to own an ermine. This typically happens when an orphaned or injured stoat is found in the wild.
Although it’s better for the creature to be taken to a wildlife sanctuary and hopefully reintroduced into the wild after recovery, it may take time to find an organization to take the stoat.
If the ermine is a baby, it will need special milk designed for them. If they have teeth, they can be fed small pieces of turkey or chicken along with the milk.
Once the stoat is old enough, it can feed on freshly killed mice or other raw meat, under the guidance of a veterinarian. Weasels in captivity drink water, typically in sipper bottles, since they often knock things over.
What About a Ferret?
While stoats don’t make great pets, one of their furry cousins can be a wonderful alternative. Ferrets, like ermines, minks, and badgers, also belong to the mustelid family and have similar characteristics.
Unlike ermines, though, ferrets have great temperaments when raised properly. Overall, they are very social animals who bond well with and love to be around their human family.
Ferrets also tend to be very playful and enjoy having fun with other ferrets and humans. But when they aren’t playing or eating, they spend a lot of time sleeping, and some can be quite snuggly.
Another trait that sets ferrets apart from stoats is their ability to train. Ferrets, like ermines, are highly intelligent creatures with a large capacity to learn. The difference is that ferrets are also people-pleasers, and seem to enjoy performing commands.
Ermines are adorable weasels that are fun to watch, which is partly why people are fascinated with them. Ozzy the Weasel is an example of a rescued ermine who went viral for his sweet, entertaining antics. If you haven’t seen him, check out one of his videos:
But no matter how cute some of the videos are, as Ozzy’s owner says:
“A weasel is not a pet. They hate being locked up, they’re not friendly when hungry. Don’t get one. Seriously. Ozzy is a special case rescue baby. Cute, but deadly.”