What's the difference between Ferrets, Minks, Weasels, Otters, Stoats, and European Polecats?

If you love ferrets, there’s a good chance that you have a heart for other mustelids like Minks, Weasels, Stoats, Polecats, and Otters as well. They all belong to the same family, the mustelids. Slender animals with long bodies and high hunting skills. And sooo adorable! This is why nobody can blame you for wanting a mustelid pet. Even though all of them can be tamed to some degree, only ferrets make good pets for most of us.

European Polecat

Let’s go into detail and compare ferrets to other mustelids.


Ferrets are the 2500 years ago domesticated form of the European polecat. They’re obligate carnivores, live on average between 6-10 years, and reach a length of 20 inches (including tail). Ferrets are affectionate to their owners and easy to tame – compared to other mustelids.

Ferrets vs. European Polecats

Ferrets are domesticated European polecats and both still share many similarities. With a length of 24 inches (including tail), European polecats get bigger than ferrets. 

They’re also physically more vital, have a more robust bone structure, a strong jar and a bigger head. 

Ferrets come in different coat color variations and are social animals with a need for one or several companions. Polecats are lone wolves and only search for a significant other when it’s mating season. 

Polecats are also better at climbing, jumping, and hunting. 

And polecats have a stronger scent (diplomatically phrased. Others would say they STINK!)


Ferret Vs. Mink

Ferrets and minks are very similar. Both are obligate (“true”) carnivores of the genera Mustela and part of the Mustelidae family, with long, slender bodies and short legs. Males can reach 24″, females 20″. They’re both active predators.

They’re semi-aquatic and hunt, play, swim, dive, and live close to the water near rivers, seas, ponds, or streams, while ferrets prefer to stay dry, even though ferrets love splashing in the water as well. Ferrets were (probably) domesticated 2500 years ago (from the European polecat) and kept as pets. They can’t survive in the wild (exceptions to the rule, sometimes, in a moderate climate and without predators, ferrets escape and live a happy life in the wild) on their own, while minks are still wild animals, born to swim and to dive, to catch fish and to hunt near to the water. Unlike ferrets, minks have a high chance to survive in the wild – as escaped minks have proven. Ferrets were bred to hunt mice, rats, and rabbits, – minks for their fur.

Ferret Vs Least Weasel

Weasels are just like all mustelids obligate carnivores and feed on small animals, like mice, and birds. With 6 to 8 inches, they’re not even half the size of a ferret! That makes them the smallest of all carnivorous mammals. Good for them – because their small size allows them to follow even smaller prey into its burrows. The least weasel is aggressive, with a strong hunting instinct, and snappy. It’s a wild animal, and the best reason not to get pet weasels is: They use feces, urine, and anal and dermal gland secretions to mark their territory. Eww! Least weasels are usually not kept as pets, which makes it hard to get one. Especially if you live in a country or state where it’s illegal to have indigenous animals as pets. But why would you want a weasel if you can have domesticated pet ferrets!

Ferret Vs. Otter

Otters are mustelids like ferrets, minks, and weasels, but other than ferrets, semi-aquatic, aquatic, or marine animals. They prey on fish and invertebrates. There are 13 different otter species – all of them getting bigger than ferrets. The Giant Otter, a species native to the amazon river basin, can grow up to 5.9 ft. Now, that’s quite big compared to the 18 – 24 inches a ferret can reach. The thought of getting an almost 6 ft big ferret is more than scary to me – knowing how aggressive these animals can play. Not to mention the food costs!

Ferrets VS Stoats

The stoat, also known as short-tailed weasel or ermine, can reach a body length of 7.4 – 12.8 inches. Their small size doesn’t keep them from hunting large animals like the European water vole and rabbits. New Zealand introduced stoats to control their rabbit and hare population in the late 19th, against scientistic advice – with fatal consequences for their bird population. States are very well known for changing their fur color from a brown in summer to an all-white during the winter.

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