Mischievous, fun-loving ferrets live life at full speed when they’re awake. The person who gave the ferret its scientific name “mustela putorius furo” meaning, “stinky little thief,” certainly understood its nature.
Ferrets blink but only on rare occasions. Their vision works in a different way than ours, so they don’t need to blink as often as we do.
Anyone who has seen a ferret blink is in a very exclusive club. These quiet, intelligent, playful animals live a good part of their lives with their eyes wide open.
Ferret owners, particularly new ones, may find themselves wondering how often their sleek ball of furry energy blinks.
The answer is that ferrets, like many small creatures, rarely blink.
Ferrets are technically predators and were originally bred to help control rabbit and rodent populations. Possessing lousy vision is a terrible disadvantage for most predators. But this isn’t so for the ferret.
Their hearing and sense of smell are highly developed. The ferret is lean-bodied and unbelievably quick – a perfect design to chase rabbits and rodents from burrows and tight holes. This is where the expression “ferret out” originates.
The ferret does indeed have eyelids, and it also has what is commonly called a third eyelid. This whitish nictitating membrane is located underneath the lower eyelid and can be drawn across the eye to help protect it from dust and debris.
Ferrets also have binocular or stereoscopic vision, which means their eyes are placed more to the sides of their heads. This gives them much better peripheral vision than people, but they cannot see clearly beyond a few feet.
However, a ferret can see a close-up object in remarkable detail – better than most humans or cats.
A group of researchers at the University of Exeter developed free software that allows people to see through the eyes of a ferret and other animals. Check it out to get a ferret’s view of the world.
Because the ferret’s eyes are on the sides of its head, they have a blind spot right in front of its nose. They will rely on their sense of smell and begin sniffing to figure out what is right in front of them.
And that cute little head tilt? It’s all perfectly normal for a ferret to turn their head to one side as they try to see what’s in the surrounding environment.
Each of the ferret’s pupils has a horizontal slit. This is common in animals that chase hopping prey, and it explains why a ferret is so fond of playing with toys that bounce.
Ferrets are stoic little creatures, so if they are squinting, there is a problem. They will squint if they are sick, in pain, or have an injury or infection in their eyes.
The answer is mostly no, which can be unnerving for new owners. A ferret can even be sound asleep while appearing to be staring lovingly into the eyes of their human. This behavior is normal and shouldn’t be taken personally.
Sleeping like this is an evolutionary behavior that fooled and protected the ferret from predators. While they mostly sleep with their eyes open, ferrets will occasionally close their eyes when they’re resting.
Ferrets are extremely nearsighted, which means that they aren’t able to make out what is in the distance. Squinting their eyes is not an attempt to bring something into focus. And it shouldn’t be confused with blinking.
- Glassy eyes are serious and indicate low blood sugar, shock, or pain.
- Loss in the color of the blood vessels may also be due to blood loss or shock.
- A grayish-blue, milky film across the eye is likely due to cataracts, common in older ferrets.
- Swelling of the eye could be from trauma, or it could be due to glaucoma, which is difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Any swelling demands immediate medical attention.
A ferret that loses its eyesight manages quite well. However, the adjustment phase can bring out fearful behaviors, and sometimes they become less confident and less active. One easy way to help is by providing comforting spaces, like this hammock.
Poor vision, or no vision, puts a ferret at a certain risk and their playtime should always be supervised. Ferrets are naturally curious and playful. Falls, even from short heights, can cause serious injuries.
While it’s not common, ferrets blink, mostly to lubricate the eye. A blink may not seem like a big deal, but in the wild, there are always larger and faster animals wanting to eat you for dinner.
That split-second closing of the eye could be the difference between life and death. The ferret adapted so that its eyes would rarely close.
Having a pet that keeps its eyes open all the time and seemingly never blinking may take some getting used to, but it won’t take any time at all to fall in love with these quirks.