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Can Ferrets See Color? Our Vet Explains

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

By Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Champagne ferret on the willow

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Written by

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Ferrets have become more popular as exotic indoor pets in recent years. These curious and tiny creatures make wonderful companions since they are so active and playful. When you closely watch your ferret, you may notice that they are more drawn to certain colors or see better in certain conditions. Their curious behaviors may have you intrigued about their eyesight, including whether or not they can see color.

Ferrets can see color, but not like we do. Because of the structure of their retina, ferrets are dichromats, which means they can see two shades of color. Ferrets are thought to be able to differentiate between red and blue shades. If you want to find out more, we’ll discuss color through the eyes of a ferret and talk a bit more in-depth about their vision so you can better understand how your ferret perceives the world around them.

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Can Ferrets See Color?

Yes, they can. However, ferrets are thought to have a limited range of color perception and cannot see all the colors humans can. Like dogs and cats, ferrets’ retinas have two different types of light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors): rods and cones. Rods are responsible for vision in low light conditions and cones for color vision. Studies show that ferrets are dichromats. This means that they have two types of cone cells, S-cones and L-cones, which help identify colors based on their wavelength. They can see most red hues and a few blue hues. 

Ferrets can perceive light with the support of specialized S-cones and L-cones, which help identify colors based on their wavelength. They can see most red hues and a few blue hues, but they lack M cones, which make all other colors appear gray.

Black sable ferret sitting on the grass
Image Credit: Julie Gaia, Shutterstock

Which Colors Can Ferrets See?

The two colors that ferrets are thought to differentiate are red and blue. Red is the predominant color that is perceived because the L-cones outnumber the S-cones in a ratio of approximately 14:1. According to some experts, ferrets cannot perceive the entire blue spectrum. Instead, ferrets notice the blue’s greyish tone, which is still clearer than other colors. 

Do Ferrets Have A Good Vision?

Although their visual acuity is not as keen as a human’s, ferrets have good vision. They have low-light vision; the threshold of light needed for vision in the ferret is estimated to be five to seven times lower than in people. Ferret retinas contain a high number of rod cells. This type of photoreceptor allows them to see in low light conditions and to detect movement, both important features that justify their crepuscular hunting habits in the wild. Ferrets also have great hearing, which is why they are used as guard animals and rat detectors.

At dusk, a ferret can also see things clearly, so low light conditions are not a problem. However, a ferret cannot see in complete darkness.

chocolate-colored ferret in the tree
Image Credit: Sergei Avdeev, Shutterstock

What Does Ferret Vision Look Like?

Because of their laterally-placed eyes, ferrets have limited binocular vision and very good peripheral vision. Additionally, ferrets have a blind spot in front of their nose, which explains why they sniff at objects when they are close. On the other hand, if an object is a few feet away, ferrets won’t be able to perceive most of the details. Like dogs and cats, ferret eyes also have a tapetum lucidum, which is a structure located behind the retina that reflects the light twice and helps them function better during low light conditions.

Although it is simple to assume that ferrets have weak eyesight, they have excellent peripheral vision. If you own a pet ferret, you may have noticed that they perceives objects better from the sides than from directly in front of it.

Can Ferrets See in the Dark?

Although a ferret’s vision may not be as good as a human’s, they can see perfectly fine in dim light but not in total darkness. As crepuscular creatures, ferrets primarily rely on their vision to survive in the dark, but they can increase the processing capability of their other eye to make up for lost vision in one eye. Because of this adaptation, they are ideal pets for homes with little light available at night or during the evening.

ferret in the meadow
Image Credit: jurra8, Shutterstock

Supporting Your Ferret’s Vision

Ferrets are known for having good vision in low light conditions, which gives them the advantage of studying their surroundings and keeping themselves safe at dawn and dusk. To assist your ferret in making the most of their vision, especially at night, there are a few things you can do.

  • Ferrets should always have access to natural or direct sunlight.
  • For artificial lights, use those that are just bright enough for them to see but not so bright that they strain their eyes. This will allow them to see potential risks and obstacles well in the dark.
  • Ensure your ferret’s enclosure is free from any obstacles or obstructions.
  • Getting lots of exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day will help train their eyes and help them recognize shapes and objects at night.
  • You can consider purchasing red or blue toys since they will recognize them more easily and be drawn to them.
  • Supporting your ferret’s vision also requires a proper diet and nutrition. A high-quality, protein-rich meal suited to their obligate carnivore dietary requirements should be provided. This will keep them healthy and should help prevent vision issues.

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Conclusion

Ferrets can see colors, but they may not see all the colors of the rainbow that we do. Ferrets can probably perceive mostly red hues and shades of blue. Ferrets are also well adapted to seeing in low light conditions, but the problem lies in complete darkness. Understanding your ferret’s vision and how they perceive light and color can help you provide the most suitable environment. Keep this information in mind when getting your ferret’s bedding and toys ready and visit your veterinarian if you are concerned about your ferret’s vision or eye health. They can give you the best advice for your furry friend. 

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Featured Image Credit: Julie Gaia, Shutterstock

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