Are Red Pandas Ferrets? (Full Guide – w/ Photos!)

There’s a fictional creature in the avatar animation called the “fire ferret.” Believe me, you’ll think it’s a red panda at first sight! 

Its lifestyle is so similar to red pandas and anyone will think a red panda is a ferret? However, here’s what you need to know… 

No, red pandas are not ferrets! Red pandas belong to the Ailuridae family while ferrets belong to the Mustelidae family. This makes them two different creatures altogether. 

Aside from belonging to separate families, they are different in many ways. And this proves they aren’t in any way the same animals. 

Keep reading below as we look at the differences in detail.

Table of Contents

Why are Red Pandas Different From Ferrets?

DifferencesRed Pandas Ferrets
Family AiluridaeMustelidae
SizeBody length: 20–26 in (50–56 cm).
Tail Length: 12-24 in. (30-50 cm).
Weight: 7–13 lbs. (3–6 kg).
Body length: 20–26 in (50–56 cm).
Tail Length: 5.1 in (13 cm).
Weight: 1.5–4.4 lbs. (0.7–2.0 kg) 
Appearance Reddish-brown fur. Bear-like bodies. Ringed tail.Long, slender bodies (pear-shaped). Long necks. Very short limbs. 
Limb Structure Two arms and two legs. Four legs (no arms).
Paw DigitsSix digits (including pseudo thumbs) on the front paws, and five digits on the back paws. Five digits only on each paw (i.e both front and back paws). 
Paw PadsNone. Fur covers their paws instead. Yes. Protects all four paws. 
ClawSemi-retractable claws Non-retractable claws 
DietBamboo Meat
Native Home AsiaEurope, North America, Etc. 
Habitat TypeArboreal Terrestrial
Companies hip (As household pets)NoYes
*Here’s an overview of the differences between red pandas and ferrets.


Family proves species are close to one another. But in this case, red pandas and ferrets are two different species belonging to two separate different families.

Red pandas belong to the unique family Ailuridae. No other living creature in the world shares this family with them.

Ferrets, on the other hand, are mustelids belonging to the family Mustelidae. This family is the largest mammalian family within the order Carnivora. 

It’s made up of over 55 species and red pandas aren’t one of them. Aside from ferrets, some well-known mustelids include

  • Martens
  • Polecats
  • Stoats
  • Weasels
  • Minks
  • Otters
  • Badgers 

See the difference in the classification of red pandas and ferrets below:

Classification Red PandaFerret
KingdomAnimalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata
OrderCarnivora Carnivora
Family Ailuridae Mustelidae 
SpeciesAilurus fulgensMustela furo


When it comes to size, red pandas are bigger creatures than ferrets. Red pandas are about 20–26 in (50–56 cm) long. 

Their tails are pretty long too, about 12-24 in. (30-50 cm). Ferrets are smaller but have long bodies. 

Their average body length is about 20 in (50 cm) cm. Their tails are shorter, about 5.1 in (13 cm). In addition, red pandas are also heavier! 

They weigh about 7–13 lbs. (3–6 kg). Ferrets are more lightweight and weigh around 1.5–4.4 lbs. (0.7–2.0 kg) depending on the species.


A Red Panda's Beautiful Reddish-Brown and Black Appearance

Red pandas are bear-like in shape with long bushy tails that have ringed patterns. They are reddish-brown with black colored limbs and bellies. 

Black and White Ferret

Ferrets on the other hand have a body type that is long and slim. Their bodies are equally shaped like pears. Their legs are very short compared to that of red pandas.

A ferret’s fur appears completely brown, black, or white. Some species can have a mixture of two or more of these colors.

Limb Structure

Red panda’s limbs are very different from that of ferrets. A red panda has four limbs in total, but two arms and two legs. All four of the ferret’s limbs are legs instead. They have no arms!

In addition, their paws you find that they are very different animals when you look at their paws on their limbs.  See some of these differences:

Paw Digits

Red pandas have a total of six digits on the front paws and five digits on the back paws. Their front paws digits in particular include five true fingers and a false thumb. 

A Ferret's five-Toed Front Paw With Fixed (Non-Retractable) Claws

This false thumb is a unique adaptation that ferrets don’t have. A ferret has five toes in total on each foot.

Paw Pads

There’s no single paw pad present on all of the red panda’s feet. They have fur covering all of their paws instead. 

But this is not the same with ferrets. Ferrets have paw pads that cover all their feet just like most mammals.


A Cute Red Panda's Semi-Retractable Claws

Red pandas have semi-retractable claws on all of their paws. This means their claws can extend and slightly go back. In contrast, a ferret’s claws don’t retract at all. They are fixed nails!

Native Home

Red pandas and ferrets originated in different regions. A red panda is only native to some parts of the Asian continent. 

This means they do not live naturally anywhere outside Asia. On the contrary, ferrets are native to different continents. 

In addition, most common species are native to Europe. Black-footed ferrets, in particular, are native to North America. 

Habitat Type

Red Panda on a Tree

A red panda’s habitat is terrestrial, but they are strictly arboreal creatures. This means they spend more time on trees throughout their lives. 

In addition, they live in trees close to food sources, specifically bamboo. What’s more interesting is that red pandas can do almost all their activities while on trees, unlike ferrets. 

Red pandas can eat and even travel through trees. This kind of movement on trees is called arboreal locomotion.

A Black-Footed Ferret Coming Out of a Prairie Dog Burrow

In contrast, ferrets and any other mustelid are terrestrial carnivores. They live entirely on land, not on trees as red pandas do.

On land, ferrets live in forests, mountains, tundra, semi-desert, steppe, and farmlands.


Red Panda Eating Bamboo

Despite being natural carnivores, red pandas are bamboo eaters. And bamboo makes up about 95% of their diet. 

It gives them very little nutrients but they love it and can only survive on it. Small animals (meat) just make up the remaining 5% of their diet.

Ferrets aren’t just carnivores, but “obligate carnivores (Hypercarnivores)”. This means more than 70% of their diet is meat. 

Even as household pets, their diets must be meat and meat products that are rich in protein and fats. This means ferrets can be vegetarians and do not eat bamboo, which is a red panda thing.


A Lady Holding Her Two Pet Ferrets

Don’t be deceived by a red panda’s cute, peaceful, and cuddly nature. These creatures aren’t domesticated. 

Of course, you might see them bond well with zookeepers in zoos. It doesn’t mean they can be pets like dogs or cats. 

They are endangered species and can mostly survive naturally in the wild or under human care in captivity. Living with humans as household pets is a big exception.

Ferrets bond very well with humans, which is common. This is because they were domesticated many years ago.  They are common as pets, especially in North America.

Defense Mechanism

When red pandas feel threatened, they use their sharp claws to defend themselves. What’s more interesting is that they stand on their two feet to make themselves look bigger.

What a ferret does in times of danger is way different. They have anal gland secretions that they release just as skunks do when angry, scared, or threatened. 

The smell is awful, but not as bad as that of skunks.

What Do Red Pandas and Ferrets Have in Common?

Yes, red pandas might not be ferrets, but they have so many similarities with red pandas. Let’s look at some of them below:

  • Just like red pandas, some species of ferrets have beautiful patterns on their faces.
  • Red pandas and ferrets are carnivores by nature.
  • They are terrible when it comes to digesting plant foods.
  • Both red pandas and ferrets are mostly solitary in the wild.
  • Red pandas and ferrets can stand on their two back legs
  • They have long bushy tails
  • They are both crepuscular animals. This means they’re active around dawn and dusk.
  • Both red pandas and ferrets have five real digits on all of their four paws.
  • They both have whiskers 
A Raccoon - Close Relative to Red Pandas

Red pandas are mostly related to raccoons. You can see many similar features in both of them. 

This includes their facial patterns, and long bushy, ringed tails. This might make you think red pandas are red raccoons. They have no living relatives of the Ailuridae family. 


A Polecat Close Relative to Ferrets

Ferrets are closely related to polecats and other members of the Mustelidae family. They include weasels, otters, stoats, ermines, badgers, etc. 

Just like ferrets, these mustelids have long slender bodies that are like tubes. More importantly, they all have anal scent glands!


In summary, red pandas are not ferrets. They are both different animals and belong to different families.

Red pandas are the only living members of the Aluiridae family. Ferrets are mustelids belonging to the Mustelidae family.

This alone proves they are not the same animals. Still, here are other differences to remember:

  • A red panda is normally bigger than a ferret
  • Red pandas survive mainly on bamboo while ferrets can’t do without meat.
  • There are pseudo thumbs on red pandas’ front paws, and it is absent on ferrets’ paws.
  • Red pandas are only native to Asia. Ferrets are native to many parts of the world including Europe and North America.
  • Red pandas don’t release scents from their scent glands when stressed. It’s a ferret thing! 

We’ve learned that red pandas don’t have the long slender bodies ferrets have. They take the shape of bears instead. 

Not just that, they are even nicknamed bearcats! Do you think there’s a connection between the two creatures? 

Find out all you need to know about red pandas and bears in our article  – Are Red Pandas Related to Bears?