Bile salt stimulated lipase (BSSL) activity is 10-20 times higher in ferret milk than in human milk. We have used the ferret to study BSSL activity in lactating mammary gland and in mammary cells isolated by hyaluronidase-collagenase treatment followed by Ficoll gradient centrifugation. Furthermore, we have compared the characteristics of BSSL in the tissue preparations (homogenate or cells) to BSSL of ferret milk and to BSSL purified from ferret and human milk. The characteristics of BSSL in ferret mammary gland preparations and milk were similar to those of human milk BSSL--absolute requirement of primary bile salts, pH optimum of 7.5-9.0, stability at pH 3-9 and inhibition by eserine (physostigmine) and by serum. Purified ferret milk BSSL had a lower molecular weight (90kD) than did human milk BSSL (125 kD). There was an 86% homology of the N-terminal amino acid sequence between BSSL of ferret and of human milk. The marked similarity in characteristics between BSSL in ferret and human milk and the high activity of BSSL in ferret milk (520 U/mL colostrum and 250 U/mL mature milk) indicate that this species is an ideal animal model for the study of the synthesis and secretion of this digestive lipase which constitutes a significant portion (1-2%) of total milk protein.