How to Get a Good-Smelling Ferret

by Keri K. on February 7, 2010

Trouble and Trial in a (machine-washable) hammock

Trouble and Trial in a (machine-washable) hammock

Ferrets have a bad reputation for being stinky. It’s true that the domestic ferret, Mustela putorius furo, is a member of the weasel family, many of which are known for their well-developed musk glands. (Skunks are actually not as closely related as once thought, and now have their own family, Mephitidae.) Besides the famous anal glands, ferrets do seem to have an overall musky odor that some people don’t care for, and some people love. No surprise here: I like it!

The vast majority of pet store ferrets in the United States come from a few major breeding farms. These ferrets will already be spayed or neutered, as well as “de-scented.” De-scenting is the process of removing the ferret’s anal glands. Having a ferret’s glands surgically removed does not do anything for “everyday” ferret odors. Incidentally, almost all carnivores possess these glands, including dogs and cats.

So what makes a ferret smelly? The answers are usually the ferret’s diet and environment, not the ferret himself! Here are some ways to get a good-smelling ferret and home. 

  • Scoop up!
    As I blogged about here, ferrets on a kibble diet do use the litter box often. Removing solid waste at least once every day and cleaning out the whole litter box at least once a week will help cut down on odors. Taking care of “accidents” right away will also make a difference. Try a product like Nature’s Miracle or CleanAway that uses enzymes to break down stains and odor. With two cats and two ferrets, I’ve used both at home, for soaking litter boxes and wiping down cages.
  • Do laundry!
    Ferrets shouldn’t be kept on “bedding” like wood shavings or paper fluff, even though that’s how you’ll often see them at the pet store. Ferrets need fabric like blankets, hammocks and old t-shirts for sleeping and playing. Then, once a week or so, make up a laundry load out of all that bedding. Adding some vinegar and baking soda to the wash is safe and really helps cut the ferrety smell. Avoid harsh detergents, bleach, and fabric softener, which could make a fuzzy itchy or sneezy. One of my ferrets was very allergic to dryer sheets.
  • No grocery store cat kibble, please!

    No grocery store cat kibble, please!

  • Feed right!
    This one is huge, and something many people don’t consider when they think about odor. Feeding your ferret a high quality diet will do wonders for his overall scent, the litter box odor, and the quantity you’ll be scooping. A cheap kibble will do your ferret and your home no favors. Research what’s in your ferret’s food! If you think it’s time to trade up, here’s an article about switching ferret foods.

Notice what didn’t make the list? A bath. Bathing your ferret too often will only remove the oils from his coat, forcing him to overproduce more. I personally never use shampoo on my ferrets unless they’ve gotten into something that can’t be rinsed off. However, if your ferret is a fan of water, taking a swim in the tub is fine — just leave out the soap.

Instead of filling the air with potentially dangerous scented candles and sprays, take a look at what’s in your ferret’s cage and food bowl. A few simple changes can make big differences.

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Keri is a lead catalog designer for Drs. Foster and Smith and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from UW-Stout. She shares a small home with her husband, two Chinese Crested dogs, two cats, two ferrets, several reptiles and amphibians, and 30-some gallons of freshwater planted aquariums. See more articles by Keri K.

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