While ferrets are certainly loveable, adorable and curious little animals, they’re also known to be a little bit smelly. Throughout this guide we’ll uncover the cause of your ferret’s musky smell and how to deal with ferret odor by looking at ways to maintain and diminish the scent that follows him or her around the house to keep your home from smelling like a ferret cage.
Why Do Ferrets Smell?
Ferrets, like all creatures in the weasel family, have a natural musky odor which comes from the musk glands in the epidermis. Ferrets are born with an anal scent sac, which is used for releasing its scent into the air, much the same as a skunk might.
In the United States, domestic ferrets are usually de-scented, which means this sac has been removed, but this isn’t always the case, and could be lending to some of the odor you’re noticing. Ferrets tend to release the contents of their scent sac when aggravated or excited. So, it’s a smell-factor of ferret ownership, but not one that should be a common problem, or something that lingers in your home.
Unneutered male ferrets tend to smell more than their neutered counterparts because of additional hormones coursing through their tiny bodies. These extra hormones create more musk, which intensifies the scent of existing musk in the oils of their skin.
Unfortunately, one of the ways ferret owners try to counteract these smells is through bathing the pet regularly.
In nature, an animal like a ferret doesn’t bathe every day, and when they do, there would be no soap involved. Washing your pet too often causes the oil producing glands in its body to overproduce to make up for those it loses during the washing process. These oils protect your ferret’s skin and fur, keeping it from drying out and becoming damaged.
When too much oil is removed in a weekly bathing routine, your ferret’s skin works overtime to recreate the lost oil. Of course, this overproduction of body secretions includes that musky hormonal odor.
Poor eating habits and illness also cause ferret odors to increase and become overpowering. Your ferret’s tiny body requires very specific food, and if he or she strays too far from what’s considered to be its natural eating habits, it could wither and become sick.
Ferrets are also extremely sensitive to ear mites and gum disease, both of which are common problems for these furry pets, and ones which cause additional odors to roam its cage.
While there will always be something a little bit stinky about your favorite fuzzy pet, you shouldn’t find this scent to be overpowering your home. If you walk into the house and find that ferret musk to be too much, it could be a cleanliness issue resulting in bathroom accidents, or something wrong with your ferret.
For ferret owners who do find the aroma to be a bit too pungent, or for those who develop a sensitivity to the scent of their furry companion, here are a few solutions to mask and prevent ferret odor.
Desexing Ferret Isn’t Only Good For Odor Control
Neutering: Neutering is a common way for pet owners to diminish sexual behaviors, reduce hormone production, and manage reproduction among ferrets. When you neuter your ferret, you restrict some of the hormone production which inevitably causes smelly oils and scent sac discharge to decrease as well.
Some might consider neutering for the sake of neutering alone a cruel concept, but it’s extremely beneficial to your ferret unless he’s being kept to breed a family of ferrets.
An unneutered ferret is called a Hob; you can distinguish between a neutered or unneutered ferret in a pet store by an ear tattoo featuring two dots. You can also inquire about the sexual nature of a ferret before buying, and request the ferret be neutered.
Hobs have unusual habits during the six months during mating season, which typically begins with Spring. These habits can increase smelliness around the house as your ferret rubs oil and urine across carpets, furniture and other surfaces, marking his territory.
During this time, he will also exhibit aggression toward other males of the species, whether they are neutered or not. An unneutered ferret will try to mate with any female ferret he encounters, whether she is spayed or not. This is dangerous for the female as the aggression professed during this ritual can be damaging.
Spaying: Female ferrets may not require de-sexing for the same reason as male ferrets, but it’s still important that ferret owners spay their female pets.
Unfortunately, while unspayed females don’t increase in smell, research shows that they will remain in heat until they find a mate. This ongoing heat causes complications such as bone marrow suppression caused by an increase in estrogen.
Females who remain unspayed and experience an ongoing heat can form physical problems, such as anemia and pyometra. The risk of developing ovarian cancer also increases, which manifests in a series of unwelcome and frightening symptoms.
Before your female ferret is fixed, she is known as a Jill. If she is unfixed and in heat for longer than 3-4 weeks you may notice symptoms of hair and weight loss, kidney stones, bladder infection, and more severe symptoms such as hemorrhaging, which leads to death.
Vets suggest that females and males both be de-sexed by the age of 6-months at the latest.
Descenting Your Ferret Isn’t The Answer
It may sound like an all-encompassing solution, but de-scenting refers to the removal of the anal scent sac in ferrets. The sacs are removed surgically by cutting out the glands from both sides of the anal cavity where they sit near the opening.
While this will keep them from emitting a burst of odor when aggravated, it does little to mask their natural musk or reduce overall stink. In the United States, ferrets often come with stink sacs already removed, but in some countries, such as Great Britain, they ban de-scenting as animal cruelty and an unnecessary action.
More research is needed, but many ferret enthusiasts believe that the removal of the smell sac in North America is little more than a sales tactic. By advertising that ferrets have had stink sacs removed, they may seem more appealing to consumers.
As mentioned, however, this unnecessary surgical procedure won’t reduce the musk of your furry companion.
Your furry friend’s body odor may be cause for most of the musk you smell, but there are other reasons for ferret smells to take over your house. Even with a litter box, some ferrets are known to use the bathroom in secretive corners or behind furniture during their daily romp around the home.
Sweep your house for small piles of feces or puddles of dried urine every few days and clean spots as soon as you find them. This is an especially big problem for owners of ferrets who have yet to have their pets fixed as male ferrets will try to spread their scent around the home to attract a female mate.
Urinating for mating purposes or to mark territory is common in most mammals including cats and dogs. Tidy up the area and mop well to be sure the scent is eradicated before moving on with your day. If the smell is not completely lifted, your pet might consider this space a “bathroom-friendly” zone and will continue to use it for waste purposes.
Sweep around the cage to remove any fallen fur, litter, or bedding which has escaped, as these bits of debris carry unwanted smells and will be spread around the house.
Wipe down or vacuum toys and furniture which your ferret is in contact with at the end of each day. Any areas of your home which are favored by a roaming ferret could do with a little extra TLC during housecleaning.
A mixture of white vinegar and water will help reduce ferret odor on smooth surfaces, while baking soda will help on carpet and fabrics. Sprinkle the baking soda on, wait half an hour, and vacuum it up to remove some of the stink from the fibers.
Like cats or any other litter trained animal, ferrets encounter the contents of their litter box every time they enter and exit. By keeping a clean litter box, both in terms of urine and feces, you decrease the odds of your ferret rubbing up against smelly waste and tracking it throughout its cage and your home.
The box should be cleaned daily, if not more frequently, to keep it from getting too dirty or overpowering. If you find your ferrets can’t leave the litter box where you put it, attach it to the cage with string or zip ties so it doesn’t move around the cage every time it’s used.
Wipe down areas where urine or feces might touch any other space in the cage with a warm damp rag or cage cleaner every time you clean the litter box to help train your pet on where it’s acceptable to “go”.
Recycled paper pellets are one of the best ferret litter for odor control, as woodchips and other dusty materials can damage your pet’s lungs. Pine litter is another popular style of litter, as it smells fresher for longer, but it can be dustier as it’s considered a woodchip.
Clay litter, on the other hand isn’t as environmentally friendly as others and holds stinky smells. You may want to experiment with different brands and styles of ferret litter until you find one you like.
Remember to use a larger litter box, or more than one litter box, if you have two or more ferrets. Not only will this make it less messy to clean up, but it will help reduce the concentrated odor of a single overused box.
If your ferret isn’t using his or her litter box properly, try leaving a little soiled litter in the box so your ferret becomes trained on which corner of the cage to use. You may also want to invest in a litter box ergonomically designed for ferrets, such as the Marshall Ferret Litter Pan. These aren’t meant for cats, but for smaller creatures, with shorter legs and longer torsos.
Some ferret owners make the mistake of using the same padding for the litter box as they do the rest of the cage. Unlike hamsters, gerbils, and other rodents, ferrets require different materials for bathroom and bedding, otherwise they may use the entire cage as a bathroom.
Choosing a non-disposable bedding for your cage, such as a blanket or towel to help your ferret distinguish the litter box from his or her bed. Be sure to wash the bedding regularly, as well as any other cloth items in the cage.
Ferret hammocks and slumber sacks should also be laundered frequently, at least once a week, to diminish those funky smells that come from the musky oil in your pet’s skin. As your pet plays and lays on these materials, the oils in their skin, and bits of hair get rubbed onto the fabric which will retain their odors.
When washing these items, most vets recommend not using a chemical detergent because ferrets have sensitive skin, but you can use a natural combination of baking soda and white vinegar in the washing machine, and rinse twice for good measure. You should also wash these linens in hot water, rather than cold, to kill any bacteria that may be hiding unseen.
Once washed, a good bout in a hot dryer will do the rest, but you can also hang to dry in the natural air and sunlight. Remember not to not to add fabric softening sheets if you use the drying machine, as these too carry chemical ingredients.
When cleaning your ferret’s bedding and litter box, don’t neglect the rest of the cage. Everything from his or her toys to the water bottle and food dish should be washed, dried and replaced in the cage. Be sure to swap out old food for new fresh food and stale water for new fresh water daily.
Use a good pet-safe cleaning spray for cleaning toys and wiping down the bars and interior of the cage.
It’s recommended that you do a big clean once a month, at least, where everything is removed from the cage, wiped and washed, and replaced. This minimizes the chance of missing some unseen feces or pee spots in the cage, which might be hiding under bedding or over the edge of the litter box.
It also gives you the opportunity to take inventory of the cage and see if any items are missing or need to be replaced due to wear.
Bathing and Grooming Your Ferret
One way to help maintain natural oil production is by bathing your ferret infrequently; once a month or less is the standard recommended by veterinarians and ferret experts. In fact, some say that two baths a year is plenty for a ferret as they clean themselves quite frequently without human help.
Following a bath, your pet may seem a bit fluffier and drier than usual, but his or her fur will smooth back out and appear glossy and healthy in a day or two.
You should also refrain from using any harsh soaps or cleaners, unless otherwise recommended by a vet. There are ferret shampoos available, and some ferret owners choose to use cat or other small animal shampoos, but ferret shampoo products are best if you must use a cleaner.
Ferret shampoo has protective, yet deep cleaning, enzymes which work on the fuzzy coat of your pet better than any other shampoo you can find in the pet store.
If you use shampoos at all during the winter months, even ferret shampoo, your vet may recommend a conditioning system as well, since cool dry winter weather strips your ferret’s skin of protective oils and shampoo adds to this chaos, which could really dry him or her out.
Believe it or not, even the earwax your ferret produces has an odor, and unfortunately, it’s a smelly one. If your ferret is overproducing ear wax, or their ears are being neglected in the maintenance process, it could cause quite a stink.
Get special instructions from your vet on how to safely clean your ferret’s ears and do so no more than once a week to reduce the scent. If your ferret’s earwax becomes dark in color, consult medical attention, as it could be ear mites.
Ear mites are usually a sign that your ferret’s ears are being cleaned too often. When they have no protective oils and wax to keep their ears from being invaded, Otedectes cynotis, or mites, cause an infection. They eat dead skin cells and ear secretions throughout the lining of your ferret’s ear canal.
This is both uncomfortable for your pet and causes a foul odor for you. Treatment in the form of topical creams and ointments kill the mites but not their eggs, so follow up treatment is necessary.
Be sure to brush your pet’s teeth. Yes, your ferret requires oral hygiene, much the way that you do. You can use a special tooth brush to clean your ferret’s teeth, don’t try to use human toothpaste or it could make him or her sick.
You can find pet toothpaste in a variety of scents and flavors which are more attractive to your pet. In fact, there are some animal toothpaste products which are meat flavored.
A common problem for ferrets is bad breath and tarter buildup. Gum disease in ferrets has been linked to kidney disease, making oral health incredibly important for these little guys.
Never rub anything on your pet to make him or her smell better. Scented lotions, sprays and perfumes, even those which claim to be “natural”, can be harmful, and often just mask the scent rather than helping to remove it. Your ferret will always be a little smelly, but that’s just part of the joy of owning a ferret.
Your Ferret’s Diet Has a Big Say In Odor Control
Apparently, the age-old adage, “you are what you eat”, rings true for ferrets as well, as much of their odor can be blamed on diet. Ferrets who don’t receive well-balanced nutrition run the risk of becoming sick, which can make their skin and breath stink.
The food your ferret eats also affects their bowel movements. While humans strive to have more grain and fiber in their diet, too much grain in a ferret’s diet can hurt their tummies and make them poop more to get rid of indigestible product.
Ferrets are carnivores by nature, which means that they should be eating raw fresh meat and could die if put on a restrictive vegetarian diet.
Every day, a ferret eats approximately 7% of his or her body weight, meaning that a 1kg ferret needs around 75g of animal protein a day. When you buy kibble for your ferret, check the ingredients listed on the package to see what’s inside. Of the ingredients listed, the first 4 should all be meat or some other form of animal protein. At least 35% of the bag should be made up of protein with only 2-3% fiber. You can find our in-depth guide on the best food for ferrets here.
How to Remove Ferret Urine from Carpet & Other Surfaces
Sharing your home with your ferret means putting up with some messes along the way. Some are easier to clean up than others; like the potted plants they love to dig up and the many litter box fiascos which result in a puddle on the floor.
Cleaning up an accident left by your ferret can be frustrating, especially because their urine is known to stain. The quicker you catch the mess and wipe it up, the less likely it is to set in and cause a smell.
To clean up a ferret urine, wipe up as much of the wet mess as you can and then thoroughly wash the area with 2 parts water and 1-part vinegar.
If the urine soaks into carpeting, furniture, or wood flooring and leaves a stain, you may need to implement the power of an enzyme cleaner. Put the cleaner on a rag and push into the stain. Leave for up to 48 hours before tossing the rags in the wash and drying the stained area. Once everything is dry, vacuum or sweep.
Cleaners like Lysol may disinfect, but they mostly mask the odor rather than properly cleaning the stain.
Enzyme cleaners work best for animal waste and urine stains, getting deep down in the affected area and lifting scents rather than covering them up.
Be especially weary of any ammonia-based cleaner, as ammonia is what gives urine such a strong odor. It could send scent messages to your ferret to return and mark the same spot again.
Using enzyme cleaners, it’s extremely important to follow the directions on the bottle. These will tell you not to let the cleaner dry out on the flooring where you spray it. Enzymes need to maintain dampness to stay active. Once they dry out, they lose strength and may not lift odors at all.
After using an enzyme cleaner, follow up with a hydrogen peroxide cleaner to finish off any remaining smell. Be careful when using peroxide that any product you try has a low ratio of chemical to water, as anything high enough to bleach hair is high enough in peroxide to bleach a white spot right into your carpet or floor boards.
Ferrets are curious, loveable, cuddly, and unique pets who will win your heart and keep it forever if you let them. However, they do smell, poop, and have a naturally musky odor which follows them around the house. If you can get past the scent, a ferret might just be the perfect pet for you.
If you take care of your ferret, its diet, hygiene, and oral care, the smell in your home won’t be that noticeable. Consider having a ferret like owning any animal. Dogs come in from the rain smelling like “wet dog”, and cats are detectable in any home where the litter box hasn’t been cleaned regularly. As for obnoxious smells left around the house, litter training and a quick scrub anytime your pet leaves a mistake on the floor will take care of that.
So, enjoy your ferret, play, snuggle, and teach him or her tricks. The smell is all part of the furry ferret package, but don’t worry; once you’ve been a ferret owner for a little while, you won’t even notice it.