- Last Updated: 30 September 2010 30 September 2010
Can you mistake the smell of a wet dog for anything other than a dog? Have you ever been around a horse?
Horses have a smell that is uniquely equine. I imagine humans have a distinct odor to dogs and horses that is human. I wonder if they like the way we smell? Ferrets naturally smell like ferrets, and this odor is strong and musky. They will always have a musky odor, but ferrets don't need to stink. Consider the ferret's scent glands, food, bedding, and bath schedule to control their odor.
Food I like garlic. There's a scalloped potato dish I make that has a lot of garlic in it, and my husband and I believe there's no such things as too much garlic. Inevitably, the day after eating garlic potatoes, I smell like garlic. My breath smells of garlic. I perspire garlic, and mosquitoes avoid me. Ferrets are similar. A ferret, like a human, smells like what they eat. Look at the ingredients in your ferret's kibble. Are the ingredients stinky? I don't buy my ferrets food that contains fish. My ferrets get food made with chicken, turkey, deer, and duck. (I prefer Totally Ferret.) If you switch your ferret's food, go about it slowly. Mix the old food with the new food and slowly increase the new food's proportion in the mix. Once yo have completely switched your ferret over to the less stinky food, wait a couple of weeks and then sniff your weasel.
Anal Scent Glands In the US, most ferrets are descented before they reach the pet store. (This is not true in the UK.) What does that mean? Like cats and dogs, ferrets have anal glands. Ferrets are mustelids (like skunks), and part of being a mustelid is having strong smelling stuff in those anal glands. This stinky secretion is a form of protection when out in the wild. Descenting a ferret takes away the ferret's ability to poof, so if the ferret ends up in the wild, it has lost that defense mechanism; however, ferrets have a less strong overall odor when their scent gland is removed, so they stink less. Ferrets still excrete musk through other body scent glands, as only the strongest ones, the anal glands, are removed with the surgery. If your ferret has its anal glands intact, do some research before having them removed. If the ferret's glands don't leak, and if your ferret isn't easily spooked, you might not need to descent it.
Bedding Have you ever seen a mink? Go to youtube and search on mink. Look at the mink's fur. It is sleek. It looks a bit oily, and that's because it is a bit oily. The oil, which doesn't mix with water, helps keep the mink dry. Now, most ferrets aren't fond of water, however, ferrets, like minks, are mustelids. Mustelids release oil in to their fur. The oil comes off on everything it touches. Since your ferret sleeps a lot, the oil comes off in his or her bed(s). Replace your ferret's bedding each week. (I have several different sets of bedding, so I can have one set in the washer/dryer cycle, a set in the ready-to-go pile, and a set in use.)
Bath Schedule A very important part of ferret odor maintenance is the bath schedule. Do not bathe your ferret more than once a month. Less is better. Soap removes the ferret's oil, and the ferret's body then works to make up for the missing oil. If you bathe your ferret too much, your ferret will be a crazy oil producer and will stink more than it did before. So, again, don't bathe your ferret more than once a month. My ferrets, usually, only get four baths a year. If your ferret gets extra dirty, messes himself, or the like, rinse your ferret off only in the affected area, or gently wipe him with a baby wipe or damp cloth.
What about products? There are products out there designed to reduce the body odor of ferrets. A couple products are a clear liquid that you put in the ferret's water. I've tried them. They actually do work and reduce the ferret's odor. I don't notice it working, however. What I notice is that when I stopped using the product, my ferrets had a stronger odor. I don't use these products any more. Why? While these products claim to be natural and they claim to not harm the ferret, I have yet to see ingredient lists for any of these products. Additionally, these products are expensive.
Perfumes are another product. Perfumes do not take away the ferret smell, but cover it up with a stronger smell. My grandfather used to say people shouldn't use perfume; they should just bathe frequently. While ferrets shouldn't be bathed frequently, I agree with my grandfather's sentiment. The only time I spray perfume spritzes (designed for ferrets and sold in the ferret aisle of your pet store) is when I know my sister is going to visit. She hates ferret smell, and the spritz covers it up. It seems cruel to me, however, to clog up their noses with cucumber, watermelon, and baby powder smell.
The most important odor control Check out your ferret's food. Change his bedding once a week. Don't over bathe your ferrets. All of these are excellent for controlling odor. However, the best way to make your ferret not stink is to clean his cage. Ferret urine and ferret feces has a much stronger and nastier odor than a ferret does. Think of yourself. What smells more: you, or your output? Your best bet in keeping the odor down is to daily, or depending on how many ferrets you have, maybe even twice a day, clean the litter boxes and clean up any output that missed the litter box.