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Training Your Ferret to Use the Litter Box

By: Rebecca Jones

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Every ferret in the world can be trained to use a litter box. Some just require a bit more time and patience than others. Younger ferrets typically learn litter box training more easily than older ferrets. And virtually any ferret, even the best-trained one, can have a training lapse, especially if the ferret is under stress.

The Box

Any cat litter box can be used for a ferret, too, but boxes made especially for ferrets seem to work best. Some are triangular and can fit easily in corners. They're also higher on the sides than in the front, so the ferret doesn't have to scramble over the top to get to the litter.

Take care to choose appropriate litter. Avoid pine or cedar shavings. They're not good for a ferret's respiratory system, and young ferrets used to sleeping in such shavings may get confused about what's bedding and what's litter. Also avoid scoopable litter. It gets sticky when wet and can easily attach itself to a ferret's fur, only to be ingested later when the ferret grooms himself. It can cause intestinal blockages and can also form a potentially deadly lining on their mucous membranes in their respiratory tract.

Randy Horton, director of the Especially Ferrets shelter in suburban Denver, the country's largest ferret shelter, recommends processed pine pellets or recycled paper pellets. A 20-pound bag of litter, costing about $10, should last two ferrets 12 weeks.

Training Methods

Here are a few tips on getting your ferret to go in his litter box 100 percent of the time.

  • The "Rise and Shine" method. Get your ferrets in the habit of going first thing when they get up. Wake them up while they're still in their hammocks, and physically place them in their cage litter box. Once they've gone, reward them with a treat such as a nibble of Ferretone. "Do that a couple of times a day for a week, and they're hooked," Horton advises. They will automatically relieve themselves before venturing out of their cages.

  • The "Praise and Adulation" method. If your ferret has the run of the house, you'll want to have litter boxes in all the rooms where the ferret roams. Every time you see the ferret going in the litter box, run over, praise him and give him a treat. The nicer the litter box experience overall, the fewer out-of-box experiences you'll have to contend with.

  • The "Big Bed" method. This is Plan B, to be used when the above-mentioned methods haven't prevented your ferret from going potty where he ought not. It's a little sneaky, but pet owners sometimes have to resort to craftiness in the name of good housekeeping.

    Unless there's something seriously wrong with him physically, a ferret won't go to the bathroom in the same place where he eats, sleeps or plays. If your ferret has identified a favorite private spot – behind a door, in a corner, under the bed – to claim for a bathroom, turn that spot into a bedroom, and he'll soon abandon it for potty purposes. Put his hammock there, or some sheets or T-shirts on which he's been sleeping. If it smells like beddy-bye, your ferret won't leave a mess there. Once he's out of the habit of going to the potty there, you can remove the bedding. As long as you've thoroughly cleaned the spot so it no longer smells like a bathroom, the ferret should not be tempted to go back.

  • The "Follow Your Nose" method. Even blind ferrets can learn to use a litter box. The key is vanilla extract. "Ferrets love vanilla extract," says Horton. "Take some vanilla extract and spread it all around their litter box but nowhere else in their cage. If you let your ferret outside to play in the house, take a sponge or paper towel and wipe vanilla extract on the walls around the litter box. The ferret will smell the vanilla and will find the litter box without problem."

    Above all, keep your ferret's litter box clean and inviting. Clean it daily.

    Patience, Patience

    As mentioned earlier, ferrets under stress may have temporary relapses in their litter box behavior. The introduction of a new pet into the household, too much smoke in the house or the loss of a companion, can affect a ferret's state of mind and, consequently, his bathroom behavior. Be patient and just keep reinforcing appropriate litter box use.

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