It’s a paradox of the ferret world: The more you bathe your ferret, the worse he will smell. Ferrets have a natural musky odor, which appeals to many people, but offends some. The odor comes from the oils that coat the ferret’s fur and keep his skin moist. Washing away the oils merely dries out his skin, leaving him itchy, and sends a message to the ferret’s skin glands: “Hey, we need more oil up here, pronto!” The newly produced oil will have a more noticeable odor than the oil washed away.
That’s why clean, healthy ferrets need few baths. Once a month is usually sufficient, unless the animal has gotten into something. Some ferret owners bathe their critters even less often.
While baths aren’t critical to ferret hygiene, laundry is. Their bedding should be washed once a week, and their litter boxes cleaned every day. Both bedding and litter will be heavily scented with ferret musk, and it’s a good bet those items – not the ferret itself – are the source of any unpleasant smells around the house.
But ferrets have other personal hygiene tasks that must be attended to. Their nails must be trimmed regularly, their teeth brushed and their ears cleaned. Sometimes they’ll develop fleas or mites, and these conditions must be treated, usually with the help of a veterinarian. Here are some tips on the easiest and most productive ways to keep your ferret clean and well-groomed:
Trim nails every couple of week. But nail-trimming can be a nightmare, especially if you’ve ever slipped up and trimmed just a little too close to the quick. “They remember that stuff, and you’ll have a fight on your hands the next time,” admits Randy Horton, director of Especially Ferrets, the country’s largest ferret shelter, located in suburban Denver.
Some people wrap their ferrets in a towel and, while one person hangs onto the squirming animal, the other grabs a paw and starts trimming. But there’s an easier way.
“I just put a little dab of Ferretone (a tasty liquid diet supplement) on their belly,” says Horton. “They bend over and start licking. They’re very focused on the Ferretone and don’t mind at all if you trim their nails.”
Human nail clippers work just fine with ferret nails. Ferret nails are typically opaque. Trim just above the pink line. If you nick the line, and draw blood, a bit of styptic powder will stop the bleeding.
Clean your ferret’s teeth weekly, or more often if they eat primarily soft food or have been eating sweets. A small cat toothbrush or a cotton swab rubbed gently across their teeth will do the job. Don’t use human toothpaste, however. Get a pet toothpaste.
As with anything you do with your ferret, teeth cleaning will go much more easily if you make it fun, Horton says. “Give them a treat first. Talk to them and play with them while you brush their teeth,” he says. “If you make it a task, an ordeal to be gotten through, it will be like getting your kid to clean their room. Make it fun for them, and everyone will enjoy it a lot more.”
Periodontal disease is fairly common in older ferrets, so don’t neglect regular dental checkups done by your veterinarian. An annual cleaning, done while the ferret is anesthetized, is a good idea. Troublesome teeth may also be pulled at that time. “Periodontal disease kills a lot of ferrets because they just quit eating,'” Horton says.
Ferrets can be prone to ear mites, and their ears should be cleaned at least once a month, sometimes more often.
On a regular basis, apply a commercial ferret ear cleaner or diluted peroxide, then massage for a moment, then swab with a moist cotton swab. Stick to swabbing the outer folds of the ear, don’t go deeply down into the ear canal.
If you DO opt to bathe your ferret, treat the bath like a fun dip in the pool. Many ferrets love to swim. Fill the tub with enough water for them to swim in, but make sure there’s a stand in the tub on which they can touch ground.
Lather them up with a ferret shampoo, or a mild baby shampoo. One application should be enough, then rinse. There’s normally no need to apply conditioner.
After their bath, some people towel-dry them, but many like to let them romp around to dry themselves. They will present an entertaining sight as they run around the room, rubbing themselves on everything. Just make sure there are no cold drafts to give them a chill.