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Do ferrets smell?

I realized people don’t think that ferrets are great pets due to few untrue things. For example, someone once told me they like ferrets a lot, but they will never get a ferret because ferrets smell bad. Now, imagine this. You have a ferret that weights 1.5 kilos and you have a dog that weighs 30 kilos. Which one will smell worse?

Well, let’s get right to the point. Do pet ferrets smell? Yes. Do they smell bad? No. I have in my room two ferrets, and room is about 20 square meters. During the day they are always outside, during the night I put them in cages. That means that they are jumping on my furniture, sleeping in my blankets, chilling in my chair. But, yet, my room doesn’t smell at all. How is that, since ferrets are so smelly creatures? The reason is simple. Ferrets smell, but they don’t stink. Every living being has his unique smell, so do ferrets.

When I first got Frida she was 3 months old. The first month she smelled like honey. I told everybody that she smells like honey, nobody believed me. Then, my mother bought hair shampoo with honey scent (it wasn’t because of Frida, she just bought the first shampoo she liked XD) and I was soooo happy because then I could prove that Frida DOES smferret smellell like honey. And you know what? I was right. I showed it to my family members and they were surprised because Frida really smelled like honey.

Yoda came with 3 months, covered in fleas from head to toes and we gave him a bath immediately. I washed him with Johnson’s shampoo, which doesn’t have any particular smell, he got a treatment against fleas and a few days later, he smelled like popcorn! Popcorns have a distinguished smell so I didn’t have to prove that my ferret smell like popcorn. 🙂

What is the point of this two smelly stories? Two ferrets,  two different scents. Ferrets have a unique smell, but really, they don’t stink. Let me get this straight, they do have a smell, like every other animal. And their smell changes. Ferret’s odor can change through age, due to health, change in diet….

Ferrets can occasionally let some smelly bombs which can (but it doesn’t have to) be correlated to them feeling frightened. Those smelly bombs can be really intense, but they disappear in few seconds. That is a treat from mustelid family. Skunks have it and they actively use it as a defense mechanism. When they feel threatened, they will spray with the content of anal sacs. Every other carnivore has it, but the mustelid family is famous for it due to skunks.

Mustelid family is the reason why people think that pet ferrets smell bad. Their skin’s smell and content of anal sacs smell don’t have much in common. When your ferret is frightened or under attack from another animal (another ferret, cat, dog…) he will release the content and probably some poop as well. If you treat your ferret properly, he will empty his anal sacs rarely (almost never).

Even though the smell from anal sacs isn’t pleasant at all, that doesn’t make a ferret smell bad. Ferret’s odor is musky and different from other animals. Male ferrets have a more intense smell, especially during mating season if he isn’t neutered. That is something you can control, but we will talk about that a little later.

If your pet ferret is inside, rarely goes out, he will have weaker smell than those ferrets who live outside. Just like the fur. If you have a ferret inside your home (where you turn the heat when you are cold) your ferret will have thinner fur. It is all connected to where they live and how they live.

What happens when your ferrets smell too much? How to control that?

If you want to reduce your ferret’s smell, you can act from a young age. Since all ferrets need to be spayed or neutered, by taking that operation you will reduce his smell and improve his health (especially for female ferrets). In my opinion, spaying is always a good solution for every pet, not just ferrets. People who are breeders are the only people who don’t have to neuter (spay) their pets. There are too many pets in shelters who are abandoned and the only way to reduce that is to adopt and spay (neuter) your pet. Neutering a pet is something that has to be done while he is young, no matter the species.

You can also descent your ferret, but that is something I don’t recommend. There are two sides of descending your ferret, some people say it is good for them, the others say it is not the best solution. I am more on the against descending side. Remember, if you descent your ferret, you won’t remove his body odor, you will remove those smelly bombs that can happen, but the body smell that is always around won’t change. Some pet shops who sell ferrets, sell them already descended and neutered (spayed) so you don’t have much choice if you will buy them in pet stores.

Now, let’s talk about less invasive treatment against smelly ferrets. What can you personally do to reduce your pet ferret’s smell?

When a ferret is healthy, he will have shiny fur, he will be energetic and he will smell less. Ferret’s natural diet is meat and that is the best solution for them. When they eat meat, they have to go to the litter box less and their poop smells less because they use most of the nutrients in the meat. When you are feeding your ferret meat, twice a day should be enough, but when you feed your ferret kibble, they eat more often than twice a day. If they eat more, they poop more because they can’t use all nutrients in kibble. Feed your ferret meat or at least some high-quality kibble that has meat in it and doesn’t have any kind of fruit, corn, vegetables….

Look at your ferret’s behavior. You will see that he grooms himself a lot. Ferrets are really clean animals and they love to be in the clean environment. To reduce their smell you will have to clean the litter box every day and clean the entire cage every week. I mean everything, from hammocks, blankets, bowls to surfaces in the cage. Take one day, for example, Saturday and clean the entire cage with some eco-friendly detergent, use fewer chemicals as you can, your ferrets will be thankful. For example, I use a mixture of water and vinegar to clean their cages. Hammocks and blankets you can wash in washing machine and food and water bowls clean of tartar.  Your ferret uses litter box few times daily. Clean the litter box every morning so that the smell of poop doesn’t spread around your house, that isn’t pleasant.

Frida and Yoda bathIt is important to have a clean environment around your ferret, but you will have to clean your ferret as well.  Ferrets have sensitive skin and if you wash them too often you will wash out their natural skin oil and they will smell even more because their body needs to substitute removed oil. Don’t bathe ferret more than once a month, even that is too often. Once in every three months is OK to bathe your ferret, unless he gets dirty :D. Also, don’t use human shampoo, if you can’t buy ferret’s shampoo, use a baby shampoo like Johnson’s which is pH neutral so you won’t damage ferret’s skin.

If you can smell your ferret, I recommend that you check the cage and the bedding first. Most of the smell comes from there, not from him. If you will clean his cage regularly you will notice that his smell isn’t that bad at all. Actually, you will have to hug your ferret to smell his musky odor. 🙂

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