Friday, March 19, 2010

How Bad Does A Ferret Smell?

Well, it’s Friday once again, folks. And guess what’s on the ferrety agenda for today?

“Your ferrets ate the cat?”

What? No! Ferrets don’t eat cats.

“Your ferrets are having little ferrets”

No. No. No. Both Bailey and Clair are fixed; they can’t have babies.

“Your ferrets ate the betta fish? The neighbour’s pet rabbit?”

Noooooo. That’s not what I’m going to write about. Although I’d certainly keep a ferret away from certain small animals; there’s no telling when that (carnivorous) predator instinct in a ferret might kick in and suddenly it’s DINNERTIME (with rabbit stew as the main course)!

What I am going to write about is what many of you have probably been wondering all this time, which is:

“Just how much does a ferret smell?” or “How bad does a ferret smell?”

I’m not going to lie and tell you that ferrets smell like roses. They don’t. They have a very distinct smell that many people find offensive. But that smell is not as bad – or consistent - as you’ve been led to believe. The paint will not peel off the walls. Your eyes will not water. You will not require an oxygen mask. I know this for a fact because we have two ferrets in our home, and the cage they sleep in is in my daughter’s bedroom. And I assure you that if the smell was as unbearable as many individuals state, she’d never survive in that room.

Photo from SXC

There is a common misconception that ferrets smell worse than cats or dogs. The truth in the matter is that ferrets, from what I’ve learned living with them, simply smell different. They have an odor of their own, which can be described as ‘musky’; some people like it, some hate it, some aren’t sure how they feel about it because it’s a scent that they’ve simply never smelled before. I personally think it’s no worse than wet dog or the aroma that floats out of my cat’s litter box. Now that’s a smell that will make the paint peel off a wall. Seriously, folks, how does a little kitty make such a stink?


If your home smells ferretively horrible, it’s because the musky scent that is emitted from your fuzzy’s glands through his skin has been allowed to spiral out of control.

Allow me to explain in one simple statement:

If you don’t wash his bedding often, if you don’t clean out the poop from the litter box daily, if you don’t change the litter at least once a week, if you don’t feed your pet the right mixture of food and if you do bathe him regularly, your ferret’s home, and in turn your own, will reek.

But if you do the opposite of what’s written above, by following the advice below, that ferrety scent that you’ve heard horror stories about will be practically non-existent.

1) Wash The Bedding Regularly

Ferrets have oil sacs under their skin, and it’s the oil produced from these sacs that causes the musky smell. Even so, it’s not the ferret that becomes the problem but the objects his little body presses against that do, like his bedding. That being said, it’s important that you wash all the bedding your ferret uses regularly. Buy two sets of everything (choose machine washable items) that your pet will use to sleep in or lie down on such as blankets, hammocks, sleep sacks, beds, towels and so on. Preferably every 3 or 4 days, but at least once a week, swap sets and wash all the dirty bedding in hot water in the washing machine. This simple, weekly chore will significantly reduce odors.

2) Stoop And Scoop Often

Your pet’s litter box should be cleaned out every single day. And if you’re fortunate enough to be around throughout the day, check the litter box every few hours and remove any excrements your little fuzzy has dumped in there. If you keep the litter box clean, you’ll keep odors down.

3) Change The Litter Weekly

Eventually the litter your ferret uses will lose its effectiveness and need to be changed. Not only will you notice how unpleasant it smells, but so will your fuzzy. And if it’s more than his discerning nose can handle, he’ll start leaving you little ‘gifts’ outside the litter box, usually right next to it. This is his way of telling you “I’m not going where I have to go until you make it more pleasant.” Make it a habit of providing your fuzzy with fresh litter every week.

4) Choose The Right Food

When we first brought Bailey (our male ferret) home, I was shocked to discover that we could smell him from a mile away when he was in his cage. And it wasn’t pleasant. I found this very unusual since he didn’t smell at all at the pet store where we got him from. Thankfully, one simple statement my husband made, which was: “I don’t think it’s him; I think it’s his food that stinks”, started me on a path to find a solution to this smelly problem. When I took a whiff of the food that the pet store sent us home with (food that they were obligated to feed their ferrets), sure enough, it stank like the dickens. Later that evening, I plopped down in front of my computer to do some much needed research and found out that the smell is caused by a particular ingredient in the ferret food: fish. Oh, duh...

Anyway, after visiting a few different websites, and reading what other, more experienced ferret owners had to say, here is what I learned:

If you feed your fuzzy a high-quality kibble with the right ingredients, the odor problem will decrease dramatically. Trust me on this; I’ve experienced the dramatic change personally. Obviously a higher quality food will be more expensive, but it’s worth the cost. Cut back on some other unnecessary expense, so you can afford to get your ferret the best food possible. The ingredients should consist of a minimum of 34% protein and 19% fat content; grains should be no more than 1/3 of the ingredient list. And by all means, avoid fish products (major el stinko!)! You may have to gradually introduce your ferret to a new food after you take him home, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run. Remember, if the food stinks, so will your ferret.

5) Bathe Your Fuzzy As Little As Possible

Yes, you heard right. Do not bathe your ferret often; this will only intensify his ferrety scent. How could that be? Well, every time you wash your ferret, his skin becomes very dry, so right after the bath, his skin glands will try and replenish all the oils you washed away. The problem is that they’ll go into overdrive to speed up the process, therefore, for a few days your little fuzzy will smell much worse. I suggest you bathe your ferret no more than once every three months (maybe even less), unless he gets really dirty.

That’s about it folks. If you follow the advice above, you won’t have odor problems. Another thing I would recommend doing is to clean the cage daily to keep it smelling fresh. When your ferrets are out playing, wipe it down. You can use commercial products specific for animal cages, or simply use what I use: baby wipes. Just make sure to pick up the unscented, hypoallergenic types.

Let’s wrap up with the ferrety couple.

Clair, do you have something to say?
(I promised I’d let her go first next time...)

Oh, come now, Clair. Nacho doesn’t smell that bad.


Don’t be like that, Bailey. Learn to share.

I don’t want you to feel left out, Nacho, so you’re welcome to participate.

You’re right, Nacho...forgive me...


  1. I love your photos and captions---they are really funny! And Ferrety Friday is as interesting and informative as always. I have one dumb question: do the ferrets use the same litter box as the kitty?

  2. Hi Beth, thank you for the compliment! Ferrety friday has become one of my favourite posts of the week. Plus, I feel like I'm making a difference for these really misunderstood, and often badly-treated, animals.

    To answer your question: no. Nacho has her own litter box with a different type of litter. Although box cats and ferrets use litter boxes, their habits are different. Ferrets do not cover up their waste like cats do. I think this freaks Nacho out a little bit. Her eyes get big and round when the ferrets just walk away after using the litter box without hiding their little deposits.

  3. Too funny ! poor Nacho is getting the short end of the stick maybe ? .. Sophie would feel the same way .. she is sensitive about those things .. Emma ? NAHHHHHHHHH ! she doesn't give a hoot ..very confident kitty that she is : )

  4. Ha ha...Joy...Emma is so cute! I do believe it when you say that she just doesn't give a hoot. I think in Nacho's case it's the fact that she wants to be on a higher level than the ferrets. They don't cover up their poop, so she kind of looks down on know how snobby cats can be. But now I'm gone and humiliated her to the world. If the ferrets read this post, her goose is cooked! LOL...

  5. Hoping for a Small AnimalAugust 26, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Hi just wondering- did Clair pass away? If so I am so sorry! Nacho is very cute though- ;)

    1. Yes, she did pass away, quite awhile back. She was really sweet and we certainly do miss her.

  6. Great article. Thank you for shedding some light on the "ferrets stink" myth. I was just wondering, what food do you feed your ferrets?

    1. Thanks for stopping by. We don't have ferrets any longer; they've passed away. I used to feed them the brand ZuPreem and they loved it. Excellent and best choice, in my opinion.

  7. Question, can you give a ferret cat food, and also, how do you convince your mother that ferrets really don't smell as bad as she thinks they do? I really want one, and the photos are super cute!!!

    1. Cats and ferrets have many similar diet needs, and technically, you can. But I would not recommend it. I never fed my ferrets cat food because cat food includes all kinds of vegetables and grains in it, which ferrets do not need and should not eat. Ferrets are obligate carnivores (strict meat eaters) and should not be fed foods that are high in fiber or carbohydrates. Instead, their diet should consist mainly of meat and animal products that are high in protein and fat.

      I know they are cute but ferrets require a lot of dedication, time and hard work. So please do your homework first. Many ferrets are abandoned by owners who did not educate themselves on their care. It's a sad situation.

      Here is a post I wrote that answers some common questions:
      Ferrety Questions And Answers

  8. both of which we as a whole need!Relay value your work.
    ferret hutch