Friday, May 14, 2010

Litter Box Training For Ferrets

Well, here we are again on the best day of the week – Ferrety Friday. And today I’m finally going to get to a post that isn’t the most glamorous, but certainly very important: litter box training.

Yes dear readers, you have not misunderstood; ferrets can be trained to use a litter box like the cat does. Well, not exactly like the cat does, because unlike the cat that is discreet about where it does its business, a ferret isn’t discreet at all; any place will do – and there’s no need to cover it up! So before you get all excited at the fact that ferrets can be litter trained, bear in mind that a ferret’s motto when it comes to this subject is:

“The world is my toilet”

And it is. Left to do as it pleases, a ferret will poop on your carpet, on the stairs, on your comforter and anywhere else it feels like it because, as the motto goes, “the world is its toilet”.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With patience, persistence and consistency (and a lot of cleaning up in between), your fuzzy can be taught to use the litter box. And although your pet will never be 100% litter trained like a cat, and you will need to deal with the occasional accidents, it can learn to do its business in the litter box 90 – 95 percent of the time. Which is pretty darn good.

Here’s what you need to do.

The first thing you should do when you bring a ferret home is to confine it to its cage with a water bowl, a food dish, bedding and a litter box that is especially made for ferrets (it has a high back, low front and is large enough for a ferret to fit its whole body in). If the cage has multiple levels, keep him on one level and block access to the others until he uses the litter box regularly, which shouldn’t take that long. Because ferrets are naturally clean animals, they will not soil their beds and eating area (although baby ferrets are often not as finicky), so this leaves him with only one option: the litter box. Within a few short days, your ferret should be doing its business in the litter box.

Don’t expect him to accomplish this entirely on his own; he needs your help. Since ferrets almost always need to go as soon as they wake up, pick him up after his nap and place him in the litter box. Keep putting him back into the litter box until he goes. If you catch him backing up into another corner of his cage, firmly say ‘no’, pick him up and place him in the litter box. Keep repeating this until he does his business. Never yell at your pet or hit him. When he finally does go in the litter box, praise him and/or reward him with a treat. Ferrets are very smart, and with this type of positive reinforcement, they’ll eventually understand what is expected of them. In the initial stages of litter box training, you can also place some poop in the litter box to remind your pet that this is his toilet.

When your pet has finally mastered using the litter box in his cage, which is the initial goal, move the bedding to the next level, along with the food, and allow your ferret to eat and sleep on the next level. At this point, he should be walking down to the lower level whenever he needs to go, which demonstrates that he has learned to use the litter box in his cage

The outside world is a different story.

Ferrets are not like cats; they will not seek out their litter box if it’s not conveniently located. Out of sight means out of mind for them, and they’ll readily back up into a corner even if they’re 100% trained in their cage. What you need to do is provide a littler box, usually more than one, in the room your pet is allowed to play in. If your pet has access to the whole house, you’ll have to place a litter box in each room, or you’ll just have to clean up after him. Because your pet will never stop and think “I really need to go, so I better go find a litter box.” Instead, hey’ll think “No litter box around? That’s okay. This corner will do just fine.”

But before you start contemplating how many litter boxes you’ll need to buy, you’ll need to train your ferret to use the litter box in his play area. Just because he’s trained properly in his cage doesn’t mean he’s automatically trained to use a litter box outside of his cage. My suggestion is to confine your fuzzy to a small play area so you can train him to use a litter box while out of his cage before you allow him more freedom. Follow the same steps as above: place him in the litter box often while he’s out playing, firmly say no when you catch him backing up into a corner he shouldn’t be doing his business in and praise and reward him when he does use the litter box.

I’m not going to lie and tell you that it’s going to be easy, or promise that your ferret is going to use the litter box like a cat. The truth is that litter training is an ongoing process that can be quite trying. And even when your ferret finally understands where he’s supposed to go, he won’t always comply. Expect to clean up the occasional accident; at best your fuzzy will have a 90 – 95 percent hit rate.

So that’s all for today’s post.

Let’s wrap up with the furry clan.

Bailey, do you have something to say about today’s topic?

Clair, is that true?

Oh, Clair...

Nacho, you want to say a few words?

[Snicker...snort...giggle...] Well, Nacho, I find it difficult to take you seriously the way you’re sitting like that... [Snicker...snort...giggle...]


  1. Hmmm... I expect even that compliance rate is excellent for most homeowners since it beats cleaning up accidents every day.

  2. It sure is Tatiana! And as the ferrets get older and more mature, I imagine the hit rate is even better. And the fact that the cage is clean all the time is a bonus! Both our ferrets do their business in the litter boxes in their cage - all the time!