Why Do Ferrets Smell and What Can You Do?

Illustration of a smelly ferret

If you’re a new ferret owner, you might wonder “why do ferrets smell?”

Recently one of my friends who is a new ferret owner asked me, why does my ferret stink and how can I eliminate the smell? I never had any problem with the smell myself but I thought, why not do a research on this to help here and others?

And this is the result of the research.

So Why Do Ferret Smell?

The root cause of ferret smell is the anal glands, which they use for self-defense, and in some cases, territory marking. But most ferrets sold in the US are already descented, meaning that they don’t have their anal glands anymore.

But some ferrets still smell, why?

They have other scent glands in their skin, which produces oil that has the musky smell as well. 

So, if you are still wondering how you can reduce/eliminate your ferret’s smell, you are on the right page. In this article, you’ll learn why ferrets smell and what you can do about it.

Do Ferrets Really Smell?

Many people avoid keeping ferrets as a pet because they learn somewhere that they are stinky.

But the question is, do they really smell? And is it so terrible that people can’t stand it? 

Yes, ferrets do smell. However, it isn't so bad that you can't withstand it. In addition, there are a couple of things that can make your ferret smell bad.

smelly ferret meme

The ferret is from the Mustelid family and all species in this class have a defensive mechanism they use when in danger. They discharge a glandular scent from their anal sacs that’s so strong it scares their predators away. This is an effective method of self-protection used in the wild by animals in this group, most notably, the skunk.

Since ferrets fall in this category, it's easy to see why they produce this scent and smell the way they do. For the ferrets, the secretion is produced behind their tails. They also secrete oils all over their skins and liquid from the ear aside from the secretion from their glands, all of which contribute to the musky scent.

However, this smell isn't that bad as it has been confirmed by many ferrets’ owners. Most people can tolerate the smell, and most importantly, younger ferrets have a stronger smell that fades away as they grow older. So, if you are still rearing a young ferret, you just have to cope with it and as it gets older, the smell will reduce or disappear. 

Ferrets’ sexual organs also produce certain hormones that add to the smell. In this case, you can neuter them, which can help eliminate the smell but neutering should only be done for ferrets when they are still at a young age. 

It should be noted that ferrets don't really smell that bad, but rather the food they eat, their bed, and litter box is often times the culprit. So if you can keep their bedding and litter box clean and feed them healthy food, you can greatly reduce the smell of your little furry friend.

In fact, ferrets don’t like to live in dirty places. This is why some ferrets will stop eating from a litter box after a few times unless it’s washed or cleaned.  

Consequently, giving your ferret cat food or food containing fish, you are contributing to the smell. This is why it's important to avoid cheap foods that either contain fish or not meant specifically for ferrets. Foods that have chicken as the ingredients are better and are friendlier to ferrets. Also, if you don't change the bedding regularly, the smelling might get worse.

In general, ferrets smell, but so do other animals. Your dog smell and your cat smell too. It's just that ferrets smell differently in a way that you are not used to, which is why some people find it offensive.

Here's a great video on how you can reduce your ferrets smell.

What Do Ferrets Smell Like?

Ferrets have a strong musky smell which is produced around the backend of the ferret. They also produce an oily secretion from their skin which adds to the odor, which is stronger in male ferrets than female ferrets.

The smell can also be described as the scent of an old library book and sometimes of a woodsy scent. However, one thing to note is that ferrets smell differently to most people. Some owners have even described the scent as corn chips and grape soda. 

What's interesting is that some owners might not really notice the smell. This is true for someone who has stayed around ferrets for a long time or maybe the pet is neutered.

On another note, if the cage is always kept clean, the animal itself will be clean and the smell may not be noticeable. In fact, your ferret doesn't have to smell bad. As long as you take good care of your ferret, they shouldn't stink. Proper care of your pet is another way of reducing the glandular scent that most unneutered ferrets possess.

Do Ferrets Always Stink?

Ferrets sure don't smell like roses and they don’t smell horrible either. However, they have a distinctive smell that some people may find offensive. In essence, it's not even as stinky as most people tag it.

The thing is that thousands of people are still adopting and rearing ferrets. If the smell was so unbearable, it's clear the number will be dwindling, not increasing. Moreover, it doesn't smell worse than cats and dogs, just a different scent that most people are not accustomed to. This is why you'll find some people like the scent while others hate it and still many others are indifferent to the scent. 

Because they smell differently, it doesn't mean they are stinky. So, if you can't get used to the smell of the ferret, the best option is not to adopt one, it clearly isn't a pet for you. It's a matter of choice. However, if you choose to live with it, you'll eventually get used to the smell and might not even notice it after the ferret matures.

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