Why Do Ferrets Smell and What Can You Do?

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.

How To Get Rid Of Ferret's Odor?

One of the most effective ways of getting rid of the odor is to clean out the litter box every day and disinfect it every week. The litter box, in its unclean state, can easily contaminate the cage and transfer to the ferret, thus worsening the smell.

Clean out the litter box every single day by removing the excrement from the box to keep the odor down. Don’t forget to also change it regularly, because if you keep it too long with your pet, then don’t expect it to smell nice.

In addition, you should clean up the cage on a weekly basis too. Remove everything from the cage and ensure all dirt, debris, poop, and pee inside it is removed after which you disinfect it. If you can, deep clean the ferret cage once a month. Take it apart, into the garden, and spray it with a garden hose.

You'll be surprised at how much pee/poop get stuck in between different corners and crevices that make the cage smell a lot more. If possible, have two sets for everything your furry friend needs like blankets, beds, towels, etc. and swap one for the other when it's time to wash it every week. 

Cleaning the bedding, especially the blankets, every week is also important. The oils from the ferret's skin tend to get caught on the blankets, which makes the blankets smell as well. If you have toys for your ferrets, ensure you wash them too. This will make a huge difference to the ferret's smell.  

Some owners have had good results with using an air purifier for ferret odor and getting their pets outside for fresh air. The problem with air purifiers is that they are quite expensive. But if you are bothered by the smell of your ferret, this might be the way to go.

Try to avoid using chemicals, such as deodorizers, around your ferret or minimize their usage as much as possible. It may lead to respiratory illnesses if your pet breathe in too much of it. 

Cleaning the ears is another effective method for curbing the smell. This is because ferrets produce a lot of earwax that can contribute to their odor. They are burrow animals and as such, they produce that to prevent dirt and grime from getting into their ear canal. Use a cotton swab or a spray cleaner to clean the ear regularly.

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.

Should You Bathe Your Ferret?

There is a heated debate regarding whether or not you should bath your ferrets. Even if you want your ferret to be fresh and smelling nicely, it's still recommended that you don't bathe them very often

Every time you give your ferret a bath, it strips their coats of the natural oils that their skin produces. So a healthy ferret's skin and coat actually produce natural oils just like the hair on a human. Removing the natural oil this way is a bad way of controlling ferret smell. 

bathing a ferret

People mistakenly give their ferrets baths more often because they try to get rid of that “musky” smell that ferrets produce. It makes sense that you would think bathing make things cleaner so giving your ferret a bathe more often should make them smell less when in fact it actually does the opposite.

The more often you bath your ferrets, the smellier they become because what happens is that when you give them a bath, you strip the coat in the fur of your pet of these natural oils. Then their body works that much harder to reproduce these oils and when this happens, they end up overproducing these oils much more than if you had left their coat alone.

This oil is what tends to give them their musky smell but the smell is in the eye of the beholder. For this, you should never give your ferret more than a few baths a year or once per month.

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.

Can You Get a Ferret Descented?

Using surgical procedure to remove anal sacs from your ferrets is what is referred to as descenting. Doing this alone, however, isn’t going to take away the body odor of the ferret.

While the secretion is considered by some as stinky, it's only produced when the ferret is threatened or startled. All carnivores have anal sacs from where they produce a liquid that smells strongly and is distinctive for each species. The scent glands are at the back rear of the tail and they can be removed. However, ferrets also have scent glands under the skin that cannot be removed. 

The argument against descenting.

First, let's talk about, how ferrets produces that smell. The body of the ferret has several tiny glands that discharge oil which forms part of the scent of the ferret. This smell isn't stinky and can sometimes smell like freshly mowed grain or popcorn. All that depends on how your nose is feeling at the time you are with your furry friend. Along with the fact that the smell isn't bad, it will generally reduce as the ferret gets older. If you happen to not like the smell, you can spray or neuter it and call it a day. This would have been better than descenting a ferret. 

Second, removing the scent glands that produce the secretion will also remove your pet's defense mechanism, which it isn't going to use against you anyway. Moreover, when it secretes that, it isn't going to take long before it goes away. In fact, it rarely produces that secretion since it is domesticated.

And don't forget that the skin of your little furry friend also produces oils that possibly smell like the one produced by the sac and can’t be stopped. Cleaning t​illegal​​​he cage regularly, feeding your pet good quality food, and NOT BATHING your pet regularly, are better ways to go about eliminating ferret smell. 

What if you choose to descent your ferret?

One thing is that when your ferret is properly handled, it will rarely discharge the smelly-liquid. They have to feel significantly frightened/threatened before spilling this content from their anal sacs and ferrets can only be threatened by other animals or predators. Unless you have another big pet around the house, this shouldn't happen at all. Another thing to consider is that the secretion is dissipated within a short period of time, compared to that of the skunk that can stay up for a significant period of time.

Therefore, descenting doesn't translate into a well behaved, good smelling ferret. If you want to really want to try your chances at curbing the smell, then descenting shouldn’t do any harm to your pet as most pet shops in the US adopt this practice.

If you are outside the US, the first thing you should ask yourself is if this practice is legal in your country as most countries in Europe have classified this practice as illegal. Most countries ban it because they consider it unnecessary and mostly don't help with the smell at all.

If it's legal in your country, then you should know that it should be done before your ferret grows pass 8 weeks old. As your pet gets older, it gets fatter and it becomes more difficult to do the surgery. This surgery has been known to cause traumatic injury to the ferrets that are beyond the recommended age.

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