Ferrets, like many of the cousins in the weasel family, have a natural musky scent. Over time that can build up to an unpleasant level. That happens too often in pet stores and the homes of careless owners who don’t house and clean the cage properly. But some odor can be present even in the best circumstances. Fortunately, dealing with it only takes a little thought and effort.
Many commercially sold ferrets will have their natural scent glands removed. These are similar to the anal glands in skunks, which the ferret can use to spray with when fearful. Though, the emitted spray is different in skunks. Removing them can certainly reduce the potential odor problem, but some see that as unnecessary and extreme. Some odor will remain even then, since it’s excreted through the skin.
A properly maintained cage can help keep the problem to nearly non-existent levels. A bath twice a year, or whenever ‘accidents’ occur, is another means of keeping the animal clean and therefore nearly odor-free. Keep in mind, though, that ferrets may actually smell more after a bath as they emit extra amounts of new oil to replace that lost from bathing.
If they’ve become stressed, causing them to emit scent, a simple cleansing with a cloth can reduce the odor. Unlike skunk spray, ferret scent doesn’t stain and last for weeks.
Be aware that certain odors can be evidence of possible illness. ECE or Green Slime disease is a condition that causes ferrets to produce highly noxious, green feces. The odor is distinctive and obvious. Looking for any abnormality in their waste, as evidenced in part by the odor, is a way of keeping odors down and detecting possible health problems.
Apart from the natural scent glands and ECE, certain bacteria are often at the bottom of odors, just as they are in humans and other mammals. Look for any evidence of intestinal problems and give your ferret a regular checkup at the vet. Regular, means at least annually.
Bedding and soft toys should be cleaned from time to time. Once per week is average for bedding, but may be needed more often if the ferret has eliminated on it. Not common in a properly laid out cage with a litter trained ferret, but hardly unknown either. A dilute bleach can help keep bacteria down that produce odors. Be sure to use a dye and scent-free detergent to eliminate any possible skin problems from contact with the bedding.
For those who are sensitive to the smell ferrets naturally produce, especially during shedding season, there are commercial products available. Ferret Sheen and similar sprays can be used safely daily, though that’s probably overdoing it. Some may be sensitive, however, so monitor your ferret after using and look for any adverse reactions.