by Cheryl Lock
No matter how much you love your pet ferret, there’s one thing ferret owners don’t love, and that’s the smell of ferret poop around the house. But with a little luck and a lot of patience, you can train your ferret to use a litter box.
“It’s not always an easy task, but yes, it is very possible [to litter box train a ferret],” says Serena Fiorella, LVT, owner of Treat Worthy Pet Creations, LLC. “Usually ferrets like to relieve themselves in corners, and they don’t usually go where they eat or sleep. So, theoretically, a litter box in their favorite corner of the cage should work.”
To start, Fiorella suggests training your ferret as young as possible, since babies usually take to the idea fairly easily. “It is much harder to litter train an older ferret that has gone most of his life without using a litter box,” she said.
Harder, yes, but still not impossible. Here are some pointers from Fiorella to help get you started, no matter how old your ferret is.
Where should I put the litter box?
In the cage is always best, says Fiorella. “Training a ferret to use a litter box outside of the cage is much more challenging since there are more places to explore, and they usually end up far away from the box when they need it,” she said.
“Ferrets have a very fast metabolism, so when they have to go, they have to go. If the box is too far away, they won’t use it. I definitely recommend getting them trained to use a box in their cage before even considering letting them loose in the house.”
In general, your ferret will already have exhibited where in his cage he prefers to go (probably in a corner), so use that to your litter box training advantage. Be open to trying different areas though, suggests Fiorella. “They may decide they don’t like the corner you put the box in after all, and you may have to move it.” You can also try putting multiple boxes in several corners throughout the cage to get a feel for which location your ferret likes best.
Cages with more than one level should have a box on each level to make it easier for your ferret to use it immediately when he has to, said Fiorella. It’s also a good idea to attach or tie down the litter box in the cage. “Ferrets are big into rearranging their surroundings,” says Fiorella, “and they will dig the box away from the wall or out of the cage corner and go next to it, right where the box should be.”
How do I pick the right litter box and litter?
Remember that ferrets are lazy by nature and may not step over the edge of a litter box to use it if the edge is too high, sais Fiorella. “Get a litter box made specifically for ferrets that has a low side, so the ferret can get in and out easily,” she suggests. These are usually triangular, with high backs to prevent “accidents,” and fit perfectly in the corners of cages. “You may need two boxes for more than two ferrets, and [the boxes will] need to be cleaned often,” she added.
For the litter box lining, Fiorella recommends “compressed newspaper litter or regular newspaper.” The type of litter used in cat litter boxes, typically clay, is not appropriate for ferrets. “Ferrets like to dig and burrow, and they will dig in their fresh, clean litter,” says Fiorella. “[Newspaper products] are safer to their respiratory and digestive tracts.”
I have the corner spot and the litter box and litter — now what?
Fiorella says that ideally, the training should follow these steps:
- Put the litter box(es) in the corner(s) of the cage your ferret likes to use. If there is a small piece of feces you can put into the box, go ahead and do that to help give your pet the hint that she should go in there. “Do this every time you clean the box during the training period,” suggests Fiorella.
- When you catch your ferret waking from a nap, place him in the litter box right away. “Ferrets will pretty much always go to the bathroom right when they wake up, so it’s a good time to start teaching,” says Fiorella. “He may walk out; you put him back in. It could be a game of in-and-out for a while before he decides he’s going to go. He should not be allowed out of the cage until he has gone [in the litter box].”
- When you do get your ferret to relieve herself in the box, give positive reinforcement. “Treats work well for them,” says Fiorella. “Make a big deal of it and give them some loving so they know they did the right thing.” On the other hand, if your ferret happens to have an accident outside of her litter box, don’t get upset. “They don’t know why you are [upset]," explained Fiorella. "They can’t reason like we can and they’ll just think you’re being mean.”
What should I do if my ferret has an accident?
This is when patience is most important. Besides staying calm, Fiorella says that after an accindent you’ll want to take your ferret right back to his litter box to help remind him where he needs to go. “Put him in it a couple of times,” she says. “Wash the spot where he went—I use diluted bleach—and if he keeps going in that same spot, you may consider putting a bowl of food or a bed there, since they won’t usually go where they eat or sleep.”
Another option is to reposition the litter box to this area, if that’s a possibility.
What about the smell?
Fiorella says she hears complaints all the time about ferret body smell, and believe it or not, a lot of the smell actually comes from their ears, she says.
“Cleaning their ears routinely can help a lot,” she suggests. “Also, change their bedding every three to four days and give them a bath once in a while—though not more than once a month.” Keeping the litter box clean is essential for keeping smells at bay, as well. Fiorella suggests doing so twice a day.
At the end of the day, patience and consistency are crucial when it comes to litter box training your ferret.
“Ferrets are very smart, and once they learn to use the litter box, they usually always will,” said Fiorella.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM