Your pet ferret is fun and cute, but what a stink! Is a descented ferret something you should try to achieve?
That musky odor that ferrets naturally exude can be a bit off-putting to humans.
So how can you change this? In this article we’ll discuss how to stop ferrets smelling bad.
Why do ferrets smell? Read on to find out!
We’ll also look at what exactly a descented ferret is and how to reduce ferret odor.
Do Ferrets Smell Bad?
Ferrets are a popular pet!
Some estimates show there may be as many as 5 million of them in American households today.
They are agile and lively, and they’ve been domesticated into good pets.
But do pet ferrets smell?
Yes, ferrets do have a unique ferret scent, which reminds some of skunk odor.
It’s strong, pungent, and unpleasant – not just to us, but to other animals.
Why Do Ferrets Smell?
Some of this ferret musk is from two anal glands, located at either side of the anus.
These sacs are filled with a foul-smelling liquid.
The odor can be used for mate recognition and partner preference discrimination.
It acts as a behavioral and social tool, allowing for identification of other ferret individuals and communicating their health status.
Ferrets also use scent for marking territory and other types of communication and signaling – not just with other ferrets, but with other animals, including their prey.
Unfortunately for our sense of smell, ferrets expel the odor from the anal glands as a weapon.
They do this when they are feeling threatened, overstimulated, excited, or angry.
The smell usually dissipates relatively quickly, though.
Where Does That Ferret Smell Come From?
It’s not just the anal glands which a culpable for a ferret’s aroma.
Ferrets that are not neutered also secrete a body odor that coats their skin like an oil.
Additionally, their urine has a strong ferret smell.
Hormones during the breeding season may also contribute to ferret scent, if your ferrets are intact.
So the smell of pet ferrets comes from multiple places.
That actually means it’s hard to remove it by descenting.
Let’s now look at how to make ferrets not smell!
How to Keep Ferrets From Smelling
Ultimately, there are two veterinary procedures that can act as ferret odor solutions.
The first is spaying or neutering.
The second is descenting.
Descenting is surgery that removes the anal glands of the ferret.
Let’s look at both of these procedures and their advantages, disadvantages, and success in terms of ferret smell control.
Spaying And Neutering As Ferret Odor Control
As with dogs and cats, all ferrets should be spayed or neutered unless you are planning to breed.
Spaying is the removal of the ovaries and the uterus in a female.
Neutering is the removal of both testicles in the male.
This prevents unwanted litters of infants, and can improve the health of the animals.
Many store-bought ferrets are spayed or neutered early, before they enter the pet trade.
If you get yours from a small breeder, though, you may actually get one that has not yet been altered.
How Neutering Affects Ferret Odor
Especially with males, neutering may cut down on odors.
That’s because they’ll stop marking their territory, and they’ll do less grooming – which means those smelly oils they secrete won’t be so well spread into the skin.
Males tend to have more aggression and behavior issues, which are better regulated once they are neutered.
Neutering can also affect the levels of hormones that a ferret puts out, and can reduce sexual hormonal disorders, which will reduce ferret musk odors.
Spaying Female Ferrets
Spaying is necessary for female ferrets for health reasons.
They can develop anemia when estrogen causes bone marrow to stop producing red blood cells.
Spaying can prevent females from staying in estrus for a long time – a condition that may cause bladder infections, hair and weight loss, hemorrhages, and other life-threatening issues.
So there are additional reasons to make sure your ferrets are spayed and neutered, too!
How To Reduce Ferret Smell Through Descenting Surgery
During the descenting procedure, the anal scent glands are surgically removed.
This prevents the descented ferret from expelling that burst of ferret musk, which it does when feeling angry or excited.
Many ferrets have already been descented, before they go on sale.
But often, you may not know for sure if the operation has taken place until something happens that might make them release that smell.
Does Descenting a Ferret Work?
Descenting can be effective in preventing a certain type of ferret stink.
However, it is important to note that this surgery does not remove the descented ferret’s natural body scents.
That isn’t possible.
As we’ve mentioned, anal glands are not the only source of odor on a ferret.
They secrete it out through their skin, as well.
Perceived threats to the ferret should be rare in captivity, so we hope you don’t often experience a ferret laying out that scent!
Is Descenting a Ferret Cruel?
You should know that the American Ferret Association opposes the practice of descenting except in cases where the ferret’s health is at issue.
The AFA believes the operation gives a false impression to ferret owners, and is just a marketing ploy that actually has no real effect on the level of smell a ferret puts out.
Additionally, some vets believe that the surgery has complications, including prolapsed rectums, draining tracts, abscesses, and incontinence.
If you want to have a descented ferret, this procedure should be done by a licensed veterinarian with experience in the surgery.
Descenting is not a necessary surgery.
It is traditionally a North American practice not often utilized elsewhere.
How Much Does It Cost To Descent A Ferret?
The cost of descenting a ferret varies by procedure, geographic location, and other factors.
Spaying and neutering a ferret should be done by an expert exotics veterinarian, who will have experience with such procedures.
Spaying generally costs more, as it is a more complicated surgery, but will generally run you under $100. Neutering may cost around $50-$75.
Descenting, if you decide to do it, can be done at the same time as the spaying or neutering, but will generally cost you a bit more.
Expect to pay under $200 for the descenting surgery.
Note that the price is generally higher if the ferret is under six weeks old.
For both ferret odor control procedures, you may wish to set aside about $300 per ferret.
How To Descent A Ferret – Other Options
Other than surgery, are there other methods to figure out how to control ferret odor?
Yes, but don’t expect miracles!
First, make sure to clean your ferret’s skin, ears, and teeth, and nails regularly.
Ears, especially, can develop a musky odor over time. So give your ferret gentle, once-a-week cleanings.
Bathe your ferret, but not too much! Yes, a grooming and bathing session can help reduce the smell and keep your ferret smelling fresh.
But some of the stink of a ferret comes from oil glands within the skin, which become more active after a bath to replace the natural oils in the fur.
So bathing too much can make your ferret smell worse instead of better.
Some vets recommend bathing your ferret no more than once a month.
How To Reduce Ferret Odor – Good Housekeeping!
Also, make sure you keep up with your pet’s habitat maintenance.
Changing your ferret’s litter and bedding is one dependable way to reduce that ferret smell.
Clean that cage, too!
Diet is important.
Ferrets need a high-protein diet, and keeping your ferret healthy can assist in reducing odors.
Also, you should visit the vet regularly, especially if your ferret seems to have an especially strong smell.
Sometimes, excessive scent may be linked to health problems in the ferret. For example, the anal sacs may leak that odoriferous fluid.
In this case, treating the medical issue may reduce the ferret smell.
There are some products you can use too. Ferretone, a skin and coat supplement for ferrets, has been known to improve smelly ferrets.
Do ferrets smell? Yes, they really do.
And can we tell you how to keep a ferret from smelling? Or how to descent a ferret?
Well, yes and no. We can certainly give you some options, both ones you’ll have to consult a vet about and some options for home use.
But, please note, your ferret will likely always smell, at least a little bit. You can regulate the smell, but the chances are you’ll never fully get rid of it!
This is natural. And some humans actually learn to like the smell!
Which makes them great ferret owners.
Are you one?
Do you have a descented ferret?
How do you keep ferret musk in check?
We’d love to hear about it.
References and Further Reading
- The American Ferret Association, Inc. (2008). AFA Position Statement on Descenting of Ferrets.
- Clapperton, B. K. et al (1988). An olfactory recognition system in the ferret Mustela furo L. (Carnivora: Mustelidae). Animal Behaviour, 36(2).
- Cloe, A. L. et al (2004). Contribution of anal scent gland and urinary odorants to mate recognition in the ferret. Physiology & Behavior, 82(5).
- Schilling, K. (2007). Ferrets for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Wiley Publishing, Inc.: Hoboken.
- Vinke, C. M. and Schoemaker, N. J. (2012). The welfare of ferrets (Mustela putorius furo T: A review on the housing and management of pet ferrets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 139(3-4).
- ferretguardian.org, How Much Is That Ferret In The Window?
- Long Beach Animal Hospital, Spay Ferret.