Do Ferrets Smell? | 5 Tips For Minimizing Ferret Odors

Written by Lucas Stock

January 31, 2023🞄

Author: Patricia Larson, LVT

If you’re thinking about welcoming a ferret into your family, you may have heard or read that ferrets have a distinct odor, or even that they’re downright “stinky.”  While it’s true that ferrets (like all members of the mustelid family) have a distinct natural smell, this should not discourage you from adding this uniquely fun and adorable companion to your family unit.  In fact, many ferret pet parents report enjoying the unique smell of their pets! 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the biology behind the ferret smell and what you can do as a pet parent to minimize the odor with the ferret in your life. 

Why Do Ferrets Smell?

The natural musky odor of ferrets comes from their scent glands (most notably the anal glands) and is used for territorial marking. Most commercially available ferrets in the United States are “de-scented,” which means that they have gone through a surgical procedure to remove their anal glands. While this diminishes the natural odors of ferrets, they will not be fully scentless after this procedure. This is because even de-scented ferrets still have scent glands in their skin which cannot be removed.

Fun Fact:  
Every ferret has their own unique, personal aroma and intensity and this can change throughout their lifetime!

How Can I Minimize The Smell Of My Ferrets?

Most ferret owners quickly adapt to the unique aroma of their animals.  In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to keep your little mustelid’s musk minimized so you can meet each other halfway.

Tips for minimizing the natural smell of ferrets include:

1. Have your ferret spayed or neutered.
2. Keep your ferret’s habitat clean.
3. Set up your ferret’s habitat in an area with good ventilation.
4. Provide proper nutrition.
5. Practice regular, species-appropriate grooming.

1. Have Your Ferret Spayed Or Neutered.

Both male and female ferrets will smell stronger if they are intact and have not been spayed or neutered. Intact males have a particularly strong scent, especially when they are in heat. In addition to many other health-related benefits, having your ferrets spayed and neutered will cut down on the natural ferret odor.

2. Keep Your Ferret’s Habitat Clean

A clean habitat is paramount to keeping unpleasant odors at bay – not just for ferrets, but for all pets.  Good housekeeping tips for ferrets include:

  • Take time to wipe down surfaces and clean the litterbox daily. Make sure you utilize a quality litter like Oxbow’s Eco-Straw that will soak up urine and control odor effectively.
  • Provide multiple beds, hammocks, and blankets so that you can swap them out regularly and give them a good wash.
  • Deep clean surfaces on a consistent schedule with a pet-safe, enzymatic cleaner. This includes litter boxes, food dishes, toys, hides, and tunnels. Keep in mind that plastic and ceramic items can be run through a dishwasher for extra sterilization.
  • Don’t neglect the areas outside the habitat; this includes any areas where ferrets regularly play. Check all of your ferret’s favorite hiding spots and clean out toys, treats, or other special finds regularly. If they play on a carpet, clean and deodorize regularly. You can utilize a sprinkle of baking soda to cut down on the odor in rugs; just leave it for a bit and then make sure you vacuum it up well before your feisty friend romps again.

3. Set Up Your Ferret’s Habitat In An Area With Good Ventilation

When it comes to your ferret’s habitat, location is key.  Providing proper ventilation in conjunction with their living space does wonders for keeping odors at bay. If the room you are using for your ferret’s habitat doesn’t have great ventilation, consider setting up a fan (pointed away from the cage) to promote proper airflow. Keep your ferret’s habitat away from windows that get a lot of sunlight, as heat can increase scents and make your ferret uncomfortable.

4. Provide Proper Nutrition

One key factor when it comes to ferret smell is the quality of their diet. Ferrets are obligate carnivores like cats, so it’s important to avoid foods made with concentrated amounts of unsuitable ingredients like corn, peas, and potatoes.  Provide your ferret with high-quality food that is high in both protein and fat and low in fiber, like Oxbow’s Essentials Ferret Diet.  Offering treats or food flavored with fish can also increase the smell your friend exudes, so steer clear of the Surf and Turf!

5. Practice Regular, Ferret-Appropriate Grooming

Avoid The Instinct To Bathe Your Ferret

It may seem natural to want to bathe your feisty friend to cut down on their natural scent. However, this is the last thing you should do!

Bathing your ferret strips the natural oils from their skin and fur.  This causes the body to increase oil production in the scent gland.  When this happens, your ferret’s scent will grow stronger.  Pretty soon, you are stuck in a vicious cycle with an unhappy ferret that smells and has dry, irritated, and itchy skin.  Ferrets are adept at keeping themselves clean, so only bathe them if absolutely necessary!  

Skip The Special Sprays

Commercial odor-covering sprays and deodorizers can cause similar problems, plus they have the added downside of irritating your ferret’s eyes and nasal passages. Most of these products only mask the scent and are therefore best avoided.

Keep Their Ears Clean!

Ferrets get a natural, dark waxy build-up in their ears that tends to have a strong scent. Keep it part of your daily routine to check their ears while they snuggle or play. When you notice a build-up of this wax, it’s time to give them a good cleaning utilizing cotton swabs and tissues. Make sure to never stick a swab into the ear as this can cause damage to the eardrum or push the wax into the ear canal.

Ferrets have a natural musky scent that is completely unique to them.  Many ferret owners actually enjoy the smell, and others quickly adapt to it.  In either case, the presence of any noticeable odor is vastly outweighed by the joy ferrets bring into the lives of their owners with their penchant for play and the endless entertainment their hijinks provide.  Plus, by following the tips covered in this article, you can easily keep the ferret smell to a minimum so you can focus on all the fun and joy they bring into your life together!

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