Ferrets are such funny and playful pets. So many pet owners chose ferrets for all of their positive qualities. But many people wonder about the scent that ferrets may or may not give off. In this article, Dr. Jess answers, Do Ferrets Smell? Let’s settle this debate!
Let’s Talk Ferrets!
Ferrets are a small animal that are commonly seen as a pet in some cultures.
They are small furry mammals that are usually black, brown, white, or a combination of those colors.
The common domesticated ferret can be up to 2 feet in length, and weigh up to 4 1/2 pounds. Males are typically larger in size than female ferrets.
The domesticated pet ferret can live up to 8-10 years depending on genetics and management factors.
What Causes Something to ‘Smell’?
Our sense of smell is something that many of us likely take for granted.
I know I sure do!
So when it comes to “smelling” and this article, I will be referring to something smelling badly to us.
But before we can figure out if ferrets smell bad to us humans, we need a little background on what our sense of smell really entails.
HowStuffWorks.com explains how we humans smell something very simply, stating:
At the top of your nasal passages behind your nose, there is a patch of special neurons about the size of a postage stamp. These neurons are unique in that they are out in the open where they can come into contact with the air. They have hair-like projections called cilia that increase their surface area. An odor molecule binds to these cilia to trigger the neuron and cause you to perceive a smell.”https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/question139.htm
Once your brain perceives a smell, it is up to you to decide what smells “good” to you and what smells “bad” to you.
Everyone is different as to what a good smell is and what a bad smell is. That is up to you.
However, I can tell you if your ferret leaves a scent that humans can pick up…. and that’s what the rest of this article will be talking about!
Do Ferrets Smell?
Yes, ferrets can produce a smell that humans can pick up.
A ferret’s odor is musky and is a bit different from other animals.
Ferret’s odor can change through age, due to health, change in diet….There are a few reasons why your ferret may be creating a smell.
Some people find the smell of a ferret unpleasant, while others do not mind it at all or don’t smell it.
Let’s talk about the different reasons why your ferret may be smelling, as you may find that the different reasons why a ferret can smell, may smell differently to you and to those around you.
Why Do Ferrets Smell?
The scents that ferrets give off can be caused a multitude of things.
A ferret’s smell is primarily caused by:
1. Anal Glands
Anal glands are small sacs filled with fluid that surround the anus of multiple different types of animals.
These anal glands are located inside the actual anus.
The fluid inside these sacs has a very special odor to it.
This unique odor can be found to be offensive to some, as it not a common smell to many people.
Under different instances, such as when your ferret becomes scared suddenly, excited momentarily, or angered quickly, these fluids can be excreted quickly.
These fluid inside these sacs can be expelled from their sacs, excreted outside the anus, exposing our noses to this most different scent.
2. Oily Skin
A ferret’s skin has many oil glands and this oily skin has a certain smell to it that can differ greatly from ferret to ferret.
This oily scent is described by many as a musky, teenage-like odor.
This smell tends to subside when the animal is sterilized, either spayed or neutered by a veterinarian.
Some people will like the smell and others will gravitate away from it.
There’s no real way to know this until you smell this scent for yourself.
3. Mating Season
Intact (un-neutered) male ferrets will produce more oily skin and the smell will seem a lot stronger than normal during their mating season.
The smell will go back down once the mating season is over or the male is neutered.
4. Yeast/Bacterial Infections
It is not uncommon for a ferret to come down with a yeast or bacterial infection or two in their lifetime.
When your ferret has one of these types of infections, depending on where the infection is and what pathogen is involved, can end up pretty darn stinky.
The smell will quickly go away when the infection is treated and goes away.
4. Adrenal Disease
It is not all that uncommon for ferrets to develop adrenal disease.
Adrenal disease can cause excessive growth of the adrenal glands, small glands that lie on top of each of the kidneys.
When the adrenal glands increase extensively, the body may kick into overdrive and produce an increased amount of hormones.
This increase in hormones can produce a scent that can be detected coming from your ferret..
5. Other Ferret Diseases
There are other diseases besides adrenal disease, that can cause your ferret to smell.
If you notice that your ferret is experiencing abnormal health signs and they now have a new odor coming from them, you should contact your local vet to figure out what is going on internally.
This may be a sign that internally, your ferret has something abnormal going on.
What Can You Do If Your Ferret Smells?
There are some things that you can do to help your ferret if you find that your pet is a bit on the stinky side.
Some of these tactics are more popular than others and some are more controversial than others.
How to Reduce Your Ferret’s Odor:
There are a few things that ferret owners have been known to do in order to reduce their ferret’s odor.
Descenting Your Ferret:
Descenting is the surgical removal of the anal glands that hold the fluid that has a unique odor attached to it that was discussed in a previous section of this article.
A large portion of pet ferrets that are purchased in the U.S. are already descented and neutered by the time they are available for purchase.
Sometimes it will be hard to tell if they have been descented when you bring them home for the first time.
And even once descented, a ferret will still live it’s life carrying around other scents, such as the scent from the oils in their skin.
The American Ferret Association as well as many veterinarians, strongly disagree with the practice of descenting ferrets.
In fact many of these same individuals believe that descenting is inhumane or unnecessary unless descenting is medically necessary.
The reason why so many are against it is because descenting a ferret will not reduce a ferret’s natural scent.
On top of that, descenting can cause a multitude of issues, including infection at the surgical site.
This typically causes an abscess, AKA a pocket of infection, or post-surgical incontinence where the ferret can longer control their normal bathroom habits.
And that is the entire point as to why most people want their ferret descented in the first place.
Bathing Your Ferret:
The oils on a ferret’s skin can cause a stronger scent.
So many people think that their stinky pet could use a bath. But I want to stop you right there.
Yes, ferrets do need the occasional bath.
However, many pet owners do not know that when you bathe your ferret with shampoo, you are actually stripping their skin of these natural oils.
The ferret will then produce more oil to overcome the removed oils, therefore producing even more oil.
Even more oil causes the scent coming from your ferret to increase as the oil increases. So you are actually do the opposite of your primary intention.
Bathing your ferret could actually make the scent you are smelling, more pungent.
That being said, you still need to bathe your pet occasionally. Typically I recommend once every 1-3 months.
This may be different if your ferret has special circumstances, so follow your veterinarians advise on how often to bathe your specific ferret.
As a side note: make sure that the shampoo as well as any other product you are using on your ferret, is made for ferrets.
Ferret Bedding Materials:
You should use a ferret-safe bedding material that is scent-absorbing.
Even though you are using scent-absorbing bedding, it still needs to be cleaned or swapped out for new bedding as the oils from your ferret’s skin will rub off into the bedding and start to smell if not cleaned regularly.
Cleaning Your Ferret Cage and Toys:
To further reduce the scent coming from your ferret and their things, I highly recommend cleaning not only their bedding regularly, but everything in their enclosure or cage.
Why? For the same reason that you need to change out their bedding.
The oil on their skin that produces some of the odor gets rubbed and wiped onto the things that touch the most often, including toys, hiding places, hammocks, beds, etc.
Therefore, I recommend that you wash your pet’s cage and cage items once a week with ferret safe cleaning products.
This will help decrease the scent that your ferret’s cage will smell.
Cleaning the Litter box:
Your ferret’s litter box should be cleaned out 1-2 times per day to keep your ferret clean and healthy and to help prevent unpleasant smells coming from the box.
Sterilizing Your Pet:
Intact (un-neutered) male ferrets and intact unspayed female ferrets can produce more of an offensive odor, espcially during certain times of the year, AKA mating season.
Once fixed, many ferrets will be less stinky and the odor can dissipate.
Ferret Smell Summary:
Ferrets can have a smell all to themselves that can be offensive to some and not to others.
There are a bunch of different reasons why a ferret will give off an interesting scent and there are many ways to reduce your ferret’s odor if your pet needs some help.
Some of the ways to reduce a ferret’s odor are more controversial than others.
Contact your veterinarian to learn more about options to help reduce your pet’s scent.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.