Why Do Ferrets Have Such a Strong Smell?

Everybody's pets get smelly sometimes (especially if it's a wet dog). However, if you happen to own a ferret, you might notice that your ferret smells... particularly pungent a lot of the time. Why is this? What makes a ferret smell so strong?

Ferret indoor portrait with a wood ball.
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Why so smelly?

All ferrets (domesticated and wild) have anal scent glands that would normally be used in nature for marking territory. This is common in carnivores and some omnivores, and in the case of your ferret it can be particularly smelly because the ferret is in the mustelid family (which also contains polecats, otters, weasels and badgers). Animals in the mustelid family tend to have much more secretion and stronger scents because they use these scent glands as a self defense when they feel threatened as well. Un-neutered ferrets are known to have a particularly strong scent due to hormones. Overall your ferret's body uses scent for many different purposes in the wild, which result in a musky earthy smell.

If the smell is just too much for you, there are a few things you can do to help lessen the scent of your ferret.

Clean ears help control the smell

Ferrets tend to build up a large amount of earwax that tends to have a musky scent of its own. Use the moistened tip of a q-tip and swab around the outer part of the ear, making sure to clean the folds and nooks. Do not push the q-tip inside of the ear canal, or you could potentially hurt your ferret by puncturing their eardrum.

Ferret looking at the camera
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Keep their home clean

If you make sure to keep your ferret's cage clean, you will reduce that odors that will eventually accumulate if unkempt. Wipe down the floor and surfaces daily, and any cushions or bedding should be swapped out every two or three days. Anything else made of cloth should be washed regularly, including stuffed animals. Most importantly, clean their litter box daily or the smell of their feces will be overwhelming.

Don't bathe them too often

Yes, you should be bathing your ferret. However, if you bathe them too often that can actually make them smell even stronger and it can be hard on their bodies. When you bathe your ferret, it strips them of their natural oils, so their bodies go into overdrive secreting oils and scents. This can also lead to dry, itchy skin for your ferret. A bath once a month should suffice unless they get extremely dirty. Just be sure to use a shampoo made specifically for ferrets, because human shampoo and conditioner is not good for their skin and fur. Purchase some shampoo specifically for ferrets at your local pet store or online.

Brush their teeth

If humans don't brush their teeth, their breath can become pretty gross. The same is true for ferrets. If you brush their teeth once a week, this should reduce the smell of your ferret's breath and keep their pearly whites shining and healthy.

Two cute sleeping ferrets
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Feed them a healthy diet

The healthier your ferret is, the less they will put off odors due to poor digestion. Look for ferret food made up of lean meats, and avoid corn and sugar products. There is the option to feed your ferret fish, but this can lead to smelly excretion, so we recommend going to your vet or pet store and finding the right food for your ferret.

If the scent of your ferret has become too extreme even after all of these actions, we recommend taking them to your vet. Your ferret could be suffering from adrenal disease or anal gland blockage that your vet can prescribe medication for. In extreme situations, your vet might recommend scent glad surgery but this should not be done lightly, as surgery can be hard on your ferret. Talk to a vet to make sure this is the right, healthy option.