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Do Ferrets Smell?

Kristin Hitchcock

Ferrets naturally have a somewhat “musky” smell. It is not unlike the scent that some dogs develop after they haven’t had a bath for a while. However, most ferrets will smell like this no matter what.

This smell tends to bother some owners, but over time, most people will get used to it, even if you’re sensitive to smells. You shouldn’t let the smell get in the way of you adopting a ferret, especially considering that you probably won’t even notice it after a few months.

There are also a few ways to lessen this smell, though it will likely never go away completely. Ferrets that are clean smell less. Therefore, by keeping your ferret clean, you can often eliminate much of their smell.

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Why Do Ferrets Smell?

holding ferret II_Mitskevich Uladzimir_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Mitskevich Uladzimir, Shutterstock

All ferrets have a similar smell. It comes from their anal glands, which they typically use to mark their territory. Many species do this, but ferrets have glands that tend to emit a particularly “musky” smell. Dogs and cats also have anal glands, but their emissions tend not to smell so bad to humans.

All members of the mustelid family have particularly musky scents, including the ferret. There isn’t much you can do about this; it is simply how the ferret evolved.

Many ferrets have their anal gland surgically removed. These are often called “de-scented” ferrets, and some of them cost a bit more than the average ferret. Most pet stores sell these ferrets, though. However, these ferrets will still produce a musky scent due to their other scent glands. You can’t remove all of these. Therefore, ferrets will always smell, at least a little bit.

Ferrets that aren’t sterilized will also have a more pungent smell due to hormones. They will produce more of a scent during certain times of the year. This is how they would mark their territory and attract mates in the wild, though this doesn’t matter when they are in captivity.

While you can’t get rid of ferret smells from these sources, you can help lessen it with regular grooming.

How to Groom a Ferret

Grooming your ferret correctly can help prevent their scent from being as strong. While these ferrets produce a musky scent from their glands, you preferably don’t want this scent to build up. There are a few different things that you can do to decrease your ferret’s smell.

  • Clean Their Ears. Ferret’s ears are waxy and rather smelly. Most of their smell will come from their ears. This isn’t a sign of infection (that said, strangely smelling ears might be infected). Instead, it is simply how ferrets are. You can control some of their smell by cleaning their ears. Manufacturers make ear cleaners specifically for pets, though you should still ensure that these are safe for ferrets. If you have any questions, ask your vet. You can also use a moistened Q-tip. Use it on the outer ear only. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. Don’t push the Q-tip into the ear canal, as this can damage your ferret’s ears. Just use it on the parts of the ear that you can see easily. Clean your ferrets’ ears once a week to keep the smell at bay.
  • Bathe Your Ferret. All ferrets will need baths. This will help control the odor in some cases, but it can also make it get much worse. Overbathing is not recommended because the ferret’s skin will overproduce oil to compensate. This will make the smell worse and have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for. Instead, you want to bathe the ferret every 2 months. Your goal is to decrease the amount of oil built up on their skin, without encouraging their glands to make more.
  • Clean the Cage. This isn’t technically part of grooming your ferret, but it is crucial for eliminating their musky odor as much as possible. You should wipe the cage and all other hard surfaces that your ferret comes into contact with daily. These surfaces can hold onto oils and stink. You should change their bedding at least once every 3 days. Ferrets spend most of their time on their bed, and the soft material can easily hold onto any smells. When your ferret returns to a dirty bed, they will simply be covering themselves in more oils. Changing it often is essential. You should also clean their litter box once a day. While this doesn’t directly affect the ferret’s smell, some of them do like to sleep and roll in their litterbox. If this is the case with your ferret, a dirty litterbox can make them quite smelly.
  • Clean Everything. Besides your ferret and their cage, there are several other things that you should clean as well. Don’t forget about any tubes and toys that your ferret plays with. Food and water bowls can hang onto smells, especially if they are made with a porous material like plastic. Be sure to wipe everything that your ferret comes into regular contact with.

Do Ferrets Bite?

Ferrets may bite or nip for different reasons. Teeth are their primary defense because they lack sharp claws. Therefore, if something happens that scares them, their first reaction will be to bite. They are similar to a dog in this manner.

Ferrets use their mouths frequently. It is their primary mode of communication. They often nip to get attention, especially when they are younger. You can teach ferrets not to nip, but this requires patience. Ferrets will usually nip in an attempt to initiate play. Most of the time, owners will get bitten on their feet and ankles because that’s the only places that these ferrets can reach. Gentle play-biting is also standard.

Ferrets can be taught not to bite, just like a dog or a cat. This does require training and careful handling, as you don’t want to teach your ferret that biting is a way to get attention.

How Bad Do Ferrets Smell?

This probably depends on who you ask. The smell doesn’t seem to bother some people that much, while others may not be able to stand being around ferrets due to their smell.

Long-time ferret owners probably won’t be bothered by the smell at all. Most people get used to it at some point, even if they were bothered by it initially. Over time, the human nose will become desensitized to the smell and stop sending so many signals about it. This may take weeks or months, though, depending on the person.

If you keep up with grooming your ferret and cleaning their cage, you likely won’t notice the smell all that much. It is essential to follow the guidelines in this article, though. Otherwise, you may begin to experience an increase in smells.

Do Ferrets Stink Up Your House?

Usually, ferrets won’t stink up the whole house. They will produce a smell, but it doesn’t typically cling to everything. If you wipe down their cage and keep them clean, there usually won’t be a problem. People won’t be able to smell your ferret from the other room, for example.

If your home begins to smell like a ferret, you probably need to do more cleaning. All hard surfaces that your ferret comes into contact with should be wiped down regularly, if not daily. Oils can stick to these surfaces and make them smelly.

How often you clean will significantly impact how much ferret smell your house contains. Most people will have no problem managing the smell, but it can get out of hand if basic cleaning isn’t done.divider-ferret

Final Thoughts

Ferrets do naturally produce a musky smell. It is produced by the ferret’s scent glands and is used to mark their territory. In captivity, sometimes their anal gland is removed to reduce this smell. However, there is nothing that you can do to eliminate it completely.

Some people aren’t bothered by the smell at all, while others are bothered quite a bit.

Cleaning your ferret’s toys and cage and grooming them regularly are essential for scent control. Oils will build up on your ferret and their equipment, which can increase the smell. Luckily, controlling the smell is relatively easy with basic cleaning and grooming routines.

In our experience, the smell of ferrets is a bit overblown. They do have a musky scent, but it isn’t that much worse than what the average dog produces.


Featured Image Credit: verticallimit, Pixabay

Kristin Hitchcock

Kristin is passionate about helping pet parents create a fulfilling life with their pets by informing them on the latest scientific research and helping them choose the best products for their pets. She currently resides in Tennessee with four dogs, three cats, two fish, and a lizard, though she has dreams of owning chickens one-day!