While you may see your ferret grooming himself, that doesn’t let you off the hook! There are a few things you need to do as a responsible ferret owner to keep your ferret looking, feeling and smelling good!
While bathing should be part of your grooming routine, don’t overdo it! Ferrets that are bathed too often will actually have a stronger odor. Over-bathing strips the oils from your ferret’s fur and skin, drying it out. This causes the skin to over-produce oils, which leaves you with a dry, itchy and decidedly stinky ferret! Bathing should only be done once a month at the most. It is alright if your ferret likes to splash around in the tub more often than that – just don’t use shampoo.
How often you want to bathe your ferret is a personal preference. Some people do it monthly, others do it as the season changes, others do it once or twice a year, and still, others do it only when their ferret gets into something messy. Figure out what works best for your ferret, and do that. Keep odors to a minimum by keeping the ferret’s environment clean: scoop litter daily, dump litter weekly, wash bedding weekly, and clean the entire cage monthly (at the least).
Now for the actual bathing! There are many ferret shampoos out there, though if you’re all out and can’t find any, baby shampoo will do. Most shampoos manufactured for humans aren’t pH balanced properly for a ferret, so you want to stick to ferret shampoo as much as possible. Ferret conditioners aren’t necessary, though they do help in preventing the skin from drying out, so you might want to use this in the winter.
A few tips to make bath time easier on your fuzzies!
- Warm the towels in the dryer before bathing. Ferrets will enjoy drying themselves more on warm towels.
- Make sure the water is the right temperature. Ferrets have a normal body temperature of approximately 102 degrees, so what seems warm to you might seem cool to them.
- Some ferrets like to be in a pool of water, others don’t. Figure out which your ferret prefers and do that.
- Warm the sink or the tub with warm water before putting your ferret in. A cold surface is unpleasant for your ferret.
- Rinse your ferret thoroughly – if shampoo remains on their skin, it will make your ferret itchy.
2. Cleaning Ears
Much of the odor that people attribute to ferrets is actually the odor of ferret ear wax, which is rather stinky! You should clean your ferret’s ears at least once every two weeks, though once a week is best. Cleaning ears regularly prevents infections and ear mites. The ear wax should be red, brown, or gold-colored. Lots of black ear wax is a sign of ear mites. If you see this kind of ear wax, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Left untreated, ear mites can cause deafness and even more serious problems.
To clean your ferret’s ears, first warm the ferret ear cleaning solution a little bit. This isn’t necessary, but it will make the experience slightly less unpleasant for your ferret. Scruff the ferret, and put a few drops of the cleaner into the ferret’s ear. This will help loosen the wax that is in there. Gently massage the base of the ferret’s ear to work the cleaner inside. Then moisten a cotton swab with the ear cleaning solution and clean the outer ear and inside at the base of the ear. A ferret’s ear canal is shaped like an L, so as long as you don’t push hard, you won’t hurt it. Continue using a moistened cotton swab until the wax is gone. Then use a dry swab to finish cleaning the ear out and dry it. Make sure to follow up ear cleaning with a yummy treat!
3. Trimming Nails
Nails should be trimmed once a month at the very least, though twice a month is better. When ferrets’ nails grow too long, they get caught on things, and can even rip completely out. This is obviously very painful for the ferret and can get infected. If never trimmed, the ferrets’ nails will eventually start to curl under, which again is very painful for the ferret. Frequent trimmings help to keep your ferret’s nails healthy and strong.
To clip your ferret’s nails, you will need:
- Ferret or cat clippers – scissor-style with a notch at the bottom of the blade for the nail is the easiest to use. nail trim kit has everything you need. Avoid using human nail clippers, as they pinch the nail before cutting, and can actually crush it if not sharp enough!
- Styptic powder or gel – accidents do happen, and you need to have something to stop the bleeding when they do. Cornstarch or flour can also be used, but they are not as sterile.
- FerreTone or another ferret treat to distract your ferret.
You can cut your ferret’s nails by yourself or with a helper. If it’s just you, here is the way we recommend you do it!
- Ready all of your supplies!
- Put your ferret on his back in your lap or on a blanket or bed on a tabletop. Pour a little FerreTone on your ferret’s stomach. (Wear old clothes until your ferret gets used to this feeling – he will react when the FerreTone hits his belly, which splashes the FerreTone around!)
- As your ferret licks off the FerreTone, clip his nails.
Not sure where to clip? Look at your ferret’s nail – there is a small red line in there called the quick. You want to cut about 1/8” above that. Cut the nail so when the foot is on the floor, the edge of the nail will be parallel to the floor. This will prevent the nail tip from breaking later.
Clipping nails with a helper is obviously a bit easier. Just have your helper scruff the ferret while you clip the nails. Give the ferret some FerreTone after you’re done as a reward.
If you run into a ferret who just absolutely hates having his nails cut, we suggest the following:
- You can cut a few nails at a time once a day until all nails are finished
- You can sneak the ferret while he’s sleeping and stop as he starts to wake up
- You can wrap the ferret up in a towel
If you use the towel method, leave the ferret’s head and one paw sticking out. You will need a helper for this method. He or she will distract the ferret with FerreTone while you clip.
4. Brushing Teeth
This process will definitely take a little getting used to for both you and your ferret! Be gentle with your fuzzy, and understand that the first few times are probably going to be a little alarming for him. You might want to ease into the brushing procedure by scruffing your ferret and just getting him used to having you touch his teeth
So how do you brush a ferret’s teeth?
- Wet the bristles of the brush and apply a very small amount (slightly larger around than the tip of a pencil eraser) of whatever dental cleanser you’ve decided to use. If your ferret hates the flavor, you can add a small amount of FerretVite or FerreTone to it to improve it.
- Scruff your ferret, or, if this is your first time or you find it too difficult to do alone, have someone else scruff the ferret.
- Gently – with minimal pressure – massage the sides and bottoms of the back teeth, working your way up to the canines and incisors. Pay special attention to the molars, as their tongues can’t reach back there to clean off the teeth, and plaque and tartar buildup will be significant. Don’t try to brush the inside surface of the teeth.
- When you’re done, give the ferret some FerreTone, apologize, and watch him give you a dirty look and run away!
The buildup from soft treats and foods should come off easily if you are brushing regularly enough. The frequency of the brushings will depend on the ferret and his diet. Ferrets that receive lots of soft treats and foods (baby food, soft diets, Duck Soup) should have their teeth brushed weekly. The rest of our fuzzy friends will need their teeth brushed every other week, or twice a month at the very least. Don’t assume that kibble is enough to keep their teeth clean! The kibble forms a kind of paste that tends to stick along the gum line and in between teeth, and brushing regularly helps to remove that.
No matter how faithfully you care for your ferret’s teeth, you will eventually start to see serious tartar buildup, which is when it’s time to head to the veterinarian. If you’re not sure what tartar looks like, take a look at your ferret’s teeth. If you see what appears to be grayish, greenish spots on your ferret’s teeth, that’s tartar, and your ferret needs a cleaning. Veterinary visits for a full cleaning (dental prophylaxis) should be done every one to three years, depending on how quickly your ferret’s teeth get dirty.
So now you know the basics of ferret grooming! Bathe no more than once a month, clean ears and clip nails every couple weeks, and brush teeth as often as your ferret’s diet requires. Remember, part of having a healthy, happy ferret is maintaining a regular grooming schedule. Find one that works for you and your fuzzy and stick to it!
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