Friday, March 12, 2010

Litter Box Training the Ferret

     Like a human baby, ferrets aren’t potty trained and need to be taught how to use the potty. Many pet retailers will tell you that a ferret will instinctually use a litter pan but this isn’t true. Ferrets are considered latrine animals meaning that they have a bathroom spot away from their food and sleeping areas.

     While it is easier to train a younger ferret to use the litter box an older ferret can also be taught to use one it just takes time and a lot of patience.

Things you will need:

A litter box:

hicornerlitterpan starterpan

coveredlitterpan disposablelitterpan


Non-clumping litter:

bedding_litter critterliiter ferretlitter


Some kind of treat or reward:

feratone    cat


Bitter Apple® or equivalent

Cleaning supplies:

cornerlitterscooper Highguardscoop  paper towels, pet accident cleaner, non-scented dish soap.

     The first thing to remember is that every ferret is different and not all techniques will work all ferrets.

     The second thing is not to expect a ferret to use a litter box 100% of the time. Ferrets are in constant motion and the need to stop doing something to go find the bathroom is equal to the small child too engrossed in playing to realize just what that feeling is until it is too late.

The Litter Box:

     When buying a litter box you need to consider several things from the size of your ferret. Males can end up weighing anywhere from 4 to 5 pounds and most females can top the scale at 3 pounds. Boys can be a lot longer than girls can.

     How many ferrets will be sharing the litter box? The more ferrets using one box increases the frequency that you will need to change the litter.

     Is your ferret finicky about others using the same box?

     Does he/she like snorkeling in the litter?

     Depending on the pet retailer, the types of litter pans maybe limited to starter pan kits and cat pans. The starter kit is all right for when the ferret is still a kit but they can quickly outgrow it.

     Other options are the pans made for rabbits and because of their shape fit nicely into a corner of the cage. Cat pans are good for the younger and healthy ferrets who are able to jump over the high side of the pan. You can buy litter boxes that are covered giving privacy.

     I personally would stay away from the motorized self-cleaning litter boxes because of a ferret’s need to investigate everything that piques their curiosity.

     While almost all litter boxes are made of plastic and are easy to clean. There are disposable ones on the market that are made from cardboard and are made to put into the corner of a room. A litter box should be made available outside the cage and in their play area.

The Litter:

     There are several types of litter on the market now. These range from the traditional cat litter made from unscented grey clay granules to litter made for specific species. You don’t want to use clumping litter or wood shavings.

     Clumping litter may make for easy clean up but it can be problematic to a ferret that ingests some of it. Clumping litter absorbs liquid swelling and this can cause an obstruction in a ferret any where from the throat all the way to the end of the line.

     Wood shaving can cause respiratory distress and skin irritations from the oils that are present in the shavings. Cedar and pine shavings can also cause other problems if ingested.

     I have used torn up newspaper as litter but if you have a paper-loving ferret expect a lot of it to be all over the cage. Lance likes the feel of the torn strips and will take pieces out litter box before it has been used and will create a two-inch high pile to play with.

     Lance and James both like digging in a clean litter box until one corner is empty and piled beside the litter box. Some ferrets won’t use a litter box another ferret has used.

     Gweny was one such ferret and would relieve herself next to her litter box until it was changed. The boys don’t seem to care. I have been told that ferrets won’t use a litter box that a cat has used but I don’t have any first hand knowledge if it is true or not.

The Training:

     The main objective is to get the ferret to realize that the litter box is the bathroom and not some nice corner. This can be achieved by rewards, being persistent, and patient. Again, a ferret will not use a litter box 100% of the time.

     The first technique is just getting your ferret to recognize that the litter box is the place to go to the bathroom. This can be achieved by confining the ferret in a smaller cage with the litter pan on one side his bedding in the middle and food and water on the other side.

     Unless a ferret is injured or sick it will not normally defecate on it’s bedding or near its food. A ferret will use the litter box upon waking. Once he gets used to using the box you can move him to a larger cage and he should use the litter box.

     The second technique is the reward system. Every time you see your ferret use the litter box you reward him/her with a treat. Ferretone® is a good choice in that most ferrets are addicted to the taste and will do almost anything for it.

     Ferrets are intelligent and will try to psych you into thinking that they have gone in the litter box just to get the Ferretone® or let out of the cage. Once out they will scurry to their favorite corner and go.

     Being aware of what your ferret is doing outside of his/her cage you can re-enforce where the appropriate place to go to the bathroom is. Most ferrets need the litter box when they wake up, an hour after eating, and about ten to fifteen minutes once out of their cage.

     Watching for signs that a ferret is looking for a likely place to go include sniffing around corners, racing from on corner to another, and backing up into a corner with his/her tail arched over his/her back and squatting.

     If you see your ferret doing this pick him/her up and put him/her in the nearest litter box. Some will jump right out of it because their attention span is short they may think they have already gone. Put the ferret back in the box and keep doing it until they go. Once he/she has gone in the litter box give the ferret lots of praise and a treat to re-enforce that's the proper place to go is.

The Clean-up/Use of Deterrent

     The litter box needs to be scooped out daily and the litter changed every two to three days. This depends on the number of ferrets using the box and if a ferret has decided the box is too dirty to use.

     The litter box should be scrubbed with weekly with regular non-scented dish soap and water letting it air dry or drying it with a towel before refilling with litter.

     Accidents will happen even with the best trained ferret. Ferret poop is easily cleaned up with a paper towel and the area should be cleaned with a cleaning agent made especially for pet accidents.

     A ferret has exceptional smell and will be able to sniff out where another ferret has gone and will think that it where the bathroom is.

     If a ferret insists on going in the same area repeatedly you can either put a litter pan there or if the spot is inconvenient you can spray the area with a deterrent such as Bitter Apple® or the equivalence.

     All comments are welcomed and appreciated. What other subjects would you like to know about?


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