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The scientific name of the domestic ferret is Mustela putorius furo, which is a Latin phrase that translates to “stinky weasel thief.” If this is the first time you’re parenting a ferret, you’ll soon learn it’s an apt name—the typical musky ferret smell is notorious for a reason.  

But can you do anything about it? Fortunately, there are some ways to help reduce the intensity of your pet ferret’s odor. Pet ferrets typically undergo a minor surgical procedure after birth to remove their scent glands—tiny glands that sit beneath the skin under the base of their tail. This procedure certainly makes them smell less potent, but they still retain some musky scent. To help you deal with this residual odor, Petco offers a variety of small animal cleanup and odor control solutions.

Ferret scent 

Ferrets are related to skunks, who are well-known for the foul-smelling musk they release in certain situations. However, ferrets differ from skunks in that skunks actively spray the oils in their scent glands as a defense mechanism, whereas ferrets involuntarily emit odor from their scent glands as they defecate.  

There isn’t one singular ferret stink gland. Ferrets have scent glands all over their bodies—including on their face and legs—that contribute to the overall smell of your pet. However, the anal glands are the primary source of a ferret’s unique scent.While small animal grooming and bathing are important, these activities won’t eliminate a ferret’s distinct odor. Your ferret doesn’t smell musky because they’re ungroomed.  In fact, ferrets do a good job of grooming themselves and keeping themselves clean. They should not need much additional grooming or bathing beyond weekly brushing to minimize ingestion of shedding fur and occasional baths if they get extra dirty. Bathing too frequently can dry out a ferret’s skin and make them itchy.

Ferret odor solutions

There are a few ways to minimize the typical ferret smell. Before you make the decision to adopt a ferret, keep in mind that your new pet may never completely lose their musky scent—even if you take these steps. However, these procedures can help reduce your pet’s odor.

  • Spay or neuter your pet Spaying or neutering can eliminate a major portion of your ferret’s smell. Eliminating the production of reproductive hormones helps make male ferrets less aggressive and stops female ferrets from being in constant heat. Plus, spaying and neutering pets helps reduce the frequency of medical problems such as testicular cancer in males and uterine infection in females and is recommended as part of an overall plan for small animal health and wellness.  
  • Remove your ferret’s anal glands Having your ferret’s anal glands removed—commonly performed at the time they are neutered or spayed—can also make a significant difference in how they smell. These glands emit a musky liquid that most pet parents consider unpleasant and contribute to ferrets’ overall undesirable odor. Many adoptable ferrets will have this procedure performed before being offered for adoption to potential pet parents.

You may also be able to mitigate the smell at home. Simple solutions like an air purifier for ferret odor can go a long way. Keep your ferret habitat in a well-ventilated area with good air circulation to help keep the scent from becoming overwhelming. Keeping your ferret’s ears clean using a veterinary-approved ear cleaning solution as directed may also help prevent odors from bacterial and yeast infections. Bathing your ferret occasionally can also help control the odor. However, a ferret who is washed too often will develop dry skin and start to smell worse as the glands in their skin work extra hard to replace natural oils removed by bathing. Bathing your ferret every two months should be sufficient. Check out our ferret shop for solutions to help you keep your pet ferret happy and healthy.

Ferret veterinary care 

It’s very important to take your ferret to a veterinarian who is comfortable with ferrets and knowledgeable regarding their care. While all veterinarians are generally educated about dog and cat care, not all vets have experience managing ferrets’ specific health needs and behavioral issues. Find a veterinarian in your area who regularly sees ferrets, if possible.  

In addition to spaying or neutering your ferret and removing their anal glands to help reduce their ferret smell, veterinarians also provide other critical healthcare to your pet ferret. For example, all ferrets should receive annual vaccinations for distemper and rabies, as well as heartworm preventive treatments, to protect them from these deadly illnesses.

FAQs about ferret odor

Many pet parents describe ferret smell like that of corn chips. Some ferret parents don’t mind the scent, while others describe it as gross. Regardless, it can be strong and overpowering to the point that it’s difficult to smell anything else with a ferret in an enclosed space.

Both males and females have anal and other scent glands that cause their notorious ferret stink. However, many pet parents report that female ferrets smell less than males.  This is likely due to the potent sex hormones that males have driving their desire to breed.

Yes, a spayed female ferret will typically have less of a musky smell than an un-spayed female ferret. Spaying a ferret removes the sex hormones that stimulate the release of musky oils from scent glands in the skin, making spayed ferrets less musky overall. However, a spayed ferret will generally still have a distinct musky odor.  

When a ferret has their anal glands removed, they are often described as being de-scented. If you adopt a ferret from a shelter or rescue, these ferrets are typically de-scented before they’re available to bring home. Even de-scented ferrets still smell a little musky—but this unique smell is part of their charm!

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