Posted: June 13, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: I need help. I have a new ferret in my family. She is the first ferret I have ever had, and I must be doing something wrong, because she will not use her litter box anymore. When we brought her home she did fine for about two weeks, then she slowly stopped using it. So far I have tried putting beds, food bowls, water bottles and anything I could to discourage my ferret from going anywhere but in her litter box. I even use an enzyme-based cleaner (Nature’s Miracle) to clean up her accidents to try and get rid of the smell, in case that was making it worse. I have also reduced the size of my ferret’s cage to give her fewer places to have accidents. I'm lost and need help. I have tried everything I know.
A: Just like children, some ferrets go through a “testing” phase to see what reactions they can get from you. Your ferret may find that if she poops in the wrong spot, you open the door and let her out so you can clean the cage. This reinforces her pattern: “I poop here, and she lets me out; I’ll do it again!”
Try setting your ferret in her litter box frequently, especially shortly after she wakes up or eats. If she goes in the box, reward her with a treat and tell her, “Good girl!” for positive reinforcement. If she poops in the wrong spot, tell her, “No!” and walk away. (This only works if your ferret does it while you are there).
You may also want to check the litter box or the litter that you are using. Did you switch brands of litter recently? Maybe the litter feels or smells different. Some ferrets also don’t like strongly scented litter. Is her litter box too small? Young ferrets grow quickly and that cute little corner box that most people buy when they first get a ferret is way too small by the time a ferret has reached 3 months of age. A litter box that is too big, though, may make it hard for her to climb in so she just goes where it’s easier to go. Try different litter boxes to see which type your ferret prefers. Also try having more than one litter box in the cage to increase your ferret’s odds of hitting one.
Another mistake new ferret owners sometimes make is to empty the litter box completely instead of just scooping the poop. If the litter box is too clean, some ferrets won’t use it because they think it’s too nice to dirty. Save a little of the old litter to sprinkle on top of the new litter as a scent clue for your ferret when you do need to clean and wash the litter box completely. On the other hand, if you are not cleaning the litter box enough, then your ferret may look for someplace else to go.
Most ferrets miss the litter box occasionally, but with patience and perseverance, you should be able to get your ferret to improve her marksmanship.
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