Posted: June 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: My big, fat ferret Ajax is a bit of a skunker. He is snipped, he is fed on good-quality ferret kibble and gets plenty of exercise, food and water. He regularly skunks or “poofs.” He does it at least every two or three days. It can be when he’s excited and playing, or sometimes just when he’s normally going to the loo. It is fairly quick to pass, and if it lingers then he gets a quick bath in the sink. But it is incredibly annoying, especially when he does it when I have guests around. When he’s having a skunky night, he usually does it about half a dozen times. Last weekend I had a small dinner party, but we had to abandon it and go to the pub instead.
I’m in the United Kingdom, so I can’t have him de-scented. There are several less-than-savory children who live on my street who have a reputation for stealing from people’s gardens, so I don’t want to keep my ferrets outside (I spoke to the parents, but they said “I don’t care. I can’t control them, so I don’t care what they do in your garden.”)
Is there anything I can do to reduce either the severity or the amount of skunking? I’ve checked with my veterinarian, who couldn’t find anything. His only suggestion was to manually express the glands before I have guests around, which is not something I particularly want to do.
A: I think your veterinarian gave you maybe the best advice you can get about your ferret. I know you cannot legally have your ferret de-scented in the United Kingdom, so that is not an option. Plus, de-scenting an older ferret can lead to complications that are debilitating to your ferret.
Some people have suggested frequent bathing to remove the odor, but that usually can make the smell worse. Bathing removes the oil from the skin, which is normal in ferrets, and the body’s response is to produce more oil that can lead to an increase in the smell.
It is believed by some people that ferrets release material from their scent glands when they are stressed or for other behavioral reasons. Certainly, if there were enough guests around and interacting with your ferret, perhaps he was more stressed than you realized and released oil from his glands.
In the end, you may have to accept the fact that you have a great pet that carries with him a smell that is a bit stronger than the average smell that emanates from the average pet, but nothing about ferrets is ever average!
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