Posted: May 1, 2012, 12 p.m. EDT
Courtesy of Alex B.
Sometimes, it might seem like ferrets are plotting to destroy your carpeting.
In today’s economy, it is tough for ferret shelters — and even ferret owners — to make ends meet. One way to help ensure adequate funds is to conserve resources; every dollar saved is one that can be applied to better food, vet bills or many other ferret expenses. In some cases, conserving resources can result in a significant increase in ferret funds. [See Bob Church's previous articles focusing on ferret bedding and ferret water and food.]
Saving Your Carpet From Ferrets
Carpet is a major investment for a home, and ferrets simply do not care about home investments. One of the most common "help me” questions I receive about ferret relates to carpet woes brought on by destructive ferrets. The most common questions fit into just a few categories: potty problems, digging destruction, medical mishaps and spill shenanigans.
Ferret Potty Problems
Ferret toilet habits are so well known that they’ve become a running joke in the ferret community. What is the difference between a cat and a ferret? The cat plays in the den and uses the litter box, while the ferret plays in the litter box and uses the den. And steals your keys. If ferrets had thumbs, they’d steal your car.
The real problem is that ferrets, by nature, are very territorial and use their droppings to establish dominion over your home. The second problem is that no one can really predict which ferrets will do well at the litter box and which ferrets will not do so well; some ferrets just don’t catch on regardless of what you do. Finally, poop is dropped for lots of other reasons, such as during fights or when startled, when ill, when age catches up to them or sometimes for no real reason at all. This translates as soiled areas in the corners of rooms and the front of doors and other high-traffic areas, not to mention the random droppings than can appear just about anywhere.
Ferrets magazine is filled with dozens of well-written articles on how to train your ferret to use the litter box, and an online search should help you come up with some ideas. I recommend giving it the good old college try. Even so, it helps to buy a little insurance in case of arguments or illness.
No foolproof way exists to stop potty mistakes, but a few methods eliminate the worst of the carpet damage from ferrets. A top-shelf carpet protector, such as DuPont’s Teflon Advanced Carpet Protector, is worth its weight in gold. With this method, choose products that are non-toxic for pets and children. Use the carpet protector as recommended, or professionally clean the carpet and have the cleaners add the protector at that time.
To protect carpet corners and carpet in front of doors, use small, rectangular area rugs. Attach heavy plastic to the bottom with duct tape to contain leaks, and then place the rug in the ferret’s favorite spot. When soiled, just take it outside, hose it down and let the sun disinfect and dry it for you. A carpet remnant works just as well, and you might be able to get some cheaper than the $5 to $8 I’ve paid for the finished area rugs. Either is much cheaper than professionally cleaning your carpet, or replacing it.
One of the big questions is, "Do you clean ferret poop when it is wet or dry?” Wet ferret poop on a carpet is very difficult to clean without pushing it into the pile, which creates leopard-like spots on a light-colored carpet. Allowing ferret poop to dry makes cleaning a cinch, however, the odor can become embedded in the fabric, perhaps encouraging ferrets to revisit the site for future deposits. So, the argument can be made both ways. The use of a carpet protector helps a great deal. The final decision is up to the individual ferret owner, who sometimes adds a third solution — pretending not to see the mess until it is well-dried, which solves the dilemma.
Ferret Digging Destruction
To say ferrets like to dig is like saying young children like toys and candy. To a ferret, digging is a natural and enjoyable practice that comes as easily as breathing. The problem is, a ferret’s love of digging and an owner’s love of carpet are not necessarily compatible. Ferrets love to dig, and it is as natural for them to dig as it is for people to talk or for toddlers to insert cookies into the DVD player.
I have found two options for digging: one is to provide a suitable alternative, and the other is to protect the areas where ferrets are prone to dig. Nothing is easier than placing a ferret in a harness, leashing it and letting it dig in your own backyard. Well, unless you live in a concrete canyon, in which case the use of a digging box is appropriate. Fill a large, plastic tub with your choice of dry beans, rice or playground-type sand. Rice and beans are popular, but sometimes ferrets will eat or chew them, so I prefer sand. Sand is, well, sandy, so I place the tub in a small, plastic child’s wading pool to contain messes.
The other solution is to directly protect the carpet from digging claws. By far the best solution I’ve found is to place 1-foot-square floor tiles under doors and in corners where the digging seems to be the worst. If the ferret can see light under an object or door, it is a great incentive to dig, so tacking a door sweep to help block light is a great help. I had a ferret insist on digging under my desk until I duct-taped a sheet of heavy cardboard to block the light. Sometimes ferrets go for the carpet around the door jambs, so a heavy plastic runner cut to fit this space is a great help. I’ve seen places where a heavy plastic runner runs the length of every wall in a room to protect the carpet underneath. In those same rooms, I’ve seen those telltale brown stains in the center of the room. Ferret owners do the best they can.
Ferret Medical Mishaps
It is difficult to anticipate medical mishaps, which include such things as spilled blood, vomiting, diarrhea, and both internal and external parasites. Most of the fluids can be easily cleaned up using common household cleansers, but I am careful of blood. Blood contains iron, which can be "set” with time and heat. I’ve found a good way to clean blood from carpet is to add a scoop of Tide (or other enzymatic detergent) to a bucket of cold water. For stains on carpet, soak washcloths, rags or paper towels in the soapy mixture and use them to saturate the stain, and then leave the cleaning cloth in place over the stain to soak overnight. Don’t forget to rinse the soap out with clean water before allowing the carpet to dry. You might have to use a brush to scrub the area a bit, but in a good number of cases, the soaking and rinsing will work by itself. This method is good for removing many other organic stains as well.
Any spill of a serious nature needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible. Infectious fluids should be wiped up, cleaned with soap and water or some other antimicrobial, and then the area should be steam-cleaned or shampooed. Saturated carpet might have to be discarded if the soiling material is from a contagious ferret, which is one encouragement to use carpet squares as carpet protection.
To prevent contamination of the well ferrets by the ill ferrets, I isolate any sick ferret in a small, plastic-coated metal cage. The cage is lined with disposable pads, newspaper strips and a single, small sleeping bag. All wastes are removed as soon as possible, and wastes and liners are double-bagged and removed to a location free of ferrets. After a ferret’s recovery or death, I soak all plastic, glass and metal cage materials in a 10 percent bleach and water solution, and dispose of all fabric or paper materials. It is better to contain a disease than it is to try and cure it afterward.
Ferret Spill Shenanigans
Spill shenanigans are random events where a ferret knocks something over, damaging the carpet. It could be melted wax from candles, a beverage, ink or paint, a cleansing product or just about anything liquid or sticky that you do not want saturating your carpet. Cleaning up this stuff generally requires immediate action or even professional cleansing services.
It is far better to prevent spills rather than clean them, so the best way to save money is to prevent such shenanigans from occurring. That requires careful ferret-proofing. Use this as your guide: if ferrets can almost climb it, they will. If they can nearly reach it, they will. If it can only be tipped with the cooperation of three or more ferrets, they will cooperate using Navy Seal stealth communications. If it will burn a ferret’s nose if they stick it into something, they will still stick it in — once by accident and twice to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke. With careful ferret-proofing and keeping things out of reach of the ferrets, I managed to save enough on cleaning supplies to pay for a ferret adrenal surgery. The rule of thumb is, "Out of reach, not easily tipped, and unable to excavate.”
One Sneaky Solution
With all the training methods, protectors and alternatives, I found that one other solution works very well — towels. When you wash your ferret’s bedding, add a few towels and a dose of vanilla extract. After a time, the ferret will associate the smell of vanilla with bedding. All you have to do is drop the towels in places you don’t want the ferrets to drop their goodies. It doesn’t always work, but it was the only method I could come up with to prevent the ferrets from soiling my DVD tower, which they did several times. The towels are not all that attractive, but one thing is sure: they are better looking than the alternative.
The, Ahh, Ferret Bottom Line
All ferrets make potty mistakes, tear and rend carpet, and even eat it. Replacing a carpet is expensive, so the money saved protecting carpets can be used to make the ferrets’ lives better. That is well worth the cost, and the ferrets will thank you for it later — probably by dropping a bomb just under your shoe.
See all of Bob Church's columns