Posted: April 7, 2014, 6 p.m. EDT
Problem 1: Not using the litter box.
Ferrets are latrine animals, which means that they usually return to the same spot to eliminate. Unfortunately the spot they pick is not always the spot that you want them to use. This is often caused by the ferret not being introduced to a litter box at a young age.
To litter train, set your ferret in the box repeatedly until it goes. The best times to do this are shortly after it awakens or after it has eaten. Praise your pet, and even offer it a treat to reinforce this behavior. You have to be persistent and consistent to get the best results.
Problem 2: Going next to the litter box.
Make sure the litter boxes that you buy are the appropriate size for your ferret. If the sides are too high or if the box isn’t big enough to accommodate your ferret’s whole body, your ferret may choose not to use it. Sometimes a change in litter can trigger mishaps, too. If your ferret doesn’t recognize what’s in the box as litter, it might not use the box. Even if you know that a litter is not good for your ferret, you may have to continue to use that litter for a while until you can wean your ferret onto a better litter. Every time you clean your ferret’s litter box, mix a little of the litter that you prefer into the litter that your ferret is used to until eventually you can stop using the original litter.
Don’t overclean the litter box. Initially leave a small piece of stool or a little urine in the litter to remind your ferret that this is what the box is for. As your ferret improves its marksmanship, then you can start cleaning the box more thoroughly. Don’t let the box get too dirty, either. No one likes to step in their own poop! As an added note, don’t use a highly scented litter. Ferrets are sensitive to scented litter, which may discourage them from using the litter.
Problem 3: Pooping throughout the house.
Many people think that a ferret is like a cat and will return to one litter box to eliminate. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. Most often their attitude is "out of sight, out of mind.”
When you first get your ferret home, confine it to one room or a playpen when you let it out to play. Have more than one litter box available. As it masters using those boxes, then you can expand its play area. Have additional litter boxes in each new area that it has access to. Initially have a litter box in each corner, including "corners” made by furniture meeting the wall as well as where two walls meet. As your ferret selects the litter boxes that it likes, eliminate extra boxes that it does not use.
If there is a corner that you can’t fit a litter box into or that you don’t want your ferret to use, block off that corner to keep out your ferret. A decorative rock or a heavy flowerpot turned upside down can be used for this purpose. Just be aware that ferrets are very strong for their size and don’t be surprised to find the rock or pot moved if your ferret is determined to get into that corner!
Ferret Snoopy/© Courtesy Sue Holme
A ferret that plays in the litter box might not realize that the box is actually for eliminating.
Problem 4: Sleeping or playing in the litter box.
This behavior also stems from the ferret not recognizing the litter as its toilet. Make sure that you have alternate sleep sites available for your ferret. Give it something that it can cuddle in and feel secure in. A sleep sack, a cuddle bed or a hanging sleep cube are good choices.
Problem 5: Pooping throughout the cage.
Some ferrets do this to signal they are not happy about being stuck in their cage. Others do it because they are lazy or preoccupied. Kits (baby ferrets) especially are prone to this. They wake up and start to play in the cage and all of a sudden — oops! They’ve got to go!
Clean any accidents with an odor-neutralizing cleaner that is safe for animals. Put extra litter boxes in the cage, even if you have to put one in each corner. Cover the rest of the cage floor with soft cloths or bedding. Most animals don’t like to eliminate where they sleep. If your ferret poops in its food dish or water bowl, you may have to get dishes that hook onto the side of the cage.
Problem 6: Your ferret stops using its litter box.
Has anything changed in your ferret’s cage or in your house? Some ferrets get upset if things change in their surroundings and let you know by pooping in inappropriate places. Go back to Ferret 101 and give your ferret a refresher course in litter box training. Remind it where all the litter boxes are and add a few new ones again.
If you have an older ferret and it stops using the box, take it to the veterinarian for a checkup. Some medical problems can cause hind leg weakness, and your ferret may not be able to get into its litter box. Or maybe it has problems holding its stool and doesn’t make it to the box in time. These are problems that your veterinarian can assess and hopefully help you resolve.
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