Posted: October 8, 2012, 4:15 p.m. EDT
Courtesy of Candice Moomau
A clean ferret cage helps ferrets be happy and healthy.
Cleaning isn’t glamorous, but it does improve quality of life — a lot. If you never flushed the toilet, took out the trash or washed your clothes, you probably wouldn’t enjoy where you live or have many visitors. Ferrets can’t clean up after themselves, so they rely on their owners to do it. Keeping their home clean also keeps your home clean.
Yes, ferrets are messy (some more than others), but cleaning your ferrets’ cage or habitat doesn’t have to be a dreary chore. It’s just a matter of getting the right equipment/supplies, and finding a routine and sticking with it.
Ferret Cleaning Supplies
Before you tackle cleaning your ferrets’ cage or room, get the supplies needed and store them in an easily accessible location.
"I buy 10-ounce, colored spray bottles — blue, green, pink — and fill them with cleaner to keep near the cages,” said Troy Lynn Eckart, a longtime ferret owner and operator of Ferret Family Services in Kansas. "A plastic baby wipes container can be used to store packages of flat cleaning wipes.”
The longer it takes to prepare to do a task, the higher the chance of postponing the task. If a mini vacuum is stashed in the back of a disorganized closet, it’s less likely to be used than if it’s stored in a handy area on a wall or easy-to-reach shelf.
Some cleaning supplies for ferret habitats include:
¨ Litter scooper
¨ Trash bags
¨ Cleaner (commercial, animal-safe cleaner; vinegar; water; etc.)
¨ Scrubber/wiper (sponge, towels, rags, etc.)
¨ Unscented, gentle laundry detergent
¨ Gloves, if desired
¨ Air filter, if desired
Time for a note about hygiene. If you choose to wash out litter boxes or other ferret items in a sink, first choice should be one in the garage or laundry room. If that isn’t an option, a bathroom sink could work. Try to avoid ever using the kitchen sink for anything related to ferrets or other pets. This minimizes the possibility of disease transmission. Always wash and disinfect a sink and rinse well after it’s used for ferret or other pet items.
The same caution about disease transmission applies to sponges, towels or rags that might be used for ferret items. Designate sponges for ferret-items only, and wash towels or rags before using them elsewhere.
Stick To A Cleaning Routine
Cleaning is easier when it’s done regularly. Seven main cleaning tasks are needed.
1. Litter box/litter accident clean up. Most ferret owners scoop the litter boxes or clean up any litter accidents in the ferret room or around the house daily or even several times a day. The number of times scooping or cleaning is needed depends on the number and messiness of the ferrets using them.
"I completely empty my litter boxes each day, wash and refill them,” said Robin, a longtime ferret owner from California. "I wipe the floors for any missed spots. Yes it's true, ferrets don't always hit the litter box.”
2. Cleaning the water bottle/bowl and food dish. Ferrets must have clean, fresh water and fresh food. Ideally, water bottles/bowls and food dishes should be emptied and cleaned every day or, at the very least, once a week.
3. Quick cleaning of the cage itself. Again, the frequency for this depends on your ferrets’ habits. Once a week might work, but if you’ve got a ferret or ferrets that are kibble-tossers or water-splashers/drippers, you’ll be cleaning more frequently. Eckart has some favorite cleaning items for this task.
"A small, 1-gallon shop vac is lightweight and has good suction, and can suck up crumbs, liquids and waste — from litter box messes — all at one time,” Eckart said. "Cloth cleaning wipes are great for wiping shelves, ramps, levels daily.” She adds that cleaning the drop-pans shouldn’t be forgotten.
4. Ferret laundry. Ferrets enjoy snuggling in ferret sleep sacks, ferret hammocks and ferret-safe fabrics (fabrics without any loops or holes to catch their nails). But ferrets also have sebaceous glands in their skin that secrete oils that build up on fabric, causing odor. Ferrets that are still intact (not neutered) produce even more odor, especially intact male ferrets. To combat this, many ferret owners opt for weekly laundering of ferret bedding and other fabric items in the cage, such as ramp covers. They switch to a second set while the first set is being washed. Robin is one of those ferret owners. "Once a week I pull all the bedding and replace it with fresh.”
Eckart washes bedding weekly or bi-weekly, as often as needed. "Keeping bedding and the cage clean helps to keep down odors and makes the environment nicer,” she said. Eckart uses laundry soap and dryer sheets with mild scents that don’t clash. "Ferrets like to snuggle into their bedding, I don't want them to be bothered by too strong of a scent.”
5. Accessory cleaning. This refers to anything in the ferret habitat that hasn’t already been mentioned. Does your ferrets’ cage have toys, tunnels or other goodies? These are the things to clean or replace regularly.
6. An annual cage cleaning. This involves a thorough scrubbing of the entire cage — floor, bars, ramps, accessories, everything. "Once a year the whole cage gets pulled outside and bleached and scrubbed,” Robin said.
Rebecca Stout, a longtime ferret owner who lives in Tennessee, said she does this two or three times a year. She said it’s the only way to get into cracks and places you cannot reach. She power washes it with a spray nozzle and uses a brush to scrub with a diluted bleach solution. It’s critical to rinse thoroughly and let it dry for at least a day. Drying is important because some cages might have holes in the frame that allow water to get trapped inside.
"When this happens, bacteria mix with rust from the sitting water, making a sloshy, rotten, stinky mess,” Stout said. "Pretty soon you'll have an odor in the home that can be difficult to find, when it’s coming from the cage. Rotten rust solution can smell like rotting blood.”
To avoid this problem, Stout stressed the need to tip the cage after cleaning, even turning it upside down, and leaving it outside for an entire warm, sunny day to be sure all water has evaporated. She also said to avoid washing cages outside during cool or cold months.
7. Around the cage and hidden messes. Sometimes ferret messes aren’t contained in the cage or are hidden in a room corner. Eckart advises checking the walls behind cages regularly for any messy splatters. The sooner you find them, the easier these messes are to clean. But "aged” messes aren’t impossible to tackle.
"Metal paint scrapers are excellent for scraping ‘stuff’ off floors, walls and in cages,” Eckart said. "If you find a hidden spot that you didn't know they were using, spritz with cleaner, let sit a few minutes then scrape with a paint scraper. Works like a charm!” She added that a good vacuuming under and around cages should be done weekly or as often as needed.
For ferret owners with allergies or who just want extra cleaning, a HEPA air filter is an option to consider.
Tips For Easy Cleaning
Longtime ferret owners know their way around the cage and litter box, and they have invaluable tips about keeping things clean.
"The single best cage move that I made for cleaning as well as for safety was to cover the fake sheep's fleece on bedding with sheet material — polar fleece was fine, but the fake sheep fleece sheds horribly. The sheet material prevents ingestion of the fake fleece and resulting blockages, but it also makes the bedding last much, much longer AND clean thoroughly much more easily. And about two years ago I went to using a flexible plastic guard, the kind used to protect wood floors from furniture, on the third floor over the grid, and it has made cleaning much easier.” — Sukie Crandall, New Jersey
"It is much easier to keep the cages clean rather than letting them go a few days and have to do extra cleaning. A daily clean for a cage may take 15 minutes, whereas a weekly clean can take an hour or longer, depending on the extent. Housing ferrets in cages that have large door openings and full levels as opposed to partial shelves are easier to clean because one can reach in and clean the larger flat surface area. Cages that are at the height that one doesn't have to bend too much or be a contortionist to get through the openings are likely to be cleaned more often. Having cages in easily accessed areas, and cleaning supplies near the cages also makes cleaning easier. ” — Troy Lynn Eckart, Kansas
"I clean every single day — without fail. When you use a mild and safe product, or even just hot water, it is vital to stay on top of the smallest of messes so they don’t build up and get out of hand forcing you to use heavier cleaners, which need a lot of wiping and airing out. Daily wipe-downs and cleaning of cages and other items minimizes or even prevents any odor. Not to mention it’s healthy for the ferrets to keep their environment clean.” — Rebecca Stout, Tennessee
Check out our other ferret housing articles