One of the many positive traits of ferrets is that they can be litter box trained. Usually with a little effort by their owners, ferrets will use their litter boxes with a few “mistakes”. It is important, however to realize that no ferret is 100% reliable. While most will have a “hit rate” of over 90 percent it is our responsibility is to help the little ones keep their numbers up. From time to time, even the best will forget, resulting in a few accidents. At those times it’s important to take corrective action so as to not begin a bad, and stinky, habit. The following is a list of things to try to get you ferret to use it’s litter box.
Litter Box Too Small: While a small litter box has the benefit of not taking up so much room in the cage some ferrets need a little more room to get comfortable. This is especially true for larger ferrets. The triangle shaped litter boxes meant to be placed in the corner of the cage simply are not roomy enough for many ferrets. While a small litter box may have been adequate while the ferret was a kit, a small (or even a full size) cat litter box may be what your ferret needs.
More Than One Litter Box: Having more than one litter box in rooms where the ferrets are let out for exercise is a good idea. When nature calls ferrets cannot be expected to travel long distances to use their litter box (especially when any corner will do… Not!).
Not Clean Enough: Ferrets are naturally clean animals. If the litter box is not cleaned often enough they may stop using it. It is important to scoop the litter box at least once or twice a day. Beyond the daily scooping duties, you will need to completely wash the pan with soap and water at least every 5 to 7 days. While this is one of the less appealing aspects of owning a ferret it certainly beats the alternative… ferrets that don’t use the litter box!
Too Clean: While ferrets may stop using a litter pan that is too dirty, ferrets new to using a litter box may need a hint to what it’s used for. To a ferret not used to using a litter box, a particular type or brand of litter, or a box placed in a new location it typically helps to “season” the box by placing a little of your ferrets business in one of the corners of the box. This should help get across the idea that the litter box is not something to play or sleep in, but the place to go.
Scented vs. Unscented Litter: In general it is better to use unscented litter for ferrets. While most probably don’t care, there are purists who prefer the type without perfumes. Since the litter box is cleaned so frequently, scented litter is not necessary.
Praise Good Behavior: When your ferret uses the litter box always praise them once they are done. Skeptics may say that “ferrets don’t understand praise” but I say it’s worth a try and heck, it doesn’t cost anything. So why not! You could also offer a small healthy treat for a mission accomplished. With ferrets, bribes are always accepted! Just be aware that ferrets who learn that they can be paid to use the litter box may start to fake it just to get a treat. Only pay for performance!
Correct Mistakes Immediately: If you have found that your ferret has made a mistake but you weren’t able to catch them in the act, just clean it up and vow to keep an eye on them next time. Telling a ferret NO! After the fact will do no good. They simply won’t make the connection. On the other hand, if you see your ferret backing up into a corner, raising it’s tail, and crouching down it’s time to shout NO! In a firm, angry voice. Many times, if you catch them soon enough this will stop them in their tacks. Quickly place your ferret in the litter box and give plenty praise if they use it. Note that sometimes they will hop right out if placed in the litter box after being caught. Keep an eye on your ferret and be ready to place them in the litter box at a seconds notice.
Lock Down The Litter Box: The ferrets natural instinct is to use a corner as a bathroom. This could be a corner of the cage, the corner of room, a corner created by piece of furniture placed next to a wall. Because of this tendency, corners are great places to put litter boxes. The problem is ferrets also have the tendency to move their litter box, then use the floor. To prevent this from happening always secure the litter box so it can’t be moved. This way if the ferret wants to use the corner, it must use the litter box.
Monkey See, Monkey Do: Sometimes having a ferret that uses the litter box will set a good example for another (especially young) ferret. The litter box newbie sees (and yes smells) the good example set by the other ferret and copies it’s good behavior.
Not In My Litter Box: Unfortunately, although not real common, some ferrets won’t share a litter box with another. For these persnickety types, if another ferret uses their litter box they wont use it. The only solution… separate litter boxes.
Let the Ferret Decide: Sometimes it’s best to let the ferrets decide where to put the litter boxes. If theres a spot, likely a corner, that the ferret continues to use as a bathroom, consider placing a litter box there. For whatever reason the ferret has decided that corner is the spot so your halfway there to getting this ferret trained. Now to just get fuzzy to just use the box!
Remove All Traces of Mistakes: As said before, no ferret is 100% accurate. Expect mistakes once in awhile. The important thing is to not turn an occasional mistake into a habit. To help prevent turning a mistake into a bad habit thoroughly clean all mistakes. First clean up the “mistake” so you don’t see it, then use a product such as Nature’s Miracle to remove any odors that could keep the ferret coming back.
Discourage Mistakes: While ferrets are usually better about using the litter box while in their cage, mistakes can happen. To discourage ferrets from going outside the box place food and water bottles near the corners of the cage. In the remaining corner (or corners for multi-level cages) place the ferret’s bedding. The strategy here is persuade the ferrets into using the litter box in the corner by placing items they don’t want to dirty in the other corners, namely – food, water, and bedding. Sneaky those humans!
First Business, Then Play: Ferrets will typically go within the first 10 to 15 minutes of waking up. Before letting them out of their cage for play time it is a good idea to make sure they have properly cleaned themselves out.
Refresh Their Memory: When letting ferrets out for their playtime, start by placing them in the playroom litter box. This could help jog their memory when nature calls.
Lower the Barrier to Entry: When using a standard cat litter box (all four sides the same height) ferrets can see the walls of the box as a forming corner. Instead of stepping inside the box they may go directly next to the box. To overcome this misunderstanding it may be necessary to cut the litter box on one of the ends. This makes it easier for the ferret to climb into the litter box and removes the illusion of a corner outside the box.
Rule Out Medical Problems: Sometimes not using the litter box is a symptom of a medical problem, especially for old pro’s. This may be a good time to take your ferret to the vet for a check up.