Do Ferrets Smell? What are the causes, and 5 great tips to help with a smelly pet!

Last Updated : July 5, 2022
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Hesitant pet owners are constantly asking us:

“Do ferrets smell? And if yes, do ferrets smell bad? And if yes, do ferrets stink up your house?”

The ferret world is literally abuzz with these questions, and it’s gotten so bad that this stereotype is giving these fantastic, playful creatures a lousy reputation.

So it’s about time we sit down and answer all your ferret smell-related questions in a comprehensive blog that covers everything (and more) about this topic.

Here’s what you’ll learn today:

  • What ferrets smell like
  • Why ferrets have body odor that’s one-of-a-kind
  • How you can minimize this typical ferret smell
  • Whether or not removing their scent glands is a good idea

Ready to go?

Then let’s ferret hop right in!

Ferret on a blanket - do they smell?

Do Ferrets Smell?


Ferrets have a distinctive aroma, which is quite powerful if you consider that they’re such small animals.

But is it an unpleasant smell, or is it something you can quickly get accustomed to?

What Do Ferrets Smell Like?

A ferret’s natural scent can be characterized as:

  • Musky
  • Earthy
  • Corn chips
  • Popcorn and honey (when they’re kits)

However, take note that no one ferret smells precisely the same, so your individual little guy will have their own unique aroma.

Some people barely notice this type of ferret odor, while others have a much stronger opinion about their fragrant ferret friends.

Some of these more opinionated people find it hard to bear, while most ferret owners tend to like it and say their fur babies smell good — one ferret mom even described it as “Eau de furet!”

We recommend you head over to a few ferret-inhabited houses before you decide to adopt pet ferrets for yourself — better safe than sorry!

Pro tip: make sure you pick trustworthy ferret owners who take proper care of their pets, as much of a ferret’s smell comes from poor hygiene conditions (like with a dog).

Why Do Ferrets Smell?

Four main factors are behind a ferret’s odor:

  1. Oily skin
  2. Anal glands
  3. Health issues and diseases
  4. Poor hygiene

Let’s discuss each of them in detail.

1. Oily Skin

Sebaceous glands (a.k.a. oil glands), located all over a ferret’s skin, are the biggest culprit of their natural, musky smell.

These glands produce secretions, which in turn get locked into their fur and give off the unique yet completely normal smell that characterizes this mischievous species.

This smell becomes much more potent when ferrets go into heat as their skin glands step into overdrive and secrete intensively. You’ll easily notice the difference between the two situations, which is one of the multiple reasons spaying/neutering pet ferrets is advisable.

2. Anal Glands

All ferrets are born with anal glands on either side of their rectum. These glands are small anal sacs filled with a foul-smelling fluid that functions as a natural defense mechanism.

If your ferret feels in danger or simply gets startled by an unexpected event, they’re prone to releasing this fluid and causing a foul odor, known colloquially as a “smell bomb.” This mechanism works exactly the same as with skunks, but luckily it’s nowhere near as smelly.

These ferret “stink bombs” are a sporadic occurrence, and most ferret owners only experience them a few times during their pet’s life.

You can minimize them by keeping your pet ferret comfortable and making sure they enjoy living in your house!

Some people “de-scent” their ferrets by removing these anal glands via a surgical procedure, but more about this (lousy) idea later on.

3. Health Issues and Diseases

Health problems can lead to a stinky pet.

If your ferrets smell worse than usual, it’s a serious warning sign of the following ferret issues and diseases:

  • Yeast or bacterial infections
  • Adrenal disease (excessive growth of the adrenal glands, two small glands located near your ferret’s kidney)
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Dental problems

Take your pet ferret straight to the vet if you notice a strong smell that you’ve never experienced before (unless you’re 100% sure it was just a “stink bomb”).

4. Poor Hygiene

We tend to immediately blame pet ferrets for their overly musky smell, but in reality, many times it’s the owners who we should be blaming.

Ferrets can quickly become stinky pets and smell worse than they should because of a dirty environment and low-quality food not suited to a strict carnivore.

This isn’t the ferret’s fault, and the bad rep shouldn’t be assigned to them.

Anyone thinking about adopting a ferret should definitely ensure they have the time and energy to keep their ferret’s environment (litter pan, cage, blankets, etc.) clean and have enough spare budget to buy them healthy, ferret-approved foods.

So naturally, the following question arises:

Seven weeks old ferret baby portrait on blanket

How Can Ferret Owners Reduce the Signature Musky Smell?

You have five tricks up your sleeve to control your ferret’s odor and ensure nobody ever complains about the ferret smell in your house.

  1. Neuter or spay intact ferrets
  2. Keep your ferret cage clean
  3. Use scent-absorbing bedding in their cages and rooms
  4. Follow ferret grooming best practice
  5. Feed your ferret a proper diet

Let’s explore these options.

1. Neuter or Spay Both Female and Male Ferrets

The very first thing you should do as a ferret owner is to take your ferret to the vet to get “fixed.”

Intact male ferrets (hobs) and unspayed female ferrets stink during mating season, so getting them neutered or spayed will go a long way in controlling ferret smell.

Do your homework, pick a trusted veterinarian, and wait for your ferret to be at least 4-6 months old before the procedure, as doing it earlier on might lead to future health complications.

Extra knowledge: spaying your female ferrets is always mandatory (unless you plan on using them for breeding purposes) as they can easily slip into a state of “constant heat,” and this can lead to a host of diseases and, ultimately, death. No good.

2. Keep Their Cages and Rooms Clean

Being a ferret owner is a big responsibility. You have to take care of your little guys as well as make sure they live in clean cages and safe, ferret-proofed rooms.

The first part tends to be easier than the second for many small animal owners because, well, cleaning isn’t fun and it gets tiring pretty quickly.

Ask yourself if you’re prepared to commit to the following cleaning routine before you bring ferrets home:

  • Cleaning their whole cage (including all the tools and accessories inside of it) at least once a week
  • Picking out ferret droppings from litter boxes daily
  • Changing their litter tray every three to five days
  • Steering clear of perfumes and air fresheners to cover the smell

If you didn’t flinch as you read through these chores, you won’t have a problem controlling the most significant source of unpleasant ferret smell. It’ll just become second nature, and the overwhelming odor of dirty ferrets won’t bother you in the slightest.

N.B. It helps if you place a litter tray in every room of the house your ferrets have access to, as cleaning up ferret messes is a smelly ordeal.

3. Use Scent-Absorbing Bedding

young ferret sleeps on mat

Most of your ferret’s natural smell comes from one of two places:

  1. The oils in their skin and fur
  2. Their droppings and urine

Knowing this makes it easier to combat these two odor-producing elements with some smart shopping — don’t cheap out on bedding and always stick with scent-absorbing bedding as these help capture and reduce both types of smells.

It’s worth the extra cash because you don’t want to waste the time you spent cleaning and giving your ferrets a clean cage.

But don’t forget to change your ferret’s bedding every three to five days and scoop out fecal matter daily from your ferret’s litter box. If you skip this step, there’s no amount of bedding that can save you!

4. Follow a Ferret-Friendly Grooming Routine

You need to know a few things before you start grooming your ferrets; otherwise, you risk doing more damage than good.

One of the most important things to note is that you should only bathe your ferret when they get dirty. Going beyond this occasional bath will actually cause your ferret to smell bad…

And sometimes even worse than before you bathed them!

Talk about an oxymoron. Common sense goes flying out the window. But why is this the case?

Because, by washing your ferret’s fur with water and shampoo, you strip their skin of their natural oils, and that’s not something their bodies like.

So, to get back at you (and return things to their natural order), a recently washed ferret gets straight to producing more oils after you dry them, usually generating a stronger musky odor than before you bathed them.

This means you should stick to the occasional bath (once every two to three months) and leave most of the heavy-duty cleaning to your ferret. They’ll take care of it, just like cats do.

You should, however, be ready to lend a helping hand when it comes to:

  • Gently clean your ferret’s ears with a pet-safe ear cleaner
  • Thoroughly scrubbing away the dirt and build-up on their paws (as this can produce a foul odor if left uncleaned due to particles of droppings and urine getting stuck between their toes)

Quite easy, right?

You bet, and that’s another advantage of being a ferret owner!

P.S. Never use deodorants or perfumes as these won’t work and, on top of that, are potentially harmful.

5. Feed Your Pet a Proper Ferret Diet

Choosing to feed your ferret a high-quality diet is the last thing you can do to limit, or even eliminate, the bad smell coming from your ferret’s cage (and ensure they live a long and healthy life, of course).

Many ferrets produce extra-stinky feces (and too much body oil) if their owners decide to feed them cheap kibble or many unhealthy snacks.

They then take this smell around with them when they leave their cage and go exploring. Not pleasant!

But it makes sense — you’d also stink pretty bad if you decided to only eat curried beans for the rest of your life.

So do everyone a huge favor and stick to high-quality kibbles or raw foods.

Pro tip: don’t feed your furball too much fish because seafood causes most pet ferrets to smell a bit worse than usual!

Is Removing a Ferret’s Scent Glands a Good Idea?

No, no, and no!

It’s a terrible idea, and it’s something the American Ferret Association, the vast majority of vets, and other ferret owners highly disagree with.

Despite this, ‘descenting’ ferrets (the official term for removing a ferret’s anal glands) is still common practice with many breeders in the USA. Many adorable ferrets undergo this procedure before owners even have the chance to adopt them. This is especially true for ferrets bought in pet shops or nationwide pet stores.

We recommend you take them to your trusted vet for a quick checkup to double-check everything is okay, and that they’re not suffering from any complications of getting their anal glands removed (like an abscess). But don’t panic; most ferrets make perfect recoveries and live long, happy lives even after this traumatic event.

Summary: Dealing with Ferret Smell

Ferrets can be stinky, but that’s about their only negative characteristic.

And it isn’t even that bad as long as you live by our five odor-controlling tips:

  1. Neuter or spay intact ferrets of both genders
  2. Make sure your pet ferret enclosure is cleaned regularly
  3. Use scent-absorbing bedding
  4. Follow ferret grooming best practice
  5. Feed your pet a proper species-specific diet

These simple actions genuinely make the difference between a slight musky smell that many people find pleasant and a powerful ferret odor that most people find unpleasant.

It’s up to you to give your ferret the care it needs and control the factors that cause its unique smell.

If you’re still not sure whether or not you can handle their scent, remember that ferrets are popular pets, so it’s pretty easy to find a ferret-owning acquaintance (or a nearby ferret shelter) and see what you think for yourself.

Either way, thanks for reading, and we hope you’ve had a good time and learned a thing or two about these wonderful (yet scented) beauties! ❤️ 🐾

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