Ferrets: Litter Box Training Tips
Ferrets are very trainable, so just be patient and you will be rewarded!
One of the reasons people consider owning a ferret is the popular belief that these are a low maintenance pet. This is true ONLY if you do the important initial training up front, like teaching the ferret not to nip and also to use a litter box. Ferrets are very trainable and if you're patient, you will find training them no more difficult than training a cat. However, the number one mistake most people make is assuming that ferrets are like cats and will naturally use the litter box. This is not true. Ferrets are caged and separated from their mothers very early at ferret farms. Because of this early separation, young ferrets miss the important stage of mom teaching them to go to the bathroom in the same place.
There are several ways you can train your ferret to use a litter box. Ferrets all have their own personalities, so what might work for one ferret will not for another. You may have to try more than one method before you figure out which works best and suits your pet. Here are a few tips on getting your ferret to go in his litter box:
- The "Rise and Shine" method. Get your ferret in the habit of going to the litter box first thing when he gets up. Wake him up while he is still in his hammock, and physically place him in the cage litter box. Once he has gone, reward him with a treat. Do that a couple of times a day for about a week, and he'll be hooked. Your ferret will automatically relieve himself before venturing out of the cage, simply because it will become routine and feel natural to do so before exploring.
- The "Praise and Adulation" method. If your ferret has the run of the house, you'll want to have litter boxes in all the rooms where the ferret roams. Every time you see the ferret going in the litter box, run over, praise him and give him a treat. The nicer the litter box experience is for your ferret, the fewer out-of-box experiences you'll have to contend with.
The "Big Bed" method. This is Plan B, to be
used when the first two methods have failed to prevent your
ferret from going potty where he isn't supposed to. It's a little
sneaky, but pet owners sometimes have to resort to craftiness in
the name of good housekeeping.
Unless there's something seriously wrong with your ferret physically, a ferret won't go to the bathroom in the same place where he eats, sleeps or plays. If your ferret has identified a favorite private spot – behind a door, in a corner, under the bed – to claim for a bathroom, turn that spot into a bedroom, and he'll soon abandon it for potty purposes. Put his hammock there, or some sheets or T-shirts on which he's been sleeping. If it smells like his bed, your ferret won't leave a mess there. Once he's out of the habit of going to the bathroom there, you can remove the bedding. As long as you've thoroughly cleaned the spot so it no longer smells like a bathroom, the ferret should not be tempted to go back.
- The "Follow Your Nose" method. Even blind ferrets can learn to use a litter box. The key is vanilla extract. Experts agree that ferrets love vanilla extract. Take some vanilla extract and spread it all around their litter box but nowhere else in their cage. If you let your ferret outside to play in the house, take a sponge or paper towel and wipe vanilla extract on the walls around the litter box. The ferret will smell the vanilla and will easily find the litter box.
Things to Remember
As mentioned earlier, ferrets under stress may have temporary relapses in their litter box behavior. The introduction of a new pet into the household, too much smoke in the house or the loss of a companion, can affect a ferret's state of mind and, consequently, his bathroom behavior. Be patient and just keep reinforcing appropriate litter box use. Here are some helpful tips:
- Initially, keep ferret confined to cage with a litter box.
- Observe your ferret to make sure he is using the box. If your ferret seems to prefer another area of the cage, move the litter box to there.
- Once your ferret is using the litter box in the cage, let him out of cage in a limited space, under close supervision. Place a second litter box outside of the cage in this space.
- Place the ferret in the litter box before taking him out to play, and frequently take him to the litter box during play time.
- If you notice your ferret backing into a corner, take him/her to the litter box at once.
- Whenever the ferret uses the litter box, make sure he/she gets lots of praise and possibly a favorite treat, to help reinforce this behavior.
- Never punish your ferret for mistakes. Gently place your ferret in the litter box if caught in the act, but this must be immediate to have the greatest effect.
- Once your ferret is using the litter box outside of the cage, gradually increase the space the ferret can roam in.
- Add more litter boxes as necessary as a ferret likely won't go too far in search of a box.
- Be flexible about the placement of litter boxes - if your ferret seems to prefer a particular place as a toilet, put a litter box there.
- If your ferret wants to use an inconvenient location, place a litter box there and gradually move it out of the way.
- If your ferret begins having accidents, go back to the confinement or limited space with supervision stage and begin again.
- Use a low walled litter box. You may also want to leave a little waste in the litter box to make it clear that it is the toilet area.
- In the cage, put in lots of blankets and towels around the box to clearly separate the bed and bathroom areas.
- Be patient and consistent, and expect a few accidents as ferrets usually don't litter train perfectly all at once. Constant supervision while ferret is out of the cage will be necessary during the early stages.