The Ferret Owners Manual

TRAINING

Litter box Litter box training is one of the first items on most new owner’s agenda. If the kit was kept in a confined area where a litter box was always available, chances are that he at least knows what a litter box is used for. The idea of a confined area with a litter box is a good beginning regardless of the age of the ferret. Just remember, “Ferrets are not for the fastidious.”

A ferret is not a natural litter box user like a cat.  A ferret is more like a dog that you want to paper train.  Supervision and consistancy are the keys.  A dog won’t naturally go to a paper to relieve itself if you let it go anywhere/anytime.  You have to watch the dog, and when you see it act like it’s going to “go” you carry it to the newspaper, make it stay there, then praise it and reward it.  If  you don’t show it what you want, and are inconsistant, it simply won’t learn.  Same with a ferret.  The first thing in the morning when it wakes up, put it in the litter box.  Make it stay there until it goes, reward and praise as it goes.  Supervise during the day; carry and reward what you want it to do.

The first day home, the ferret should be confined to a small area – if necessary, to his cage – while he gets used to the sights, sounds and smells of his new surrounding. The domestic ferret is a “clean” animal. He will relieve itself well away from his source of food and his sleeping area. Keep a close eye on your new pet. If you see him using the litter box for its intended purpose, lavishly praise him and give him a drop of diluted Ferretone/Linatone as a reward. If he begins to relieve itself elsewhere, shout a loud “NO!” pick him up and place him in the litter box. Make sure he finishes there; praise him and give him the Ferretone/Linatone treat.

After that first day or so, give him the freedom of a room. You may have noticed that the ferret always uses a corner of the litter box. In the room he will also tend to use corners. Place litter boxes in strategic corners of the room. It’s also a good idea to place strips of plastic carpet runner, newspapers or vinyl flooring samples under each of the litter boxes to protect carpets from accidents. It may also be a good idea to place the runners in corners where there is no litter box. Again repeat the close-observations-and-reward when your ferret uses the litter box, or the shoutand-carry when he does not.

Most ferrets very quickly learn that he gets a treat when he goes to the litter box. After a while they may frequently run there and pretend to relieve themselves just to get the reward. They are great actors and actresses.

If you notice that your ferret is backing up to the litter box, but relieving himself just in front of it, you might try cutting down the front of the box. A ferret will often simply back up until he feels something against his backside, then take a step or two forward and let loose. Cutting down the front side of the box to about 1-11/2 inches may help.

When the ferret is using the litter box regularly, you can expand his territory. Repeat this gradually until he has the run of your home (or at least those areas where you are willing to allow him to roam). Litter boxes will usually be required in each room, however. The ferret is very careful about protecting his food and bedding from his waste-products. Outside of those areas, he really doesn’t see the reason for the fuss. If a litter box is available and they can get to it in time, they figure, “Great!” If they can’t, “Hey, my food is way over there, and my bedding it way down there. What’s the problem?” You can use this to your advantage by placing part of his bedding or a dish of his food in the corner you don’t want him to use and you don’t want to put a litter box. Chances are good that he won’t use that area as long as the bedding or food dish are present.

If the extended freedom proves too much for his litter-training program, reduce the area and try again. Very few ferrets will be 100% “accurate,” 100% of the time. Most ferret owners would be overjoyed with even 85%. One new owner asked me “How can I keep my ferret from going to the bathroom on my kitchen linoleum?” My answer, “Take up the linoleum!”

“Accidents do happen.” Ferrets often find places to relieve themselves through smell. If they went there once, they’ll probably continue using that spot. You can reduce that likelihood, either by giving up and putting a litter box there; or by a thorough cleaning with a good cleaner or a mixture of 1/4 white vinegar and 3/4 club soda. Some of the enzyme based cleaners made for pet stains also work well. Don’t use a cleaner with ammonia. Urine contains ammonia and the smell of the ammonia in the cleaner will send the wrong message.

A ferret will not use a litter box he considers too dirty. Clean the box on a regular basis, but not too clean. Leave a small bit of waste, or a little soiled litter. Otherwise they may think that you got them a new sandbox, and will have a GREAT time digging in it and throwing the litter everywhere.

While on the subject of cleaning the litter box – a warning on using cleaners [containing phenylphenol (Lysol and others) – either spray or liquid. This | chemical disinfectant, is believed to be very toxic to ferrets. If you disinfect the ‘litter box with such a cleaner, rinse and air-dry thoroughly before allowing your ferret to use it again. Don’t spray it near the ferret or allow the ferret to walk on the floor of the area where it was used until the floor has been thoroughly washed and rinsed and dried.

Biting – Puppies bite, kittens bite, children bite. For some reason many people think that a bite by a ferret kit is a sign that it is a “wild, vicious, animal.”

With a kit, biting is usually a part of his normal play activities. If you’ve ever watched a group of kits playing, you’ve probably wondered how they can keep from hurting one another. The answer is an unusually tough skin. Ever try to vaccinate one? The term “shoe leather” comes to mind.

Biting from the older ferret is relatively rare compared to the dog or cat, and is often a sign of either an untrained or an abused animal. Even these older animals will quickly respond to kindness, firmness, consistency, and genuine affection.

Should he nip a little too hard, a firm “NO!” will let him know that he has done wrong; especially if this is accompanied by “scruffing” i.e., holding the ferret up by the loose skin on the back of the neck and giving him a light, firm (not violent) shake. Afterwards, continue to hold him and talk soothingly. If he behaves, perhaps a taste of Ferretone will help reinforce his good behavior.


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