Do Ferrets Smell? The Truth About Their Musk

A scene from The Big Lebowski where the villains use a ferret to "terrorize" Jeff Bridges.
"Ahh... Nice Marmot," said the Dude in the cult film The Big Lebowski.

Ever since ferrets became one of the most popular domesticated pets, there have been a slew of people bashing them. There is no rhyme or reason behind the general public finding the furry mammal unpleasant, but there has definitely been a backlash towards them.

A member of the weasel family, ferrets can live a healthy 10-year span and usually weigh no more than 2 lbs. According to animal experts, ferrets have likely been used as pets for more than 2,500 years. There is also evidence to suggest that they were originally bred and trained to hunt rabbits in certain parts of the world, which makes sense because they're excellent burrowers.

By nature, ferrets are docile creatures. They sleep nearly 18 hours a day and love to nuzzle into cozy places like clothes hampers, blankets or their own cage. When they are awake, they adore playing with their owners and recklessly running around at "full speed." Sadly, these adorable critters have received a lot of bad press. Many people believe that they stink like a skunk and others believe they are oversized rodents and some have said that they're ill tempered.

Will a Ferret Make My House Smell?

Every animal has their own unique smell (think of a puppy's breath), and ferrets are no different. However, ferrets get a bad rap because they have a gland similar to skunks that can secrete a strong scent. In the wild, this gland helps scare away predators and can also be used as a mating signal. Yet, this is rarely what makes a ferret smell.

For years, it has been common practice in the United States to have nearly all of the ferrets de-scented. The process has these glands or sacs removed which stops them from spraying their odor. In tune, this also reduces the amount of hormones in the ferret, which reduces a musky smell greatly.

When ferrets are de-scented, they're usually neutered or "fixed," too. Having a ferret neutered is essential to keeping a fresh smelling home. When it becomes mating season, it is a regular ritual for ferrets to groom themselves with urine to make them more attractive to the opposite sex. Yuck! Not only does this sound gross, but it also makes them smell. Luckily, ferrets that are de-scented and fixed do not display this type of behavior and smell no worse than your common cat or dog.

Most veterinarians agree that an ideal age for ferrets to be neutered and de-scented is five to seven months of age.

Making Sure Your Ferret Stays Smelling Sweet

Since ferrets can be a bit mischievous when they are awake, it's a good idea to keep them clean. It's not uncommon for ferrets to crawl into pillowcases, pants pockets or couch cushions, so keeping them fresh is always a good idea.
  • Bathing: Just like cats, ferrets are actually pretty good about grooming themselves. Unfortunately, many new ferret owners insist on regularly bathing their furry friend. Shampooing a ferret too much rids them of necessary oils in their fur and can cause flakey skin that can increase their odors. Usually bathing two or three times a year is good enough to keep them clean.
  • Cleaning The Ears: Ferrets produce earwax... lots of it. Because they were made to burrow in dirt, the excess earwax is supposed to stop dirt and grime from getting deep in the ear canal. Unfortunately, it can also add to a musky smell. Cleaning your ferret's ears with a cotton swab and kitten-friendly ear cleaner can make their faces smell a lot sweeter.
  • Bad Breath: Ferrets can't eat Tic Tacs, so it's your job to make sure their breath doesn't smell bad. Tooth decay can quickly make your ferret unpopular, so it's vital that you brush their teeth and gums regularly.

As you can see, it's possible for a ferret to be a bit stinky. If you meet a ferret that doesn't have their ears cleaned, has never been neutered and has a build-up of tartar, there will definitely be some musky smell involved. However, a responsible ferret owner can easily take some preventative steps into making sure that their ferret is the sweetest smelling pet on the block.

If you're looking for some Fun Gifts for Your Ferret, be sure to ask the pet experts at by calling 800-957-5753. The animal lovers are more than happy to answer any questions about any of the pet products that we carry in our catalogue.

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