Ferrets are brave, curious little weasels. You've probably noticed their unique scent. Ferrets more closely resemble skunks (and slinkies) than rabbits, after all. Water might not phase your ferret; some may even enjoy splashing around and dooking in a shallow bath. That being said, bath time has its place and it's certainly not every week, or even every month.
How often can ferrets take baths?
Ferrets have a naturally musky odor many pet parents are forced to learn to love. Bathing ferrets to get rid of this odor can be counterproductive. Water strips the skin and fur of your ferret's natural oils. This dries out her skin and causes her to produce even more oils than before, creating an even stronger scent. Bathing too often can cause your ferret to become itchy and uncomfortable, too. Ferrets should be bathed no more than monthly, with closer to every three months or longer being preferable, if you need to bathe them at all.
Tips for bathing your ferret
Rather than jumping straight to the main event, start by getting your ferret used to the tub or sink by letting her play around before adding water. If she hasn't experienced water before, make it a pleasant experience rather than a chore. Turn on the faucet to a gentle stream for her to investigate and keep healthy treats handy to add to the fun. You can even add a few of her (waterproof) favorite toys to the tub.
When it's time to get down to business, fill the basin with a few inches of water. While ferrets can swim, they should only do so willingly. Make sure her head is above water and she can comfortably place all four feet firmly on the bottom of the tub. Keep one hand on your ferret at all times so she feels secure.
A ferret's natural body temperature is between 101 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit, so they catch a chill easier than we do. Make sure to keep the water plenty warm (but not boiling hot, of course). You can use a shampoo made especially for ferrets, or just plain water. She'll appreciate it if you run the bottle under hot water first so the shampoo isn't too cold. Be careful not to allow her to get soap or water in the eyes or ears. Rinse her body completely in order to avoid her skin becoming too dry from shampoo residue. You can even look into conditioners made just for ferrets for a full pampering session. This may help prevent the overproduction of those pesky "aromatic" skin oils.
Luckily, ferrets dry off much quicker than rabbits and chinchillas. A blow dryer isn't needed, but wrap them in a warm towel following the bath and make sure the room is toasty without drafts until they're completely dry. She has a natural instinct to dry herself quickly, so you may notice her burrowing under towels. Provide her with clean items to rub against, like fresh blankets in her cage, so she doesn't ruin your efforts in the litter box instead.
Cutting down on odor in between baths
The unique ferret smell you're taking in isn't necessarily just your ferret herself. Use her bath day as an opportunity to clean her belongings as well. Make sure the toys, cage, bedding, and litter are clean. If one of these items is stinky, all of them will follow suit soon enough. Washing fabric items with unscented, dye-free laundry detergent and a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle can keep odors at bay. Keep up with regular cage cleanings, litter changes, and a basic grooming routine. If your ferret is unusually stinky, take a look at her diet and make sure you're only feeding natural treats and not too much junk food.
It won't harm your ferret to get wet, but if she becomes overenthusiastic about baths, take extra precautions to keep her out of harm's way. Toilet bowls, mop buckets, and even dishwashers can become appealing to your party animal. Always supervise her both in and out of the bath for her own safety.
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