An Owners Guide to Ferret Grooming
By Mary Van Dahm
CLEANING YOUR FERRET’S EARS
Ferrets’ ears are prone to earwax. This is normal and does not necessarily mean that your ferret has ear mites or an ear infection. Cleaning your ferret’s ears once or twice a month helps reduce the risk of bacterial build up, which can lead to ear infections, and helps you monitor for ear mites to prevent them from spreading, should one of your pets pick them up somewhere and bring them into the house.
MATERIALS TO USE
COTTON SWABS: Cotton swabs are the instrument of choice for cleaning ferrets’ ears. The ferret’s ear canal is shaped like an “L” and as long as you work gently, there is no risk to the ferret’s ears.
CLEANING SOLUTIONS: Ear cleaning solutions made for kittens and cats are usually safe for ferrets. Peroxide is another alternative in moderation. Do not use mineral oil, except as a softening agent for dried earwax. Be sure to clean it out thoroughly and follow with a drying agent or ear cleaner. If left in the ear, mineral oil can encourage the growth of bacteria and possibly cause ear infections. Do not use plain water, either, since water cannot dissolve the earwax, which is an oil-based material.
PROCEDURE: Pick up your ferret by grabbing his scruff (The loose patch of skin on his neck above his shoulder blades) and hold him up so his feet cannot touch any surfaces. Most ferrets will go limp when this is done properly. Hold the ferret over a table or counter so that if he does wiggle free, or you lose your grip, he won’t just fall to the floor! Pour a little ear cleaning solution into a small container, such as a jar lid. Dip the cotton swabs into the solution as needed.
Clean the outer ear first to avoid pushing excess dirt into the ear canal. Use a wet cotton swab first, then a dry one to soak up excess moisture. Repeat as needed using fresh swabs until no more dirt or wax is visible. Use the same procedure for the ear canal using a scooping/ twirling motion to prevent pushing wax deeper into the ears. Do not use the same swabs on both ears – always use fresh ones. This helps prevent the spread of mites or bacteria from ear to ear.
TRIMMING YOUR FERRET’S NAILS
Trim your ferret’s nails at least once a month. Most ferrets need to have their nails trimmed more often. Trimming your ferret’s nails not only helps keep them blunt, so they aren’t as likely to scratch you; it helps keep your ferret from snagging his nails on bedding and carpets. Ferrets have been known to actually tear a nail out by the roots when they’ve caught it on something. This is extremely painful to the ferret, and may require a trip to the veterinarian for stitches and antibiotics.
MATERIALS TO USE
CLIPPERS: Cat claw scissors or clippers are fine. Simple fingernail or toenail clippers for people can also be used. Stay away from heavy dog nail clippers as you may not be able to judge how far up the nail you are and you may end up cutting into the blood vein or “quick”.
KWIK-STOP/STYPTIC POWDER: Keep these items on hand in case you cut too far up the nail and bleeding ensues. Baking soda or cornstarch may also be used, but they are not as sterile.
PROCEDURE: MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE IN A WELL LIT AREA SO YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THE QUICK (The pink part of the nail)! Trim the nail up to about 1/8 inch of the quick. Do not trim any closer or you might hit the nerve endings that extend beyond the tip of the quick.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can trim your ferret’s nails while he is asleep. Realistically, you will usually have to deal with a wide-awake critter. If you have a partner, he can scruff and hold the ferret while you do the clipping. If you are doing this alone, one of the best ways to get the job done is to distract the ferret with a treat while you clip his nails. This can be done by laying the ferret on his back in your lap and putting a dab of cat hairball remedy, or another treat, on his belly. While your ferret is preoccupied with licking his stomach, you can trim his nails. With practice you can get the job done without the ferret knowing what happened!
Wet grooming is simply another term for bathing. Some ferrets like water and for them (and you!) bathing will be no problem. Others seem to have a cat’s aversion to the pastime and may put up a fuss.
MATERIALS TO USE
SHAMPOO: A mild shampoo made for ferrets or cats is fine. Baby shampoo may be used, but does not leave the coat as soft and shiny.
TOWELS: Several large bath towels – one to rub the ferret with, and others to lay on the floor so he can rub himself on them.
WATER LOVERS: For this group of ferrets, almost any sink or tub is fine. Some even enjoy a shower or being sprayed with a sprayer in the kitchen sink. Simply wet the ferret down in his favorite manner; apply a small amount of shampoo to his upper back; and massage the lather up to his ears and down to his tail. Be sure not to get soap in his eyes or ears. Rinse him thoroughly and then dry him off.
HYDROPHOBES: For ferrets that are afraid of water, I recommend the “double dip” method. Set up both sides of a double sink with warm water (If you don’t have a double sink, a single sink and a dish pan can be used). Dip the ferret into the first side of the sink holding him securely under his chest and hindquarters. While still supporting him under his chest, lift him out of the water and apply a small amount of shampoo. Work the shampoo up to his ears and down to his tail. You generally don’t have to wash a ferret’s underside unless fleas are a problem and you are using a flea shampoo (Use one that’s safe for kittens). Talk to the ferret as you bathe him. Use soothing tones. This will help him relax. When you are done lathering him, dip him back into the first sink to get rid of most of the shampoo, then into the second sink to rinse off the rest. Using a cup to pour the water over him can be helpful, too. Run your fingers through the coat to loosen up any shampoo down by the skin. When all traces of shampoo are gone, towel dry your ferret as best as you can. If you don’t mind your carpet getting a little wet, let your ferret loose on the floor with some extra towels and prepare yourself for some funny antics! If you prefer not to let your ferret run amuck, you can place several towels in his cage and leave him in there for 10-20 minutes or until the bulk of the water has left his coat. Don’t forget to remove the wet towels from his cage when he’s done. You don’t want your ferret to have to sleep with wet towels! IMPORTANT NOTE!! If you are letting your ferret dry off in his cage, TAKE THE LITTER PAN OUT or he may decide to dry himself off with the litter and undo all of your work!!
If your ferret has dry skin or a dry coat, apply a little coat conditioner while your ferret’s coat is still damp and work it into the coat and skin with a massaging motion. A simple homemade coat conditioner can be made from a mixture of one part Alpha Keri bath oil and 10 parts water. Shake well before spraying onto the ferret. A treat of a few drops of Linatone or Ferretone would be appropriate at this time, too!
This is a great way to freshen up a ferret between baths or if your ferret is sick and you don’t want to expose him to a chill.
BABY POWDER (Scent free or only lightly scented, if possible) BRUSH – A soft or medium bristled cat brush or baby brush.
A TOWEL OR NEWSPAPER – To put under the ferret.
PROCEDURE: Hold the ferret under his chest and lightly sprinkle him with the baby powder. Fluff the powder into the fur, working it down to the skin. Gently brush the ferret to remove excess powder and loose hair. Your ferret will be “Baby Fresh”!
SKIN AND COAT CARE
THE BEST FOUNDATION FOR YOUR FERRET’S SKIN AND COAT IS A GOOD DIET. Totally Ferret ferret food, or high quality dry kitten foods such as IAMS kitten food or Hill’s Science Diet feline growth formula provide essential fats and amino acids that your ferret needs to keep his coat healthy and shiny. Sometimes, though, in spite of a good diet, your pet may develop a dry coat or skin condition and your ferret may need extra help to maintain his coat, especially if he’s been sick or if the air is very dry in your home. A few drops of Linatone, Ferretone, or a similar product may be given daily for a while to help him produce the extra oils his coat needs. External treatments such as the conditioners mentioned in the wet grooming section may be helpful, too. Apply them 2 to 3 times a week as needed. If none of this works and your ferret still has a chronic dry coat, you may want to take him to the vet for a check up. Your pet’s dry coat can often be caused by illness, such as liver disease or adrenal disease.
DRY FOOT CARE
Most young ferrets do not have foot problems unless they are having a reaction to something in their environment. Perfumed litter or fabric softeners can cause allergic reactions; and unclean cages can cause urine burns or bacterial infections. All of these can show up as red, scaly feet. Sometimes, as ferrets get older, the pads on their feet get dry, scaly and sore. External lubrication with a bit of mineral oil or vaseline can help. Vitamin E creme is excellent, and has the advantage of being absorbed right away so you don’t get greasy paw prints all over the house! Bag Balm is another good choice. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may have to apply the moisturizer every day at first until the condition is under control. After that, once a week should maintain the feet in good condition.
Feeding your ferret dry foods and avoiding soft, sticky treats is the best start for clean, healthy teeth. But even with the best diets some tartar will start to build up on the teeth, especially the molars toward the back of the mouth. Simply scraping the teeth regularly with your fingernail should loosen most of the tartar. If you lack strong nails or do not want to get your fingers that close to your ferret’s teeth, you can gently rub the teeth in an up and down motion with the rounded end of a flat toothpick. A toothbrush made for cats can also be used. Cleaning your ferret’s teeth at least once a week is recommended. Have your veterinarian check your ferret’s teeth at least once a year for general maintenance, or sooner, if your notice any redness along the gum line, or other irregularities. If your ferret already has a heavy build up of tartar, have your veterinarian remove it before you start your maintenance program.
Most ferrets that are kept indoors away from other animals do not get parasites, external or internal. Sometimes, though, we have other pets in the house that bring these pests in with them. Fleas, ticks, and ear mites are the most common parasites that pester ferrets.
FLEAS: These little vermin are hard to get rid of if you get them in your house. Not only must you treat the animal afflicted with them, but you must treat the entire house since fleas can, and will, hop to other parts of the house if they fall off of their host. Fleas spend most of their life cycle off of their host as eggs or larvae before becoming adults, so treatment of the rugs and bedding is important. The fleas themselves are elusive little black bugs about the size of a pinhead. Evidence of fleas can be seen, even if you don’t see the critters themselves. Black flecks of “flea dirt” (feces) can be seen if you push the fur up away from the skin. The ferret should be powdered, sprayed, or bathed with a flea-killing agent that is safe for kittens.
TICKS: Ferrets generally don’t get ticks unless you like to take your pet outside for walks in grassy areas. Unlike fleas; ticks are generally stationary parasites. They find a tender spot, and “dig in”. You may not even notice a tick at first. After a while, though, its gorged body can be seen through the hairs. Ticks swell to many times their normal size when they are full of blood. Care must be taken when removing ticks to get the whole tick off of your pet. Often the head stays inside the pet’s skin and can cause an infection. Since ticks bury their heads inside the skin of the host, many insecticides cannot reach them. Generally “plucking” them out is the best way to remove them. Clean the area with peroxide or alcohol to kill the head, if it did not come out. Treat the site with an antibiotic cream or ointment and watch it for a few days to make sure infection doesn’t occur.
EAR MITES: Regularly treating the ferret’s ears should keep this parasite under control. To check for ear mites, shine a light into your ferret’s ears. The mites can be seen as little white sesame seed shaped bugs crawling around. If you see any, you should take your pet to your veterinarian for ear mite treatment. Pet shops carry ear mite products, which are usually OK only as a preventative agent.
Internal parasites in ferrets are usually only detected by a veterinarian who can check the stool sample under a microscope. Most inside ferrets don’t get internal parasites unless there is a cat in the family that has picked them up from outside and then passes them to the ferret through the use of the same litter box or if another ferret is brought into the household and is a carrier. Internal parasites in ferrets should only be treated by a veterinarian.