Stress Free Litterbox Training for Ferrets

Training ferrets to use the litterbox can be a challenge, but with consistency most of them will take to it very well.  Elimination behavior in ferrets is a little different than in dogs and cats.  Ferrets back into a corner to eliminate and are naturally inclined to select a specific bathroom area. Because of the nature of their intestinal tract, ferrets eliminate frequently. They will likely need to use the bathroom after eating, playing or sleeping so those are good times to place your ferret in the litterbox. The first step to success is to offer an appropriate box and litter.

Choosing the right box and litter:

  • Litterboxes should have low sides (for easy entry into the box) and a high corner (to prevent accidental spills when the ferret backs up into the corner). Commercial ferret litterboxes are available (see:  http://www.drsfostersmith.com/product/prod_display.cfm?c=17342+17354+17592&pcatid=17592)
  • Pelleted litters, such as those made with recycled newspapers, are best because they are safer for ferrets’ respiratory systems.  Sawdust litters generally area also acceptable unless your ferret is allergic to its components. (See: http://www.ferret.com/item/marshall-ferret-litter/650684/)
  • Ferrets tend to avoid scented litters so those are not ideal.
  • Clay and clumping litters are not recommended as the dust is damaging to ferrets’ respiratory system and the clumping litters pose a risk of intestinal obstruction if the ferrets ingest the litter.
  • Ideally, do a litter preference trial by offering your ferret different safe litters in different boxes to see which kind your ferret likes best.
  • Use only a small amount (less than 1 inch deep) of litter as ferrets do not bury their waste. This will reduce their desire to use the litterbox as a digging pit.

Litter training in the cage:

  • You may want to start by placing boxes in all available corners of the cage and removing some of them as your ferret picks a favorite one. Be sure that the boxes are secured to the sides of the cage so that they cannot be tipped over.
  • Reward your ferret (e.g. with praise, treats, or playtime) for using the litterbox if you happen to be there.
  • To discourage ferrets from using other spots, crowd other corners with items such as toys and blankets or their food and water as they will keep those areas clean.
  • If you have been having issues in a multilevel cage, you can try temporarily restricting your ferret to only 1 solid level by replacing above levels with hammocks.

Litter training outside of the cage

  • If at all possible you should wait until your ferret has eliminated in the cage and then let the ferret out a reward.
  • Place litterboxes in all corners of the room. Remember that to a ferret a corner is not necessarily only made with walls. Furniture can create many extra corners and you will need to protect those areas or at least crowd them as you might in the cage.  Pee pads can be used in less desirable corners for protection in the event that your ferret does not use one of the litterboxes.
  • Watch your ferret and note any location preference so you can put a box in that spot.
  • If you catch your ferret backing into an inappropriate spot, you can pick him up and move him to the litterbox. Remember to give him reinforcement for eliminating in the litterbox even if you had to place him there.
  • Never punish your ferret for eliminating in the wrong spot. This will make your ferret afraid of you and may lead to the ferret trying to use places you are less likely to find.
  • If your ferret has gone to the bathroom outside of the box, thoroughly clean the area with a pet odor removal cleaner (see http://www.petco.com/product/8438/Natures-Miracle-Just-for-Ferrets-Stain-And-Odor-Remover.aspx). Residual odors will attract your ferret to return to that spot.
Alice Tong