Litter Box Training
excepted from a brochure published by the Ferret Association of Connecticut
Ferrets are, by their nature, very clean, latrine animals – meaning they prefer to use certain selected sites for their toilet. Ferrets have small, fast digestive systems. Like busy children, they may be happily playing and then suddenly realize they need to “go.” Additionally, ferrets are predators but because of their small size, they are also prey animals and among their natural enemies are hawks and eagles. They prefer to back into a corner where they can be sure something isn’t going to attack them in a vulnerable moment.
Many books and stores promote ferrets as easily trained to litter boxes. Unlike a cat, a ferret doesn’t care about “digging in” its feces and so to a ferret, a box of litter is often seen as a great toy. Many people find it far easier to train a ferret to use a couple layers of newspaper, placed flat like you would for a puppy or folded up slightly against the wall.
Ferrets can be trained to litter boxes with a little effort. Like cats, mother ferrets with good litter habits will train their kits for you. Unfortunately, young ferrets are often taken from their mothers too early – the jill herself may have been housed without an appropriate litter spot. If mom didn’t or couldn’t, you get to fill the void in their education.
Complicating the situation further is the frequent habit of pet stores to house young ferrets in a great big litter box. By not maintaining a separate litter spot for the animals or just putting shavings in a cage and placing several animals inside, there is no “special” place and they consider everywhere the latrine. Small wonder you get them home and they go all over!
Armed with these facts about ferret behavior and a little background on the root of poor litter box habits, almost any problem can be overcome. Remember, they aren’t trying to be “bad.” They just need to learn what you want from them.
First – NEVER slap, yell, “stick their nose in it” or otherwise hurt a ferret for eliminating in the “wrong” place. All they will learn is that pooping equals punishment. Imagine what sort of lifelong toilet neurosis you’d suffer if that’s how you’d been potty trained as a child!
Second – While you are in retraining mode, insist that your ferret use it’s litter box or papers in their cage before you let them come out. If you do not cage your ferret, during this critical retraining period, consider using a cage or confining your ferret in a small area like a bathroom. (A frequent problem with young ferrets is giving them too much room too soon. It would be the equivalent of letting a baby lose in a stadium…It’s just all too overwhelming.)
Third – Watch them carefully. Especially with a youngster, they need to eliminate almost immediately upon waking. If you see them make the classic “backing up” movement, quickly and gently move them into the litter box or onto the newspapers if nearby. They aren’t dumb; they will get the message.
Fourth – Work with rewards. When they use the spot you choose, or even if they piddle after you’ve moved them there, give them praise and a treat. You can’t imagine how fast a clever ferret will learn backing up in the “right” corner – whether they need to use it or not – will earn them a cookie!
Ferrets may choose to eliminate underneath a chair, cabinet, or bed, so be sure to block those areas until your pet has learned not to use them. (Turning an area into a bed is a good way to discourage its use as a toilet.) Be aware many ferrets will choose right in front of a door or barrier as their bathroom – they know there’s something exciting on the other side they can’t get to. We think it’s a form of protest!
Communicating your wants to your ferret isn’t hard, you simply have to understand how to “talk” to them. Patience, kindness and consistency is always key when working with your pet.