Wednesday, February 16, 2011

De-MISS-tifying ferret toilet habits

In a fun Q & A format, along with some "trouble shooting" because that is a funny term. 

Q: Can ferrets be litter trained?
A: Sorta. Ferrets CANNOT be litter trained like CATS; their litter habits are varied with some ferrets sporting a 90% hit rate, and others barely averaging a 50% hit rate.

Q: Why do some ferrets use the litter more often than others?

A: Because. In reality, the answers to this question vary as much as the ferrets themselves. Litters may be too few and far between - ferrets are not able to travel a long distance to get to their litters - when they gotta go, they gotta go NOW! Some ferrets avoid their litter because they find it too dirty or too clean, others dislike the size and shape of the pan. Some ferrets are fussy over litter type, others prefer to use paper or puppy pads, and of course, some ferrets are just plain too lazy to bother making the trip ALL THE WAY to the litter box, even if it is just a few feet away. And of course, then you just have those ferrets that insist on going in a certain area because they believe that it SHOULD be a litter box... We even had one boy that would REFUSE to use the same litter for #1 AND #2... if he did #2 in the litter, he would not use the same litter to do #1... he would also refuse to use the litter is another ferret had used it before him.

Q: Is there anything that I can do to improve my ferret's hit rate? 
A: YES! Fortunately, you can take steps to improve your ferret's hit rate 2-50%, depending on the ferret! These steps include: asking your ferret to use his or her litter before being given full roam for play time (and not letting them our for playtime until they do so), increasing the number of litters in for them to use, placing litters strategically (for example: near their favourite sleeping spot or in a 'frequently used' corner), trying out different types of litter and litter boxes, ensuring that the litter boxes are big enough and easy for the ferret to get in and out of, and placing the ferret IN the box after it has woken up from a nap. Other helpful tips include the occasional treat to re-enforce good litter habits and placing beds, treats or objects in corners that you do not want the ferret to use. I, personally, have had success with adding puppy pads next to or in front of litter boxes as an alternative... some people have had similar success with paper.

Q: Why does my ferret leave little poops when we visit friend's houses?
A: Some ferrets - especially (but not exclusively) dominant ones - will mark their territory by leaving a 'present' so that other ferrets know that they were there, and that this area is theirs. I find the "little poops" increase in frequency when I have visiting ferrets, or two groups of ferrets.

Q: I want to buy/ adopt a ferret, but don't want them to ruin my floor/ carpet/ don't want to have to clean up after them. How can I make my ferret use the litter all the time?
A: You can't. If this is a really big deal to you, get a cat or a small, litter trained dog; a ferret is not the pet for you.

Q: I've read all about how ferrets can't be perfectly litter trained, but if I follow all the ferret litter training and litter usage advice, won't that mean that my ferret will have above average or perfect litter habits?
A: Don't hold your breath... or maybe you should... hard to say in this situation, but either way NO! Your ferret may be great at using the litter, but then again, even with using all the tips and tricks known to man, it is possible that your ferret will only have a 50% hit rate on good days. This is a reality of ferret ownership; if you cannot accept this, do not get a ferret.

Q: My ferret misses a lot. Are there any disciplinary techniques that I can use to discourage missing?
A: No. Stop wasting your time. A firm "NO" and then placing the ferret in the litter may help you feel better, and you may even get lucky and have a ferret that will take this hint, but in general disciplining or caging ferrets, spraying or giving them a time out will stress your pet out, frustrate you, and do nothing to improve their litter habits.

TROUBLE SHOOTING: Suggestions that may help some people with some ferrets.

My ferret misses in his cage all the time.
Try adding a second litter to his cage; if this is not feasible, try placing a bed, food or water dish in this area. Be sure to keep his existing litter well scooped. For awkward areas, or stubborn ferrets, try placing a plush treat holder above the area (after cleaning and disinfecting it) - these can be effective as if they attach to the cage, the ferret cannot move the treat holder (they can move food and water dishes and toys or beds) and must take the food out of the holder to eat it (turning the 'toilet' into an eating area) - but you have to be sure to refill the holder before putting your ferret to bed. Some owners have had luck with placing a 'weird feeling' surface in the area to stop the ferret from going there, and I've even seen people placing objects in the cage (such as a Scooby Doo phone) to prevent the ferret from missing!

My ferret poops NEXT to his litter box all the time.
Try placing puppy pads, newspaper or trays next to the litter as an alternative. Try switching litter to see if he or she simply dislikes the feel of the litter, make sure that the litter box is not too high on all sides (it should be easy for the ferret to get in to - so low on at least one side), and make sure that the pans are large enough to fit the entire ferret - some ferrets will refuse to use a litter that they do not fit comfortably (all four paws down) in.

My ferret poops in front of the door ALL THE TIME. I can't place objects there as it is my main entrance/ exit and I have to let pets out.
 If placing a litter, puppy pad or deterrent object is not feasible, be sure to keep a spray bottle of soap and water as well as some paper towel handy to clean up the messes. Oh, and if you notice your ferret heading to that area, especially after a nap, it wouldn't hurt plop him or her in a litter.