Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The myth about descenting

Recently, while perusing the classified ads, I cam across this ad
"I am looking to adopt two young ferrets into my family. I do have experience with ferrets and absolutely love them. I am hoping to buy two ferrets that already have their scent glands removed and hopefully are fixed. I would prefer a male and a female but that does not really matter."

The ad seems friendly, the prospective owner pleasant... so what is wrong with this ad? Well, this portion: "two ferrets that already have their scent glands removed and hopefully are fixed." This portion of the ad reminded me of a familiar conversation that I often hear at pet stores regarding ferrets. The conversation goes something like this: "Don't ferrets stink?" "No, these ones are de-scented." In reality, de-scenting a ferret does not affect the animal's day to day odor, so what does de-scenting mean and why is it done?

De-scenting is: the removal of a ferret's anal scent glands. The myth is that this reduces a ferret's overall day to day body odor. The reality is that it does not. Anal scent glands are used by ferrets much the same way that skunks use anal scent glands - that is to emit a strong smelling 'POOF' when upset or startled. The difference, of course, is that unlike a skunk's, a ferret's 'POOF' is short lives and easily cleaned out. The ferret's musky odor comes not from a single set of glands, but from glands located throughout the animal's body.

So, why de-scent a ferret? Well, the most commonly used argument - that is the one that many large mills that practice de-scenting use is that by de-scenting a ferret, you are avoiding future problems such as impacted or infected anal glands. While my experience with de-scented ferrets is admittedly limited, from what I can gather from ferret owners in Europe and Britain where ferrets are not de-scented, as well as from breeders who do not descent their animals, impacted and infected anal glands are not common. The second possibility - and this is my theory, not confirmed by any large breeder - is that ferrets are de-scented as part of a marketing gimmick. People that know little about the animals or are on the fence about ferrets purchase because they have heard about how ferrets smell are more likely to buy a ferret that is advertised as being de-scented. 

But your ferret doesn't smell that strongly... I've heard this from quite a few people, especially when doing ferret info days. I will hear about how their ferret or their friends ferret has or had a stronger odor, or the babies in the pet store smell more strongly, you must wash yours more often... In reality, my ferrets - de-scented or not - smell like ferrets. Baby ferrets in pet stores smell more strongly, but then again so do pet store puppies - its the location more than the animal. Ferrets tend to smell more strongly when they are stressed. Pet stores are stressful. Many people do not know how to care properly for ferrets, and my guess is that many "friend's ferrets" are not properly cared for - that is to say that their cages are not regularly cleaned and their bedding changed, they are not fed high quality kibble, and are confined to a small space most of the time. Some of the ferrets may also be sick as sick ferrets tend to smell more strongly, others may be well cared for but whole (un neutered) ferrets, or simply washed far too frequently.