By George Godoy
A common mistake ferret owners make is assuming their ferret is naturally inclined to use a litter box like a cat does. This is not true. Ferrets are separated from their mothers at an early age and never receive the stage at which mama ferret teaches them to use a litter box.
With that said ferrets are intelligent, trainable animals. Generally, the easiest way to train a ferret is with positive reinforcement. Simply put, by offering them a reward for performing a behavior you desire.
First: If you don’t have a cage, get one. It is very important that your ferret have a place to sleep, eat, play and use the litter box.
Initially, keep your ferret confined to the cage with a litter box. The ferret needs to get used to a small confined area, and become comfortable using his litter box before you can expand his play and roam areas.
Make sure the litter box covers two sides of the cage and secure it so your ferret cannot move or tip it over. The front lip of the litter box should be low enough to allow your ferret easy access. There are several commercial brands made specifically for ferrets.
Use a dust free litter. I like Marshall Ferret Liter. It is made from specially processed recycled newspaper that stops odor. Avoid scented and clumping sand litters. Because ferrets like to dig, the litter can get caught in their nose or throat. Perfumed litters can harm a ferrets sensitive nasal passages or cause allergic reactions. Never use wood shavings in a ferrets cage. Respiratory problems could develop over a period of time. If you run out of regular litter, shredded newspaper or paper towels are recommended.
At first your ferret may think of his litter box as a place to play. To correct this place some of his feces and urine soaked litter in one corner of the litter box. Ferrets rely on smell to find their toilet, so by smelling their feces and urine in their litter box they will realize this is where they should go to the bathroom. When cleaning the litter box, always put a little feces back in the box until litter training is complete.
Because ferrets have a small digestive tract food will pass through their bodies in just 2-3 hours. Upon waking in the morning your ferret will usually have to use the facilities within five minutes. You may have to place him in the litter box facing the used litter. Only let your ferret out of his cage after he has used his litter box.
Things to remember when litter box training your ferret:
1) Always secure the litter box to the cage. If you don’t your ferret will move it, tip it over and potty behind or next to it.
2) If your ferret starts using other areas of the cage to potty put his water and foods bowls in the spots you don’t want him to go. Also, place bedding in specific areas of the cage. Your ferret will associate these as eating and sleeping places and won’t potty there.
3) Use positive reinforcement – reward your ferret with his favorite treat when he uses the litter box.
4) If your ferret does have an accident move the stool into the litter box. Your ferret finds his litter box by smell. Smelling his feces in the litter box will ensure your ferret will use it again.
5) Never yell or hit your ferret. This is counter productive and will only confuse him. Never discipline your ferret for going outside the litter box after the fact. If you don’t witness the act, punishing your ferret later will not help. He just won’t understand what he’s being punished for.
6) Scoop out the litter box on a daily basis, and wash the litter box on a weekly basis. Remember to keep a little piece of stool in the box.
After a short time it will become habit for your ferret to use the litter box. Patient and consistent training will produce a ferret with good litter habits, which in turn makes for less cleanup time for you and more time for you to enjoy your boundless bundle of joy.
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