How to litter train my ferret?
Can ferrets be litter trained? Are litter boxes or puppy pads better?
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Ferrets are naturally clean creatures. Without any training they will poop away from their food, water, and beds.
They are also habit-forming creatures, so the younger you start litter training the better. An older ferret that was kept in a dirty cramped cage for its whole life will have a hard time adjusting, because it was never given the chance to develop clean habits.
Inside the Cage
First, some general tips for cages:
- Use large rectangular litter boxes, not triangular ones. Most ferrets prefer to get their whole body completely inside the box.
- Use a box with a shallow opening. Especially since they tend to back into corners, they won't want to lift their body into the box if it's too tall of an opening.
- These are the litter boxes I recommend. I hate to recommend anything made by Marshall, but unfortunately there just aren't any other options.
- Use one litter box per floor (shelves don't need them).
- Scoop the poop and wet litter out and replace it with fresh litter daily.
- Always keep the boxes in the same spots and pointing in the same direction. If you move or even rotate your boxes, they won't expect that and will go on the floor.
- If they go on the floor, make sure to clean it thoroughly (both the plastic floor and any fleece covering). Once they associate the smell with that area they will keep going in that spot.
Now what to do if you've followed all of that and they're still not using the box consistently?
If your ferret uses the box a little bit but mostly poops on the floor, you may think that they're dirty or messy. But actually it's often the opposite! What happens is they use the box first, and then the second time they go to use it, they see the poop in it, and don't want to step in it, so then they go on the floor. They're actually cleaner than average and don't want to use a litter box that has already been used.
So in your case, you'll need to change the litter more frequently. I would start with changing it immediately every time you notice poop. If you notice the behavior improving and them using the litter box consistently, then you can gradually drop down to twice a day, and then finally once a day.
Another mistake is putting a small corner litter box in addition to the large one. They're not going to use that. What you should do instead is clean the area thoroughly, and then put a bed in that spot. Preferably a bulkier bed, not something flat like a sleep sack. They won't want to poop on their own beds, and if it's bulky, they won't even want to stand on top of it.
Outside the Cage
Outside the cage, ferrets again will naturally gravitate towards corners.
- I recommend using puppy pads over litter boxes around the house, because they drag their bottoms and will get your floors dirty.
- Again, they are clean creatures and will not want to step in their own poop. If the puppy pad is covered in poop, they're not going to keep using it and will start going on the floor next to it. So change the pads more frequently.
Ferrets are incredibly fast learners.
- If you notice your ferret using the box/pad, give them a treat immediately. It needs to be within a few seconds of them finishing for them to associate the treat with the good deed.
- While giving the treat, repeat a phrase over and over again, like "Good job!" It doesn't matter what the phrase is, just use the same phrase each time. Now they will have two things to associate with using the pad - a sound and a treat.
- Never use negative reinforcement! Don't yell at your ferret or hit it on the nose or anything like that.
- Consistency is important! If you're trying to train them, you need to be consistent. If you just reward them here and there randomly, they're not going to connect the dots. But if you're consistent over a short period of time they'll learn quickly. So for example if you're on Christmas break and are able to keep a close eye on them for a full week, that would be a good time to work on training.
- No ferret will be perfect. Especially as they get older they will start to make mistakes. Older ferrets don't have as much control and can't "hold it" even if they want to. You need to be patient and be ready to clean when there are mistakes.
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