What’s more pleasant than a freshly washed ferret? Not a thing! The fur is soft and fluffy. The gentle fragrance is delightful. Of course, the ferret often has a few complaints about the whole bathing process. Most ferrets are not terribly fond of water (but give them a dish of water to drink and watch them splash it all over themselves!). When you want to give your ferret a bath (not more often than twice a month, please), you’ll need to know a few basics to make it more pleasant — or less chaotic — for both you and your ferret.
Gather your supplies. You can choose from any number of terrific-smelling ferret shampoos. It’s important to get a shampoo specifically formulated for ferrets so it doesn’t dry the skin or cause irritation. We usually choose one that has a mild fragrance because of our allergies; you can choose whichever brand smells best to you. You can even choose a tearless brand, if you prefer. If your ferret has a flea problem, you can choose a flea shampoo made just for ferrets. Ferret shampoos leave your ferret’s coat soft and fluffy, but sometimes your ferret might need a little extra conditioning for his coat. For this you can choose a rinse-out or leave-in coat conditioner. You can use colognes and deodorizers to keep your ferret smelling sweet between baths (make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions). Because your ferret will not be very happy when he’s wet, you’ll want to make sure he can dry off quickly. A sack made specifically to dry a just-washed ferret is a great choice for getting the little guy dry and warm in no time. Other good choices are a drying towel (chamois) made from special absorbent material or regular bath towels warmed in your dryer. If you don’t have time for a bath or if it’s just too cold, you can try a dry shampoo, also made specifically for ferrets.
Once you have all your supplies together, you need to get the technique down. One of the most important things to remember about ferrets is that their body temperature is normal at about 102 degrees. This means that even if the water feels luke-warm to you, it feels cold to them. Make sure the bath water is warm enough; this will help keep your ferret calm during the bath.
Depending on your circumstances, you might choose to bathe your ferret in a bathtub, a kitchen sink, or in the shower with you. It’s not a good idea to bathe ferrets outdoors, as they are small and will get cold when they are wet (not to mention the danger of escape!). We make sure the house is warm at ferret bath time, so none of the ferrets catches a chill.
Wherever you choose to bathe your ferret, be sure to support her completely while she’s in the water. Although ferrets can swim, most of them become a bit nervous when they aren’t the ones who’ve chosen to jump in the water. Making your ferret feel secure will help her overcome any fear of baths.
Water temperature is important, but all the warm water in the world won’t help if you pour cold shampoo on your ferret. Either warm the shampoo by putting the bottle in warm water or apply the shampoo to your hands to warm it up before putting it on your ferret. Once you apply the shampoo, massage it deep into your ferret’s fur. Especially during the winter months, a ferret’s coat can be very thick. Pay extra attention to your ferret’s tail, especially if he has blackheads. A little extra rubbing on the tail can help remove those pesky things.
Running water can sometimes startle a ferret, so try not to run the water too fast. After shampooing, make sure you rinse your ferret completely. Run your fingers down through his coat to make sure there’s no shampoo residue left on his skin (this can cause dry skin and itching). This is also a good time to check your ferret’s skin for any odd lumps or bumps that may need veterinary attention. Once a ferret is comfortable with bathing, we usually (carefully!) run the water over the ferret to rinse him, making sure water and shampoo don’t get into the ferret’s ears or eyes. Alternatively, you can fill a pitcher with warm water and pour it over your ferret to rinse him.
A wet ferret is usually a bit frantic to get dry. It may help to keep your ferret in a contained area to make sure he doesn’t roll through any dust while he’s wet. A pile of warm towels in a dry bathtub works. As does a specially designed sack for drying. Not all ferrets figure out that rubbing against dry material dries them off. You can help by rubbing your ferret with a towel or chamois until she gets the idea.
Bath time is also a good time to clean ears and clip nails. Ear cleaning solution made specifically for ferrets will help to loosen waxy debris. Wipe the ears with a cotton ball or swab. If you’re using a cotton swab, do not allow the swab to enter the ear canal (damage may result). Good, sharp nail clippers make quick work of trimming ferret claws. A few drops of an oil-based coat supplement on the belly or on a plate will distract your ferret and make nail trimming easy.
All ferrets agree, a little after-bath treat really hits the spot.
-Mary R. Shefferman
This article was originally published at FerretStoreInteractive.com in 2004.