Litter: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Believe it or not, what litter you use can make a big difference in how happy you and your family will be living with ferrets. The wrong litter (the Bad) will stink up your house. Dangerous litter (the Ugly) could kill your ferret! But good litter can make your life easier, encourage your ferret to use the litter pan, and keep your house smelling fine.

Okay, let’s start with what NOT to use: clumping litter. That’s definitely in the “Ugly” category. Clumping litter can plug up a ferret’s nose (they’ll snorkel in most anything), its anus (as they “wipe” after pooping) or worst of all, their intestine (an intestinal blockage can kill a ferret if emergency treatment is not obtained immediately). There are reports of entire litters of kittens dying from clumping litter, so it’s not just a ferret thing.

“The Bad” includes litters that have excessive dust, perfumes, wood oils or other chemicals. Wood shavings with any of the aromatic oils left in (especially cedar!) are bad for any small pet’s lungs. Too much dust or perfume is not good, either.

Also included in my “Bad” list is regular clay cat litter. Okay, it might not have that much dust. It might have not perfumes. It’s not going to *hurt* your ferret, but YOU will not be happy after the ferret has urinated in the same corner for a day or two. Clay litter does nothing at all to minimize ammonia production and since the ferret almost always goes in the same corner, they have this problem much more often than cats. It STINKS!

So what’s “Good”? Safe litter for ferrets include newspaper pellets, wood pellets (that have had the oils removed) and corncob or similar products. Some work better than others and everyone has an opinion. My opinion is that the compressed wood pellets are best as far as reducing odors. Be warned, though, some ferrets are allergic to the wood. Not many, but if your ferret’s feet (or skin) turn red after walking on the wood litter, take out the litter immediately and look for something else to use. If, god forbid, your ferret should have trouble breathing, rush it to a vet. Now that I’ve scared you, I’ve only heard of 3 ferrets (in all the hundreds I’ve met over the years) who were allergic, and only one of those was seriously allergic.

I use Feline Pine mixed with a pelleted wood-burning stove fuel (like Stove Chow) in my litter boxes. I don’t like the smell of wet newspaper pellets, although some of my friends swear by them.

There are other kinds of litter out there — just stay away from anything that clumps. I’d be leery of anything that was billed as “super absorbent” too, for fear of what would happen if they swallowed a piece (Litter Pearls come to mind, but I’ve never actually heard of problems with them). Just read the labels and keep an eye on your ferret at first.

Barb Carlson

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