Courtesy of L. Vanessa Gruden
“A bath every day? I can’t believe my ears!”
Q. When I bought my ferret, the pet store told me I should give her a bath every day. But a lot of things I read online say I shouldn’t bathe her more than once a month. Which is right?
A. Every day? Wow! I’d file this advice under “Top 10 Crazy Things I Have Heard from Pet Store Employees.” Cleaning litter every day is great; giving a bath every day is excessive. Thank you for exercising your critical thinking skills and seeking to verify this information.
There can be knowledgeable, caring people working in pet stores. However, some store staff know very little and can sound pretty convincing.
The general consensus seems to be that the most often you should bathe your ferret is once a month. Unless your pet has gotten into something sticky or dirty, you can wait far longer. To compare, the ASPCA recommends bathing dogs only once every three months. Here’s why:
In human hair, experts agree that too frequent shampooing (more than one to three times per week, depending on your hair’s consistency) dries up scalp oil. That oil (or sebum), distributed along the hair shaft by brushing or massage, creates well-nourished hair. The vitality of your pet’s fur depends on the same natural process.
Many pet shampoos (human ones, too!) contain detergents to reduce oil. There are a lot of online claims that bathing ferrets too often will backfire and to compensate, their skin ends up producing even MORE oil. There are human hair product websites making this claim also, which is probably where the idea originated. But my investigations didn’t find any actual scientific research that agrees. (If you do, please leave a comment below.)
See more questions and answers about ferret behavior
Recognize that ferrets come with a certain amount of built-in “eau du ferret” that you need to accept. Weekly gentle brushing will disperse oil throughout their fur and may help space out full baths. Places where your ferrets sleeps absorb some oil also, so washing those weekly will prevent oil/odor being “recycled” back onto your pet.
People have different sensitivities to smells. Generally, use your nose to determine when your ferret really needs a bath. Use sulfate-free, gentle pet shampoos and consider using a conditioner to keep fur soft. Don’t forget to regularly clean ears and brush and check teeth. You might think it’s the ferret who smells bad and discover it’s actually dirty ears or a dental infection. Be sure to change bedding at the same time; there’s no sense sending a clean ferret to sleep in a dirty bed.
Two final tips: Use water a little warmer than you think is comfortable. A ferret’s body temperature runs a few degrees higher than ours, so what feels fine to us feels cool to them. Also, warming up the shampoo bottle in the water before applying is a nice gesture — think about how it would feel to pour cold soap on yourself.