To bathe or not to bathe? That is a question many newbie ferret owners may ask upon getting their ferret. How often to bathe is simple, don’t. Ferrets do not need to be bathed and frequent bathing will strip the coat and skin of natural oils.
Within the second layer of the skin (dermis) are the Sebaceous glands. These glands are very active within the ferret and are a major determinant of body odour. Sebaceous glands are microscopic exocrine glands in the skin of many mammals like the ferret which will secrete an oily or waxy oil like substance, called sebum. The reason it does this is to lubricate and waterproof the skin and hair. When you bathe your ferret using shampoo, this can strip the natural oil substance* when then in turn would dry out the skin and coat. In order to lubricate the skin and coat once more, the sebaceous glands will increase secretion of sebum, which would then in turn cause your ferret to have more of a strong odour to it’s coat.
*Bathing does not mean you will strip ALL the natural oils in one sitting.* The only time you will have an issue is when you bath too frequently and do not give adequate time for the skin to re-lubricate itself. Frequent bathing messes up the natural cycle and causes the balance to shift. Bathing once a week, or once every few weeks is NOT an issue and is absolutely safe to do. Shampoos and such do clean the skin and coat, and even for us humans, SOME-not all- natural oils will also be removed in the process. However, bodies are really adapt to this kind of thing and after one application, natural oils re-balance and secrete to a healthy balance in the skin and coat when done safely eg. no more than once a week. There are also many types of shampoos, which have a natural pH balance (When the pH is unbalanced, or high, it is harsher for the coat), and will not cause too much of an issue skin wise in regards to sebum production.
During breeding seasons, when hormones are becoming more and more active in the intact ferrets, the sebaceous glands increase sebum secretion. This sebum may turn the skin yellowish or orange as the oils discolor the undercoat. Often orange or reddish-brown patches on neutered ferrets is usually due to dried sebaceous secretions. These can be removed through bathing the ferret (just not frequently.) Excessive Sebum secretion may also be linked to adrenal tumours, so if the ferret is neutered and you are not bathing frequently, you may want to have a vet check over the ferret and/or simply implant as a preventative treatment for Adrenal Disease.
Black heads on the tails may also be due to over production of sebum. Usually these can be cleared up by shampooing with anti-seborrheic shampoos. These special shampoos may contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, and are most effective when left on the skin for several minutes before rinsing. Black heads are not something to be overly concerned about as they can be quite common, especially during shedding season.
Within this section, we will cover various shampoos and conditioners which are appropriate for use in ferrets. Be careful as some shampoos and conditioners may potentially pose a serious health risk to your ferret. Check the ingredients and make sure they do not contain anything that would be concerning. Not all baby shampoos are appropriate, especially Johnson & Johnsons as many of their bay products have known carcinogenic ingredients. We recommend switching up shampoos to a conditioner instead when ever possible as the conditioner is easier on the skin and coat. It will not strip the natural oils as much as the shampoo would. Avoid bathing as much as possible. If your ferret is dirty, try and wipe them clean using some water or soak them in water. Some older ferrets, and some younger ferrets may need a bath for whatever reason, usually they get stools stuck to their coat and simple water may not be as effective in some cases. Find what works best for you and your ferret.
**Information on skin/coat and pH will be covered at a later date.*