Many people don't know that you can train your ferret to use a litter box. They think that ferrets are rodents and treat them accordingly, using cedar chips for bedding and providing no box for elimination. But this is not good practice for your ferrets and can lead to serious problems. At the pet store, you will often see ferrets in a cage with paper bedding on the bottom. However, even though this practice is fairly common, it should never be copied.
Ferrets need separate areas and facilities for sleeping and elimination. Ferrets do need things to sleep in. But these things should be hammocks or fabric sacks, never loose bedding.
Fabric bedding can consist of expensive items such as custom-made hammocks or sleep sacks, or, if you want to be thrifty, ferrets can make do with old t-shirts and sweatpants. An excellent supplier of custom-made ferret bedding is Little Feet Ferret Bedding's line of various fabric hammocks and sacks. You can see their offerings at: http://www.littlefeetferretbedding.org/
Ferrets also need a clean dry surface to walk on. That surface can be a plain plastic floor cover, or a metal floor, or a fabric cage pad, but it must be dry and not be a breeding ground for germs or fungus.
Scholls is an example of a ferret who was raised in a paper bedding cage. In the picture, he has terrible athlete’s foot. His feet look like that because they are red, swollen, and furless. There are also tiny sores on them. His nails also look long and yellowed and in dire need of a trim. But you can see that the quick (the red part) of his nail is clipped right up to the edge – he is indeed properly groomed. It is just the fungus that makes him look that way. He has no fur around his footpads, so the nails hang out unprotected. He had trouble walking because he is in such pain.
It took quite some time before Scholls’ nails grew out and got better. So please do not use paper bedding for ferrets, or this could happen to your ferret’s feet.
Instead of courting athlete's foot, you should at least try to train your ferret to use a litter box. Often, new owners do not realize that ferrets can be litter trained, and so they don't even try. But ferrets can use litter boxes. You just need to provide them with the right setup.
Ferrets need a separate litter box filled with an absorbent media, like wood pellets (yes, the $6 bag of wood pellets you can find at Lowe's or Home Depot). You can also use something like the “Yesterday’s News” pellets available on the market.
The box absolutely must be big enough for the ferret to turn around in. The ferret needs to have enough room to feel safe as he backs into a corner to defecate. Those small "corner" boxes do not serve well -- they do not provide enough space. Ideally, you should have a litter box with high sides. The litter box should be about the size of a cat litter box. Marshall Farms makes a Ferret High Back Litter Pan that is ideal. You can purchase this litter pan at Ferret Depot. Here is a link to the box.
Once your ferret has an appropriate litter box, you can jump-start the training process by putting some of his/her poop in the box. This should give them the right idea. For many ferrets, simply providing an appropriate box takes care of any "accidents" in the cage.
If the ferret does not use their litter box, you can direct their efforts more precisely by putting fabric bedding in every other section of their cage. Usually, the ferret will not want to soil his bedding and will use the box as a last resort. Once they get the idea that the box is where they go, their "accuracy" rating should improve.
To learn more about pet ferrets and their habitats, please visit the website of the Oregon Ferret Shelter at www.oregonferretshelter.org/habitats.htm.
To learn more about Yesterday’s News Ferret Litter, visit www.yesterdaysnews.com/Products/FerretLitter.aspx.