How to keep a ferret clean

A ferret peaks through a basket handle opening

A ferret peaks through a basket handle opening in its cage, in La Mesa, Calif. (Dec. 19, 2012) (Credit: AP)

Q. A few months ago, we got a white ferret with black eyes. She is a great pet, but she is white only right after we give her a bath. She seems to get dirty very quickly.

We have read on the Internet that you should not bathe ferrets too often as it dries out their skin.

How can we keep her from picking up so much dirt off the floor and how often can we wash her? Our white cat is always white and clean -- so why does the ferret's fur stain so easily? --Lisa Moore, Nesconset

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A. Cats and dogs are called digitigrade animals. They walk on their tippy toes so are always well off the ground. Ferrets are plantigrade animals. They use their whole foot to support their weight, and with their legs being so short anyway, this means their body is not carried high off the ground. Thus, they drag themselves along the floor quite a bit. Plus, ferrets can and do squeeze under couches and crawl into corners that dogs and cats cannot get into so they get covered in dust bunnies, even in the cleanest of homes.

As long as your ferret is getting the proper diet and you are using shampoo made just for ferrets, you can wash your ferret as often as she gets dirty. Do not worry about drying out her skin or anything like that. You also have to be sure her litter box and bedding are as clean as she is.

Q. We got a canary in December, and he was singing all day long for the last two months. However, now he has stopped singing.

The breeder told us he must be molting and that canaries do not sing while they are molting. We have not noticed any feathers around that the bird may have lost. How can we tell if the bird is molting, and how long will it be before he starts to sing again? --Howard Weller, Lawrence

A. All birds will change their feathers gradually over a two- or three-month period once -- and in some species twice -- a year.

All the bird's body reserves will be directed into growing the new feathers, so a bird will not sing or breed during this time.

However, most canaries molt in the summer and not in late winter.

You should take the bird to a veterinarian who specializes in birds. Your bird may be suffering from a bacterial infection or some other illness that is making him feel unwell and thus not sing anymore.

Q. We have a pit bull that has lived happily in our home with our two guinea pigs and our rabbit for the last four years. The dog likes the other animals and will lick the rabbit all over in a gentle manner.

However, when the dog is outside, he will chase every squirrel he sees. He never has caught one, but with the intensity that he chases them, I can imagine if he did he would not treat it as gently as he does our rabbit. Why is he so gentle with our house pets and yet thinks of the squirrels as things that must be caught and killed? --Jonathan White, Uniondale

A. A scientist would say the squirrels' jerky movements and rapid escape behavior causes an instinctive prey response in your dog, and that is why he views the squirrels as something to be killed.

A pet keeper would just say that dogs always know members of their family or pack and look to protect them or at least live with them peacefully, no matter if they are human or lapin.

I think this is what makes dogs so special -- very few other animals can make the distinction.

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