Common External Parasites of Ferrets

Introduction

External parasites are fairly common in pet ferrets. Isolated, indoor-only ferrets rarely have a problem with external parasites such as fleas but ear mites are very common. Fleas are more of a problem for ferrets that have spent time with infected dogs and cats. Many external parasites can spread between dogs, cats, and ferrets and fleas can bite humans.

What signs will my ferret show?

Some ferrets infected with external parasites will look and act perfectly normal, however many animals will show signs of itchiness. With fleas any combination of the following may be encountered: red patches of skin, scabs, itching, or loss of hair.  As well, fleas can be seen as small, dark insects scurrying along the skin just beneath the fur. With ear mites the ferret tends to scratch at its ears or rub its head on the floor in an attempt to scratch the ears. Ear mites are invisable to the naked eye, but they do result in excessive dark ear discharge.

What types of external parasites do ferrets commonly get?

The same fleas that can be found on dogs and cats can also be found on pet ferrets. Severe infestations can cause significant loss of blood and weakness. The ferret, its home environment, and all infested household pets must be treated.  Most ferrets with ear mites will look and act perfectly normal. Dogs, cats, and some ferrets, however, will constantly scratch at their ears and possibly develop severe infections requiring antibiotics.  Ferrets also may develop a skin mite known as Demodex species.  It is rare but the Drs. at Pet Care Veterinary Hosptial have diagnosed several cases over the years.

How do I know whether or not my ferret has external parasites?

You may be able to identify common fleas at home by finding thme on your pet or in your home. Ferrets with ear mites will have a dark, waxy ear discharge. If no parasite is clearly visible, your veterinarian can diagnose external parasites via microscopic examination of skin scrapings or debris from your ferret’s ears.

Can external parasites be treated?

Most external parasites can be safely and effectively treated with products that are approved for cats. Studies have shown that Advantage® from Bayer Animal Health is a safe and effective product for flea control in ferrets. Various feline ear mite treatments are also available and have been found to be safe and effective in the ferret’s ear including Milbemite (Novartis Animal Health) and Revolution (Pfizer Animal Health). Some over-the-counter products can be very toxic, therefore you should consult with a knowledgeable veterinarian before using any product on your ferret.