Most of the external parasites of domestic dogs and cats (fleas, mange, ear mites, etc.) can cause disease in ferrets. However, less is known about the ferret’s susceptibility to the more common internal parasites (roundworms, etc.) of dogs and cats.
Parasitic diseases in ferrets
Ferrets can suffer from both internal and external parasitic diseases.
Although internal parasitic diseases are uncommon, ferrets can suffer from intestinal parasites.
Ferrets are commonly affected by external parasites such as mites, ticks and fleas.
Intestinal protozoan parasites, also shared by dogs and cats, can cause intestinal disease among ferrets. Coccidiosis is the most common intestinal parasitic disease of ferrets.
Infection with worms (helminths) is rare, but roundworms can potentially pass between ferrets, puppies and kittens. Cryptosporidiosis, a parasitic disease caused by Cryptosporidium, is also occasionally seen in young ferrets, and can potentially pass between ferrets, puppies and kittens. Other protozoan diseases are possible, but rarely seen.
Most ferrets with intestinal parasites won’t show any signs of being infected. However, the following signs may be seen: diarrhoea (with or without blood), weight loss, dehydration, decreased activity, dull hair coat, straining to defaecate, prolapse of the ferret’s rectum, and even death.
Periodic faecal examinations should be performed by your vet to check for such parasites.
Most intestinal parasites can be treated with antiparasitic drugs. Hospitalization may be required in severe cases, but most can be treated with a spot on treatment which is easy to give and stress-free for your ferret.
External parasites are common in ferrets.
Ferrets housed indoors rarely have a problem with fleas or ticks. Fleas and ticks are more common in ferrets that spend time outdoors or who come into contact with infected dogs or cats. Mange and ear mites are common in both ferrets that are housed indoors and those that live outdoors.
Fleas can cause itchiness in your ferret which will result in red patches of skin, scabs and hair loss. Severe infestations can cause blood loss and weakness. Infestations need to be treated vigorously; the ferret, its home environment, and all infested household pets must be treated with an appropriate anti-flea treatment.
Ticks are rarely a problem, but if you do find a tick on your ferret make sure you wear gloves when removing them to avoid exposure to their disease-carrying saliva.
Mange, also known as scabies, is caused by microscopic Sarcoptes scabiei mites. These will cause your ferret to scratch resulting in red patches of skin, scabs and hair loss. Mange also affects the foot pads, known as foot rot, where the feet become red, swollen and sore. Your vet will probably need to do a skin scrape to determine the cause of the itching as the mites cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Ear mites will cause your ferret to scratch its ears or rub its head on the floor in an attempt to scratch its ears. Your ferret may have a dark, waxy discharge from the ear, and in severe cases, your ferret may develop an infection which will require antibiotics.
Most external parasites can be treated with antiparasitic drugs. Most can be treated with a spot on treatment which is easy to give and stress-free for your ferret. However, if your ferret is suffering with ear mites, a more aggressive treatment regime may be necessary which will involve an ointment which will need to be placed directly into your ferret’s ears.