Fleas in Ferrets
What are fleas?
Flea infestation is a common problem in pet ferrets. Fleas are a small insect parasite that may take up residence on your ferret, especially if exposed to fleas outdoors or in a house with dogs, cats or other animals who themselves have fleas. A ferret acquires fleas from other infested animals or environments (i.e. visiting another home with a flea infestation).
What are the signs of fleas on my ferret?
Fleas can affect a ferret of any age and sex. Your ferret may or may not be itchy depending on the sensitivity of the individual animal to flea bites. You may see the ferret biting, licking, chewing or scratching itself. Early in the infestation there may be no signs whatsoever that your ferret even has fleas. There may be a history of fleas on other animals in the home or perhaps other infested animals having been in the home as in the case of a previous tenant in an apartment.
Fleas leave their feces on the skin, amongst the hair of the ferret. This is often called flea dirt. Flea dirt is small, comma shaped black debris the size of pepper. Fleas or flea dirt may be seen on a fine flea comb while grooming. Small red bite marks or sores may be found on the skin and these will occasionally develop into a secondary bacterial skin infection. Each flea takes a small blood meal and young ferrets with heavy infestations may even become anemic as the fleas feed over time.
Regular examinations (at least once a year) will potentiate early identification of the problem and proper treatment. Other diagnostic tests may be done to ensure there is not another disease or problem, such as ferret adrenal gland disease or ear mites, causing the itching and scratching . Fur and skin will be examined for evidence of fleas and other external parasites.
How are ferrets with fleas treated?
Because fleas can affect dogs and cats, all animals in the house should be treated. There are no ferret specific drugs for managing fleas in ferrets. All products used are for dogs and cats and their use in ferrets is described as “off-label”. Topical cat medications such as Advantage™ or Revolution™ appear to be safe but should ONLY be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with ferrets. Topical flea powders, premise sprays or even professional pest exterminators may be used but consult your veterinarian first. Since flea eggs fall off the animaladult fleas can live off the ferret in carpets and other areas of the homeit is very important to treat the environment as well as the pet. Depending on environmental humidity and temperature, flea eggs may hatch in as little as 14 – 28 days, producing the next crop of adult fleas looking for a blood meal. Treatment must be long enough to get the last egg hatched. Consult with a veterinarian familiar with ferrets regarding the proper topical and environmental treatments.
Certain products should not be used on ferrets. DO NOT use flea collars and DO NOT use organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays or permethrin spot-ons on your pet ferret.
Do I have to worry about being affected by fleas myself?
In heavy infestations, fleas may bite humans and may cause problems in those people especially sensitive to insect bites. Bite marks may be noticed around the ankles. Generally the problem is self-limiting following elimination of the parasite from the home.
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