Like cats and dogs, ferrets can be bitten by fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other potentially harmful parasites. Ctenocephalides felis, the most common cat flea, is the primary culprit. But since ferrets love to explore burrows, if they’re let outside, they can readily come into contact with others.
Just as with cats and dogs, flea problems are more common at certain seasons of the year. When it’s warm and humid fleas and mosquitoes both become more active as they start their breeding cycle. Ticks are more common in the summer, though they can be around earlier.
The presence of fleas on or around your ferret can be identified in a number of ways. Flea droppings are small, dark brown or black specks that may be visible even when the fleas aren’t. If you comb your fingers gently through their fur backwards, you can generally spot them quite easily. If the fleas themselves are still around, they’ll be even more obvious, since they move.
That motion can be a particular problem since it means fleas can jump off the ferret and onto bedding, furniture, carpets and elsewhere. When that happens you have a wider problem, which we’ll tackle below.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case. A good flea shampoo designed for ferrets will help keep them clean and itch free. Just as there are for dogs and cats, there are compounds that are useful for more heavy-duty infestations.
Those containing pyrethrins are relatively safe. They act as flea repellents and can kill adult fleas. They come in powdered form, as wipes to brush over the fur, and other forms.
Advantage, the now-familiar dog product, made by Bayer, comes in a form that is safe for ferrets. Just apply a drop between the shoulder blades once a month and your pet can be kept flea free the entire season. It spreads out over the surface of the skin under the fur and is perfectly safe for the ferret and your furniture. It kills larvae and adult fleas.
Once the fleas spread to furniture, carpets, bedding and clothing you have a larger problem. Bedding and clothing can be washed in hot water with a mild bleach. Carpets and couch will need to be treated with a special flea-killing powder that vacuums up.
If you choose not to, fleas will eventually jump onto pets, including the ferret where they are killed by the Advantage or other treatments. But that method of clearing a house can take months.
Ticks represent a special problem. They feed on the blood, then regurgitate part of it back into the bloodstream a few hours or more later, if not detected. When they’re spotted, it’s important to try to remove them completely. Take a pair of tweezers and grab firmly then pull with a jerk. If you leave part of the head or pincers behind, the area can become infected.
When in doubt, seek the advice of your veterinarian. Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, though less commonly than reported in the media, can and do sometimes carry dangerous viruses. Look for signs of illness and seek medical attention when needed.