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Fleas and Your Ferret

Ferrets who have any interaction with wild animals, or other household pets such as cats and dogs, are most at risk.

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Some ferrets may not show any signs of a flea infestation, as ferrets can be quite hardy, but some infestations can get severe. Ferrets can also be allergic to flea saliva and have nasty skin reactions to fleas.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are small, wingless insects that, despite their inability to fly, can travel huge distances by jumping. To survive fleas must feast on warm blood, and they aren’t fussy – most household pets can be bitten by fleas, and sadly humans are also at risk too. 

Cat fleas are the most common invader of ferret fur as, despite their name, cat fleas will happily feed and reproduce on all our furry pet species.

Fleas reproduce really quickly, and live most of their life off their animal hosts. They actually reproduce much like butterflies, with larvae instead of caterpillars. As so much of the lifecycle happens off your pet controlling an infestation of fleas can be a difficult job. 

  1. Adult fleas are brought into the house by pets with outdoor access, or who mingle with other pets.
  2. The adult flea lays eggs. She must have fed to lay (an adult flea that cannot find food will die before laying). She can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime! 
  3. The eggs are small and white, and while they are often laid on the host, they aren’t attached in any way. This means as the originally infested pet moves around your home the eggs will slide off, and get buried into carpet fibres, cracks in the floor, soft furnishings, enclosures/cages and pet bedding. It is estimated that if you have fleas in your home, half of the population will currently be in egg form. 
  4. Eggs will hatch into flea larvae within twelve days. These larvae are like the caterpillar stage of butterflies – completely different to the adults. Larvae do not food on blood, and instead feed on organic debris in the home. They don’t like the light, so tend to burrow deeper into wherever they are. This means you rarely see them, although they actually make up about 35% of the flea population in your home. 
  5. After approximately 1-3 weeks, larvae will spin themselves a cocoon and start to change into adult fleas. The developing larvae in side are now called pupae. Approximately 10% of the flea population in your home at any time will be pupae. 
  6. It is the pupae that make fleas so difficult to eradicate. In favourable conditions, pupae will hatch into adult fleas within days to weeks, but in unfavourable conditions pupae can remain dormant in their cocoons for months! They ae also sticky, so are hard to remove with light vacuuming or sweeping. 
  7. When conditions are right an adult flea will emerge. They must locate a new host quickly, and feed, in order to start the life cycle again and lay their eggs. These adult fleas are not fussy, and can jump on our ferrets if no more obvious targets are to be seen!

 

What Are The Signs?

Some ferrets may not show any signs of a flea infestation, as ferrets can be quite hardy, but some infestations can get severe. Ferrets can also be allergic to flea saliva and have nasty skin reactions to fleas. 

  • Your ferret nibbling or biting at their skin. If you have more than one ferret you may see them itching too - it is likely that any other pets in the home are also infested. 

  • Flea dirt. Flea eggs are white and hard to spot, but flea dirt (a mixture of flea poo and dried blood) can often be seen on the skin of pets who have fleas. This looks like little reddish brown specks, and can be mistaken for grains of soil. A good test to see if specks on your ferret’s coat are actual dirt or flea diet is the wet paper test. Get some damp paper towel or cotton wool and gently wipe up some of the specks. If the area around the speck turns reddish-brown, it’s flea dirt. 

  • Live fleas. You may be able to see live fleas in your pet’s coat if you part the fur or stroke them backwards. Fleas are very fast though, and can be difficult to see! Along the spine and around the neck are good places to look.     

  • Anaemia. In heavily infested pets, a flea infestation can cause so much blood loss that they become anaemic. This can look like weakness, and pale gums. 

  • Hair loss and scaling. Patches of hair loss, and dandruff-like skin scaling may be seen on your pet, giving them a moth-eaten appearance. Some of these signs can also be seen with other skin parasites or diseases. If you see any of these signs, getting your ferret checked out by your local Vets4Pets vet can make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment.

How Can My Ferret Get Fleas?

It is very unusual for ferrets to get fleas unless: 

  • Another household pet, such as a cat or a dog, has fleas first. These fleas then jump from one pet to another, and can put your pet at risk. 
  • They have contact with wild animals and their bedding, where they might pick up fleas. Sporting ferrets are a good example of this. 

To take a look at which of our household pets can get fleas, have a look at our dedicated flea homepage.

What About My Health?

Our main UK fleas are not very fussy, and are more than happy to snack on an unsuspecting human! Making us itchy and sore, flea bites are often an unpleasant herald of the presence of fleas in the home. 

Flea bites can also cause more than itchy skin. Bartonella (also called cat scratch disease) can be transmitted by flea faeces; either by being accidentally ingested, or by getting into small breaks in the skin. Causing a low grade fever and swelling of the lymph nodes, bartonella infection can often be mistaken for the flu, and in many cases resolves on its own. Sadly, however, in some people bartonella infection can develop and cause chronic fatigue and headaches, and may become very debilitating.

Flea Allergic Dermatitis

Some ferrets are allergic to flea saliva. This means they can experience a severe skin reaction to a flea bite, even if they are only bitten a single time. 

Flea allergic dermatitis can be very uncomfortable and distressing for a ferret. Comprehensive flea treatment with a prescription product should help resolve the skin signs, although depending on the severity other medications may also be required to keep your ferret comfortable while their skin heals.

How Can I Stop It?

Vets do not recommend routine treatment against fleas, or any parasites, in ferrets as they are quite uncommon. In households with cats and dogs, keeping their flea protection up to date should provide protection for your other household pets too. 

If you do see signs of fleas in your ferret, your vet can recommend ferret-safe treatment which is easily applied.

Help! My Ferret Has Fleas!

If your ferret already has fleas, don’t panic! Although an infestation can take time to eradicate, your vet will help provide you with everything you need to get on top of fleas in your home and theirs.

Remember: 

  • Treat all furry pets in the home with flea treatment – if your ferret has them, you can bet everyone else will too. 
  • Treat ALL through your home 
  • Treat any household cats and dogs with flea treatment regularly going forward. 

The initial population of fleas can be reduced

  • Flea treatment for all pets 
  • Flea-killing house spray (make sure to read the safety label and remove ferrets and other pets from sprayed areas for the recommended length of time during and after spraying) 
  • Carpet cleaning 
  • Regular hoovering and sweeping, including in the darkest and hardest to reach areas – Don’t forget to throw away the dust bag from your vacuum cleaner after every use, else the flea larvae may escape back out! 
  • Hot washing fabrics at over 60 degrees, as this will destroy any fleas 
  • Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your ferret’s cage. 

By doing all the above you can dramatically reduce the number of fleas in your home. The flea treatment for your pets will turn them into walking ‘flea killers’ and means that adult fleas will die without producing any more eggs. By treating the house, you will kill or remove many of the eggs and pupae that can be found in the home. 

Continuing to manage effective anti-flea strategies will be important for several months, as any missed pupae continue to emerge as new adult fleas.