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Ticks and Your Ferret

Ferrets, especially working ferrets, can spend a lot of time outside. Ferrets that spend time in tick-friendly habitats, or in areas where wild animals have been, are more at risk of picking up ticks.  

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Ticks are small biting insects with powerful jaws and a big round body compared to their head. This specialised parasite latches on to pets (and humans!) and bites through the skin, feeding on blood.

Ticks live on grass and other plants and bite a host when they pass. When they attach they are generally very small, but they grow rapidly when they latch on and start feeding. They may also change colour when feeding too, often going from brown to a pearly grey. 

We’re seeing many more ticks than before, possible due to the warm, wet winters now common in the UK. Thankfully our ferrets are not commonly affected by ticks, but working ferrets especially can pick them up.  

Read more about common pet parasites

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Where

Ticks can be found anywhere, but are typically located in long grass, rough upland and woodland areas – especially those which are damp and have high humidity. However, the spread of ticks means that they are now seen in urban areas, coastal environments and in most areas of the UK. 

The south of England, being warmer, has a higher tick population than the cooler north, but the long grasses and increasing average temperature of places like the Lake District and Scotland mean that tick populations are also growing there too. Sadly, there is no ‘safe’ area from ticks in the UK. 

The Risks

The ticks themselves can cause allergic reactions, or can cause infections at the site of the bite if they are removed improperly. Lots of ticks can also lead to anaemia. There also may be no other signs other than the presence of the tick. Lyme disease in ferrets, which is transmitted by ticks, is very rare.

Checking for ticks

The best way to check for ticks on your ferret is to give them a close examination, looking and feeling for any unusual lumps and bumps. Around the head, neck and ears are common ‘hot spots’ for ticks, so here is a good place to start, but as ticks can attach anywhere on the body a full search is important. 

Any lumps should be thoroughly inspected – ticks can be identified by the small legs at the level of the skin. If you aren’t sure, your vet can help you – any new lumps should always be checked by a vet anyway, so don’t be shy asking for advice if you need it.

You may see swelling around the tick, but often the skin around looks normal. If you do find a tick, don’t be tempted to just pull it off. Tick mouthpieces are buried in the skin, and pulling off a tick can leave these parts within the skin surface, leading to infections. 

How Can I Remove A Tick?

If you do find an attached tick, don’t be tempted to just pull or brush it off. Tick mouthpieces are buried in the skin, and incorrectly removing a tick can leave these parts within the skin surface, leading to infections.  It is also important not to squash the body of the tick while it is still attached – this can push blood back into your ferret, and may further increase the chance of an infection developing.

The best way to remove a tick is with a special tool called a tick hook – these are very inexpensive and can be an invaluable piece of kit. These have a hook or scoop with a narrow slot in which traps the tick’s mouthpiece.

  1. Slide the tool between the body of the tick and your ferret’s skin, making sure all fur is out of the way. This will trap the tick.
  2. Gently rotate the tool, until the tick comes loose.
  3. Removed ticks should be flushed in the sink or lavatory, and it is advised to handle them with gloves. 

Protecting My Ferret

As usual prevention is better than cure and your vet can help you plan the best tick protection – this is usually in the form of a spot-on, as parasiticides specifically licenced for ferrets are limited. Depending on where you live and if you are working or walking your ferret, tick protection might be not recommended, or recommended to be seasonal (tick season runs from spring to autumn) or all year round.

Your local Vets4Pets vet will be able to help you personalise your ferret’s care. 

What About My Health?

Tick-bourne diseases, such as Lyme disease, may affect people. However, they are only transmitted by tick bites and cannot be caught directly from your ferret.

Finding ticks on your ferret, however, means you may have also been exposed to the risk of tick bites so it is important to check yourself thoroughly for any ticks – don’t forget they may be as small as 2-3mm when they first attach!

If you do see a tick, speak to your healthcare provider. Only remove the tick if you feel comfortable doing so, but make sure to have it removed within 24 hours of being bitten to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Any new lumps and bumps should always be checked by your doctor. A ‘bulls-eye’ red ring on the skin is also a potential symptom of Lyme disease in people and should always be reported to your local doctors’ surgery.

To take a look at which other of our common household pets can pick up ticks, have a look at our dedicated tick page