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Biggest Problem: Fleas on Your Ferret!
Itch, itch, ITCH! Morgan leaped awake
from his sleep sack and violently scratched. Uh-oh, better check for
fleas. Although the "jump and itch" is common ferret behavior,
during the summer it's a good idea to look for fleas. I blew on Morgan's
fur on his neck and belly, and sure enough, a black spot was cruising
along. I immobilized the flea with a drop of liquid soap and smashed it.
But now it was time for the real work to begin. One flea will have other
When the weather gets warm and humid, ferrets get fleas. This often
happens when other house pets carry fleas in from outside. Flea eggs can
remain dormant for up to two years waiting for victims, so if you moved
or bought used furniture, a flea attack may surprise you. Check your
ferret by running a flea comb through her fur, or blow on her fur to see
the skin. Fleas are reddish brown to black and about the size of a
pencil tip. Dark specks in the fur that look like dirt are flea
droppings. Look for fleas and their residue between your ferret's
shoulder blades and on her stomach.
Some ferrets are more allergic to fleas
than others and may develop bald patches or inflamed, scabby skin in
addition to itching. Ferrets scratch for a number of reasons (some
serious and some not), so don't assume your ferret has fleas until
you've seen one on him.
To rid a ferret of fleas, first bathe him with flea shampoo. Check the
shampoo label: It must be suitable for kittens. The active flea-killing
ingredient should be pyrethrins. Don't use anything containing
organophosphates, carbamates or petroleum distillates. They may be
harmful to ferrets. Use a flea comb to remove fleas from the ferret's
face, and keep soap away from eyes and nose. Avoid most pet sprays and
all dips; they are toxic and could harm your ferret. Flea powders cause
lung problems in ferrets. A new product designed specifically for
ferrets is the flea towelette. These wipes are easy to use, kill
existing fleas and repel future fleas for another two weeks.
Next, treat the ferret's environment. Launder all bedding in hot water.
Treat floors with flea spray or powder, then vacuum (don't let your
ferrets touch floors until it is safe to do so). Don't put carpet flea
powders directly on your ferret. You can use cut-up flea collars in your
vacuum cleaner bag to kill flea eggs inside. Flea collars, however,
should never be used on a ferret. They contain dichlorvos, which
causes severe skin irritation and can lead to serious health problems.
On the nonchemical side, many natural flea repellents contain cedar
oils, which are also toxic to ferrets. Check ingredients carefully.
For a serious infestation, ask your
veterinarian for flea bombs containing methoprene (a flea growth
regulator). This wide-area bomb needs two applications: one to kill
adults and larvae and another two weeks later to get any fleas that have
hatched since the first spray. You must remove your ferret from the
house when bombing.
Several new flea eradication products provide long-term relief for
ferrets, although none has been tested specifically for ferret use.
Frontline spray (manufactured by Merial) is the product most often
recommended for ferrets by veterinarians, because of its low toxicity
level. The Frontline products kill all fleas and ticks within a few
hours of application. One dose lasts a month or more. The product isn't
affected by sunlight or shampooing. If your ferret has allergies or is
sensitive to chemicals, you may want to avoid Frontline because it can't
be washed off. Many ferrets (like mine) hate being sprayed, so after
battling with my fur-kids, I switched to Frontline TopSpot, a product
you apply in drops to the pet's neck. One dose of Frontline TopSpot for
cats is good for two ferrets. Put the half dose (12 drops or 0.25 ml)
between your ferret's shoulder blades. The drops are more concentrated
than the spray, so using them could increase reaction risks, but I have
had no problems with any of my ferrets.
Advantage (by Bayer) has a similar
"drop on the neck" product. The product is somewhat more toxic
than Frontline and does not kill ticks. Don't apply these drops if your
ferret has a cut: The alcohol base stings. Other products, such as
BioSpot and Defend, are more toxic and are not considered safe for
ferrets. Further studies are necessary on these products before they can
be labeled for ferret use. The main advantage of "drop on the
neck" products is that they kill fleas before they bite your
ferret and they last at least a month. In fact, any flea that hops on a
treated ferret becomes paralyzed and falls off, so my mother borrows my
ferrets to sweep around her patio and kill fleas.
Two other alternatives are Program (which
contains lufenuron) and Sentinel, monthly oral tablets that put
flea-killing chemicals in your ferret's bloodstream. Use the cat dosage
per pound for your ferret, and feed with a meal. When the flea ingests
the ferret's blood, it lays sterile eggs. The disadvantage is that fleas
must bite your ferret first, and it takes several months to break the
breeding cycle. The long-term toxic effects of lufenuron in the ferret's
bloodstream have not been studied. Program and Sentinel can be used at
the same time as Advantage or Frontline.
Aside from skin infection and allergies, flea bites cause ferrets to
lose sleep, stop eating and become irritable. Also, it doesn't take many
flea bites to cause anemia from lack of blood. Fleas can also transmit
diseases, and if a flea is accidentally ingested, tapeworms (intestinal
parasites) can be a serious problem. Flea infestations can be
challenging to solve, but patience and continuous treatments will
eliminate these parasites.