Bolton Ferret Welfare

Skin Diseases

by Anna Meredith MA VetMB CertLAS DZooMed MRCVS Royal [Dick] School of Veterinary Studies


Sarcoptes scabei causes either generalised alopecia and intense pruritus (itching) or localised lesions of the toes and feet. Nails can become deformed and slough. Treatment is with "ivermectin" - 0.4mg/kg; 3 doses 10 to 14 days apart. The zoonotic aspect is important.

Otodectes cyanotis (ear mites) can affect ferrets as well as cats and dogs. Diagnosis and treatment are the same in these species. Ivermectin is very effective. Note that many normal ferrets can have a profuse brown waxy aural discharge.

Fleas. Cat and dog fleas can also infest ferrets and treatment is with products approved for these species. Spray or pump products should be measured carefully and applied to a cloth that is then applied to the ferret to avoid overdose. Dichlorvos-impregnated flea collars ARE NOT recommended for ferrets because they can have toxic effects.

Ticks can also affect ferrets, especially those used for outdoor hunting. Lyme disease has not been reported. (Please note this was as of 2007).

Bacterial Disease

Bite wounds often become infected with staphylococcus and streptococcus spp., Corynebacterium, Pasteurella, Actinomyces and E. Coli resulting in abscesses, deep pyoderma or cellulitis. Treatment is by debridement and appropriate antibiosis.

Actinomyces can also cause "lumpy jaw" type lesions in ferrets and can respond to high dose penicillin or tetracycline.

Viral Disease

The ferret is acutely susceptible to the canine distemper virus and mortality reaches 100%. A chin rash is an early presenting sign.

Fungal Disease

Microsporum canis is the more common cause of ringworm in ferrets, although Trichophyton mentagrophytes is also seen. Transmission is often from co-housed domestic cats. Diagnosis and treatment are as for other species.

Blasotomyces dermatitidis has been reported in one ferret with pneumonia and an ulcerated footpad.

Neoplasia (Skin Tumours)

Cutaneous neoplasia is relatively common in ferrets and is reported as the third most common form of neoplasia.

Sebaceous epitheliomas and adenomas (both benign) have been reported at an incidence of 58% in a study of 57 cutaneous neoplasms. Average age at diagnosis was 5.2 years and 70% of affected animals were female. Appearance is usually of a pedunculated or plaque-like mass that can become ulcerated.

Mast cell tumours commonly involve the skin in ferrets and are usually benign. One study reported that mast cell tumours represented 16% or all cutaneous neoplasms submitted from ferrets over a five year period. Appearance is usually of single or multiple well-circumscribed raised hairless nodules that can become ulcerated. Surgical resection is generally curative.

Squamous cell carcinomas, adenocarcinomas, cutaneous lymphoma, haemangioma and fibroma are among other rarer tumours reported in this species.

Miscellaneous Skin Conditions

Ferrets skin naturally contains numerous sebaceous glands which cause the natural musky odour and sometimes greasy feel of the coat. It is not possible to de-scent a ferret, but feeding on a commercial pelleted diet and neutering will all help to minimise offensive odours. Male ferrets are always more odiforous and secretions can be so profuse as to make the coat of albino animals yellow and dirty in appearance.

Normal thinning of the coat occurs in warm weather and a bilaterally symmetric alopecia of the tail, perineum and inguinal area can often occur during the breeding season (March to August in females, December to July in males). This is often more pronounced in females and should be distinguished from endocrine disease.

Courtesy of Anna Meredith MA VetMB CertLAS DZooMed MRCVS Royal [Dick] School of Veterinary Studies)


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