Ferret Friendly Facts and Advice by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

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Let's Face It,

 Ticks Suck!

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Let's Face It, Ticks Suck!

© Erika Matulich

I once rushed Critter to the vet because I found a wrinkly brown growth on her stomach. The vet tugged at the growth with forceps until the mass came free; inspected it critically; and popped it in her mouth. I almost passed out.

"Yup, it's a raisin!" she announced.

Sometime later, I was stroking Critter and felt another bump. I parted her fur, expecting another raisin, and instead saw a tick. Eeeeew! Ticks are dangerous (not to mention disgusting) parasites that should be removed immediately.

If your ferret takes outdoor walks or plays with another outdoor animal, there's a real possibility she'll pick up ticks. When I lived in Wisconsin I would take my fuzzballs walking in the woods; after every outing I checked their coats for ticks (and sometimes found the little suckers!). I also rescued a ferret who was kept in an outdoor shed in Texas, and the poor fella was covered with several kinds of ticks (there are about 800 different tick species).

Tick-borne diseases
Just what does a tick do? When a tick first finds your ferret, it attaches with its mouthpieces and begins to suck blood. When the tick gets "full," it regurgitates some blood back into the ferret, which is how diseases are transmitted. The regurgitation usually happens between five and 24 hours after the tick attaches. The key to keeping your ferret healthy is early removal of ticks (using proper methods to disallow regurgitation)—and prevention.

Removing the little suckers
Don't rip the tick out, because the can head break off and leave embedded mouth parts in your ferret. This can cause skin infections and, worse, leaves your ferret susceptible to diseases. There's all sorts of bad advice floating around on how to get a tick to let go: matches, lit cigarettes, alcohol, urine, nail polish, gasoline, nail-polish remover (acetone), and so on. All these methods frighten ticks, causing them to regurgitate before letting go and spread any disease they might be carrying. Furthermore, applying these "cures" to a wriggling ferret is dangerous.

Ticks are oxygen breathers, and you can suffocate them by dripping olive oil or globbing petroleum jelly on the tick. As the tick struggles for air, it will start to release its grasp. Using tweezers or a tick puller, slowly and steadily draw the tick away from your ferret. Don't twist, and don't squeeze the body of the tick, which could push diseased blood back into your ferret. Never use your fingers unless you're wearing gloves, because ticks can give you diseases, too. Ideally, let your vet remove and identify the tick, determine potential diseases, and give your ferret appropriate medicine.

The best medicine
The best medicine, of course, is prevention. While you should never use flea or tick dips, collars, or powders (they're hazardous to ferrets), you can use repellent sprays (such as Frontline and Adams) labeled safe for kittens. Farnam Flea Halt! towelettes, which are the only flea product made especially for ferrets, both repel and kill fleas.

If you'd like to use a monthly topical tick-control product on your ferret, make sure it's Frontline TopSpot. Advantage, Program, and Sentinel are not effective against ticks; Defend and BioSpot are too toxic for ferrets. I use half of a cat dose of Frontline on each of my ferrets every 45 days.

After any possible tick exposure, inspect your ferret's skin, especially between the shoulder blades and behind the ears. Look for bites, too (bull's-eye markings or red circles). Wash your ferret with a kitten-suitable pyrethrin-based shampoo.

Don't let your ferrets get ticked off—or worse—by ticks!