VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING FLEAS AND FERRETS
Infestation of the Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea, is the most common flea that affects ferrets. However, ferrets that are allowed to go outside, especially grassy areas, where the fleas reside, will most likely become a host ferret. Fortunately, all fleas are susceptible to the same treatments.
Flea droppings which have dissolved into a red color on a wet, white paper, However, fleas bite and suck blood from the wounds they make, causing anemia. They cause itchy skin and sometimes allergies that make the hair fall out. Ferrets are such small animals that they can be seriously debilitated by a heavy flea burden. It is easy to prove to yourself that fleas ingest blood. Simply comb out of the animal’s coat some of the black fecal droppings left by the fleas, and sprinkle them on a damp paper towel. Immediately the paper will turn red with the pet’s partly digested blood. Some species of fleas transmit bubonic plague in the south western United States.
When your ferrets and other pets have been infested for a while, most of the fleas will be in your house (they are even known to breed and multiply inside of your vacuum cleaner), not on the animals. Any flea control program has to kill not only fleas on all pets that spend any time in the house, but also everywhere the animals can go. The most intense effort should be concentrated on the areas where the ferrets, cats, or dogs sleep. Eggs will hatch into larvae in these areas.
Larvae eat the droppings of mature fleas for about 2 weeks, then spin cocoons and become pupae. Inside the cocoons, the pupae metamorphose into juvenile fleas that emerge in 3 or 4 weeks as a new generation of mature fleas. Each female flea may produce 50 or 60 eggs a day, increasing the population of young fleas in your house exponentially within 6 weeks of the first adult flea’s arrival. In the comfortable temperature of your home, flea eggs hatch in about 4 days. In the cooler temperatures of the basement or garage, they may remain dormant longer. This is an important point to remember when planning flea control strategy.
Killing only adult fleas, for instance, by a once-a-week bath or dip, will eventually control (NOT eliminate) the problem. Elimination will take months. Fleas do not survive the winter outside, and pets are given a chance to be flea-free after the first killing frost, but in temperate climates, it is much more difficult to eliminate fleas from your house because there is a plentiful supply of them outside.
Because fleas can cause serious health problems, every effort should be made to eliminate them. If you have cats or dogs that habitually go outside, they will continually carry fleas back into the house in temperate seasons. If the ferret is allowed to play in the same areas as the cat or dog, it will quickly be infested.
The following flee-control medications should be used only under direction of a ferret-knowledgeable veterinarian. In fact, to avoid outdoor parasites such as fleas, mites, ticks, etc., it is far better to keep ferrets indoors limiting outdoor activities to leashed and harnessed walking on non-grassy areas such as parking lots. The best way to get ferrets outdoors is to do so but only when you’re holding them, such as your going for a walk while having a walking buddy that you don’t put down.
Pyrethrins, which are relatively safe even on baby kits, act as flea repellents and kill adult fleas. Products containing pyrethrins and similar ingredients, such as resmethrin are available in many forms including powders and sprays. Use a product that is labeled for use in ferrets, unless your veteriarian directs you to use a product ‘off-label’ brand, NEVER do so. An off-label product is one that is not licensed for use in a certain species or for a certain condition, but may be prescribed for such use by a veterinarian, such as Advantage (Note: According to reported cases, Advantage has been linked to the unexpected death of ferrets).
Imidacloprid, the ingredient in Advantage blocks nerve transmission in adult fleas, immediately killing them. Advantage is available as a topical liquid that can be applied to the skin once a month. It then spreads to the rest of the animal’s skin, and is resistant to the effects of water in the form of rain, swimming, or baths. It kills larvae as well as adults, so is able to bring a heavy infestation of fleas under control fairly quickly. It has no effect on the eggs in the environment, of course, and they will continue to hatch, so the flea problem is not solved until all eggs have hatched and the adults contact the pet and the Advantage. If used monthly, this treatment will probably also control ear mites. It is not labelled for use in ferrets, but to my knowledge, no adverse effects have been reported.
The disadvantage to using these chemicals alone is that they do not affect the flea eggs. Eliminating all the intermediate stages in the life cycle (eggs, larvae, and pupae) requires several weeks of intense effort, and preventing re-infestation of the home, which is never anything short of constant vigilance. In the last few years, flea control has become much easier because of new types of chemicals on the market that interrupt the life cycle of the flea. The new chemicals are safe for humans and even very young animals because they mimic hormones or enzymes that are present only in insects. They include lufenuron, Precor, and Nylar.
Lufenuron (pronounced loo-fen-your-on) is an insect developmental inhibitor. Its familiar trade name is Program® (Novartis). This program is available in an oral suspension for cats that may be used off-label, under direction by a veterinarian, to treat ferrets. Be aware that this product, like all other flea control products, is not labelled for ferrets. The manufacturer has no responsibility for any adverse effects that may result from treating animals other than those named on the label.
Lufenuron is absorbed by the treated animal, and biting fleas get a dose of it with their blood meals. The eggs of treated fleas are damaged so that they do not hatch. This prevents the ordinarily rapid increase in numbers of young fleas in your house, but has no effect on the adults that are already there. The life span of an adult flea is at least a few months. If “Program” alone is used as flea control for animals that are already infested, it will take several months to eliminate all fleas from the home, because adult fleas are not affected. Program works best as a preventive, or in combination with other products that kill adult fleas on the animal and in the environment. Remember that all pets must be treated or there will be a constant source of fertile eggs hatching.
Precor and Nylar are insect growth inhibitors which can be found in products formulated for use on carpets and animal bedding. Some products are available which can be used directly on the animal and contain both a growth inhibitor and an insecticide. Growth inhibitors have no effect on people or pets, and they do not kill adult fleas, but they prevent the flea eggs from hatching and the larvae from pupating and turning into adults. Using the combination of a separate growth inhibitor with an insecticide that kills adults brings a flea problem under control very quickly compared to the old methods of bathing, dipping or spraying the pet, and using sprays, bombs, or powders in the house for several months (NEVER USE FLEA COLLARS, SPRAYS, OR POWDERS ON FERRETS). Best of all, the new chemicals are much safer for animals and people.
Most ferrets are not fond of baths or sprays, making avoidance of these better options, when compared to veterinarian-prescribed once-a-month treatment is much simpler and safer than the aforementioned methods.
All caregivers are usually misinformed and rely on myths, causing us to believe we know everything we need to know about fleas, but it just so happens that most of the information that we do know is skewed, inaccurate, or just plain wrong. Ferrets are extremely irritated by fleas because their skin, below the coat, is thick and tough…so
tough that a flea must bite harder, or in some cases other areas on the body, in order to extract the blood from the host ferret.
Organic products that are relatively, but not absolutely, non-toxic are available to kill fleas. The most popular and probably most effective is D-limonene, a citrus product that both repels and kills adult fleas. It is applied in the form of shampoos that have a pleasant citrus odor. However, D-limonene is not nearly as effective as Advantage or pyrethrins at killing adult fleas, and will not bring a heavy infestation under control without using some other form of treatment, such as growth inhibitors.
If you have any pets that go outside, all animals in the house will need to be treated during the warm months to prevent fleas infestation. To speed up the elimination process, remove all fabric bedding from the ferret’s cage or other areas and wash it. The litter box in the cage should be emptied and cleaned as usual. Cage cleaning and then treating with Precor or Nylar makes a huge difference in the number of eggs and larvae that will develop into adults.
It is very difficult to treat every part of the home that a ferret can access, so it is still important to vacuum thoroughly to pick up eggs, pupae, and larvae from ferret trails. The vacuum cleaner bag should be changed immediately afterwards, and sealed in a plastic bag before disposal in case itcontains live and fertile fleas.
Fleas are all too common, but with good veterinarian guidance and education as well as diligence on the caregiver’s part, as well as appropriate avoidance measures are taken, these dangerous parasites can be a part of your ferret’s life that he/she never has to endure, and if effected, you are now armed with a defense mechanism.
RESOURCE: Veterinarian, Author, recognized expert on ferrets:
Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD
EDITED AND FUTHER RESEARCH BY BRIAN CARR
With Kind Regards,
Brian K. Carr