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Ferrets and Ear mites

How do I tell if my ferret has ear mites? What do I do about them?

Check when you clean your ferret's ears, perhaps once a month. Reddish-brown ear wax is normal, but if you see any thick, black discharge then you probably have mites. It's also a good idea to have your vet check the ears whenever you visit. You can't catch ear mites from your pet, but your cats, dogs, and other ferrets certainly can.

Ferrets very commonly get ear mites, so you don't need to get upset. Check with your vet and get two products: a ceruminolytic, which will dissolve the wax that the mites live in. This is far preferable to trying to dig the wax out with Q-tips. Then get a good ear miticide from your vet. Put a little of the ear cleaner (which dissolves the wax) in the ear and massage. Let it sit for about a minute. Your ferret will probably shakes its head, sending wax all over you and the floor. Use a Q-tip and gently collect the rest of the wax from the ear canal. You won't hit the ear drum, as the ferrets ear canal is roughly L-shaped - you will just be cleaning the vertical part of the canal. After you have cleaned the wax, put the ear drops [miticide] in. Make sure that the fluids that you are using are body temperature - put them in your shirt or pocket for a few minutes before using. No one likes cold water in their ears!!!!
Clean every day for a week to 10 days, stop for a week, and go again for another week to take care of mites. If your problem is just dirty ears (some ferrets have a lot of wax) - just use the ear wax remover once a week.

Ivermectin can be used in bad cases, either orally, injected, or directly in the ear. A dosage for topical administration of ivermectin:

  • Injectable ivermectin is mixed with propylene glycol at a ration of approximately 1:20 - then 0.2 to 0.3 ml (4-6 drops) into each ear canal daily. Ferrets on ivermectin for heartworm prevention should not have problems with ear mites.

  • Do not depend on the oil [used for cleaning] to completely rid your pet of mites either although it will help to suffocate them. Mites are easily taken care of by using Ivermectin directly in the ears at 0.5mg/kg divided into two doses to be used in each ear and then repeated in two weeks. You need to have a positive diagnosis of mites made by your vet and get the medication from him or her.

    How are ear mites transmitted?

    They can be acquired from, or transmitted to, dogs, cats, and other ferrets. If you own both a cat and ferret, and one of them has ear mites, the other probably does too, unless there is no contact at all between the two animals. Ear mites do not live long off the host, and are unlikely to be carried from place to place by a human being, the way fleas often are. However, cats and ferrets that sleep in the same areas, even at different times of the day, can transmit ear mites to each other. It takes about 3 weeks for the parasite to go through its whole life cycle, from egg to mature mite.

    What are the signs of ear mite infestations and how are they diagnosed?

    Ferrets with ear mites often shake their heads or scratch at their ears. Discharge in the ear is dark brown and waxy, though this in itself is not diagnostic of ear mites. An ear mite infestation is diagnosed by examining debris from the ear under a microscope and identifying the mites.

    How are ear mite infestations treated?

    Mite eggs are resistant to treatment. Treatments should be carried out keeping this in mind. One treatment kills only the mature mites. After a few days, a new generation will have hatched from eggs in and around the ear. Medication used in the ear is effective for only a few days, and a single treatment will rarely kill 100% of the mature mites. It therefore takes at least 2 treatments, and usually more, spaced at 1-3 week intervals, to truly eliminate ear mites. Shortening the treatment intervals will kill the adults faster and reduce the symptoms of infestation. It will make no difference to the length of time treatment is needed, because this depends on the rate at which mite eggs hatch.

    Most ear mite medications safe to use in cats are safe for ferrets, but always consult with your veterinarian first. If the ears are inflamed, it is best to use a medication to control infection and inflammation before using any anti-mite treatment. A veterinarian can prescribe a suitable otic ointment. When infection is controlled, use the anti-mite treatment as directed by your veterinarian. Depending on the type of medication, this is often once a week for a few weeks, then about once a month to completely control mites. The ferrets body may be treated with a flea control product recommended by your veterinarian to destroy any mites on the coat. The tip of the tail is a spot where mites may be hiding, because the ferret sleeps with his tail tip near his ears. If ear mites are diagnosed in one animal, all animals in the household should be treated. The environment including the animal's bedding should also be treated. When persistent treatment eventually rids a spayed or neutered pet of ear mites, the ears will rarely need cleaning.

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