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The female mite will burrow into the skin of the ferret, laying several eggs as she continues to burrow tunnels reaching several centimeters in length. Once she has laid her eggs, the female mite dies and the eggs will hatch into larvae three to eight days afterward. The larvae then mature into nymphs, which molt into adults while still inside the skin burrow. At this time, the adults mate and procedure more offspring to start the whole process over again. The entire process only takes two to three weeks to complete.
Mange in ferrets is caused by the sarcoptic mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei. Mites are microscopic creatures that invade the skin of ferrets, creating a variety of skin issues including pruritus, hair loss, and skin sores. Mange can infect any ferret despite the age, sex or breed, but ferrets with immune system disorders or compromised immune systems are common infected. Sarcoptes scabiei usually infects dogs, but ferrets, cats, and even humans can be infected for a short period of time. The mite’s life cycle is completed on the ferret it infects.
When mange affects a ferret, the mites can either target the body or the feet. The classic form of mange that most mammals are affected by produces symptoms of patchy hair loss or alopecia and intense itching, resulting in red pustules. These pustules often crust over in a yellowish color on the skin and, because of the severe itching, often break open and become infected with bacteria. As trauma continues, secondary skin infections will cause the sores to bleed, seep pus, and cause the ferret to experience a rise in bodily temperature.
In other cases, the feet are targeted and the condition is sometimes referred to as ferret foot rot. The ferret’s paws will appear swollen, red and noticeably painful. The skin may crust over, open and become infected just like the pustules described previously. If left untreated, the ferret’s foot can become deformed and even fall off as the mites take over. Similar symptoms presented by this form of sarcoptic mange mimic that of contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction of an outside source.
A ferret can become infected by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite by direct contact with an infected species. A mange infested fox, cat, dog or even a mite that has been picked up outside the home by a human can infect a ferret. Infant ferrets, mature ferrets, and those with chronic disease, or compromised immune systems are commonly affected.
mites usually spend their entire life on a mammal host, but can live for several days off the host and in the environment. At room temperature, a mite can survive two to six days and up to 22 days in cool, moist environments outside the home. Due to the mite’s ability to live off the host for a duration of time, a ferret can become easily infected without ever coming into contact with an infected species.
The diagnostic process to pinpoint mange in ferrets will begin with a review of the patient’s medical records and a consultation with the pet owner. The ferret’s owner will be expected to relay all the clinical signs of illness they have noticed their pet displaying at home. As contact dermatitis and allergies, in general, can mimic the symptoms of mange, be prepared to provide important diagnostic information such as the pet’s current diet and any new changes around the home (new carpeting, furniture, or other pets). The veterinarian will then proceed to perform a skin scraping test. A skin scraping is a simple and painless procedure that will take a few cells from the subcutaneous layer. The cells will then be analyzed under microscopic view, revealing the presence of a mite or a collection of mites. A urinalysis and blood analysis will also be taken to determine the overall health of the ferret, plus the presence of any underlying prominent disease.
Mange in ferrets is commonly treated with ivermectin, an antiparasitic medication given topically. A lime sulfur dip of 2% concentration may also be used over a period six weeks or more, depending on the severity of the infestation. An oral antibiotic is commonly prescribed to terminate any present infection and discourage further bacteria from colonizing in the open sores. If the mites have targeted the feet, the nails will need to be trimmed and the feet will be soaked in warm water to remove all crusts from the skin.
The general prognosis for mange in ferrets is good to excellent. In addition to treating the ferret itself for mange, the environment must also be properly cleaned. Mites can remain in the ferret’s environment for up to six days in the home, so proper sanitation is a must.
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