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The fungal infection, ringworm, in ferrets is a highly contagious, zoonotic infection that affects the subcutaneous layer of a mammal’s skin. Ringworm can be identified by an itchy, red circular rash with healthy skin in the middle. Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with a worm underneath the skin and is instead named after the ring appearance of the rash formation on the skin.
There is more than one infectious agent associated with ringworm disease, affecting a variety of mammals, but the fungal organisms to infect ferrets are limited to Mycosporum canis and Trychophyton mentagrophytes. These microorganisms live in the environment, as spores are shed from infected animals and remain in the environment for up to 18 months. Ferrets can be infected through direct contact with an infected ferret, but the most common route of infection is indirect. Ferrets that share living quarters, go to the groomers, or come in contact with any item that an infected animal touched could infect a ferret. Even cats with ringworm can infect a ferret, due to the asymptomatic nature of the organism between similar species.
The main symptom of ringworm in ferrets is the red ring that appears on the skin’s surface. The ferret will lose hair in the area in which the fungus has infected and the skin will likely crust over. As this form of fungal infection is highly pruritic, the ferret will continuously scratch at the infection, causing the rash to ooze and bleed. Like all rashes, scratching the infected area will spread the fungal spores to other areas on the body and a ferret may have several areas of infection. Ringworm can affect any area of the ferret’s body, but the most common locations of infection include the nose, face, feet, legs and tail.
Ringworm in ferrets is caused by fungal agents Mycosporum canis and Trychophyton mentagrophytes. These microorganisms are a form of fungal spore that can thrive in the environment for up to 18 months. Ferrets that live in wet, dirty bedding and unkempt cages commonly contract the fungus on their own. The fungal infection can also be present outside the home as stray cats infected with the fungus can bring the infection into your pet’s environment. As felines are asymptomatic carriers of the same fungal agents that infect ferrets, a trip to the groomers and sometimes even the veterinary clinic (if pet patients come in contact with one another) can put your pet at risk. Once your ferret is infected, every item in your pet’s environment is considered contaminated and will continue to harbor the fungal spores until properly neutralized.
Fungal infection with ringworm in ferrets is easily diagnosed as the red, circular rash regions are clear to see on the pet’s skin. However, to ensure the rash appearing on your ferret’s skin is, in fact, a ringworm infection, the veterinarian will conduct a diagnostic test. There is more than one way to diagnose ringworm, but the most accurate test is a culture test. The veterinarian will take a skin sample from the crusting rash and place it in a medium specially designed for fungal organisms to curate. The growth of this fungus will provide your ferret’s doctor will a clear result and support the diagnosis on the veterinarian.
In otherwise healthy ferrets, a ringworm infection can resolve on its own in time. However, ringworm is very itchy for ferrets and the continuous scratching of the rash can spread the spores to other areas on the pet’s body. With that being said, it is always wise for ferret owners to seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible to prevent the condition from worsening. Ringworm fungal infection is treated topically with an anti-fungal cream, lime-sulfur dip, povidone-iodine cleansing solutions and/or keratolytic shampoos. To prevent infecting yourself, ferret owners should always wear latex gloves when washing or applying medication to their ferret’s rash.
The second step in treating ringworm is to neutralize the fungal spores in your ferret’s environment. All items your ferret has come into contact with, including bowls, toys, cage, etc., should be cleansed with diluted bleach, 1:10 with water. Pet owners can also use chlorhexidine if bleach is not available. If your ferret has free range of the house, all furniture, carpets, and drapes will need to be cleaned as well.
Ferrets that have received proper treatment will make a full recovery within one to two weeks if otherwise healthy. A ferret can easily be re-infected, however, if the fungal spores were not eliminated from the environment.
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