Unfortunately, ear mite infestation is very common in ferrets. It is also common in cats and dogs. According to the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists, ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis is believed to exist worldwide.
Otodectes cynotis live their lives inside an animal’s ears. Otodectes cynotis is contagious and spread by direct contact among ferrets, cats, dogs and other animals. Many kits already have ear mites before they are brought home. Because of the highly contagious nature of ear mites, if you have more than one ferret, or have other pets, all pets in your home need to be treated. Even those pets who do not show obvious signs of ear mite infestation need to be treated, because the treated pet may be reinfected immediately after the end of treatment by those pets who were not treated.
Ear Mites and Ferrets
Otodectes cynotis is often unnoticed in ferrets. One reason is that the mites are very tiny and can only be seen under a microscope. Another reason is that ferrets rarely show signs of being infected with ear mites. Ear mites in cats and dogs can often be suspected due to ear scratching and head shaking when they have an ear mite infestation. Ferrets rarely show these signs. A third reason is that, although a thick, reddish brown to black, waxy discharge is commonly observed in ferrets suffering from ear mite infestation, it is also normal for ferrets to have a brown ear wax. Therefore, a diagnosis of ear mite infestation cannot be made by merely observing the color of a ferret’s ear wax. The diagnosis must be made by a veterinarian.
Ear Mites and Ferrets—Diagnosis
Since ferrets often do not show obvious signs of having ear mites, ferret owners must be vigilant and observe their pets every day. Close observation of an affected ferret’s ear and ear canal usually reveals a dark brown to black colored waxy substance. This substance is composed of microscopic mite parasites, mite eggs, and sebum.
A veterinarian should be consulted immediately if:
- Your ferret’s ear has a foul odor
- The color of your ferret’s ear wax darkens or changes
- The thickness or quantity of your ferret’s ear wax increases
- Your ferret appears to be in pain
- Your ferret has any behavioral changes or is lethargic
- Your ferret has a poor appetite or is depressed
- Your ferret scratches his ears, shakes its head, rubs his ears on the floor, or tilts his head to one side
- Your ferret shows loss of coordination, loss of balance or circling
- Other pets in your home have signs of ear mites or have been diagnosed with ear mites
Otodectes cynotis is quick and easy for a veterinarian to diagnose. A sample of the waxy discharge is taken directly from the ear and then examined under the microscope. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to bring your ferret relief and to prevent complications such as middle ear and inner ear infections, fungal ear infections, or other serious conditions.
Ear Mites and Ferrets—Treatment
Ear mites, like fleas, have a life cycle (eggs, larva, nymph, and adult). The full life cycle of these mites is believed to take 13 to 15 days in the warmer months and three weeks in the colder months. Treatment must span two to three weeks to kill mites in all stages and stop the cycle.
Similar to riding your home for fleas, treating your ferret’s environment is an important step in getting rid of ear mites. See Flea Treatment for Ferrets for details on how to thoroughly treat and wash your ferret’s surroundings and your ferret.
Your ferret’s ear mite treatment regiment will take two to three weeks. During this time, you can either have your veterinarian treat the ear mites on a weekly basis or you can do at-home treatments on a daily basis.
For ear mites and ferrets, he at-home method of treating ear mites consists of applying a miticide medication (labeled as safe for kittens or rabbits) on a daily basis and cleaning out the ear debris. The miticide liquid must be squirted into the ear canal and rubbed in thoroughly each day for a minimum of 14 days.
Caution: Be sure the label says it is safe for kittens or rabbits.
In particular, avoid the ingredients betamethasone BP, neomycin BP and monosulifiram. Ear mite drops that are too strong can cause damage to the outer ears of ferrets which can necessitate surgical removal of part of the ferret’s ear. The best active ingredient for ear mite treatment for ferrets is pyrethrin. A good choice is Eradimite. It contains pyrethrin and is a miticide safe for ferrets.
Alternatively, your veterinarian can apply a once-a-week treatment of ivermectin for two to three weeks. Ivermectin can be massaged directly onto the ears or given by injection. The first treatment is usually followed up by a second treatment two weeks later. The ivermectin dose must be determined by your veterinarian.
If you have many pets in your home, ivermectin may not be as cost-efficient as at-home treatment because all pets must be treated at the same time, or reinfestation will occur. The best way to prevent reinfestation is to keep the ears clean, although clean ears does not guarantee against ear mites.
Successful treatment and elimination of ear mites depends on several factors:
- Using the appropriate medication
- Giving the correct dose
- Administering the medication at the correct time intervals
- Treating all affected animals in the house at the same time
- Isolating affected animals from non-affected animals
- Veterinary examination of all new animals immediately upon arrival
Before you start any ear mite treatment for your ferret, consult your veterinarian to be sure you treat the problem safely and effectively.
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