Ferrets can pass some diseases to people; all it takes is transfer of bacteria, viruses or parasites. Knowing the signs and symptoms of common ferret diseases, and taking appropriate actions and precautions, can prevent your or a loved one's getting sick from your ferret.
Who's at Risk
Well-kept domesticated ferrets rarely transmit diseases, and adults in general good health won't get sick from contact with even a sick pet ferret as long as you wash after. Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients, are more at risk for getting sick from contact with a ferret than the average healthy adult. Ferrets who receive their recommended vaccinations and are kept in clean environments away from wild animals should be free from disease. Ferret owners who take the proper precautions when handling their pets and cleaning their cages should be safe from infection.
Ferrets can carry campylobacter and salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tracts. Campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis are temporary intestinal infections with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and fever that usually last five to 10 days and clear up on their own in healthy people. People may come in contact with these bacteria when cleaning their ferrets' cages and litter boxes, but instances of infection are rare. Thorough hand-washing after cleaning your ferret's litter box and safe waste disposal help prevent spread of bacterial disease.
Humans and ferrets can give the common flu and colds to each other. Cases have been reported of H1N1 and influenza type A being transferred between ferrets and people. Ferrets show the same flu and cold symptoms as humans, including runny nose, sneezing, coughing and loss of appetite. Rabies, meanwhile, is a lethal virus that can be transmitted between many species of mammals, including humans and ferrets. Some municipalities require that ferrets be vaccinated against rabies even if they never go outside. It's extremely unlikely that a domesticated ferret will contract rabies, as it would have to spend time in contact with infected wild animals.
Some microscopic parasites can pass between humans and ferrets; such as when cleaning up after the pet. Giardia lamblia is a parasite of the small intestine that can infect both humans and ferrets. The most common symptoms of giardia infection are nausea and diarrhea. Pregnant women shouldn't change a ferret's litter box because ferrets, like cats, can carry the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This tiny invader causes toxoplasmosis, a serious disease that can cause complications in pregnancy and even miscarriage.
Ringworm is a fungus that lives on the skin of many mammals, including ferrets and people. It spreads through direct skin contact. Meanwhile, fleas are among the most common skin parasites ferrets can contract. Fleas will dine on human blood if a home is seriously infested, as the fleas will need additional hosts. Scabies, mange as it's called in animals, is a skin disease caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin and lay eggs. The mites cause extreme itching and rashes. Scabies can spread through direct contact with a ferret or with his habitat. Scabies mites are host-specific, but they can infect hosts not of their preferred species.
- Public Health - Seattle & King County: Diseases From Ferrets
- FerretsMagazine.com: Can Ferrets Give People Diseases?
- Fancy Publications: Communicable Diseases
- CDC: Pregnant Women And Toxoplasmosis
- PubMed Health: Scabies
- pet-education.com: Scabies (Sarcoptic Mange) in Ferrets
- CDC: Campylobacter General Information
- PubMed Health: Salmonella
- PubMed Health: Rabies
- PubMed Health: Giardia Infection
ferret image by marinatlt from Fotolia.com
Madeline Masters works as a dog walker and professional writer. In the past she has worked as a fitness columnist, fundraising copywriter and news reporter. Masters won two Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Awards in 2009. She graduated from Elizabethtown College with a Bachelor of Arts in English.