Ear mites are quite uncommon among ferrets and usually occur when the animal's ears are cleaned too much, thus removing natural protective oils. The Otodectes cynotis mite is the cause for the infection and it acts much like a parasite, seeking out a host -- in this case, the ferret -- and feeding on the tissue debris and secretions from the ear canal lining. Fortunately, this is an infection that is relatively easy to clear up once proper veterinary treatment is sought.
Symptoms and Types
The color and odor of a ferret's earwax is the most recognizable sign of an ear mite infection. Normally, a ferret's earwax will be red and odorless. However, those with an infection will have smelly, darker-colored (usually black or gray) earwax . Other signs may also include:
- Oozing or a mucous-like substance around the ears
- Reddish-brown or blackish crusting on the outer ear
- Hair loss around the head and neck
- Ear infection(s)
The ear mite (or Otodectes cynotis) can be acquired from, or transmitted to, dogs, cats, and other ferrets.
A veterinarian may want to rule out other problems, including fleas, dermatitis, or other bacterial or parasitic infections prior to diagnosing an ear mite infection. However, a veterinarian can easily identify an ear mite infection by conducting a routine ear examination, swabbing a sample of earwax, and looking through a microscope for the organism(s).
Medications used to control ear mites typically include topical products that can be diluted and applied directly. Because the medicine has no effect on the mite eggs, the treatment routine will be repeated every one to two weeks, allowing the mite eggs to reach maturation (which takes approximately three weeks). The tip of the ferret's tail should also be treated because ferrets sleeps with their tail near their ears.
Living and Management
Most ferrets recover quickly from the infection. However, if there are other dogs, cats or ferrets in the house, they, too, must be treated for ear mites, as the mites can be very contagious.