Itchiness, Desire to Scratch, Chew or Lick Causing Inflamed Skin in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 15, 2010

Pruritus in Ferrets

Pruritis is defined as the sensation to itch, or the sensation that provokes the desire to scratch, rub, chew, or lick. It’s often an indicator of inflamed skin, but the underlying cause has not been confirmed. In other mammalian species, histamines and proteolytic (decomposition of protein) enzymes are believed to be the primary mediators. Released by bacteria, fungi, and mast cells, proteolytic can damage epidermal cells.

Symptoms and Types

Some of the most common symptoms seen in ferrets include:

  • Scratching
  • Licking
  • Biting
  • Chewing
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Hair loss (due to intense scratching and self-trauma)


There are many suspected causes of pruritus, including fleas, scabies, lice, allergies, bacterial infections, abnormal cell development (tumors), immune disorders, and allergies. Diseases of the endocrine are thought to cause pruritus in nearly 30 percent of the affected ferrets.


Your veterinarian will start with a physical exam and conduct various laboratory tests to help identify the underlying cause. He or she will typically recommend for an ultrasound to evaluate the adrenal glands. Your veterinarian will also collect skin specimens for microscopic examination, as well as allergy testing to rule it out as a cause.


The treatment given will be dependent upon the underlying cause for the condition. If an adrenal disease is suspected to be the cause of the skin irritation and the desire to scratch, surgical removal of the adrenal gland(s) may be recommended. Medicine may also be given orally, by injection, or as a medicated topical (external) ointment to minimize or eliminate the desire to scratch.

Living and Management

Pruritus requires ongoing treatment and can be frustrating for the dog's owner if progress is not made. Administering the prescribed medications will help to reduce or eliminate the desire for the cat to scratch. Following unilateral adrenalectomy or subtotal bilateral adrenalectomy, monitor for return of clinical signs, which may indicate tumor recurrence.

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