Why Is My Ferret Scratching It's Ear?
Ear Infections, Ear Mites
And Otitis External In Your Ferret
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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I don't have any articles in my office for you to read concerning ear problems in ferrets specifically. But In 2004, I received three excellent articles published on otitis in dogs and cats that pertain equally well to ferrets. The first, covering common causes of this problem you can read here. The second, covering treatment options, you can read here, and the third, covering infections that have penetrated deeper into the middle ear is available here.
If your ferret has been scratching it's ear or you see a brownish or blackish material in the ear canal, your ferret may have an ear infection (otitis).
Ear infections in ferrets can affect only one ear - but usually both sides are affected. Ear infections in ferrets are almost always secondary to ear mite infestation. The same ear mite, Otodectes cynotis, that infests dogs and cats also infects ferrets. Although it can happen, most ferrets don't get ear mites from other non-ferret pets in the house. They usually get them from their mothers shortly after birth.
Ear mites live in the external ear canal causing chronic irritation, secondary bacterial and yeast infections. Ferrets with ear mites and ear infections frequent scratch their ears with their rear legs and shake their heads. The mites feed on tissue debris and tissue fluids
Ear mites are almost microscopic in size. They look like cream-colored miniature spiders or crabs. If left untreated they can lead to rupture of the ear drums, and balance and hearing problems. The ears of ferrets with ear mites are often scratched and reddened. A magnifying otoscope that all vets have, lets me see the mites by watch for their movement. You can buy them on Ebay as well.
reaction to ear mite in different ways. Some ferrets do not seem bothered
by a few mites while others itch intensely. This may be a sensitivity
to mite saliva in certain individual pets. Ear mites also stimulate
wax secretion from glands within the ear canal. The color and consistency
of the wax also changes and becomes almost black in color and thick
in consistency. This wax looks a bit like coffee grounds. With time,
many ferrets build up an immunity to ear mites so that only a few are
present at any one time and little signs of the infection remain. These
cases are harder to diagnose. So I treat all ferrets with ear problems
with mite medication as well.
The first thing to do to cure this condition is fill the ear canal with mineral oil and agitate it vigorously in the canal with a bulb syringe. At the same time the ear canal gets massaged from the outside.
This loosens and brings up large amounts of blackish earwax. Then we moisten a blunted wooden toothpick and wrap cotton around the tip - drawing it out to a point to make a very small , soft-ended Q-tip. I slowly rotate the Q-tip deep into the canal to remove residual wax. Then I generally put a drop of undiluted permethrin dip (Permectrin II) deep into the ear canal with a plastic pipette. This is effective in killing all the mites that are present.
Do Not Attempt This At Home. Placing objects in the ear canal is a job for experts. The ferret's ear canal is delicate and the pet may suddenly move and damage its ear drums. Instead, take your pet to an animal hospital that specializes in treating exotic animals and pocket pets.
Long standing ear mite problems often cause a bacterial ear infection. Infected ears are not a good place for mites to live. So by the time you take your pet in for a check up, there may be no more mites. But these infections responds well to antibiotic and steroid creams or ointments. Long-standing infections permanently change the consistency of your pet's ear wax and narrow the structures of the ear canal. So the sooner it is treated, the more quickly and completely it will heal.