Domestic ferrets make lively and amusing pets. They are not rodents, but belong to the same family as mink and otters. Ferrets were first domesticated thousands of years ago in Europe to help control rodent populations, and the domestic ferrets of today are descendants of these ferrets. Domestic ferrets represent a different species than their endangered wild cousins, the black-footed ferret. Ferrets can carry some bacteria that can make humans sick like Salmonella and Campylobacter. Feeding raw diets increases the risk of infection in ferrets. It is important to use proper hygiene when handling ferrets or cleaning their litter boxes to reduce the risk of getting sick.
Ferret-related diseases of concern in Ohio include:
Animal bites: ferrets
Rates of ferret bites are much lower than for other animals kept as pets. In fact, on average, only 10 ferret bites are reported in Ohio each year. However, ferret bites can still become infected and pose a risk for transmission of rabies. If you have been bitten by a ferret, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the need for antimicrobial treatment and report the bite to your local health department.
Campylobacteriosis is a gastrointestinal illness of humans and animals caused by Campylobacter bacteria. It can cause diarrhea in ferrets, especially kits (babies). Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in the feces of infected animals and in food products contaminated with the bacteria during processing or preparation. Eating raw or undercooked chicken and consuming unpasteurized milk are two of the most common sources of human infection. Hand washing and proper food handling techniques are important ways of preventing human infections.
Rabies virus can infect any species of mammal. It causes encephalitis and is almost always fatal once symptoms develop. It is spread when a person or animal is bitten by an infected animal or, less commonly, when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or onto a mucous membrane. All bites should be reported to the local health department. Protect your pets by having them vaccinated for rabies. Ferrets require yearly rabies vaccinations.
Salmonellosis is a gastrointestinal illness of humans and animals caused by Salmonella bacteria. The most common source of infection for humans is through ingestion of food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. There have also been outbreaks associated with pet food contaminated with Salmonella. Ferrets can become infected when they eat contaminated food and will shed the bacteria in their feces. Hand washing and proper food handling techniques are important ways of preventing human infections.
Last updated: 03/05/2015
Zoonotic Disease Program