Q: I have a white ferret named Junior. He has a mark on him, and I didn’t see it on him yesterday. He is scratching at it like crazy, and it was kind of bleeding, too. I don’t know what I should do. I think that something bit him, because he is always digging at the bite or whatever it is. I just hope it’s not a tumor. I really love Junior.
A: There can be many causes for a skin irritation that leads to such discomfort that your ferret starts biting and scratching at a certain area of the skin. When veterinarians hear a story like this, we start thinking about insect bites (as you mentioned), bacterial infections, fungal infections, trauma to the skin, self-inflicted wounds and even neoplasia.
Most ferrets in the United States live indoors, so we do not see many insect or flea bites in ferrets. But they do occur. In many cases, it is not just one area but numerous parts of the skin that are affected. If it is just one area on the skin, then likely this one lesion is not due to an insect bite.
Occasionally, if there is a small wound on the skin and it becomes infected with bacteria, this can become very itchy. So the potential scenario is that your ferret may have somehow received a cut on his skin, bacteria got into the wound and now it is very, very itchy.
Although more common in other pets, on rare occasions a ferret might self-mutilate, causing a vicious cycle of biting at the skin, causing a wound, causing more mutilation and biting at the mutilated area.
Fungal infections on the skin and hair can cause irritation but these are rare in ferrets, and it is even more uncommon for them to cause this type of reaction.
Probably the most common reason for a severe skin reaction is a mass such as a mast cell tumor. There are a few other skin tumors that can cause this reaction, but they are less common. The good news is almost all of these tumors are benign and can be cured if found and removed in time.
In some ferrets with adrenal gland disease it leads to “itchiness,” but rarely to the point where the skin begins to bleed.
The best thing you can do for your ferret is to take him to a veterinarian who knows about ferrets; he or she will be able to both diagnose and treat this for your ferret.