Heartworm Disease in Ferrets
of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org
Many people have heard of heartworm disease
in dogs, but not everyone is aware that pet cats and ferrets are
also at risk of developing this potentially fatal disease.
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm (Dirofilaria
immitis) that is transmitted via mosquito bites.
In brief, the mosquito bites an infected dog and ingests
immature heartworms, called microfilaria. When the infected
mosquito bites another dog, cat, or ferret the microfilaria are
injected into the animal’s bloodstream.
The worms develop into larvae and migrate through the
tissue into the blood stream, making their way to the heart where
they mature and may reach lengths of up to 10 inches.
Ferrets have very small hearts and even a
single adult worm can result in illness.
The worms not only interfere with the function of the
heart, but small fragments may break off and travel through the
blood stream to the lungs where they can cause serious lung
All ferrets in “endemic” heartworm areas
are potentially at risk. An endemic area is an area where the
climate supports enough mosquitoes to keep the disease cycle
going. Even ferrets kept indoors 100% of the time might encounter
a mosquito inside the house.
Heartworm disease in ferrets is relatively
uncommon, and can potentially be treated.
However, as heartworm disease can be serious or even fatal,
owners should consider heartworm prevention medication, which is
safe, effective and inexpensive.