Once considered exotic and unusual, ferrets have become popular household pets. As with other pets, ferrets transmit and harbour parasites. Types of worms your ferrets may acquire include heartworm, roundworm, tapeworm and lungworm. The gestation of each type of worm depends on the life-cycle of the specific parasite. Also, some parasitic gestation periods may involve external conditions or secondary species.
Ferrets belong to the Mustelidae family, which includes mink, otters and skunks. It has been domesticated for so long that it cannot survive in the wild. Your ferret is susceptible to the same parasitic worms that affect many other domesticated animals. Parasite contaminated environment infects your ferret and the parasite reproduces inside of its body, eventually causing re-contamination of the environment. The time period between a parasite's conception to its birth is considered its gestational period, which varies depending on the type of parasite.
Heartworm, or Dirofilaria immitis, infects dogs, cats and ferrets. The microfilarial larval worm is picked up by a mosquito when it bites an infected animal. The microfilaria mature into a third stage larvae within the mosquito, which takes 14 days. When the infected mosquito bites your ferret, this third stage larvae matures into its fourth stage and travels through tissues to reside in the pulmonary artery. While residing within the artery, it matures to an adult form and releases new microfilaria into your ferret's blood. The worms take 100 to 140 days to produce their own microfilaria.
Intestinal roundworms commonly infect puppies and kittens, which can spread to your pet ferret. Infected animals expel roundworm eggs into the environment via faeces. The eggs need to reside in the soil for at least two weeks to become infective. These eggs can remain dormant in the soil for up to two years. Therefore, the gestation length of roundworms in ferrets is as long as it takes for the eggs to reach the small intestine after ingestion -- just a matter of hours.
Hookworm, or Ancylostoma species, may cross-contaminate ferrets from dogs and cats. A ferret can ingest hookworm larvae directly from the environment or the larvae can migrate into the skin. Most ingested larvae stay within the digestive system, but some continue to migrate through tissues. After intestinal hookworms mature, they expel eggs into the digestive system. If expelled into a warm moist environment, the eggs will have a gestation period of 24 to 72 hours.
Lungworm is common in wild American Mustelids. Therefore, these worms can contaminate pet ferrets. More commonly, the main host of lungworms is a cat. This worm's life cycle includes snails as intermediate hosts. The ferret has to ingest the snails to acquire the larvae, which head to the lungs to reproduce. The time from infection to reproduction is six to 12 weeks.
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- "Ferret Husbandry, Medicine, and Surgery"; John H. Lewington; 2000
- The World Ferret Union and World Ferret Information Centre; What is a Ferret; March 2010
- University of Pennsylvania; Parasites of the Ferret; Dr. Nolan; 2004
- Wildlife Information; Dirofilaria Immitis
- Quizlet; Aelurostrongylus Abstrusus Combined; November 2010
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Hookworms