It had been a pretty uneventful Saturday morning of appointments and things were winding down. I noticed I had one more appointment and it was a new patient and new client. I didn’t really pay much attention to why the pet was coming in. I have been a veterinarian for 21 years, so it isn’t very often that I see something that I haven’t dealt with in the past. But then every once in a while, something really unusual comes in—like this ferret named “Clemmie.”
My assistant put “Clemmie” and her owner into an exam room and got a history of the current problem. Then she came into my office to get me, but she had an unusual look on her face. She told me that “Clemmie” was ready to be seen and looked pretty sick. This really didn’t surprise me too much. Many of the ferrets I see are pretty sick when they come in. I see a lot of older ferrets who have been rescued by ferret lovers when health problems have proven to be too much for the original owners. So when I walked in the room and saw an extremely thin, quiet ferret, it wasn’t a real surprise. But when I got a little closer, I was shocked at what I saw! “Clemmie” had ticks on her. “Clemmie” had a lot of ticks on her. This little, sickly, ferret weighing in at only 11 ounces had so many ticks on her that I couldn’t easily count them! If that wasn’t shocking enough, the story of how “Clemmie” got those ticks on her was even more amazing.
Fifteen days before this, “Clemmie’s” owner had arrived from Connecticut to visit her father. When she was unloading her car, she briefly left a cage in the driveway that contained “Clemmie” and another large male ferret. In just that few minutes, the large male ferret had forced open the cage door and both ferrets were nowhere to be seen. The owner started calling and searching for them. The male ferret came out of hiding almost immediately, but “Clemmie” was nowhere to be found. Over the next several days, the owner continued calling and searching for “Clemmie,” but her efforts were unsuccessful. With temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, the owner gave up looking thinking no ferret could survive on its own for that long. Well, no ferret except for “Clemmie.”
Shortly after “Clemmie” had taken off, her owner had told a friend about her poor lost ferret. This friend had never met “Clemmie” before and lived about 3/4ths of a mile away. Imagine his shock when fifteen days later “Clemmie” staggered up to him as he stood in his yard. Somehow “Clemmie” was able to get to him while navigating around his large German Shepherd. This 3/4ths of a mile trip had to involve crossing two paved roads, a couple fields of soy beans, a cornfield, high brush in a field, and finally through a short patch of woods. There was no obvious standing water on this path, but evidently she found some along the way to have kept going for fifteen days. And obviously somewhere on her journey, she had a bunch of ticks drop off vegetation onto her back for a ride and a meal.
Besides the ticks, on examination of “Clemmie” she was very emaciated, but since found was eating and drinking very well. The ticks had caused some pretty sore areas on her skin. The majority of them were attached around her head and neck. Most of them were still very small so they had only recently attached to her. I masked her down with gas anesthetic, gave her some subcutaneous fluids to help with her dehydration, and started removing ticks. I removed 44 ticks from this 11 ounce ferret. I don’t think I have even seen a large dog with that many ticks!
We sent “Clemmie” home with her owner an hour later with some antibiotics for the sores on the skin the ticks caused, a special food to try to get her to recover sooner, and directions to watch for more ticks just in case we missed any small ones. I had applied a dose of Revolution on her to hopefully kill any other ticks that might be on her. At last report, “Clemmie” was on the mend. “Clemmie’s” owner had found just one more tick on her and she was gradually getting back to normal. This was truly a memorable case.
Chad Higgins, is a 1989 graduate of Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and has taken care of dogs, cats, and other little furry critters at Amanda Animal Hospital for the last 13 years.