Coping With a Ferret Allergy

It is possible to be allergic to any furred pet, including ferrets. Ferrets are mammals, and they are closely related to minks. The domestic ferret, Mustela putorius furo, is among the furred pets that some people keep in their homes in the United States.

Ferret resting on hardwood floor
Nadja Schilling / EyeEm / Getty Images

There have been several published reports describing ferret allergies in people who owned ferrets. Although it is fairly rare to own ferrets—the prevalence of allergies may be similar to other pet allergies, although this has not been studied.

Allergic symptoms would likely include symptoms of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and asthma. Some people have reported skin itching and rashes, such as urticaria, where the ferret touched their skin.​

Diagnosis

There is a commercially available specific IgE ImmunoCAP test for ferret allergy.

In rare cases, an allergist may create a homemade extract for skin testing using any available suspected ferret allergens. This type of testing has not been validated and should be used with caution.

Causes

While ferrets are pets in some American households, there is little known about allergic reactions to these animals. The few studies performed on ferrets show that the proteins causing the allergies are found in the hair, urine, feces, and bedding material. Urine from male ferrets may contain the most potent allergen.

There are numerous proteins that can cause ferret allergy. Albumin, a blood protein, appears to be an important one. Albumin, while mainly found in the blood, may also be found in urine, feces, saliva, and hair/fur.

Who Is At-Risk

Anyone who has a history of hay fever or asthma may be at risk for developing an allergy from exposure to ferrets. It appears that people with cat allergies, particularly those allergic to cat albumin, may also be allergic to ferrets.

Treatment

For people with ferret allergy, avoidance of ferrets is the mainstay of therapy. Allergy medications are likely to help control symptoms, but in many instances, symptoms may persist if the person continues to keep the ferret indoors.

Ferret owners may not want to part with their pets, despite the symptoms they endure. Short of getting rid of the pet, it may be possible to reduce allergy symptoms by following various avoidance measures. It is likely that similar avoidance measures to those used for managing a cat allergy would be useful for people with ferret allergy.

There are no specific allergy shots given for treating ferret allergies, but allergy shots using cat albumin may be helpful in some circumstances, due to the cross-reactivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you have a ferret allergy?

Symptoms can include sneezing, coughing, itchy skin, red or watery eyes, runny nose, and trouble breathing. If you suspect an allergy, contact your doctor or an allergist who can help you with diagnosis and treatment.

Can a ferret allergy trigger asthma?

Yes, the proteins in dander from ferrets and other warm-blooded animals can trigger an asthma attack. If you have asthma and a ferret allergy, the most effective way to prevent an attack is to avoid being exposed to ferrets.

How can you help manage a ferret allergy?

If removing the ferret from your home isn't possible, you can try other strategies. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter every week. Reduce the number of surfaces where allergens can build, such as rugs and curtains, and opt for bare floors and blinds instead.

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Article Sources
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  1. González de Olano D, Pastor Vargas C, Cases Ortega B, Perez-Gordo M, Moral Darde V, Vivanco F, Bartolomé B. Identification of a novel 17-kDa protein as a ferret allergen. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009 Aug;103(2):177-8. doi: 10.1016/s1081-1206(10)60175-5. PMID: 19739435.

  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Pet Allergy. Updated April 23, 2018.

  3. Codina R, Reichmuth D, Lockey RF, Jaen C. Ferret allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001;107(5):927. doi:10.1067/mai.2001.114704

  4. Díaz-Perales A, González-De-Olano D, Pérez-Gordo M, Pastor-Vargas C. Allergy to Uncommon Pets: New Allergies but the Same AllergensFrontiers in Immunology. 2013;4. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2013.00492

  5. Miller RL, Bochner BS, Feldweg AM. Patient education: Trigger avoidance in asthma (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated January 12, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • Codina R, Reichmuth D, Lockey RF, Jaen C. Ferret Allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2001;107:927.
  • Nugent JS, Whisman B, Hagan LL. Ferret Allergy: Identification of Serum Specific IgE to Albumin with Cross-reactivity to Cat. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003;111:S324.