Coping With a Ferret Allergy

Ferret Resting On Hardwood Floor
Nadja Schilling / EyeEm / Getty Images

The domestic ferret, Mustela putorius furo, is the third most common furred pet in the United States. Ferrets are mammals and closely related to minks.

It is possible to be allergic to any furred pet, including ferrets. There have been at least 2 studies reporting ferret allergy, in 6 people who owned ferrets. Allergy to ferrets is probably very common, in much the same way as dog and cat allergy.

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

At the present time, there is no commercial extract available for allergy testing. However, it is possible to skin test using a sample of ferret hair/fur obtained from a ferret owner. An allergist may make a homemade extract using the hair and ultimately use this extract for skin testing.

Alternatively, there are commercially available RAST panels testing for ferret allergy.

Causes

While ferrets are common pets, 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 amount of allergen.

There are numerous proteins that can cause ferret allergy, although a blood protein, called albumin, 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's At-Risk

Anyone who has a history of hayfever or asthma may be at risk for developing an allergy after being exposed to ferrets. It appears that people with cat allergy, 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. There are no reports of allergy shots to ferrets being performed, although this is theoretically possible. Furthermore, allergy shots using cat extracts (containing cat albumin) may be helpful given the known cross-reactivity between one major allergen with these animals.

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 avoidance measures that are successful for cat allergy would be useful for people with ferret allergy.

View Article Sources
  • 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.