The popularity of pet ferrets in heartworm-endemic and -nonendemic areas is growing, with ferret ownership in the United States currently exceeding 10 million. The domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) has been reported to be susceptible to naturally-acquired and experimentally-induced infections of Dirofilaria immitis. Host-parasite relationships between D. immitis and domestic dogs and cats have been well studied, but there have been relatively few reports on infections in ferrets. Laboratory studies have shown the ferret to be highly susceptible, with infection and recovery rates similar to those achieved in the dog and higher than those seen in cats. Microfilaremia is characteristically of low concentration and transient in nature, similar to that seen in heartworm-infected cats. A definitive diagnosis can be made from ELISA-based antigen tests, echocardiography, and angiography, but suggestive radiographic findings require additional supportive information to confirm a tentative diagnosis. Prevention has been shown to be effective with currently used canine prophylactic pharmaceutics, but effective treatment of adult heartworms in ferrets has not yet been confirmed by controlled studies. There is currently no approved drug for prevention or treatment of D. immitis in ferrets.
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