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News Article

Survey reveals common housing and environmental enrichment provided for ferrets


Inappropriate attempts to enhance a ferret’s housing can be ineffective and cause stress and injuries

A study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), published in Animals, describes how ferrets are housed, the enrichment they receive, enrichment types that ferrets most enjoy and those which may be harmful or problematic.

The RVC researchers developed an online questionnaire which was shared with ferret caretakes, including pet owners, laboratory, zoo, rescue and pest control sectors. Receiving more than 750 valid responses, the researchers analysed results from 17 countries, the majority (82.4%) of which were from pet owners.

The results show that most ferrets were housed with at least one other ferret, providing important social interaction, and the environmental enrichments that ferret keepers believed their ferrets most enjoyed were tunnels (42.5%), digging (27.3%), human interaction (20.8%) and exploration (17.6%).

Conversely, the items reported as being most problematic, and therefore to be avoided, include rubber toys, which can cause internal blockages when chewed and swallowed (45.1%); and enrichments which can result in claws or other body parts becoming trapped (28.6%), such as narrow tunnels and certain fabrics including fleece, towels and loosely woven fabrics. The researchers say this suggests a need for increased awareness of the risks of these types of enrichments and for more commercially available safety-tested ferret environmental enrichments.

Additional key findings, include that:

  • Scent trails were also reported to be among the most enjoyable enrichments but were rarely provided, suggesting that they could be used more.
  • Housing varied across sectors from single level cages to free-range housing in a room or outdoor enclosure however, multi-level cages and hutches, or free-range housing, promotes better ferret welfare compared to single level cages.
  • The environmental enrichment most commonly provided were items that promote rest (such as hammocks or a soft bed), tunnels, boxes and human interaction.
  • Ferrets’ ideal housing could be informed by their natural ecology, which indicates a preference for burrows with dark sleeping areas.

 

The study also builds on pre-existing research into how frequently ferrets’ habitat should be changed – with enhancements that are designed to stimulate recommended being changed in an unpredictable order more than once a month. Conversely, those promoting rest should be changed less regularly and may provide a sense of security in their permanence.

Article: Dancer, A. M. M., Díez-León, M., Bizley, J. K., Burn, C. C. (2022). Housing and environmental enrichment of the domestic ferret: a multi-sector survey. Animals, 12(9):1065, doi: 10.3390/ani12091065

Article details

  • Date
  • 29 April 2022
  • Source
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • Subject(s)
  • Zoo-, Wild-, Laboratory-, and Other Animals