A new study from the Royal Veterinary College has revealed the best toys and housing for ferrets’ health and wellbeing.
It is estimated that there are more than one million pet ferrets in the UK and a further 500,000 in the United States, but until now little was known about how ferrets are housed and what environmental enrichment they benefit from.
For the study1RVC researchers analyzed 750 responses to an online questionnaire from ferret keepers (82% of whom were pet owners and the remainder were from the laboratory, zoo, rescue and pest control sectors) from 17 countries.
The study found that most ferrets were housed with at least one other ferret, providing social interaction.
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%).
The items reported as being most problematic included 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, such as narrow tunnels and certain fabrics including fleece, towels and loosely woven fabrics (28.6%).
Other main findings included:
- Scent trails were reported as amongst the most enjoyable enrichments but were only reported to be provided by 15% of total respondents, suggesting they could be introduced to more ferret housing.
- Housing varied across sectors from single level cages to free-range housing in a room or outdoor enclosure.
- 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.
Alice Dancer, PhD Student at the RVC, and lead author of the paper, said: “How animals are housed and the environmental enrichment they are given can have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing.
“Finding that large housing and high numbers of enrichment are possible in all ferret-keeping sectors is a really good sign for ferret welfare.
“We hope that these results help inspire ferret caretakers to consider the housing they use, offer ideas for new ferret enrichments, and raise awareness of enrichments which may harm their ferrets.”
- Dancer AMM, Díez-León M, Bizley JK, Burn CC. Housing and Environmental Enrichment of the Domestic Ferret: A Multi-Sector Survey. Animals. 2022; 12 (9): 1065. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12091065
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