Köbrunner, D., Waiblinger, S., Stetina, B. U. et al. 2020. Insight into husbandry conditions, health, and behavior of pet ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) among German-speaking ferret owners. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 37, 8-19.
Few data are published about different ferret husbandry practices in terms of housing, enrichment, feeding, social management, and the health status of ferrets. However, these factors are crucial for animal welfare and influence animal behavior. A comprehensive online survey was conducted among 573 German-speaking ferret owners to gain insight into these aspects of husbandry, the occurrence of behaviors potentially indicative of good or impaired welfare and associations between environmental conditions and ferret behavior. To reduce reactance in participants, a forced choice answer format was avoided; therefore, the sample size varied. Ferrets were on average 3.3 ± 2.3 (mean ± SD) years old. 56% were male and 44% were female. 89% of the male and 83% of the female ferrets were neutered. Many ferrets enjoyed good health. Most (73.7%, n = 425) ferrets were not diagnosed with a ferret-typical illness. A high percentage of animals were housed in a dedicated ferret room (32.7%) or unconfined in the flat or house (34.5%). The vast majority had various enrichment items in their main living area (e.g., tubes: 98.1%, boxes: 84.4%, climbing items: 81.3%). Potential stressors and welfare issues were also identified [e.g., single housing (4%), recent bite injuries (4.6%) from other ferrets, ferret-typical diseases, such as cardiac disease and adrenal tumors (6% each), or recent signs of ill health such as diarrhea (7.1%) or parasites (6.2%) and potential problem behaviors, which might strain the human-animal relationship, such as defecation outside the toilet area (daily in 27%)]. The mean age of the latest deceased ferret was 5.8 ± 2.6 years, hinting at a shorter life span than often predicted. Both housing type and recent changes in the pair or group composition, that is, in the social environment, were shown to have an effect on behavior. For instance, repetitive nibbling was reported more often in ferrets living in indoor enclosures compared with animals kept in ferret rooms, unconfined in the flat/house or outdoor enclosures (P < 0.05). If a new ferret had been introduced within the last six months, more agonistic behaviors (hissing, high-pitched screaming, defecating during interaction) were reported (P < 0.05). In sum, according to owner reports, many ferrets enjoyed good health, enriched living conditions, and companionship. However, potential stressors and welfare issues were also identified and associations between husbandry conditions and signs of impaired welfare can built the basis for owner education.