Madera, N., Adams, D., Offord, S. et al. 2022. Novel ferret enrichment: Ferrets have a ball. Laboratory Animal Science Professional 10(6) (November/December), 40-42.

The best types of enrichment for lab animals are ones that encourage the expression of positive species-specific behavior. Ferrets were domesticated for their hunting prowess to control vermin and ability to tunnel narrow holes to ferret out prey. To satisfy their natural behavior as tunnel dwellers, we sought to build a custom complex enrichment device that would provide them with opportunities to display their natural behavior and enjoyment of tubes and tunnels. Ferrets have binocular vision with horizontally slit pupils common in species that chase prey with gaits characterized by a hopping motion. This biology could explain their fascination with balls, and we thought this would aid in increasing exploratory behavior. Ball pits are a common enrichment for young humans, and it was shown to increase a positive emotional state in rats. The ball pit was built using two 120-gallon stock tanks joined together by clear 4” schedule 40 PVC pipes. The stock tanks were filled with non-crushable plastic balls to add environmental complexity. Four male adult ferrets were tested to see if they preferred the stock tank with the balls or one without balls and more positive behaviors were seen in the ball pit, such as sniffing, exploratory behavior prey capture, and the Weasel War Dance as compared to a stock tank without balls. This innovative ball pit was constructed with low-cost plumbing supplies and served to elicit positive behaviors not seen in the home cage of ferrets. More work is needed to better understand what other types of enrichment would encourage more of these affiliative behaviors.

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