Your data on MRCVSonline
The nature of the services provided by Vision Media means that we might obtain certain information about you.
Please read our Data Protection and Privacy Policy for details.

In addition, (with your consent) some parts of our website may store a 'cookie' in your browser for the purposes of
functionality or performance monitoring.
Click here to manage your settings.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
Send Cancel

Wide tunnels and scent trails 'highly beneficial' to ferret welfare
The most commonly provided forms of environmental enrichment revealed by the survey were those that promote rest, such as hammocks.

Study reveals best and worst types of enrichment keepers can provide.

Environmental enrichment such as wide tunnels, digging, and human interaction are highly beneficial to ferrets and can directly impact their health and wellbeing, according to new research.

A team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) also found that ferrets enjoy scent trails, and that these could be introduced to more ferret housing - with prey animal scents, herbs and spices among some of their preferred smells.

Conversely, the study found that rubber toys, narrow tunnels and certain fabrics, such as fleece and towels, were ineffective, leading to stress, injury and aggressive behaviours. 

Researchers hope their findings, published in the journal Animals, will help owners and those working with ferrets to further improve their welfare. 

An estimated one million pet ferrets live in the UK, and 500,000 are understood to reside in the United States. However, researchers understand very little about how ferrets are housed, and what environmental enrichment may benefit them.

To find out more, the team developed an online questionnaire and shared it with ferret owners, zoos, laboratories, rescue centres and the pest control sector. Of the 750 responses, just 15 per cent reported to provide scent trails, suggesting that this form of enrichment could be introduced to more ferret housing. 

The survey also revealed that housing varied across sectors from single-level cages to free-range housing in a room or outdoor enclosure. However, multi-level cages and hutches are understood to promote better welfare compared to single-level housing.

The most commonly provided forms of environmental enrichment revealed by the survey were those that promote rest - such as hammocks - as well as tunnels, boxes and human interaction.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Charlotte Burn, associate professor in animal welfare and behaviour science at the RVC, said: “It’s really important that ferret keepers avoid hazardous rubber toys, narrow tunnels and claw-catching fabrics because many of our respondents said these could injure their ferrets, sometimes requiring surgery or other veterinary assistance. 

“The ferret keepers in our survey had some great tips about what ferrets seemed to most enjoy. Some are already commonly provided, such as wide tunnels, digging, and supervised exploration, but we’d like to encourage owners to try some of the rarer ones too.

"These included paper bags for ferrets to rustle about inside, supervised water play, and scent trails with a healthy treat at the end. Scents to try include prey animal scents from fur, feathers or used rodent bedding, or certain herbs and spices – but ferrets seem to dislike the smell of peppermint!”

Lead author Alice Dancer, a PhD Student at the RVC, added: “How animals are housed and the environmental enrichment they are given can have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing. The 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.”


Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

VMG president joins House of Lords

News Story 1
 Miles Russell, president of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), has been elected to the House of Lords as a crossbench hereditary peer.

He will join Lord Trees as a representative of the veterinary sector in the second chamber of the UK parliament.

Lord Russell said: "Those of us working in the animal health and veterinary sectors are only too aware of the importance of the work we do and the challenges we face.

"I will use my platform in the House of Lords to increase understanding of our sectors and to promote positive change." 

Click here for more...
News Shorts
Duchess of York stars in charity calendar

The National Foundation for Retired Service Animals (NFRSA) has released its charity calendar for 2024, featuring Sarah, Duchess of York and a selection of the retired service animals the charity supports.

The 12 images were taken by animal photographer Gerry Slade and include retired police dogs and horses, a former border force detector dog, and a retired fire investigation and urban search and rescue dog.

Sarah, Duchess of York, who is a patron of the charity, appears alongside retired police dog Jessie in the photograph for December.

So far this year, the charity has given more than 40,000 in grants to help former service animals with their veterinary care. After retirement, they receive no financial support from the Government and obtaining affordable insurance can be difficult.