Ferrets’ (Mustela putorius furo) enrichment priorities and preferences as determined in a seven-chamber consumer demand study
Original Authors: Marsinah La Reljgwart, Claudia M. Vinke, Coenraad F.M. Hendrikson, Miriam van der Meer, Nico J. Schoemaker, Yvonne R.A. van Zeeland
Scarce information exists for ferrets’ behavior and behavioral priorities- for both pet and research counterparts. Previous studies looked at preference testing and stereotypies in regards to enriched versus barren caging but did not investigate preference and/or motivation for specific enrichment items.
A good way to do so are consumer demand studies, involve imposing a strenuous task on the animal in order for it to gain access to a specific resource. The task is one that preferably involves a natural action for the animal sans operant training/shaping. Theory behind it is that By gradually increasing the effort that is needed to gain access to a resource, the maximum price paid (MPP) can be determined: the price at which the animal is no longer willing or able to perform the task.
This study used the consumer demand set up but moved away from the traditional 2 chamber set up of one home cage and one enrichment cage. Instead, they used a seven chamber set up, as they found that ferrets do not perform well with the consecutive presentation of enrichment items. Which seems fitting for a ferret—everything all at once
Seven female ferrets between 8 months and 15 months. Surgically neutered after 5 months. Ferrts housed with a radio that switched on with the lights. Animals were group houses in floor pens with buckets as hides. Animals had been previously exposed to the weighted doors and were shaped to push them. Their Max push weight was calculated from the training
Animals were taken out of group housing one by one and then housed individuals for 26 days in the seven chamber set up. Caging was a long corridor with a one direction weighted-door entrance, a window into the chamber, and a cat-flap that served as a one direction exit.
Doors were unweighted during acclimation, and the enrichment in each chamber randomized. Then weights were added to the doors, 125g per day
Along with the weight method, videos were recorded to see the frequency and duration spent in each chamber
Ferrets were considered to have reached their maximum price paid (MPP) for a particular enrichment category when they did not visit the chamber containing that specific category for 24 h.
The max price ferrets would pay for a nice sleeping hammock chamber was close to the maximum they could physically push. Not only were the hammocks used for sleeping but also caching food and foraging items. This enrichment also had the least amount of variation of results between individuals, suggesting a more ubiquitous preference
Ferrets were found to often cease use of the water nipple in exchange for water bowl access.
Ferrets put significantly more effort in gaining access to social enrichment, water bowls, foraging enrichment and tunnels compared to an empty control chamber. However, inter-individual differences in motivation for these enrichments were higher than for sleeping enrichment.