Head of ferret

Use the links above to access information on the housing, husbandry and care of ferrets.

Ferrets are intelligent, curious, agile, social carnivores, and need a complex and stimulating environment in which to exhibit a wide range of natural behaviours. They are thought to be descended from the European polecat which lives in underground burrows, so it is important to provide them with enrichments such as tubes and boxes in which they can crawl, play and sleep. Their drive to explore leads them to investigate all aspects of their enclosure, and they will readily exploit any opportunity to escape.

Basic requirements for good ferret housing include the following:

  • Housing in compatible social groups - entire males should be separated during the breeding season or else they may fight
  • A secure, escape proof enclosure (cage or pen), designed and constructed so as to facilitate refurbishment and remodelling as knowledge develops and improves understanding of the housing needs of ferrets
  • Sufficient height, at least to allow the ferrets to stand on their back legs
  • Sufficient space to allow separate areas for urination and defecation, eating and food storage, activity and resting/sleeping, and to allow environmental enrichment
  • A smooth, non-slip solid floor, with substrate (e.g. sawdust, shavings, woodchips)
  • A vertical surface for scent marking and use as a latrine, well away from the eating and sleeping areas - ferrets can also be trained to use a litter box
  • Good visibility of the room outside of the pen, whilst still allowing semi-enclosed areas for privacy and control over social interactions (use, e.g., nest boxes or pipes)
  • A warm, dry resting/sleeping chamber (e.g. complex wooden box with tunnels), containing comfortable nesting material (e.g. hay, straw, paper)
  • Interest and choice (e.g. of location, height and social contact) within or out-with the pen environment
  • Minimisation of loud, sudden or unfamiliar noise and vibration
  • Regular and confident handling throughout life Ferrets in an enriched cage

Ways to achieve a complex and stimulating environment include:

  • Containers and tubes made of cardboard or rigid plastic, paper bags and hammocks
  • Water baths, which are used extensively
  • Opportunities to use the vertical dimension of the enclosure (e.g., wooden ladders)
  • A choice of microenvironment within the pen (e.g. light, temperature, noise) - note that ferrets do not have well-developed sweat glands are prone to heat exhaustion at high temperatures - maintain temperature in the range 15-24°C

 

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Resources

Links

  • Clingerman KJ, Fox JG (1991), Ferrets as laboratory animals: a bibliography, National Agricultural Library, USDA
    Open Link

Legislation

  • Home Office (1995), Code of practice for the housing and care of animals in designated breeding and supplying establishments. Supplement: ferrets and gerbils
    View PDF (157KB)

  • Council of Europe (2005), Draft proposal for the revised Appendix A to Convention ETS 123 – guidelines for accommodation and care of animals
    Open Link

Discussions

  • LAREF - Laboratory Animal Refinement and Enrichment Forum -- For exchange of experiences about ways to improve the conditions under which laboratory animals are housed and handled.
    Open Link

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