Behavioural particularities of ferrets

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Ferrets have become companion animals during the last thirty years. Although the animal does not exist in its natural environment and there is limited research about the species available, some behavioural aspects have been identified that should be taken into account by the veterinarian. Numerous physiological and behavioural characteristics differentiate this species from other carnivores. Ferrets need a higher energy requirement and several meals per day. Ferrets sleep up to 18 hours per day. However, when awake they are highly active displaying exploratory and play behaviour even in adults. Aggression by biting is never pre-empted by menace behaviour. Owners should be aware of these characteristics and should provide the animals with a suitable space and environment.

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This paper reviews seven lines of auditory research which bear upon the issue of awareness in animals. First, comparative studies of auditory sensitivity have found important differences in the hearing abilities of animals such that sounds easily audible to one species may be inaudible to others. Second, studies of auditory attention indicate that when an animal is presented with a complex stimulus, such as a sound that varies in both quality and location, it may attend to one feature and not the other depending on the particular situation. Third, studies of relational concepts have indicated that animals can respond to relations between sounds, for example, indicating whether two sounds are the same or different. Fourth, memory studies have begun to examine the ability of animals to remember sounds. Fifth, studies of auditory perception have demonstrated that animals can classify sounds into natural categories such as dog sounds vs. other sounds. Sixth, studies of primate alarm calls indicate the degree to which animals can use vocal communication within a species. Seventh, studies of an African grey parrot have demonstrated that this animal can communicate with us using human speech sounds.
The response of ferrets to changes in the cost of obtaining food was studied by systematically increasing the number of responses necessary to gain access to a feeder. The results obtained were consistent with an ecological analysis of feeding. As cost increased, meal frequency declined and meal size increased. These changes in feeding allowed the ferrets to obtain sufficient food intake to maintain growth, while conserving total time and energy spent procuring food.
Experiments were conducted to assess the time course of behavioral and endocrine changes which occur in female ferrets as they switch from estrus to the pseudopregnant state. Significant reductions in females' acceptance of neck gripping by a stimulus male (receptivity) and in their latency to approach a stimulus male in an L-maze (proceptivity) were first observed 3 days after receipt of an intromission; no such changes occurred in other females which were only neck gripped by stimulus males during the initial test session. Corpora lutea were later found only in the ovaries of females which received intromissions, confirming that ovulation had occurred in these animals. Plasma concentrations of prostaglandin E1, prostaglandin F2 alpha, and the 13,14-dihydro 15-keto metabolite of prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGFM) were unchanged in female ferrets for 4-5 days after receipt of an intromission. By contrast, plasma concentrations of progesterone were significantly elevated beginning 5 days after, whereas plasma estradiol was significantly reduced beginning 4 days after receipt of an intromission. Daily sc administration of the progesterone receptor antagonist. RU 38486, significantly retarded the lengthening in females' approach latencies to a stimulus male, suggesting that postcoital elevations in circulating progesterone normally contribute to the expected decline in proceptive responsiveness. By contrast, postcoital reductions in acceptance quotients occurred at equivalent rates in females treated with RU 38486 versus vehicle, leading us to infer that postcoital reductions in estrogenic stimulation may cause this decline in ferrets' receptive responsiveness.
The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is proving to be an excellent experimental animal for many anatomical and physiological studies of the adult and developing visual system. As a result, the amount of data available on the ferret's visual system is increasing at a rapid rate. The purposes of this paper are to briefly review some of those data and to present some of the reasons why the ferret is an appropriate choice as an experimental animal for visual system studies.
Onset of hearing in the ferret was judged by simple behavioral, physiological and anatomical indices. The ear canals do not open until the end of the first postnatal month. This coincides with the appearance of a startle response to loud hand claps and the recording of acoustically activated neurons in the midbrain. The late onset of hearing in the ferret (around 32 days postnatal) contrasts with the cat (6 days) and the mouse (12 days).
The unusually short intestinal tract of ferrets and closely related mustelids lacks a cecum and ileocolic valve. As a result, the transit time of ingesta in these carnivores is very rapid compared with other animals, and their food is inefficiently digested. Although the precise nutritional requirements of ferrets have not been determined by feeding defined diets, information has been compiled from experience feeding commercial and analyzed homemade diets to breeding ferrets, fitch, and mink at all stages of their lives. The requirements of spayed or neutered pet ferrets are met by allowing them constant access to drinking water and a palatable, pelleted, or extruded, 90% dry matter, premium cat or ferret food that, as fed, contains at least 15% fat and 30% high quality, meat source protein, less than 30% carbohydrates, and approximately 4 Kcal of metabolizable energy per gram. Lower density diets with more carbohydrate and less protein are associated with poor reproductive performance and growth and greater susceptibility to infectious and metabolic diseases.
Behavior patterns exhibited by the domestic ferret, although similar to its wild cousins, are distinctly domestic in nature. Domestic ferrets use many different types of behaviors, including body posturing, animations, vocalizations, and scent markings. These behaviors may differ somewhat from ferret to ferret. The domestic ferret is best understood by observation and recognition of its behavior patterns and interactions as it plays and communicates with both humans and animals within its home environment. As with all other species of animals kept as pets, the clinician will be greatly benefited by urging the pet owner to regularly note typical behavior patterns for their individual pet. Following is a brief summary of behavioral changes noted in domestic ferrets that may aid the owner or keeper in the detection of potential illness or injury: A normally active ferret suddenly becoming quiet or vice-versa Any sudden increase or decrease in daily food and water intake Routine behaviors performed out of context or order, especially in older animals Any sudden increase or decrease in the speed at which routine behaviors are performed (such as urination, defecation, grooming, food, or water intake) Any sudden increase in the effort required to perform normal or routine behaviors Any sudden changes in personality or attitude toward other ferrets or toward other animals or people. The previous information was gathered over the last 15 years from personal observations, experiences, and studies of ferrets in the shelter, home, and animal hospital environments. This information regarding ferret behavior can assist the veterinarian in differentiating between normal and abnormal behaviors in domestic ferrets. This increased understanding of ferret behavior can aid in the diagnosis of injury and disease and assist the veterinarian in educating clients regarding ferret behavior, care, and recognition of potential disease.