Ferret Behaviour Ethogram


On August 8th and 9th, 2017, TWO (2) behaviour ethogram studies were conducted to observe the changes in behaviour in relation to enrichment for a 9 month old intact male ferret during winter. Each observation ran for a minimum of 60 minutes and was done in the ferret’s usual environment with or without enrichment.  This particular ferret is fed a balanced raw diet and his personality is usually quite active, even during winter when the ferrets tend to slow down and/or sleep more.

Observation – No Enrichment.
Observer’s Name: Machan.
Day: 1.
Date: August 8th, 2017.
Start Time: 2:26PM
Finish Time: 3:34PM
Location: At home. Ferrets usually play as a group of 5 throughout the house. Temperature: 19°C.
Weather Conditions: Inside [House] / Heated.

Animal: Ferret.
Animal Name: Shunji.
Gender: Intact Male.

Age: 9 Months.

Due to the immense difficulty with fully removing enrichment for this observation, Shunji was confined to a single room with very minimal enrichment. Any excess enrichment such as his usual tunnels, toys, dig boxes and even fellow ferrets, were excluded during this time. At the beginning of the observation, Shunji was quite alert and playful. He explored the room within minutes. The observer withheld from interacting with him through play,  as human/ferret interaction could also be considered a form of enrichment.  Shunji began showing signs of boredom and frustration upon realising that there were no other ferrets or humans willing to interact with him during this time. The young ferret would often sigh and lay flat on the ground, a perfect indicator of boredom in this particular case. He attempted to seek out the human on multiple occasions in order to engage in play, however in realisation that this was not working out he would in frustration try and grab at the human’s socks, attempting to rip them from the feet in order to stash them somewhere else. There was quite a lot of occurrences where he would go straight to the door to the room, sniff and then begin digging / scratching. Within 20 minutes of this observation, he was starting to get more frustrated and the destructive behaviours started to become more and more prevalent. Shunji would scratch and bite at the furniture, try and get under things such as chairs or shelves and would attempt to knock things over. He became unusually nippy- Nipping which is fairly common in ferret play, but for this particular occasion he was being rougher and harder than usual especially for his personality which tends to be more gentle and soft with human play. He attempted to stash the human (by grabbing onto the hand and pulling backwards) on many occasions. Being a young, intact male, he requires more play compared to the other (altered) ferrets, so this was an interesting observation especially to see his lack of enrichment limit.. Being confined to a smaller room with minimal to no enrichment seemed to cause a lot of boredom, stress and frustration and so having a larger space for exploration and many forms of enrichment should be provided in order to adequately meet his needs when considering his age, species and personality.

Observation – WITH Enrichment.
Observer’s Name: Machan.
Day: 2.
Date: August 9th, 2017.
Start Time: 4:45PM
Finish Time: 5:50PM
Location: At home.
Temperature: 19°C.
Weather Conditions: Inside [house] / Heated.

Animal: Ferret.
Animal Name: Shunji.
Gender: Intact Male.

Age: 9 Months.

For this observation rather than confine him to a single room, Shunji was open to playing around most parts of the house with 4 other ferrets. Enrichment items include multiple tunnels, rice dig box, Packing peanut dig box, multiple plush toys, human interaction, etc. Shunji was active and playful throughout the 60 minute observation time. Jumping around often and wrestling with the other ferrets. Shunji would often chase the other ferrets up and down the house, through tunnels, and was very explorative in general. He rarely approached any humans and did not really dig or scratch at carpet or become destructive with furniture. There was a few times where he did scratch at the carpet, however that was only due to the fact a door had closed when it should have been open.  When he did approach humans, he was gentle and affectionate, often stopping to groom as a greeting before running off back to play with his brothers or sisters.

Behaviours: Frequency Without Enrichment: Frequency With Enrichment: Notes:
Scratching / Digging 25 2 He was constantly terrorizing the carpet near the door out of the room [without enrichment]. He knows that humans don’t like this behaviour.
Seeking Out Human 20 3 Very frustrated and bored, Shunji often sought out the human when there was nothing else to do [without enrichment] but only came to human occasionally [with enrichment.]
Unusual Nipping 12 0 Nipping is normal during play, however Shunji got unusually harder with nipping [without enrichment] whereas with enrichment he never nipped a human once.
Other Destructive Behaviour 17 0 Very frustrated ferret. Kept trying to destroy the furniture [without enrichment] but with enrichment had no issues whatsoever.
Playing 4 45 Was more playful at the beginning of the observation [without enrichment] and throughout [with enrichment.]
Vocalisation 2 7 Ferrets in general don’t tend to vocalise but generally do when excited.
Laying Down 6 4 There is a difference between both, [Without enrichment] he seemed frustrated and bored, whereas with enrichment he only did so after intense play as a breather.
[Engaging with] Enrichment 0 15 [With Enrichment] Quite enjoys his tunnel toys and has started stealing socks (Bad habit he picked up from Amy.)
Aggression 0 0 I have never picked up on aggressiveness with Shunji. Even if he gets a bit rough in play, he’s generally pretty gentle and I couldn’t call that aggression.
Grooming [Themselves] 1 4 Stopped for an itch once [without enrichment] and groomed himself in the enrichment observation occasionally.
Grooming [Others] 2 5 He often grooms the human or other ferrets. Without enrichment, he only came up twice, whereas with enrichment he groomed his cagemates during and after play.
Urinating 0 – N/A 1 Shunji often goes to the little ferret tray upon waking up, prior to playtime. With enrichment, he went only once outside of the cage.
Defecating 0 – N/A 1 Same as above.
Fighting 0 – N/A 0 – N/A No fighting here, however he does play rough with his brothers during enrichment play.

Note: No foraging / eating occurred during these observations.

The natural housing and activity of this animal in the wild.
Ferrets are descendants of the solitary European Polecat commonly found around farmlands and in forests in many parts of Europe. Dens which are the natural housing of this species, are commonly built under the roots of trees or at the banks of streams.

Recommended Improvements for Shunji based on ethogram results, relating to the animals housing and enrichment.
The ferret should have at least 5-6 hours out of cage and should preferably have more than just a room for play so that he has adequate space for exploration. Due to the fact that he’s intact, He should be supervised when he has group / shared play times with the other ferrets in the business. He enjoys human / ferret interaction and so more hand play would be ideal for him.

Behavioural Observation and Animal Welfare.
When carrying out behavioural observations on ferrets in Australia, the observer and/or carer should ensure that the animal’s welfare is not compromised. Always conduct observations with Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) and the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DAA) in mind. The ferret(s) are number one priority and so always treat the animals with respect, compassion and kindness. At any stage where the ferret becomes excessively stressed or distraught that it causes concerning health concerns (emotionally or physically), then the observation should come to an immediate stop.

Expected Behaviours, Abnormal Behaviours and Causes during Observation.
The results were expected considering the circumstances and the high energy of this particular species. The only abnormal behaviours were those that became excessive (eg. digging/scratching, nipping harder than usual), stress and lack of space to play and enrichment would have been the cause for the excessive behaviours.

Reporting any abnormal behaviour which may compromise physical and behavioural well-being in Captive Animals.

In the animal care industry, any abnormal behaviours which indicate less than optimum physical and behavioural well being is identified in captive animals, should be reported to the supervisor in charge and followed up with a veterinarian to ensure good health is in order. For the general pet ferret owner, any abnormal behaviours which are overly concerning or become persistent, are best brought up during a vet visit to ensure that the ferret is not in ill health and also to ensure that if worst comes to worst, you can get any treatments necessary earlier rather than later.

Short and long term strategies to manage undesirable animal behaviour.

Short/Long term strategies would include identifying the problem and then countering it by providing a temporary or permanent solution to meet the needs of that particular ferret. Every ferret is different and while they are all generally high energy animals and it is recommended to provide such and such for enrichment or out of cage time, this can vary from ferret to ferret. Some will require more than others.

For example, A common undesirable behaviour such as carpet digging in a ferret confined to a small location could have a short term strategy by protecting the carpet using mats or protectors, providing adequate enrichment items such as tunnels, dig boxes, toys, even another ferret as company or enriching food items, human to ferret interaction. Occasionally enrichment items should be rotated, swapping some out for newer enrichment items. A long term solution would be to provide more room to allow the ferret to explore and include more ferret to ferret or human to ferret interaction.

Noticeable differences to the animal’s behaviour after enrichment was added.
When enrichment was included, the active high energy  ferret was able to freely release it’s energy, get its mind working and was more relaxed rather than stressed.

Abnormal behaviour from enrichment.
There were no abnormal behaviours associated with enrichment items during the second observation. All enrichment items in the second observation were used safely among the ferret(s). However, it is advised that toys or enrichment items made from rubber, (eg. kong toys) are best not used as an enrichment item due to the high risk of potential blockages. All enrichment items in general need to be supervised when and where possible if they do pose a safety risk. Any plush toys with parts that can be chewed off, should be removed (or parts removed) and checked daily, if not weekly to ensure it is safe for ferret play.

Average number of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behaviours observed during the study.

Pretty much all the behaviours that the ferret exhibited can be considered fairly normal but it’s always when it becomes excessive or too frequent when it becomes an issue. For average numbers, Please refer to chart further up in this report.  General high energy play for extended periods (eg. more than 5-6 hours). Ferrets could easily play for up to 8 hours at any given time if allowed to do so. Energy levels may change according to diet and season. (eg. Summer = More active, Winter = Less Active.) Nipping is generally normal but excessive unusual nipping, harder nipping than usual may be an indicator that the ferret’s needs may not be adequately met. Ferrets nip as communication. Digging is also normal, excessive digging however is not.

Biology and diseases of the ferret (3rd edition)

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