Environmental Enrichment—Ferrets

Introduction

Boston University is committed to observing Federal policies and regulations and AAALAC International standards for the humane care and use of animals1. This policy provides guidelines for providing environmental enrichment (EE) for ferrets.

Humane considerations and current policies require that research animals, whenever possible, must have the opportunity to interact with conspecifics and to benefit from EE.   Ferrets are intelligent, social animals that may become stressed when isolated; thus housing ferrets in the same room where they can see, hear, and smell each other is a form of EE.  If handled gently from a young age, this species interacts well with humans.  It is consistent with the goal of implementing and maximizing one of the three Rs, i.e. Refinement, to provide ferrets with EE.

Purpose

A.   To define environmental enrichment for ferrets, including various ways to “facilitate the expression of species-typical behavior and promoting psychological well-being through physical exercise, manipulative activities or cognitive challenges”.1

B.   To outline how exceptions to this policy should be considered by the IACUC or Boston University Asimal Science Center (BU ASC) veterinarians.

Policy

A.  Compatible pair or group housing: The default housing arrangement for all ferrets housed at Boston University includes the social housing of animals into compatible pairs at minimum. Whenever possible, they arrive from the vendor having already lived in compatible groups.  Introduction of novel cagemates will be performed gradually under carefully controlled conditions that minimize likelihood of injurious aggression. If compatible pairings cannot be established due to aggression or bullying of a dominant animal, the animals in question will be singly housed but still retain auditory, olfactory, and sometimes visual access to each other.

B.  If a protocol exception to single house a ferret is to be included in an IACUC submission, the PI is required to consult with veterinary staff during protocol development to discuss the special circumstances that might limit or preclude social housing.  It is expected that if social housing is limited or excluded, then enhanced enrichment (including direct contact with care givers) will be enhanced as a substitute for the lost social contact.   The Principal Investigator (PI) will need to include the requirement and scientific justification for the requested exemptions from social housing included in this policy or associated SOP along with the suggested enhancement to enrichment.   If no exemptions are approved within  the protocol, then the policy and associated SOP will be followed.  Once the protocol is approved, the PI must inform BU ASC of the approved exceptions to this policy.

C.  If a protocol exception to limit or exclude enrichment is to be included in an IACUC submission, the PI is required to consult with veterinary staff during protocol development to discuss the special circumstances that might limit participation in the enrichment program.  The Principal Investigator (PI) will need to include the requirement and scientific justification for the requested exemptions from any EE strategies included in this policy or associated SOP.  If no exemptions are approved within the protocol, then the policy and associated SOP will be followed.  Once the protocol is approved, the PI must inform BU ASC of the approved exceptions to this policy.

D.  Ferrets may be provided with extra cage enhancements and the opportunity for  interaction and handling by caregivers unless an exception to limit or exclude EE is justified in an IACUC-approved protocol for scientific reasons.  Ferrets will be observed daily by care staff and will have their well-being evaluated at least monthly by a veterinarian or other adequately trained staff member.  The assessment and recommendations for continued limitations to EE will be reviewed and approved by the Attending Veterinarian or designee.

Enrichment Devices

A.  Several vendors provide an assortment of enrichment devices and treats.  These may include ferret balls, Nyla bones or other chew toys, food treats, PVC pipes for tunneling, or other
devices which fit in the cages without crowding the animals and can be either discarded at cage change or sanitized.

B.  Animal care staff at the BU ASC will be responsible for the administration of the enrichment program including replacement of devices that are heavily soiled, malfunctioning, or in poor working condition.

C.  If a PI has received approval in a protocol that the ferrets on study will receive edible treats for enrichment, these are best given by the PI or research staff as part of the study.  The administration of these edible treats should be clearly documented in the animal’s records.

References

1.   The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. 2011.  NRC
ILAR.  P. 52-55.  Environmental Enrichment.

BU IACUC Approved September 2013, Revised January 2014