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Workaholic ferrets: does a two-chamber consumer demand study give insight in the preferences of laboratory ferrets (Mustela putorius furo)?

By M. L. Reijgwart, C. M. Vinke, C. F. M. Hendriksen, M. van der Meer, N. J. Schoemaker, Y. R. A. van Zeeland

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Although provision of environmental enrichment is an effective tool to refine laboratory animal experiments, it is currently unknown which enrichments ferrets prefer. This study aimed to assess the suitability of a closed economy, two-chamber consumer demand set-up to determine ferrets' preferences for selected enrichments. Twelve female ferrets were housed in a set-up consisting of a home and enrichment chamber (EC) connected by a weighted door. The maximum weights the ferrets pushed for food (MPP food) and an empty chamber (MPP empty) were determined to evaluate the maximum push capacity of the animals and as a control. Although the ferrets pushed significantly more for food (1325213 g) than for the empty chamber (1169193 g), the weight difference was minor (MPP empty was 8913% of MPP food). To evaluate the ferrets' underlying motivation to push for the empty chamber, a second study was performed in which MPP empty was tested in seven alternative set-ups. The first three set-ups included adapted versions of the standard design (set-up A 1, A 2 and A 3), intended to determine the functional value of the empty chamber. The four other set-ups (set-up B 0, B 1, B 3, B 4) aimed to evaluate the attractiveness of the door elements by allowing the ferrets to choose whether or not to use the weighted door to enter EC. Results demonstrated no significant differences in MPP empty between the A-set-ups, indicating that the value of the empty chamber could not be reduced by adapting the set-up. MPP empty reduced when allowing the ferrets free access to EC, demonstrating that the empty chamber had reinforcing properties. Nevertheless, the ferrets were still motivated to use the weighted door despite being granted free access to EC, indicating that the door also has reinforcing properties. The ferrets decreased the use of the weighted door most when, in a set-up with free access to EC, the nest box in the home cage (5322% of MPP food) was replaced by a manipulable plastic bucket (2613% of MPP food). These results indicate that availability of items in the home chamber may influence the results, which should be taken into account when designing motivation studies similar to the one performed in this study. The lack of differences between MPP food and MPP empty furthermore demonstrates that the two-chamber set-up is not suitable for evaluating the ferrets' motivation for enrichments, thus necessitating other alternatives, such as a three- or multi-chamber consumer demand study, to be explored.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 171
Pages 161-169
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.08.032
Author Address Department of Animals in Science & Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 2, 3584 CM Utrecht, Netherlands.M.L.Reijgwart1@uu.nl
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal experimentation
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Carnivores
  6. Cats
  7. Consumers
  8. Enrichment
  9. Ferrets
  10. Fur-bearing animals
  11. Laboratories
  12. Mammals
  13. mink
  14. peer-reviewed
  15. preferences
  16. properties
  17. Research
  18. vertebrates
  19. weasels
  1. peer-reviewed