An investigation of behaviour, physiology, morphology and stability of animal personality, in order to develop a valid and standardised personality assessment tool: a case study in the domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo). (#660)
The domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a popular companion animal both in Australia and overseas, yet there is limited information on how best to manage them in order to promote positive behaviour and welfare. A survey study was conducted which aimed to investigate the links between owner–reported housing and management factors of keeping ferrets, and play and undesirable behaviours. The main findings were that male ferrets showed more play behaviour (weasel war dance) than females (P = 0.04) and de-sexing reduced the incidence of repetitive behaviour (P = 0.01). The number of enrichment items was shown to increase the incidence of playful vocalisations, known as dooking (P = 0.01) and weasel war dance (P < 0.01). Surprisingly, size of enclosure had no significant effect on behaviour (P > 0.1). A further study is underway to examine individual variations between ferrets in order to define different personality types. Potential personality types were investigated using behavioural assessments, immunoassays of salivary cortisol, body measurements and interviews of ferret owners. Preliminary results have demonstrated that there are indeed variations in all of these factors between individual animals. These results appear robust and well-defined, and will form the basis for the development of a standardised personality assessment tool for domestic ferrets. Such a tool would assist greatly in catering for different individual needs in captivity (such as enrichment type and social groupings), thus enhancing physical safety of individuals within groups as well as psychological welfare of individual ferrets.