Preventing Boredom In Ferrets
Boredom occurs when an animal wants stimulating activity but doesn’t have the opportunity to experience it. Companion animals are at risk of boredom when their environment is not stimulating enough. However, experts don’t fully understand boredom in companion animals and how it affects animal welfare. To complicate matters further, boredom indicators may include both higher-than-normal and lower-than-normal activity states, which can make accurately identifying boredom challenging.
Unfortunately, some people don’t believe that animals have the capacity to feel bored — this, in turn, might lead them to deprive their animals of what they need. Because of this, the authors suggest that increasing people’s awareness of an animal’s emotional capacity is an important step to improving animal welfare.
This study explores how animal guardians perceive boredom in ferrets, and whether this awareness relates to how they care for them. Ferrets were studied because of their popularity as companion animals and because the authors argue that they are often kept in boring environments, despite their curious nature.
Researchers surveyed ferret guardians found through social media and asked them to weigh in on their animal’s housing, enrichment, and behavior. The authors were especially interested in exploring how guardians perceived the 13 “gold standard” signs of ferret boredom that have been identified in previous research. They collected 621 surveys, mostly completed by women from the United Kingdom.
Most respondents believed that ferrets can experience boredom and that their own ferrets have felt bored. Only 7% of respondents doubted that ferrets can experience boredom. These respondents provided less enrichment compared to ferret guardians who believed that ferrets have the capacity to experience boredom.
There was some alignment between what ferret guardians believed to be boredom indicators versus what’s been proposed in previous research. The seven behaviors most frequently identified as signs of boredom by survey respondents were “gold standard” boredom behaviors in the literature. However, the other six gold standard boredom signs were identified by only 3% to 16% of respondents. There was more agreement on non-boredom behaviors, such as “joy jumping” (indicating a happy state). The authors found that some behaviors may occur in more than one state, demonstrating the difficulty of isolating behaviors that are linked specifically to boredom.
The study offers suggestions for ferret guardians to reduce boredom, such as housing multiple ferrets together, interacting with them, letting them explore new places and things, and providing access to tunnels and nesting areas. While more research is needed to understand the range of boredom indicators, one thing is clear — beliefs about a ferret’s ability to feel emotions may be linked to how guardians treat their companion ferrets. Animal advocates should remind ferret guardians about the complex emotional states of their animals and show them the importance of providing an environment that meets their ferret’s physical and emotional needs.