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ILAR J. 2006;47(4):348-57.

Issues to consider for preparing ferrets as research subjects in the laboratory.

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Department of Animal Health, Marshall BioResources, North Rose, NY, USA.


The domestic or European ferret (Mustela putorius furo) has been domesticated for thousands of years. Ferrets have been used for hunting and fur production, as pets, and as models in biomedical research. Despite the relatively small numbers used in the laboratory, ferrets have some unique applications including study of human influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-associated corona virus. They have served as models for peptic ulcer disease, carotenoid metabolism, cystic fibrosis, and drug emesis screening, among others. Most research ferrets are males, due to estrus-related health problems in females. They may be housed conventionally and are easy to care for when their biology and behavior are understood. Due to the small number of ferret suppliers, animals are often shipped long distances, requiring air transport and intermediate handlers. It is important to minimize shipment stress, especially with weanling and pregnant animals. Additional expertise is required for success with pregnant and whelping ferrets and for rearing of neonates. The animals have specific dietary requirements, and proper nutrition is key. Successful housing requires knowledge of ferret behaviors including social behavior, eating habits, a general inquisitive nature, and a species-typical need to burrow and hide. Regular handling is necessary to maintain well-being. A ferret health care program consists of physical examination, immunization, clinical pathology, and a working knowledge of common ferret diseases. Various research methodologies have been described, from basic procedures such as blood collection to major invasive survival surgery. Ferrets have a distinct niche in biomedical research and are hardy animals that thrive well in the laboratory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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