Participants were recruited via an Italian rabbit forum, the University of Padua, and local veterinary clinics. The survey was completed by 193 people about a total of 371 pets. The pets included 184 rabbits, 59 mustelids (mainly ferrets, but also including two skunks), and 128 rodents (including guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, rats and other rodents).
Most owners reported no problems, but 29% of rabbit owners, 53% of mustelid owners, and 20% of rodents had a behavioural problem. For rabbits, the most common problems were inappropriate toileting, destructiveness, and not being cuddly enough. The most common problem with ferrets was being aggressive, followed by house-soiling and disobedience. For rodents, the main problem reported was not being sociable or cuddly enough.
The questionnaire also asked about repetitive stereotypies, behaviours like chewing on the cage bars or pacing. Owner reports on this are hard to assess, since some behaviours might be alright up to a certain level, and only be problematic if they occur too frequently; the authors had to exclude a small number of reports. The analysis showed a link between the prevalence of stereotypies and the animal’s housing; pets with less freedom to roam were more likely to be reported as displaying a stereotypy.
In addition to the questionnaire, a subset of the animals were brought by their owners to the lab, to see how they behaved during a mock-up of the early stages of a visit to the vet. For the two skunks, the procedure had to be halted because the animal was aggressive, but most of the other animals performed well.
Although owners had more complaints about mustelids, they also found them more satisfying as pets. This is perhaps because they are inquisitive and social animals, and so the owners find it more interesting to interact with them. However, it is also possible that people with many complaints would have rehomed their pet, and hence were not in the survey.
The finding about stereotypies is consistent with what is known about laboratory animals, and shows the importance of an enriched and appropriate environment for the pet.
Do you have a rabbit, ferret or rodent as a pet? If so, what do you like about it?
Normando, S., & Gelli, D. (2011). Behavioral complaints and owners' satisfaction in rabbits, mustelids and rodents kept as pets Journal of Veterinary Behavior,, 6 (6), 337-342 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2011.01.005