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Lifestyle Changes Leading to Boom in Rabbits and Ferrets as Household Pets

Originally published 8 April 2002


Research by Dr June McNicholas & Dr Glyn Collis of the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology has found that increasing numbers of people are adopting both rabbits and ferrets as household pets, often as a result of changes on peoples work life balance, or the increasing number of single person households.

In a study on changes in which type of animals people choose as pets the researchers noted that pets rabbits have long been popular as children's pets but have traditionally been kept as hutch animals outside the family home. Now however they are increasingly common as house pets, and many more adults are adopting them as pets. Data from the British Houserabbit Society suggest that there has been a shift in the emphasis on rabbits as children's pets. Over 88% of its 3000 members are adults with many more childless couples and single people opting for houserabbits.

The researchers also looked at domestic ferrets - a species not previously widely regarded as pet animals. Until recently ferrets were almost exclusively kept as working animals and regarded as having a vicious temperament, leading to minimal handling and housing away from the family home. Ferret owners were traditionally male. This has changed significantly in the last decade.

A study of 142 ferret owners in the English Midlands indicates that ferrets may now be as likely to be owned by women as by men. The majority of owners were between 26-45 years old and over 77% were childless with one or both adults in a family in employment. Nearly all (82%) had not owned ferrets before but were attracted to ferrets as suitable pets for their lifestyle. Characteristics found most attractive were playfulness and intelligence. One third of male owners regarded their ferrets as pets only compared to two thirds of female owners. Females were also more likely to see ferrets as affectionate pets while males were more likely to regard them as multi-purpose working and pet animals. All owners handled and played with their ferrets daily, with 68% permitting the ferret time in the family house. Amongst first time ferret owners, a very large majority (90%) said that they envisaged they would always keep ferrets, suggesting that this species is likely to become a popular domestic pet in the UK.

The question arises of what has prompted these changes and whether they will endure. Indications are that demographic changes such as numbers of single people and working practices underlie many of these changes and that this trend may grow as people strive to balance desire to own a pet with aspects of their lifestyle.

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Note for editors: the research was supported by Waltham