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November 19, 2011

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Pet ferret fad poses hidden dangers

FERRETS, banned as pets in some countries as potential carriers of rabies, are now exotic and expensive pets popular among locals in a thriving ferret market.

But while some young women let their ferrets wrap around their necks to combat the cold, few of them know the creature may also bite or give off a terrible smell from fear or anger if it is wild, according to vendors.

Only imported animals that are tamed, sterilized and have their stink glands removed by laser are suitable as pets, according to a vendor who owns a ferret shop on Kaixuan Road in Changning District.

But as the animals have become a cash cow in the pet market, heated competition is driving some vendors to raise ferrets in large number at lower cost in farmlands, he said.

According to another vendor, surnamed Lin, who owns an online ferret shop, these ferrets are not suitable as pets because they bite, have a poor temperament and use their stink glands, a natural defensive weapon, which have not been removed.

In a booming market, a ferret may cost up to 2,000 yuan (US$315), while some rare "panda" ferrets, with black and white patterns over their bodies, may cost more than 8,000 yuan.

Many pet shops also provide ferret supplies, such as special food, perfume to neutralize the smell, toy tunnels and cages, among other things. The supplies may cost owners more than 100 yuan per month.

Despite the expense, a growing number of local residents are attracted by the animal's luxurious fur, its ability to bond with people, and its habit of sleeping more than 15 hours a day.

"They are not only pets but also fashion," said a ferret owner surnamed Gao. "It rests on your head and it becomes a luxury fur hat, and I love to wrap it around my neck as an attractive warmer."

Ferret owners also have to face other problems, as the animals need cool temperatures during the summer or they may sicken or die.

Although ferrets are potential carriers of rabies, like dogs, they are not supervised by any animal laws. Pet vendor Lin said that most imported pets have been vaccinated against rabies, but this not required by law.


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