Ferrets For Dummies book cover

Ferrets For Dummies

By: Kim Schilling Published: 03-03-2021

Everything you need to know about your playful new pet 

Thinking of getting a ferret? It’s not unusual—millions of people worldwide keep ferrets as pets, and they’ve been domesticated for around 2,500 years! While they’re quiet for a lot of the day (catching up on important beauty sleep), when they’re awake, they’re lively, affectionate, and curious—and require lots of quality interaction with their humans. And that’s why a happy ferret is a well-trained one, whose owner knows everything there is to know about its needs!  

Ferrets For Dummies, 3rd Edition is here to make sure you become just that kind of owner, fully equipped to give your little friend the best possible home. It’s packed with practical information on feeding, housing, health, medical care, and much more. You’ll also find the latest on diet, dental hygiene, common ailments, and how to build an enjoyable and engaging environment for your smart, energetic new pet. There’s even a section on how to get to know your ferret properly (spotting those little mood swings) and how to introduce it to play well with friends and family. 

  • Make sure a ferret’s the pet for you 
  • Ferret-proof your home 
  • Keep a clean house 
  • Find the right vet 

Whether you have a jill (female), a hob (male), or a full “business” of ferrets (several), Ferrets For Dummies helps you ferret out whatever you need to know—and ensure that your fuzzy new pal is a healthy, happy member of the household.


Articles From Ferrets For Dummies

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4 results
Ferrets For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 04-14-2022

When you decide on a ferret as a pet, know how to find a reputable breeder and recognize the signs of a healthy and happy ferret. When someone is looking after your ferret, leave all essential information for the pet sitter and make sure your first-aid kit is stocked with all of the items your ferret might need.

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What Is a Ferret?

Article / Updated 05-28-2021

Although ferrets may look rodent-like with their long, pointed snouts and ticklish whiskers, they’re not rodents at all. Ferrets come from the order Carnivora, which simply means “meat or flesh eating.” This order encompasses a huge group of animals, from Fifi the common lap dog to the mighty African lion. Within the order Carnivora, ferrets belong to the family Mustelidae, which they proudly share with such bold critters as the badger, wolverine, pine marten, and otters. Included in that family are both domesticated ferrets and ferret-like wild animals such as the weasel, European polecat, steppe polecat, black-footed ferret, and mink. The word ferret is appropriately derived from the Latin word Furonem, which means “thief.” As a new ferret owner, you’ll quickly realize just how thieving your new family member can be. As cute as this endearing trait may be at times, it has its downsides. It once took me over a day to find all the contents of my purse, which I foolishly left open in the presence of roving ferrets. Many ferret owners call their pets a variety of nicknames. Some of the names used to describe a ferret are carpet shark, fuzzy, snorkeler, furball, and fuzzbutt. I know that many more terms of endearment exist out there. Don’t get confused! Giving the ferret a physical: examining fuzzy characteristics Before you bring a new fuzzy home or in the early stages of your ferret parenthood, you need to become familiar with a ferret’s physical inventory. When I say physical, I pretty much mean all the general stuff regarding a ferret’s physical characteristics, from his paws and claws to his weight and remarkable (and not-so-remarkable) senses. Looking at the life span of a ferret Since publishing the second edition of Ferrets For Dummies in 2007, I would have expected the six-to-eight-year lifespan of ferrets to have increased, yet I find it has stayed the same or even decreased slightly. Although I’ve still heard many stories of ferrets that have lived for up to nine or ten years, barring any unforeseen mishaps, my belief remains that a ferret’s environment — his caging, disease, stress (including overcrowding), diet, and so on — plays a role in his short lifespan. As ferret owners discover more about the ferret and realize how important husbandry and the reduction of stress are, they might possibly see that increase in ferret lifespan within their own lifetime. For now, though, you can only do your best to make your ferret’s quality of life top-notch. At 1 year old, your fuzzy is considered full grown. At 3 to 4, he’s considered middle-aged, and at 5 to 6 years of age, he’s considered a geriatric, or an old fert! At this time, she may begin to slowly lose weight and start encountering debilitating illnesses. This is when things get tough and you’re faced with difficult choices. As heartbreaking as it is, ferrets are prone to many diseases and may be genetically or medically flawed. Like most companion pets, whose life spans are short compared to humans, ferrets’ lives are compacted into only six to eight oh-so-short years. The average human has 65 to 70 years to experience what a ferret experiences in under a decade. The ferret is an amazing trooper with a tremendous fight for life, and you can certainly do your part to help. In this corner, weighing in at . . . A carpet shark’s size makes him an ideal pet for both the apartment dweller and the homeowner. As is the case with some mammal species, unneutered male ferrets typically measure up to two times larger than females — called sexual dimorphism. There is a notable weight difference in the head and torso, where the male is wider and less dainty. A typical altered female ferret weighs between a slim 3⁄4ths of a pound (0.3 kg) and a whopping 2-1⁄2 pounds (1.1 kg) — and that’s a big girl. Neutered males normally weigh 2 to 3-1⁄2 pounds (0.9 to 1.6 kg), and unaltered males may weigh in at 4 to 6 pounds (1.8 to 2.7 kg) or more. In tape-measure terms, without the tail, female ferrets are between 13 and 14 inches (33 and 35.5 cm) long, and males generally measure between 15 and 16 inches (38 and 40.6 cm). A ferret’s tail is 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm) long. Ferrets are kind of like humans in that they tend to bulk up in the winter. Sometimes ferrets gain 40 percent of their weight at this time of the year and then lose it in the spring (as do humans, right?). This isn’t always the rule, though; some ferrets always seem skinny, and others are belly draggers all year round. Could it have something to do with health and/or exercise? Better check it out. Getting to the point about claws and teeth On each of a ferret’s soft paws is a set of five non-retractable claws or nails designed for digging and grasping. Nature designed the nails to stay there for a ferret’s benefit and survival, so you should never remove them. Frequent clipping, about every 7–10 days, is recommended. Declawing your ferret is a big, fat no-no. For a ferret, declawing is a painful, mutilating surgery with way more risks than benefits. They need their claws for digging, grasping, walking, and playing. The base of the claw gives the ferret’s foot added strength to support his weight. Removing the claws causes foot problems and/or pain when walking. If you think you’ll be too lazy to clip your ferret’s nails, you must recognize that a ferret isn’t the pet for you. Like all carnivores, ferrets have large canine teeth that can be rather intimidating. A ferret’s teeth usually hang lower than his lip flap and are in full view. Although any animal with a mouth can and will bite under certain circumstances, I’ve found the biting ferret to be the exception rather than the rule. Most ferrets use their canine teeth to show off to their friends and to eat. When a ferret nips, she does it out of fear or play. An occasional warning nip may be a sign of the ferret’s disapproval of one thing or another. In this day and age, you would be hard pressed to find a veterinarian who would ethically lean on the side of declawing or defanging a ferret anyway. And many U.S. and European governmental authorities have actually banned these mutilating practices on all animals. Make no doubt about it, the bite of a disgruntled ferret is painful and can draw blood. Take measures to make sure bites don’t happen, and unless medically warranted for your ferret’s health, don’t alter his canine teeth; leave them right where they belong. Making sense of senses A ferret’s senses vary in degree of acuteness. Like human infants, a ferret’s eyesight isn’t that well-developed, and his ability to distinguish color is limited. A ferret can only see some reds and blues. Make no mistake about it, though: Even the most restricted ferret can and will find any object he wasn’t intended to find (and his stubby little legs will help him steal the objects back to his hidey-hole). In a sense, all ferrets have sticky fingers: If they find it, it belongs to them. If they want it, it’s theirs. You get the idea. A ferret’s sense of smell is far superior to a human’s, and his little paw pads are more sensitive to the touch. Also, a fuzzy’s sense of hearing is remarkable. If you open a bag of chips, for example, be assured that your ferret on the other side of your house will hear the bag opening and come a-begging. So, remember to whisper when discussing sensitive issues such as neutering or going on vacation.

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From Birth to Bundle of Energy: Ferret Life Stages

Article / Updated 05-28-2021

If you make it through the ferret pregnancy and birthing ordeal—hey, it’s stressful for all involved—you may be fortunate enough to watch a kit (baby ferret) or two grow up. Healthy kits grow rapidly, both physically and emotionally. It won’t be long before you’re wiping away the tears in your eyes as you proclaim, “It seems like only yesterday Scooter was covered with newborn fuzz!” This article takes you step by step through the developmental stages of carpet sharks—our fuzzy ferret friends. Some stages aren’t too pleasant, but they’ll only be temporary if you do your part as a good fuzzy human. From physical changes to behavioral changes, I'll tell you what to expect every step of the way and how to handle the changes to produce happy and healthy ferrets. However, keep this in mind: When it comes to fuzzbutts, nothing is set in stone! Fuzzy infancy: birth to 3 weeks Kits are born into the world completely helpless and dependent on their mothers for survival. Their eyes and ears are sealed shut, rendering them blind and deaf. A small layer of fuzz covers their tiny bodies, which are smaller than a normal tube of lipstick. Newborns typically weigh in at a whopping 6 to 12 grams. Most kits are born without any teeth, although baby incisors usually appear by day ten. Healthy newborn kits have only two goals: getting food and keeping warm. Immediately after birth, they’ll latch onto one of mom’s nipples if allowed and remain there for a long period of time, gorging themselves on rich milk. Adequately fed newborns should gain between 2 1⁄2–3 grams per day during their first week of life, doubling their birth weight by day five. Despite having just been squeezed through the birth canal and dropped into the cold world, newborn ferrets are active and mobile, although they have nowhere to go just yet. They explore their nest a tiny bit and start to develop the little muscles in their legs. They’re able to recognize mom and siblings through smell. During the first few weeks, however, the young kits need to be stimulated by mama fuzzy to go to the bathroom. During the second week of life, kits should gain about 4 grams per day. By 10 days old, they should’ve tripled their birth weight and should average about 30 grams. During the third week, the daily weight gain should be about 6 grams. And by 3 weeks old, your kits should be at least ten times heavier than when they were born. At three weeks, the males and females are easier to tell apart (without cheating and turning them over). Females are daintier and have narrower heads. Boys are butterballs with their wide heads and stockier builds. Even though fuzzies are born with their eyes closed, you can tell which ones are albinos because the color of their eyes shows through their thin skin. If you can’t see dark color behind a fuzzy’s semitransparent eyelids, you know you have a bouncing baby albino. Furball toddlerhood: 3 to 6 weeks Kits that hit 3 weeks of age are working to rapidly develop their nest legs as they boldly explore their environment. Mom is still a part of their lives, keeping a close eye on kits that may wander too far away. Although the kits still rely on mom for the majority of their nourishment, natural weaning should begin at this age. The baby canine teeth and some baby premolars are beginning to erupt, and permanent incisor teeth are breaking through and pushing the baby incisors out. You can offer these kits a soft mush or canned food a few times a day. Weaning doesn’t involve caging mom and plopping down a crock of odd-smelling mush in front of your confused kits. Weaning is a gradual process that should begin at the age of 3 weeks and be completed at around 6 weeks. Kits need time to adapt to the nutritional change. To wean effectively, first familiarize yourself with diet information. This is imperative, because you need to understand proper ferret nutrition. Starting out with canned food or a soft mush made with moistened kibble is only one way to start your babies. As kits get older, you should offer a variety of other foods, such as chicken and beef (either raw or cooked). A change of kibble and canned food is recommended. This is also the time to introduce small mice and insects if desired. The more variety offered, the better. The weaning process is messy as the kits delve face first into their food, but it’s a relatively easy process. During these three weeks, the kits will naturally begin to rely less and less on mom and start to prefer the replacement diet you offer. The fourth week is somewhat of a turning point in a kit’s new life. His eyes and ears begin to show signs of opening up to the world. His soft, white fuzz should start taking on some color and pattern, giving you a glimpse into his future. More baby premolars also start to erupt around this time. Healthy kits should be eager to dive into the bowl of soft mush you provide and stuff themselves while still taking advantage of mom’s milk supply. And although mom may still want to remind the kits to go to the bathroom, the kits should show signs of being the self-proficient poopers that their parents are! By week five, a kit’s eyes and ears have opened and he’s ready to get into trouble! Kits at this age are extremely active and are starting to rough and tumble with their siblings. By week six, the kits should start eating more soft food and start relying less and less on mom for nutritional support. Some breeders introduce the dreaded first distemper vaccination at this age. The terrible fuzzy twos: 6 to 10 weeks Emotionally, at 6 to 7 weeks old, furball kits should be spending a lot of awake time playing mock-combat with their siblings. This play is important in developing hierarchy among the youngsters and preparing them for their futures as possible top furballs in their new homes! At around seven weeks, ferrets should quit hanging on mom so much and start relying almost completely on the soft food you serve. Permanent canines are pushing through their sensitive gums, sometimes erupting just beside the baby canines. This is a pretty painful ordeal to the small fuzzbutt and can cause him to wallow in the throes of teething behavior. It isn’t unusual to have kits with canine teeth side by side for several days until their baby canines finally fall out. At 8 weeks old, kits should have four permanent canine teeth. They’re now capable of eating the hard kibble that most other ferrets rely on. A kit should have a well-developed and varied diet by now, but if you haven’t started this process yet, now is the time to introduce him to new tastes and smells. Babies are so impressionable! Many private breeders begin to let their kits go to their new humans at around the age of 10 weeks. Babies are usually using the litter box by now, and drinking from the water bottle comes easily. Some breeders, however, wait as long as 12 weeks before letting their babies go. The decision is up to the breeder and may be based on how comfortable he or she is with the person buying the ferret. Or it may just be based on personal policy. Whatever the case, there’s really no disadvantage to waiting the extra four weeks for your youngster, other than possibly being a bit delayed in getting him on a varied diet. For those kits that received their first distemper shots at 6 weeks old, 9 weeks of age is the perfect time for the second attack on their heinies. Kits in the 6- to 10-week age range are extremely active in testing their humans to the limits. This age range is the critical training period, which many ferret humans fail to recognize. You need to handle your furkids frequently and gently. They need consistency and someone who’s willing to teach them what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Because many kits arrive at pet shops at this age, they frequently don’t receive the proper human guidance. Many of these toddlers become troubled teenagers for their unsuspecting humans. Therefore, as a responsible ferret breeder, you need to begin training as early as possible. Adolescence already? 10 to 15 weeks Your kits should have almost all their permanent teeth by 10 weeks of age. The little indentations on your fingers and arms are proof enough! Kidding aside, if your kits received the proper fuzzy guidance during their terrible twos stage, adolescence shouldn’t be too bad. By 3 months old (12 weeks), well-adjusted kits are discovering that humans can be fun companions. Although the activity level of kits this age still far surpasses the average human’s energy levels (even with a double espresso), kits do begin to mellow a little bit (emphasis on a little bit). Ferret personalities become well-formed and defined during adolescence. Even though these kits are still highly influenced by the humans who interact with them, it’s relatively easy to pick out the alpha males and females (top furballs) by watching them interact with their siblings and humans.

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10 Amazing and Creative Ferret-Proofing Hacks

Article / Updated 05-26-2021

Ferret-proofing never ends. It’s an ongoing saga. If you have other humans in the household, it’s a family affair. Take a look at these awesomely creative ferret-proofing hacks that may make your life a little easier. Or not. You be the judge. Pool noodles be gone! Ferrets get into the smallest of places, and the spot in between your washer and dryer just calls out their names. Although you might be able to squeeze pool noodles into the crack, ferrets find the noodles easy to tear apart and delightfully delicious — but not so easy to pass. My friend Holly Ravenhill reminded me to instead take a blanket or large towel and roll it up tightly, and then shove it into the crack, fitting it snug enough so that the ferret cannot burrow beneath it or pull it out. Voilà! Up, up, and over—not! I’ve never met a ferret that hasn’t mastered the art of escaping from a ferret pen. I’m not sure who came up with this idea, but it’s a brilliant solution to an age-old feisty ferret problem. This “climber stopper topper” is made of a simple piece of black flexible corrugated drain pipe that can be found at any larger hardware store. It takes a bit of talent to construct. You may lose a finger or two if you’re not careful. If you have a neighbor who is great with power tools, particularly saws, you may want to trade him a six pack of Pepsi or beer in turn for his sawing services. Kevin Farlee, president of Washington Ferret Rescue & Shelter offered the following advice when it came to constructing this altered pen: Use a strong, sharp saw — a table saw or even a Japanese handsaw. You’ll be cutting lengthwise, so it’s a good idea to draw a straight line down the tubing where you’ll be cutting. This will keep you on track while sawing. Grab a friend who owes you a huge favor, because he’ll be holding the front end of the tube while you cut away from him. Don’t cut off a finger or foot. Table saws and Japanese saws are sharp, and they don’t discriminate between wood or fingers. If you’re uncomfortable with working with saws, call someone who is savvy around power tools. Just pop the tubing over the top of the pen, placing the edges of the pen into the newly sawed slat. Having two people do this can help the process move along a little faster. You can use this modified playpen in your home, but what makes this so perfect is that it’s portable. Perfect for ferret shows, playdates, travelling, or any event where your fuzzball will be away from home for a good length of time. And, ladies and gents, it works over baby gates, as well! Cardboard cut-outs Yep! The topic of climbing ferrets is a resonating one, and baby gates are frequently a go-to solution. Some are reasonably priced and others can break the bank. But most are no match for a ferret that will find its way around, under, over, or through the baby gate, leaving you begging for help from other ferret owners. Here’s what you need to fix this irritating issue: Purchase the baby gate that best fits the width of your doorway, making sure to choose one that the ferret cannot squeeze beneath or through the sides. Measure the large climbable section(s) on the baby gate that you’ll need to cover. Measure and carefully cut thick pieces of cardboard to fit over each section Fasten the cardboard section(s) to the baby gate using cable/zip ties to hold the cardboard securely. Ferrets will always scratch at the cardboard, but if it’s constructed well, the ferret shouldn’t be able to conquer the wall to freedom. If you see wear and tear, however, be sure to replace the cardboard barrier. Yule get hung up on Christmas What ferret owner doesn’t face the annual Christmas tree dilemma? Christmas trees: They’re fresh. They’re new. They smell good. And most of all, a Christmas tree is mountain of branches that provides ample climbing opportunities for our mischievious furballs. Hang some ornaments from the tree and, well, most will end up in ferret hidey holes throughout the house in no time. Although you could encircle the entire tree with a ferret-proof pen or get a smaller tree and put it on a table, why not do something a little crazy. Hang that sucker upside down from your ceiling. That’s right. I said it. Amaze your friends, and leave your family members rolling their eyes at holiday gatherings. They already think you love your ferrets more than you love them anyway. Suspending your tree is a labor of love, and it’s a blast! So, how does the average Joe hang a Christmas tree from the ceiling? I had to ask my husband, and what he came up with makes great sense. Safe, secure, and pretty darn easy! Lay the tree on its side and drill a hole into the very bottom of the Christmas tree trunk. Carefully screw a 7/16" x 3 7/8" steel screw eye hook into the hole you just drilled in bottom of the tree. Locate a heavy beam in your ceiling and drill a hole into it. Carefully screw a 7/16" x 3 7/8" steel screw eye hook into the hole you just drilled in the ceiling beam. To save time and headache, fasten the hanging hardware to the eye hook in the ceiling before you hoist the tree. This can be a quick link or a heavy-duty carabiner (regular or round). Grab a friend or family member or two to help with the tree-hoisting project. At least one of you will need a ladder, and all of you will need muscles to lift the tree and maneuver it to attach. Dual-purpose door blocker Have you figured out by now that ferrets are diggers? We all know they’ll dig to China if given the opportunity. And ferrets are as flexible as pasta noodles. Closed doors can provide some ferret-proofing challenges for fuzzy owners, from ferrets escaping beneath the narrow openings at the bottom to ruined carpeting from curious diggers. So, how do you combat this common problem? One solution is to make the opening at the bottom of the door narrower to prevent the ferret from squeezing beneath it. But that alone won’t protect your carpeting from the incessant digging. Purchase an inexpensive carpet runner or plastic carpet runner or even a scrap rug that can be measured and cut. Make sure whatever you get or cut fits width-wise beneath the opening of your door. Length-wise it should be long enough so that your ferret cannot scratch it out and away from the doorway. No landlord wants to find torn up carpeting in his rental unit. If you’re a renter, this ferret-proofing hack may just mean the difference between losing or recouping your initial deposit when you move out. The bottom of your door opening may be too wide for one runner to do the trick. No worries. Simply add another runner or more if you need to. This is less ideal with plastic runners that won’t stick to each other, but you may be able to use Velcro in between the plastic layers to stick them together. And what about hardwood floors? Make sure you use rubber-backed carpet runners that grip to the floor. Couch cures Everyone has that one ferret or five that will undoubtedly break into your couch, either from the bottom or from the top. It can be dangerous or even deadly for an exploring ferret. At the very least, it can be very annoying or costly for you, as his owner. Experienced ferret humans have worked hard over the years to match wits against their fuzzy counterparts to combat this problem. Take note of the following techniques. To protect the underside of your couch: Remove the legs from your couch and place the couch directly on the floor so that the ferrets cannot get beneath the couch at all. If you can’t remove the legs or don’t want to, flip the couch over and cover the entire bottom of the couch with plywood (or a similar wood product), thick sheet or vinyl. Fasten the barrier to the underside with nails or staples. Don’t forget to flip the couch back over. To protect the cushions or topside of your couch: Find a fitted couch cover/slip you can live with and fasten it over your current couch using nails or staples. If your couch sharks are burrowing in the couch cushions, throw up your hands in exasperation and call it quits. This is one ferret-proofing hack you cannot be lazy about. Do a thorough check to make sure everything fits and you’ve fastened it all in such a way that your ferret cannot squeeze through any openings in the barriers. The barrier itself can become a hazard to your ferret if not done correctly. Chairs and bed frames also provide similar hazards to your ferrets. Depending on the type of furniture you have, this hack may be adapted to work for chairs and bed frames, as well. Fixing floors and revamping ramps Many ferret cages on the market today come equipped with wire floors and ramps, which seasoned ferret owners know can lead to broken toes or nails getting hung up in the wire, or even worse. Some owners use custom bedding to cover up the wire. I suggest you take it a step further and cover the ramps and floors before you add the bedding. You can use Peel-n-Stick vinyl tiles or Peel-n-Stick carpet squares for the floors. For the ramps, Peel-n-Stick carpet squares cut to size work well and prevent sliding. Both of these stick-on products are easily removed and replaced when necessary. A room with a view Afraid your ferret might be getting into trouble behind your back? Undoubtedly, he is. If you have a separate room for your ferrets, and many people do, you may want to see clearly into it. Keeping your ferret safe and out of harm’s way is your duty as his human. An easy way to do this is by doing away with the modified baby gates and installing an easy-to-remove see-through Plexiglas guillotine-style door. The following steps tell you how: Use a router to cut straight “slide guides” into two 26" L x 1" W lengths of oak strips. Screw the oak strips into the open doorway of the ferret room; slide guides exposed inwards. Obtain your Plexiglas — ¼" thick x 24" tall — and slide it into the routed oak strip frame. Top the Plexiglas with a sliced rug core (the thick middle cardboard tube) to keep the jumpers from hurdling themselves over the top. Duct tape the core to the Plexiglas, so that you can simply lift the “door” by lifting the core when you need to. Wired for trouble There’s more to successful ferret-proofing than possessing practical thinking. You need to be a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. At. All. Times. How many times have you been to an event and walked on or over those flat strips that cover exposed electrical cords so that you don’t trip on them? Or maybe the event coordinators don’t want you to squat down and gnaw on them. Who knows? I do know one thing; they’re great for keeping your ferret from doing that, and they wouldn’t even have to squat! There are loads of different cord hiders, protectors, covers, and organizers available to choose from. Whatever you call them or whatever your needs are, something is out there for you. With a little effort and the right products, you can protect both the cords on the floors and the walls. This is a must for our little cord munchers. Velcro to the rescue Whoever invented Velcro is one of my all-time heroes. Like its cousin duct tape, the uses for Velcro are eye-popping. In the ferret world, it can be a lifesaver. Consider all the drawers and cabinets that your ferret can and will open. All you need is a small piece of Velcro secured inside to help keep them closed. In my opinion, this is a better solution than the traditional baby locks that allow partial opening of the cabinets and drawers. Velcro virtually seals drawers shut until you open them with a little extra effort.

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