As I talked about in a post a couple of weeks back, ferrets can make wonderful pets. But for some people the most important question that needs to be answered before acquiring one does not center on their suitability as a companion, but their legality.

The answer to whether or not you can legally own a ferret varies from state to state and even from city to city.

According to Wikipedia (maybe not the most authoritative source, but it was the most comprehensive listing I could find):

Ferrets were once banned in many US states, but most of these laws were rescinded in the 1980s and '90s as they became popular pets. Ferrets are still illegal in California under Fish and Game Code Section 2118 and the California Code of Regulations, although it is not illegal for veterinarians in the state to treat ferrets kept as pets. In November 1995, ferret proponents asked the California Fish and Game Commission to remove the domesticated ferret from the restrictive wildlife list. Additionally, "Ferrets are strictly prohibited as pets under Hawaii law because they are potential carriers of the rabies virus"; the territory of Puerto Rico has a similar law. Ferrets are restricted by individual cities, such as Washington, DC, and New York City. They are also prohibited on many military bases. A permit to own a ferret is needed in other areas, including Rhode Island. Illinois and Georgia do not require a permit to merely possess a ferret, but a permit is required to breed ferrets. It was once illegal to own ferrets in Dallas, Texas, but the current Dallas City Code for Animals includes regulations for the vaccination of ferrets. Pet ferrets are legal in Wisconsin, however legality varies by municipality. The city of Oshkosh, for example, classifies ferrets as a wild animal and subsequently prohibits them from being kept within the city limits. Also, an import permit from the state department of agriculture is required to bring one into the state.

What it boils down to is you should know your state and local government regulations well before acquiring a ferret. Local animal control officials or humane societies are a good place to start your research.

Why is there so much hoopla around ferret ownership? The two issues that are most frequently cited are:

  1. Ferrets are not truly domesticated animals. If they escape, they can easily revert to their wild state and are very difficult to recapture. Unneutered and unspayed individuals could breed, and the resulting colonies would significantly affect native wildlife species. Also, ferrets are susceptible to and can carry canine distemper virus and rabies and could pose a health risk to significant numbers of people and wild and domestic animals if they run loose.
  2. Ferrets are predators with very sharp teeth. The risk of them biting people is too great for them to be considered appropriate pets.

I’m not saying that I think either of these points is more valid for ferrets than they are for other species commonly considered to be pets, but this is what is brought up in defense of laws and regulations that make ferret ownership illegal.

What do you think?



Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Isabelle in Jail by Chris Emery / via Flickr