Ferrets are silly, rambunctious, adorable pets. In most states, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep ferrets as pets, but are ferrets legal in California?
While escaped pets sometimes damage local wildlife, this is unlikely for ferrets. They cannot adapt well to outdoor life, and we typically spay or neuter them at a young age.
In this article, we’ll discuss California’s law in depth. We’ll talk through all sides regarding whether California should allow pet ferrets and what the law means for California residents.
Are Ferrets Illegal in California?
In the United States, you can keep ferrets as pets in all but two states—Hawaii and California. California introduced the law banning pet ferrets in 1933.
This law is quite controversial, with many people arguing that ferrets aren’t a threat to local ecosystems. They believe those who want pet ferrets should be able to adopt and keep them.
Why are Ferrets Illegal in California?
Why are ferrets illegal in California? The primary reason pet ferrets are banned in California is “because they pose a threat to our native fish and wildlife, agriculture or public health and safety.” Other exotic animals are forbidden as pets for the same reason.
Ferrets are predators, and if one escaped or was set free, it could pose a risk to native species. This is especially true if the ferret reproduced and an invasive population grew. This is a real fear—exotic pets have in the past disseminated local ecosystems. Even outdoor cats have caused the extinction of 63 species.
Proper pet care and rehoming our pets responsibly when required are vital to keeping the animals and ecosystem safe. Most domesticated animals, including ferrets, can’t survive in the wild.
The Law is Controversial
However, that point brings us to the arguments against the law: ferrets haven’t posed a similar problem in any state they currently reside in. So, why are ferrets illegal in California if they haven’t caused problems in other states? It is hard to comprehend – especially since pet ferrets simply cannot make it in the wild for more than a few days.
Even if one ferret inexplicably survived, most ferrets in the United States are spayed or neutered at a young age—too young of an age, in fact, primarily because most of them are sold by ferret mills that spay and neuter them early despite detriments to their health down the line.
However, this brings another question into the mix. While the law is old and might not take the facts into account, do we want to promote owning pet ferrets in a country where most of them are produced by a mill and destined to live shorter, less healthy lives?
Of course, we can promote adoption and reputable breeders. Still, reputable breeders are far and few in the United States—one can guess they’d be even less populous in California, where owning ferrets has been banned for nearly ninety years.
Would Californians owning ferrets not increase the amount of pet store ferrets in need of rescue rather than decrease these numbers?
Can you Own a Ferret with a Permit?
Are ferrets legal in California with a special permit? According to Californian law, ferret permits aren’t for ownership but for “a specific, legal purpose — such as medical research or transporting rescued ferrets out of state.” The state might provide an animal rescue with a permit to rescue ferrets from a hoarding situation, for example, and transport them to neighboring states.
Unfortunately, ferrets can also be used for medical research in California, but the general public cannot keep ferrets as pets.
What are the Penalties for Owning a Ferret in California?
Laws that ban pet ownership in the United States typically come with penalties for those who break them.
If you own a ferret in California, you’ll most likely face fines between $500 and $10,000. You will not be able to keep your ferret.
However, the law does state that criminal charges or even jail time for owning ferrets are possible. We strongly recommend not breaking this law—it simply isn’t worth it for you or the ferret!
Are Ferrets Aggressive?
Ferrets can be biters in play, but they don’t tend to be aggressive—at least no more than other pets like cats and dogs. The misconception that ferrets are aggressive might come from their hard biting. However, this happens because most ferrets in the United States come from a ferret mill that does not socialize them. You must teach a pet ferret not to bite humans because they don’t know biting hurts us. Ferrets have thick skin, and when they bite each other hard in play, it doesn’t hurt.
As predators, ferrets have sharp teeth. A ferret can bite a person down to the bone—but this kind of bite is more typical in a scared or truly aggressive ferret than a playful one. Properly trained and cared for ferrets know not to bite people. You just need to make it through the teething phase and train bite inhibition.
The great news is that if you adopt a ferret responsibly through a rescue or reputable breeder, they are much less likely to bite you. Rescues, fosters, and reputable breeders will all train the ferrets before adopting them out.
Of course, no reputable organization will adopt to California residents due to the law banning them as pets.
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