Is It Illegal To Own A Ferret? The Penalty Is Huge!

It's important to know the legal status before you jump into owning a pet ferret! Read this guide to find out more about the laws in your area.
Image Credit: Steve Tsang/Unsplash

It is human nature to have friends and, more so, best friends. This makes life interesting and easy. Sometimes we find this companionship and friendship from owning pets. Ferrets are sociable, entertaining, playful, cuddly, and fun to own if you consider owning a pet. Ferrets have a life span of about 10 years, with studies showing that the oldest ferret has a lifespan of 14 years. This gives us the average estimate of a ferret’s lifespan between 6 to 8 years, making them one of the long-term commitment pets to own. However, if you are in some states, it is illegal to own a ferret as a pet. It is, therefore, essential to seek information that is up to date from the local government before settling on owning a ferret. You should be well equipped with information before owning a ferret as a pet. Here are some useful legal basis you will need to know before owning a ferret.

States that have banned owning a ferret as a pet in the United States (U.S.)

Despite ferrets being fun to own, there are four states that have banned citizens from owning a ferret as a pet in the United States. Here is an in-depth discussion of what led to the government banning of ferrets in those states.


Ferrets have been domesticated for over 2500 years. Despite them being domesticated, ferrets are considered half-wild. Studies show that despite the efforts put in place, ferrets can only partially domesticate. Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture acknowledges the fact that ferrets have been domesticated outside Hawaii, but it’s in the nature of a ferret to return to its feral state, wild state, and because of the aggressive nature of ferrets, cases of attack on young children have been reported, and that is the main reason why it is illegal to import and own a ferret in Hawaii.

Did you know that Hawaii is the only state in the United States that is rabies free? This is the other reason the Hawaii Department of Agriculture banned the importation and possession of ferrets. The government institutions in Hawaii believe that ferrets are rabies vectors, which would cost them the ‘rabies-free zone’ title. Ferret lovers in Hawaii argued that there is no difference between owning a cat or a dog and owning a ferret since these pets, too, can be used to transmit rabies. Still, the government should consider rabies vaccines for ferrets, as there are rabies vaccines for dogs and cats. They argued that there was no justification for banning ferrets on diseases and ecological grounds.

However, Hawaii is the state with the most restrictions on the ownership of pets in the United States. Studies show that there are restrictions on species resembling any legal animal in Hawaii. In Hawaii, a ferret can only be in a research institution owned by the government or in an exhibition.

Choices have consequences. The consequence of importing or smuggling a ferret into Hawaii is a fine set at $200,000 or a jail term of up to 3 years.


It was in 1933 that the California Department of agriculture took a stand and banned ferrets. They argued that half-wild ferrets could easily form feral packs, endangering their plants and livestock.

This restriction could also be a result of the few cases that had been reported about ferrets biting children due to their aggressive nature. The most common cause was the case of the Nevada girl who testified in 1993 about being mauled as an infant by a ferret.

However, ferret lovers in California, such as Pat wright, have tried by all means to change this status. They argue that all pets bite at one time and that it is not justifiable banning ferrets on the basis of biting. Pat Wright is an activist who has tried all he can to see if the government could legalize ferret ownership. However, his efforts have been futile and have only landed him in jail.

In California, the penalty for owning a ferret is a fine that has been set at $1000 or a six months jail term in the county jail. Therefore, consider moving to another state if you are in California and want to own a ferret.

Washington D.C

It was in 1982 that ferrets were added to the Washington D.C. code of prohibited animals. The reason was that there lacked an approved Rabies vaccination for ferrets then.

Before March 2018, those that owned ferrets illegally in D.C. were being removed from the district as a disciplinary measure. This measure made those that had smuggled ferrets fear taking their ferrets to a veterinary for checkups since they were afraid of being turned in. Activists in Washington, D.C, argued that despite ferrets being feral, they could not survive three days fending for themselves.

The efforts of the activists in Washington D.C were successful, and this law was revised 36 years later, on 30th March 2018. Therefore, if you are in Washington, D.C., you can own a ferret without fear of breaking laws because it is legal today. Thanks to the amendment that was made on 30th march, 2018.

Newyork City

It was in 1999 that the former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani banned ferrets from the state of New York. This verdict by the city’s board of health got the heart of many ferret lovers crashing since they had high hopes that the ban would be lifted.

It is still illegal to own a ferret in New York City because of the fear of rabies. The board is afraid that ferrets being rabies vectors, could transmit rabies in the state. The board also argued that ferrets are feral and aggressive, which posed a danger to their children, and this ban was their way of protecting children from being bitten by ferrets. Those that fancy ferrets in New York argued that they are responsible pet owners. They urged the board to allow them to take their pets to the vet for services without fear. However, it is believed that this ban against ferrets will never be lifted in New York. Therefore, if you love ferrets, you’d possibly have to consider moving to another state.

Is this illegal to own a ferret in other continents?

New Zealand

In the 1880s, ferrets were introduced in New Zealand to control the spread of rabbits after people imported rabbits, and since rabbits had no predictor, they bred very fast. Because of the suitable weather conditions in New Zealand, they bred very fast, and they formed feral colonies. They started endangering and hunting the birds. They also transmitted Bovine Tuberculosis to the cattle, and this affected their economic activities. It is therefore believed that New Zealand is the only country with a legitimate reason to ban ferrets.

Queensland and Northern Territory

It has taken 2500 years to domesticate ferrets. However, it is against the law to own a ferret in Queensland and the northern territory. However, the climate in Queensland is not favorable for ferrets, and the ferrets’ enthusiasts are aggressive towards the government, demanding a lift on the ban. But their enthusiasm has been considered futile since the government argues that ferrets easily form colonies.

Despite the climate in the northern territory being more favorable for ferrets, the northern territory’s government considers ferrets aggressive to human beings.


There needs to be more backup data on whether it is legal or illegal owning a ferret in Africa. However, in South Africa, one has to meet a set of standards formulated by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Acts, 2005, since ferrets are classified as invasive species. You also have to acquire a permit before owning a ferret.


In Asia, ferrets are very popular. Many people in Asia own ferrets as pets. The law does not restrict its citizens from owning ferrets.

What you need when owning a ferret?

Ferrets are adorable furballs that are sociable and friendly. To own a ferret, you need to make sure that you have built a cage for it and installed cardboard and toys for it to play with; ferrets are obligate carnivores; ensure that its meal has a high protein level, moderate fat content, and low starch content and fresh water, set aside medical finances since ferrets are susceptible to diseases, comb your ferret frequently to avoid it ingesting its fur. In contrast, glooming has an ear cleaning routine since ferrets tend to wax rapidly and trim their nails frequently since they tend to grow long. Most importantly, ensure it is legal to own a ferret in your zone.

If you are a ferret enthusiast, I know what is on your mind. You think it’s absurd that the animal that gives you companionship and friendship could be illegal in some states. Ferrets are fun to be around, and they need very little energy to look after. However, to avoid the high penalty the local authority has put in place, play it safe. Check for updated information from the local authority before purchasing a ferret. But are these reasons good enough for the authority to ban the possession of ferrets? Should it be illegal owning a ferret?