Why Are Ferrets Illegal In California?

Ferrets have gained huge popularity as pets in the US for the past few years, however, they are illegal in some states, including California.

So why are ferrets illegal in California? The concern is that owners may release ferrets into the wild or the pets may escape and then establish colonies in the wild. The sudden growth of a feral non-native colony could jeopardize crops and other animals.

Here is a comprehensive answer as to why California bans ferrets and other exotic animals while other states allow them.

Why are ferrets illegal in California?

The main reason why ferrets are illegal in California is to Protect Agriculture and Wildlife.

The California Natural Resources Agency, which includes the Department of Fish and Wildlife, bans a variety of exotic pets, one of them being ferrets. The bans include various non-native species that the state considers a threat.

Basically, the laws protect the following:

  • Public health and safety
  • Agriculture
  • Wildlife
  • Natural resources

In addition, California also prohibits the possession of animals considered endangered or protected in other regions. For example, sugar gliders are a protected species in Australia and banned in California.

Moreover, the state has banned thousands of species, including gerbils, prairie dogs, monkeys, hedgehogs, and parakeets.

While California bans ferrets, other states don’t have the same restrictions. California’s climate is part of the reason for the bans on exotic animals that other states allow.

California offers an environment where species like ferrets may thrive in the wild. This increases the threat to native species and crops.

Besides, in the United States, each state is a sovereign entity and may enact its own laws, if the laws don’t violate the Federal Constitution or the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The geography, natural resources, location, and demographics of each state result in a variety of different laws throughout the country.

Besides ferrets, what other pets are illegal in California?

California’s ban on exotic animals includes thousands of species, including many species allowed in other states. Besides ferrets, here are some of the most famous examples of this far-reaching ban:

  1. Gerbils
  2. Gliding lemurs
  3. Hedgehogs
  4. Monkeys
  5. Squirrels
  6. Sugar gliders
  7. Crocodiles
  8. Tortoises
  9. Larks
  10. Armadillos
  11. Sloths
  12. Anteaters
  13. Giant toads
  14. Cuckoo birds
  15. Finches
  16. Crows
  17. Bats
  18. Crayfish
  19. Non-domesticated races of rabbits

California bans entire classes and orders of species. Besides the ferret, you cannot own any species of the order Marsupialia (marsupials and pouched animals).

Similarly, California bans all rodents, except domesticated golden hamsters and some domesticated species of rats, mice, and guinea pigs. If you want to own any slugs, snails, or clams, except for land snails, you’re also out of luck.

Some groups are trying to get the state to allow certain exotic animals as pets. You can find online petitions for legalizing ferrets, sugar gliders, and hedgehogs.

Furthermore, you can no longer buy dogs and cats that come from breeding mills at your local pet store, but this is a good thing. California recently became the first state to prohibit all pet stores from selling dogs and cats that don’t come from shelters to help shut down unlicensed breeding facilities.

What ferret bans are enforced in the other States?

California isn’t alone in banning ferrets. They are also illegal or restricted in other states.

States where pet ferrets are illegal to own

  • The five boroughs of New York City: According to the New York City Department of Health “ferrets are known for their unpredictable behavior, and they are prone to vicious, unprovoked attacks on humans”. They were banned in the city in 1999 by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
  • Hawaii: While California has a reputation for the strictest pet ownership laws, Hawaii may have the most restrictions on exotic pets. Hawaii law strictly forbids pet ferrets on the grounds of being potential carriers of the rabies virus.
  • Washington: Keeping ferrets as pets is illegal in the District of Columbia. However, waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis by the District of Colombia Health Department.

States where ferrets are under restrictions

Below is a list of states where keeping a ferret as a pet is not illegal but under some kind of restrictions. Some of these restrictions may include:

  • compulsory rabies vaccination,
  • permit required state-wide,
  • forbidden is specific towns by the local authorities,
  • illegal to own if you have a small child in the household,
  • illegal to sell,
  • permit required to bring in a ferret inside the state.

Therefore If you are thinking of buying a ferret, it is advisable that you contact your local vet, Wildlife Department, or Fish and Game department if you live in one of the following states:

  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Ban on Exotic pets across the USA

Besides ferrets, quite a few exotic pets are banned across the country. For example, hedgehogs are cute little nocturnal animals that many states ban. That is why you can’t own one as a pet in Maine, Hawaii, Arizona, Georgia, New York City, or California.

Likewise, most states don’t allow residents to own monkeys and other primates, but there are exceptions. You can own a monkey without a special permit in Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Sometimes states ban species for their threat to the local ecosystem. The Quaker parakeet is an example. Besides California, nine other states ban this little bird, as it may fly off and create its own flock, disrupting the local wildlife.

And for obvious reasons, almost half the states in the US have laws that prohibit residents from owning certain species of venomous reptiles.

There’s also one formerly popular pet that you can no longer own in any US state. Since 1975, you cannot sell or own turtles with shells measuring less than four inches. The US banned small turtles due to the spread of salmonella.

On the other hand, some states have almost no restrictions on exotic pets. In Alabama, Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina, residents can own almost anything, including bears, tigers, and lions.

And surprisingly, California allows some species that other states prohibit. In California, you can own almost any variety of hybrid cats. Unfortunately, they’re illegal in nine other US states and several cities.

What Happens If You Own a Ferret or Another Illegal Pet?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have the resources or staff to strictly enforce its ferret bans. However, if someone notifies the department about your ferret, someone could come and take it away. Besides confiscation, you face the following penalties for possessing a ferret:

  • A civil fine of $500 to $10,000
  • The cost of removing, storing, and caring for the animal
  • A misdemeanor criminal charge punishable by up to six months in jail
  • A criminal charge including a fine up to $1,000

Criminal prosecution is extremely rare. However, fines and confiscation are expensive. In some cases, you also need to pay for the rehabilitation of the ferret so the state can release it or send it to a different facility.

Despite the ban, there is potentially a way to own some of these pets. The Department of Fish and Wildlife can issue a permit for certain species on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately, they don’t issue permits for ferrets.

The permits are primarily for animal handlers, research facilities, trainers, and shelters. The state may also grant special permits to zoos and aquariums to breed restricted species.

So, unless you intend to use the ferret for research, teaching, or exhibition, the permit doesn’t apply to you.

California Allows Some Exotic Animals as Pets

California bans ferrets and many other exotic pets, but still allows a few. So if you want something other than a dog or cat, the following options are still okay in the state:

  1. Hybrid cats
  2. Zebras
  3. Constrictor snakes
  4. Ostriches
  5. Yaks
  6. Alpaca
  7. Llamas
  8. Pot-bellied pigs
  9. Tarantulas
  10. Bearded dragons
  11. Geckos
  12. Chinchillas
  13. Ball pythons
  14. Miniature farm animals
  15. Second-generation wolfdogs

You can’t own many of these species in other states, yet California allows these animals as pets. Some of the most surprising entries include the miniature farm animals. You can own pygmy goats and miniature horses.

Wolfdogs are another example of an exotic pet that is prohibited in many states and allowed in California. Wolfdogs are hybrid dogs with wolf ancestry. In California, you can own a wolfdog rated F3 or less. The “F” stands for filial and traces the lineage of the pet. An F3 wolfdog has at least one grandparent that was a wolf.

You can also own most species of flightless birds. For example, you can keep an emu or an ostrich in your backyard. In fact, most species of birds are legal in California, except the Quaker parrot (monk parakeet or Quaker parakeet).

You can also own mynah birds and even toucans. You just can’t own most birds of prey without a license. These restricted birds include falcons, eagles, and hawks.

However, keep in mind that many of the permitted animals require a lot of maintenance. You need adequate space and may even need to build an outdoor shed or barn to house the animals.

Why are sugar gliders also illegal in California?

The state of California worries that sugar gliders will escape, establish their own colonies, and disrupt local wildlife, crops, or natural resources. This is the same reason that California bans many species of colony animals, including most rodents.

Do vets need to report exotic animals?

Veterinarians can treat any animal and don’t need to report it to the authorities. And regulations state that no vet has a duty to advise law enforcement about the pet unless the animal bites a person.

Why can you still buy products for ferrets in California?

Many stores sell sugar ferret products because they may offer uses for other pets. People with the necessary permits also need to obtain pet supplies. Additionally, some pet stores are part of nationwide chains that carry most of the same inventory across their various locations.

Eddie Chevrel

I am Eddie, animal journalist and founder of ThePetSavvy. I am passionate about exotic pets and I dedicate my time doing research, meeting, and interviewing people working with animals.

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