Roughly 326,000 American households own at least one ferret. Many states take proactive—or reactive—stances on what animals are banned to protect humans from dangerous species, such as apes, bears, and tigers. Some take this definition to include dogs with breed-specific legislation. Public safety exists at the core of these matters.
Enthusiasts may question why anyone would group ferrets with lions, alligators, or wolverines. One also has to wonder why Colorado felt it necessary to include wildebeests on its list. However, many laws are nuanced and point to reasons less obvious to those unfamiliar with the cases. Ferrets are unique on several fronts that may not apply to banned animals. However, when it comes to the states where owning ferrets is actually illegal, there are only two: California and Hawaii.
The Reasons That Ferrets Are Banned in Some Places
Banning species that pose a threat to people is a no-brainer. Animals get loose occasionally. Local conservation personnel may not have the knowledge or training to handle exotic pets, such as big cats. Another threat exists with local wildlife. Species that have evolved with the existence of predators may lack the ability to evade them, leaving populations vulnerable to decimation.
That’s undoubtedly part of the reason behind Hawaii’s decision to ban ferrets. The state goes to great lengths to protect its natural resources from non-native animals and plants. Examples of the consequences of these situations are evident from experiences in other countries, such as Australia. Sadly, many bans or regulations are knee-jerk reactions to an unfortunate event.
Domesticated ferrets also present a different kind of threat to local wildlife populations. The black-footed ferret is an endangered species with a known population of only 206 animals. Pets that escape or are released into the wild can further threaten the long-term survival of this species.
Fear, misinformation, and ignorance can drive many states, counties, and communities to ban ferrets. After all, they look like their wild counterparts, leading some to think they’re allowing people to own wild animals as pets. Although humans have interacted with ferrets for centuries, they are a relatively recent addition as companion animals.
A Word of Advice
We’ll get into the specifics of states’ legislation on owning ferrets. However, laws still exist at the county and municipality levels. Just because a state might not ban these animals doesn’t guarantee that regulations don’t apply in your city or county. Therefore, we strongly urge you to contact your local government regarding any laws that pertain to your situation.
It could be something as simple as getting a license or permit. Remember that getting caught often comes with a fine that usually exceeds your initial cost had you followed through with the matter. We also suggest discussing vaccination, including rabies, with your vet. Many places require the latter, and non-compliance can get you into hot water.
The Nuances of the Law
Banning could imply owning a ferret being outright illegal. California and Hawaii are two cases in point. The former also requires a permit to transport animals that are illegal to own. Other states may not make ownership against the law. However, they often have strings attached that can make them illegal if you don’t follow the regulations to the letter.
You can have a ferret in New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Virginia—as long as you have a permit. Arkansas allows European domestic ferrets only. That makes sense, given that our pets are descendants of native European polecats. We assume that language ensures the black-footed ferret remains protected. Inexplicably, it’s okay in Kentucky to own wild ferrets with a permit.
Georgia is clear on this point and bans animals other than the domesticated species. The law also states that European ferrets are legal if they are neutered by 7 months and have a rabies vaccine. Ferrets are mammals and, thus, can contract and spread this often fatal viral disease. It’s worth noting that Oklahoma and Utah banned the black-footed ferret.
Domestication is another point that comes up when differentiating legal and illegal animals. Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming classify ferrets as domesticated and are, therefore, permitted to own. Oregon legislation doesn’t consider them wild animals, and they are also allowed as pets. New Hampshire has an interesting, albeit seemingly unnecessary, caveat.
New Hampshire’s Unique Problem
The state classifies the ferret as “non-controlled” wildlife and is legal as a pet. Control often refers to species that would fall under the game label, such as the white-tailed deer or eastern coyote. Management is critical to keep the herd sustainable for hunting without undue impact on the environment and its natural resources. However, New Hampshire has a different take on pets.
The state has banned monk or quaker parakeets since 1988. The concern—which experience has shown to be valid in other places—is non-native species becoming established and becoming nuisance wildlife. New Hampshire reversed the ban in subsequent years. However, the lesson is clear and explains the nuanced language of the Granite State’s law. It appears as if they are just being cautious with ferrets.
State bans on ferrets usually happen for a reason. They also show the complexity of these situations. Enthusiasts and opponents are often quite vocal with their opinions. Nevertheless, the discussion underscores the fact that pet ownership is a serious responsibility, whether it’s a dog, a cat, or a ferret. No one should ever get an animal unless they are sure they can live up to the commitment it entails.