Most states in the United States do allow ferrets as pets but some states do have laws prohibiting ferret ownership, so it's best to check with your state and municipality to confirm that you are allowed to keep ferrets in the home.
What States Don't Allow Ferrets?
As with other 'exotic' animals (such as snakes) your local laws may be stricter than your state laws and regulations may change, so it's a good idea to obtain up to date information from an animal control board or your local government.
States Not Allowing Ferrets
California or Busted
In California, it is illegal to sell, import, transport or to have ferrets as pets unless you also have a permit from the California Department of Fish and Game. The permits are issued only for medical research and other special circumstances and not for home possession. This statewide ban stems from fears that escaped ferrets could establish wild populations that could upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem in the area.
Hawaii is the only other state banning the ownership of ferrets outright. Ferrets are banned because they could (supposedly) easily revert to their feral state and thus can be a potential carrier of rabies, a disease Hawaii is free from, and they'd like to keep it that way! (Hawaii is the sole state free of rabies as they have strict quarantine laws.)
In Hawaii, housing a ferret comes with a steep price. If caught you can face penalties of up to three years in prison and a maximum $200,000 fine! However, in state owners of ferrets can turn in their ferrets to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture without fears of prosecution or other consequences.
Case by Case Ownership
In Washington D.C. Ferrets are illegal to keep as pets but the District of Columbia Health Department grants waivers case by case. The District of Columbia's housing code lists cats, dogs, non-poisonous snakes, rabbits, fish, turtles, racing pigeons and caged birds as the only animals legal to keep as pets.
Rudolph Bans Ferrets
All five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens & Staten Island) ban pet ferrets even though they are legal throughout the rest of the state. In 1999 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani banned ferrets, regarding them as relatives to weasels that pose health risks to humans living in densely populated areas.
What one must remember when considering a ferret as a pet is the multitude of fears surrounding ferrets are spawned mainly from misinformation.
Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years and no human has ever contracted rabies from a ferret. Rabies in a ferret, although possible, is extremely rare as compared to other animals like dogs and cats. Since 1954, fewer than 20 cases of rabies in ferrets have been reported.
And as far as feral ferrets destroying the environment, well, there are no feral domestic ferrets in North America. Domesticated ferrets would not survive in the wild as would other domesticated animals like cats and dogs. As a matter of fact, the black footed ferret, the rarest mammal in the United States and the wild cousin to our domestic ferret is an endangered species.
A complete list of state and territory regulation regarding ferret ownership can be found at Ferret.org.
By Tom Matteo