Skip to content

Domestic Ferrets Are Domestic


Ignorance is the only word I have to possibly describe the response of the California Fish and Game Commission earlier in October when Pat Wright, of and longtime ferret advocate again asked the Commission to designate that domestic ferrets are indeed – as their names implies – domestic. He said, “We all know domestic ferrets aren’t wild animals.” But the commission insists they might well be wild animals.

Pat Wright

The goal is to legalize ferrets as pets in California. Crazy, in California, it is actually illegal to own a ferret.

Here’s the California circle that doesn’t end: The Fish and Game Commission has jurisdiction over wild animals, which only in California domestic ferrets are classified as. Legislators aren’t pet experts and really don’t do homework on this issue – as there are more important issues for them. Legislators, who could legalize ferrets don’t because the Fish and Game Commission continues to classify domestic ferrets are wild. Though the Fish and Game Commission now finally concedes, maybe they are not.

Ferrets Are Less Wild Than Domestic Cats

Here’s Wright’s testimony, Whether or not domestic ferrets are truly domestic frankly isn’t a matter of opinion. The evidence that domestic ferrets are indeed domestic is quite compelling based on science and history Unfortunately, Wright didn’t have the opportunity to offer the facts regarding how domestic ferrets came about or to offer scientific citations. There are actually nearly too many citations for me to indicate, but some I list at the bottom of this post.

We don’t know exactly how long ferrets have been domesticated but analysis of mitochondrial DNA suggests that we may be going back 2,500 years. The DNA analysis also demonstrates a genetic difference between today’s domestic ferret and the wild polecat cousins they were derived from. The percent of genetic difference is statistically similar between the difference between humans and chimpanzees or the difference between dogs and wolves.

We also know that ferrets were originally domesticated for hunting, or ferreting. The ferrets were trained mostly to find vermin and “ferret them out,” hence the expression. Sometimes they also assisted in hunting rabbit.

In any case, they were bred over for this work from wild European polecats. A wild polecat, incidentally, would make an awful pet. They’re actually vicious little carnivores. And if you suggest, well, then how do domestic ferrets make good pets? Well, domestic cats are pretty darn good pets. But you wouldn’t want a wild African Sand Cat, or any of the other wild species of small cats which domestic cats were developed from as a pet.

True enough cats have been domesticated far longer than ferrets, yet cats can survive on their own outdoors; ferrets would have a tough go of it. And even tougher in parts of California, due to climate. Domestic ferrets can’t survive extreme heat.

Ferrets on the Loose

That brings me to some of the concerns people have about allowing the legalization of ferrets in California.

One big argument that if ferrets get outside, they will wreak havoc, even worse than feral or community cats. Farmers will lose their chickens to ferrets. Well, I’m unsure that most California farmers are even aware of the issue. In truth, most domestic ferrets might not even know what to do even if somehow they happened to stumble upon a chicken. Yes, their wild polecat and weasel hunters are effective and voracious predators. So are wolves, and they are relatives of the Bichon Frise or Toy Poodle. We haven’t banned Toy Poodles. And actually feral cats can kill chickens.

Also, there’s a concern that like cats, they will breed and add to their numbers outdoors. Well, in order to breed you need to survive. But moreover, about 99 percent of pet ferrets are spayed or neutered. So, it’s quite impossible to breed.

Outdoor domestic ferrets have not propagated or have been identified as a problem by local animal control in any of the 48 states were they are legal. Why would this only be an issue in California?

Some suggest that domestic ferrets, who weigh just under two pounds to just over four pounds, leave too great a carbon footprint. Really? If the people who suggest this drive to work – in one day they leave a greater carbon footprint than a ferret will in a lifetime.

If California Fish and Game Commission continues to insist domestic ferrets are wild, they ought to ban domestic cats – who arguably are more wild. (Of course, I don’t really suggest cats should be banned).

Want Proof: There’s Plenty of It

California Fish and Game Commission wants science to “prove” that domestic ferrets aren’t wild.

Well, here’s scientific evidence it’s not difficult to find and there’s more where this came from:

Sato JJ, Hosoda T, Wolsan M, Tsuchiya K, Yamamoto M, Suzuki H (February 2003). “Phylogenetic relationships and divergence times among mustelids (Mammalia: Carnivora) based on nucleotide sequences of the nuclear interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein and mitochondrial cytochrome b genes”. Zoological Science20 (2): 243–64. doi:10.2108/zsj.20.243PMID 12655187.05.

Hernaldi A; Kis, A; Turscan, B; Topat, J. Man’s Underground Best Friend: Domestic Ferrets, Unlike the Wild Forms, Show Evidence of Dog-Like Social-Cognitive Skills; Plos One; August 15, 2012. links open overlay panelClaudia M.VinkeaNico J.Schoemakerb

 Vinke-Nico, C; Schoemaker, J. The welfare of ferrets (Mustela putorius furo T): A review on the housing and management of pet ferrets. Applied Animal Behaviour Science; Volume 139, Issues 3–4, July 2012, Pages 155-168.


Get My Newsletter!

Keep up with the latest pet news with the EXCLUSIVE STEVE DALE NEWSLETTER!

So, Who is Steve Dale?


Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

Book Credits

Learn more about the numerous books Steve has contributed to and authored!

Article Archive

Interested in reading past articles? Just use the dropdown to select a topic!



Like Us on Facebook

Follow Steve Dale on Social Media!

© Steve Dale All Rights Reserved


Steve Dale Pet World