Where Are Ferrets Legal and Illegal In The US? (2022)

Ferrets are classified as exotic animals in the US, and their reputation as invasive species has some states more concerned than others. Despite this, ferrets are legal in most US states, though some cities may take their own stance.

black and cream ferret lies on multicoloured blanket with green background | where are ferrets legal and illegal in the US?

Even in legal states, owning ferrets often comes with restrictions that can make the process incredibly difficult. This is largely due to valid concerns that have been unchanged for many decades.

This article will address where ferrets are legal and illegal in the US, and take you through restrictions you should be aware of. We will also talk through the reasons why ferrets are illegal in some states and any changes that have occurred in recent years.

Where Are Ferrets Legal In The US?

Ferrets are completely legal to own in 48 states in the US, but the process isn’t necessarily easy. In nearly two-thirds of legal states, you must abide by still restrictions if you want to own a ferret.

To simplify the process, we’ve included a list of legal states below. On one side, you have those without any restrictions, and on the other, those with. For some states, we have already written detailed guides providing the latest information on restrictions which you can check out by clicking the hyperlink.

Legal States Without RestrictionsLegal States With Restrictions
New MexicoMaryland
North CarolinaMassachusetts
North DakotaMichigan
Pennsylvania Nebraska
South Carolina Nevada
TennesseeNew Hampshire
West VirginiaNew York State
Rhode Island
South Dakota

Common Restrictions on Ferrets in Legal States

As mentioned above, two-thirds of legal states to own a ferret have restrictions.

It might seem ridiculous for a domesticated animal, but these restrictions are made to protect the environment and humans from aggressive behaviors.

While this section includes the most common restrictions, every state’s regulations will differ.

You should check with your local animal legislators to ensure you’re following the rules when owning your ferret.

Permit or License

Ferrets are exotic animals so most states impose permit or licensing requirements. This allows them to control ferret numbers in their state, and hold people responsible should consequences of bad ferret ownership occur.

Thankfully, this process is largely inexpensive in most states at less than $50, with many states offering discounts if you apply to certain criteria. You usually have to renew permits or licenses every year, though, and failure to do so results in late fees that make the process more expensive.

Rabies vaccination

Rabies is a zoonosis disease, which means it can pass between animals and humans, which is why lots of states insist on rabies vaccinations for most animals.

As ferrets are mammals, their risk of contracting rabies is even higher, so it’s important to keep on top of vaccinations even if they aren’t a state requirement.

Your ferret can have their first rabies vaccination at twelve weeks ago, though vets may wait a couple of weeks if a date of birth cannot be confirmed.

After the first vaccination, you should book them in for another every year.


One of the biggest concerns about ferrets is their aggressiveness towards humans which may result in bites and scratches that spread diseases.

While you can tame your ferret out of some of these behaviors, neutering or spaying your ferret will also massively change their temperament.

Many states will enforce this as it allows them to control breeding practices around ferrets. Many will even require an additional permit should you choose not to do this.

Most states will lower the cost of a ferret permit or license if they are nurtured/spayed prior, by as much as 50%.

Limited Number Of Ferrets

Many states will impose a limit on the number of ferrets you can have as pets. In some places, you will be able to have more (usually more than 3) if you obtain a separate breeders license on top of the normal permit, but this isn’t the case everywhere.

Ferrets are very sociable animals, though, and often do better when they have a friend. Every state will allow you to own at least two ferrets, so don’t let this regulation put you off owning multiples.

Where Are Ferrets Illegal In The US?

There are only a few places where owning a ferret is completely illegal in the US, and the number of states imposing blanket bans reduces every year. Dallas is the perfect example of this; while they used to be illegal there, you can now own them without consequences.

Even in states where ferrets are illegal, there are often loopholes. While ferrets may be outlawed for pet purposes, you may be able to use them for medical research or when shooting a movie, for example.


Ferrets have been illegal in California since 1933, with the introduction of wild bird and animal importation legislation in the US. They have some of the strictest restrictions in the US due to concerns about colonization, rabies, and how ferrets could affect California’s ecosystem.

There are a few exceptions to the law in California, but not many. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says a ferret permit may be granted for medical research or other circumstances which are assessed on an individual basis.

Under no circumstances will you be able to own a ferret for home possession.

Some ferret owners in California have taken the risk but considering ferret ownership is a misdemeanor, the consequences are grave. Fines start at $500 and don’t include costs paid for transporting and storing a ferret once it has been removed. You could also face up to 6 months in jail.

New York City

Ferrets have been banned in all five boroughs of New York City since 1999, despite being legal in the rest of the state. In 2015, attempts were made to lift this ban, but they failed to succeed.

In New York City, ferrets are considered wild animals, which is a big reason for the ban. When it was first put into place, major concerns included rabies and the potential health risk to children.

Much of New York City are apartments, which also causes additional concerns that ferrets will escape and roam through the walls. If this happens, it could risk colonization and an individual’s right to peace in their home.

You can avoid getting into legal trouble for owning a ferret in New York City by handing your ferret into your local animal care center.


Hawaii is one of the strictest states when it comes to exotic animal ownership; there are only four, non-traditional mammals you can throughout the island. The biggest reason for this is because Hawaii is the only US state completely free of rabies, and they want to keep it that way.

Ferrets are big carriers of the disease, as mentioned earlier in this article. Though there are vaccines, this is not good enough for this state.

There are also concerns about the delicate ecosystem being damaged by ferret colonization, and ferrets biting children, which is exceedingly common in many states where ferrets are illegal.

The consequences for owning a ferret here are far more strict than in other states, too. According to the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, you can face up to $200,000 in fines and 3 years in prison.

If you hand in your ferret voluntarily or surrender it at the border, you will avoid punishment.

Washington DC

While ferrets are illegal in Washington DC, the district is known for being laxer than most on upholding the law. Three out of five PetCo’s in the state sell ferrets and ferret supplies, so many people are unaware that it is illegal at all.

This can make it difficult for owners in the district when it comes to access veterinary treatment. One wrong move and you could find your pet being taken away.

Though it doesn’t happen often, it has in the past, and many pet owners will visit neighboring states for veterinary care to avoid the risk.

The District of Columbia Health Department will issue waivers and permits on a case-by-case basis, though, so it’s not the same blanket ban that exists in other states.

In recent years, the only potential punishment you will face for owning a ferret in Washington DC is having your ferret removed.


You might be wondering why Wisconsin features on this list when we already stated it was legal earlier in our article. And we weren’t lying; owning a ferret in Wisconsin is technically legal.

On a state level, you are entitled to own a ferret; the same goes for some cities.

Like New York City, many Wisconsin cities consider ferrets to be wild animals, making them illegal to own as pets. You can, therefore, be forced to surrender your ferret should one be found in your possession somewhere where it is illegal.

Why Are Ferrets Illegal In Some States?

As much as states making ferret ownership illegal is seen as an ignorant move, some legitimate concerns prevent these legislations from being overturned.

One of the biggest concerns for illegal states is rabies. Once ferrets have returned to their feral state, which happens very easily, they can catch this disease and then pass it on to their owners and other humans. This is why, even in legal ferret ownership states, rabies vaccinations are usually required.

Another concern is that ferrets will escape and cause feral colonies that can wipe out delicate ecosystems. Though most owners are responsible and occurrences of this are rare, there was an instance in Alaska where a ferret colony formed and destroyed every nesting ground on the Mirror Lake.

Ferrets are also extremely high-maintenance animals and require the same care and attention as cats and dogs. If they are not provided with enough room to properly habitat with bedding and enrichment, they can become incredibly destructive.

This destructive behavior poses a risk of developing into violent behaviors such as biting and scratching, which may pose a threat to young children and humans in general.

Although lots of these concerns can be eradicated with the right ownership, a select few states think the risks are too high. By applying a blanket ban, these risks are completely outdone, and preventing issues is not something they have to consider.

Final Thoughts

Ferrets are almost completely legal in the US. There are only two states, California and Hawaii, that completely outlaw them, and a few more that have individual cities that ban ferret ownership.

There are many reasons places outlaw ferrets; including rabies, risk of injury, and destruction of local wildlife. Though these may seem easily solved, in some states the risk is simply too high.

Even in cities where owning a ferret is legal, however, it often comes with conditions. You usually require a license or permit to own one, and there may be a limit on how many you can own before entering the breeding territory.

Though we have included links to guides with in-depth information on some states, it’s always important to back up our information with local law enforcement. If you aren’t sure about the restrictions in your state, call your local animal enforcement agency for more information.

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