Genets are growing in popularity as pets due to their beautiful patterns and unique behaviors that mimic both exotic cats and ferrets. They are very distantly related to both cats and ferrets, but more closely to the mongoose and civet. They are quick, agile, and solitary creatures that require special care but for the right owner, they can make fun pets.
- Size: 2-6 pounds, 16-22 inches long without the tail. Their tails are usually an additional body length.
- Lifespan: In captivity, genets are recorded to live about 20 years.
If you've never seen a genet in person, envision a kitten with the pointy face of a ferret, the spots of a cheetah, and the tail of a lemur. They are beautiful. But they are also not cuddly pets. They are known to resist restraint and are not just large ferrets.
There are fourteen species of genets but the Common Genet is the one most commonly kept as a pet. Common Genets are native to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. There is some suspicion that small populations of genets in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland are escaped pets as these critters can fit through anything their head can fit in.
Genets are not cuddly pets. They are nocturnal and don't do well in groups of genets but usually will get along with dogs and cats if they have grown up with them. Smaller pets, like hamsters, will quickly become food to a genet.
As an opportunistic feeder, the genet will eat basically anything they can get their paws on. Small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects are all prey to the genet in the wild. In captivity, a mixture of grain-free ferret and cat food is usually offered as a base diet with fruit, insects, and cooked chicken (with the bone still in) offered as daily additives. Be advised that if there are small animals in your house (mice, small lizards, etc.) they will probably try to catch them and eat them.
Your genet should have a very large, secure enclosure. A large ferret cage is your best option because they already come with levels to climb on and small bar spacing so they can't escape. But this is just where your genet spends time when you can't watch him. He also needs several hours of playtime outside the cage - daily. Harnesses with leashes can be put on your genet indoors and should always be worn if you let your genet go outside (make sure you get them used to a harness at a young age). Remember, if a genet can fit his head through something, he will be able to get his whole body out, too!
Genets do best with no other pets in a house. If you want the best chance of your genet bonding to you owners advise that there be no other pets in the house for your genet to bond with.
Being agile jumpers and climbers, they will often jump onto their owner's shoulders to look around. They need space to run and jump safely and are also often food aggressive. Feeding your genet in his own cage is usually recommended to avoid an accidental bite from a genet who feels threatened while eating.
Most genets are litter box trained. You can provide a small cat litter box with recycled newspaper litter (such as Yesterday's News) in the cage and even when your genet is running around the house he should return to his cage to use his litter box if properly trained.
Genets also reportedly like to mark their territory. Their scent glands can be removed by an experienced exotics vet, much like skunk and ferret glands are removed, when you get your genet spayed or neutered. They will mark their cages routinely and become stressed if you try to clean all the places they marked at one time (some owners do not experience this behavior but it may happen as your genet gets older).
There are no approved vaccines for genets, but annual check ups are still recommended by exotics vets. Some genet owners and their vets opt to vaccinate with a rabies and distemper vaccine but the efficacy and safety of this practice is still up for debate. Spaying and neutering (and de-scenting if chosen) and, although I am not a proponent of this, declawing should be done at a young age or as your vet recommends.
Genets can make a good pet for the right household and people but regardless of who owns them, they should always remember that they are not domesticated animals and they will be caring for them for the next twenty years.