Genets are growing in popularity as exotic pets due to their beautiful patterns and unique behaviors that mimic those serval 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: two to six 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.
As previously mentioned, 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 it can get its 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 food 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.), the genet 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 the animals can't escape. But this is just where your genet spends time when you can't watch it. It 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 its head through something, it will be able to get its whole body out, too.
Genets do best with no other pets in a house. If you want the best chance of your genet bonding with 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 its 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; even when your genet is running around the house, it should return to its cage to use its 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 are still up for debate. Spaying and neutering (and de-scenting if chosen) and—although we are 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, the owners should always remember that they are not domesticated animals and will require care for the next twenty years.