Caring for Spotted Genets as Pets
My Small spotted genet, at 4 months old
The information in this article comes from my experience with my pet genet and information from the testimonies of others owners on pet care forums. Always do your research when acquiring ANY animal, and prepare to care for that animal for the duration of its life.
What is a genet?
One of the first challenges of genet ownership is categorizing this unusual little pet into an evolutionary context for inquiring minds.
One of the lesser known native African animals except perhaps among the exotic pet community (they aren't even identified in your spell check), the spotted genet is in the family viverridae along with civets, binturongs (also known as bear cats) and lisangs. They are feliforms, which is a suborder that includes felines and mongooses of which they are distantly related.
The genet’s behavior and appearance is very similar to that of the animals they resemble, however they are truly unique with their own specialized behavior.
They have retractable claws, very long tails, and are agile, squirrel-like climbers. Their range consists of mainly Africa, but also extends to parts of Europe where some genet species have been introduced.
Large Spotted Genet
- Common genet videos, photos and facts - Genetta genetta - ARKive
Learn more about the Common genet - with amazing Common genet videos, photos and facts on ARKive
Literature states that genets have scent glands with a distinct smell that can be expelled when they are threatened similarly to a skunk, but I've never experienced this and it doesn't seem to be reported as a problem among other genet owners. In the pet trade, they may be referred to as large spotted, rusty spotted, and small spotted.
Although the name 'small spotted genet' may sound like this is a smaller animal, online sources claim this is a reference to their spot size. It's likely that the species of genets in captivity in North America may be crossbred and vary in size, so don't let the naming fool you. My genet was sold to me as a small spotted genet, and he is indeed very small, with different behavior from larger genets (this is the only form I have personal experience with). However, all genets have very distinct personalities and behavior quips.
Why genets aren't cats
A typical interaction with my genet
Do Genets Make Good Pets?
For every animal, it depends on the person, but for most people the answer will be no.
When people state that an animal makes a ‘bad pet’, they are generally speaking of its ease of care, friendliness, and adaptability to the human home. These are traits that domesticated animals have perfected.
A genet is not particularly a ‘hands on’ type pet. They are aloof and independent. You will get to 'hold', or more-so be perched upon by the genet if the genet decides that will be so, and the honor is usually directed toward the caretakers who are there most often.
Genets that are not handled frequently from a young age might be even wearier of people. They can be incredibly skittish; mine has the requirement to run to a safe location in 10 second intervals or if any threatening sound arises.
These qualities are literally stitched into the animal's DNA no matter how much socialization one provides. Yes, this is a domestic 'wild' animal, but to an owner who doesn’t require an animal to be very cuddly and is accepting of the genet’s nature as extremely independent (if they get outside, you’ll need lottery luck re-catching them), a genet is a possible fit.
When a genet does decide to climb on you, they often don’t have the boundaries that keep their claws from harming their owners. This is why some genet owners carry out the controversial practice of de-clawing which I don't consider ethical.
Genets as Pets Profile
Interacts with keeper/sociable
Good with children
Uniqueness/ interesting behavior
Care and Management
Do genets use a litter box? Many owners report they do, and others say that success with litter box training is on and off. Usually, genets select an area to use, and a box is simply placed in that location. In my experience, mine uses the bathroom anywhere on the bottom level of his cage, and I just place 4 litter pans there, in which so far he consistently eliminates there.
Update: Upon adulthood, Now he appears to try to find a new place to eliminate outside of the first floor and away from his litter box. While his pee seems to stay in the proper location, the poop keeps ending up on the floor of the cage, strangely around the same times.
Some people have problems with the males spraying, and sometimes troublesome male behavior is curved with neutering. My genet is not neutered, and so far I've never witnessed the spraying.
Genets are semi-arboreal, so they need a tall cage with a suitable width to be comfortable that should also include ramps and many levels. If the cage is not extremely large (many recommend 6 by 8 feet for the larger species) then they will require plenty of time out of the cage to play/forge. A genet play session will consist of the animal being extremely curious, potentially knocking down valuables and climbing to high places with startling bursts of energy. A space for this animals’ behavior is a must.
I hear many recommendations of 'cat food' for genets, but what is meant by that? 'Cat food' can be a generic, dried up pellets from a conventional convenience store, or whole non-living prey with bones and organs. Which logically sounds like a healthier diet?
One may want to re-consider what they feed cats and dogs if they prefer the former; domesticated cats may have evolved, but their physiology hasn’t. Always continue to do research on complex topics like pet nutrition.
A genet has similar dietary requirements to that of felines, including their high taurine, low carbohydrate needs. It would be a good idea if using commercial food to choose a high quality ‘organic’ food with human-grade ingredients.
Giving carnivorous animals access to prey with the bones intact is particularly important for proper dental health, so attempt to incorporate this into all captive carnivorous diets. Genets eat reptiles, insects, birds, and small mammals in the wild. Some of this can be found frozen in reptile supply shops. A mix of ‘high quality’ cat or ferret food, whole prey, eggs, and some fruits and vegetables should be a sufficient diet to start with.
Always know exactly what you’re feeding any pet, and understand the nutritional composition while keeping the food items varied. This will help to prevent the onset of diet-related illness. Neonates can be given kitten milk sold at pet stores and ‘pate’ cat food for weaning. The weaning process can be lengthy compared to other mammals.
My genet came to me feeding on canned Friskies and he had digestive problems (diarrhea and a raw bottom) that seemed to resolve itself after I administered some coconut oil instead of his amoxicillin. I also fought a musky odor. I now feed a mix of Wysong and Orijen cat and ferret food. The ferret food contains very high meat and organ content for true carnivores.
I mix that with canned cat food from Wellness (or other varieties of canned food), which has higher quality ingredients and no fillers such as corn or soy. I mix this with whole prey such as can O worms's canned crickets and chicken hearts. I often feed supplementary vegetables such as dandelion greens. My genet only uses the bathroom about twice a day even though he eats a lot, which may suggest he is using a lot of his food.
Genet Confiscated in California
Many exotic pets are being banned in many states. I believe genets often dodge the bullet because not many people know what they are or that they exist in the pet trade (bans of exotics are often enforced by ignorant legislators).
However, many states do consider them wildlife. No matter what you’re told, be sure to check with your state’s Department of Agriculture, and then check with your county, neighborhood association, and any other relevant parties/jurisdictions.
Just ask them if they impose any restrictions on species of animals that can be kept as pets. No reason to give them any ideas! Some cities often impose unreasonable laws, so you’d be out of luck there. I can, with much assurance, tell you that they are not legal in the state of California where ferrets are also not welcome.
The show 'Wild Justice' on the Nat Geo channel aired an absurd tainting of this animal's image as a pet. Genets certainly are not 'friendly' with strangers as it takes them some time to adapt to new situations. It is very unfortunate that due to California's oppressive laws (ferrets are also banned in the entire state) this little animal was maliciously abducted by authorities and the person who had it in his possession is facing severe disciplinary action (3 years probation and a $1200 fine). Just another example of bad pet laws gone awry. Please become educated on this subject and fight for your rights to own pets.
The price range for small, rusty, and large spotted genets are in the $900-$1400 range and one must also consider shipping costs if buying from a non-local breeder. Older animals may be less money but may have permanent ‘non-pet’ behavior. Try to obtain your genet from a reputable breeder.
Find a good ‘exotic’ vet, but remember to be on top of your husbandry, because the chances of a vet who has even worked with zoo animals having seen a genet is still low. The exotic vet may be an ‘exotic’ specialist, but every single species of animal is not the same as the other just because they share the characteristic of being ‘zoo animals’.
Genets will need to be vaccinated with a killed virus for rabies, although this vaccine is not approved for genets and has no legal standing if your genet bites someone. If they may be in contact with dogs, a distemper vaccination would also be something to consider. There is not much literature on genet care out there, so join a forum with other keepers and be proactive and updated on any new information.This however is good advice for any pet.
Books I Reccomend for More information about Exotic Mammals in Captivity
Questions & Answers
I have a male African spotted genet, and he is turning two years old today, and I've noticed that he is ready to mate, but I can't seem to find any females of his species for him to mate with. Can genets mate with regular domestic cats or is it unlikely?
Genets are not cats. They cannot reproduce with cats.
I have a genet in my house's roof. It is wild and urinates on the downlights. It leaks through and drips on the floor. The smell is unbearable. What can I use to get the smell out? We wash the floors with warm soapy water, but it doesn't seem to work.
How long should I let genet pets play around the house?
As much time as possible, but minimally 30 minutes per day. It is a lot easier to get a bigger cage, because this is a hard commitment. Especially if the genet is not so tame.
Is the Genet legal to own in New York State?
I believe so. I had one when I lived in New York State.