Genets are slender cat-like animals with a long body, a long ringed tail, large ears, a pointed muzzle and partly retractile claws. Their fur is spotted, but melanistic genets have also been recorded. They have musk glands and anal sacs. They also have perineal glands.
All genet species have a dark stripe along the spine; they differ in fur color and spot pattern. Their size varies between species from 40.9 to 60 cm (16.1 to 23.6 in) in head-to-body length with 40 to 47 cm (16 to 19 in) long tails; their tails are almost as long as head and body. They have large eyes with elliptical pupils; the iris is about the color of the fur. They can move their eyes within their sockets to a limited extent, and move their heads to focus on moving objects. Their ear pinnae have a fine layer of hair inside and outside. They can move the pinnae by about 80° from pointing forward to the side, and also from an erect position to pointing downwards. Their wet nose is important for both sensing smell and touch.
Genets are highly agile, have quick reflexes and exceptional climbing skills. They are the only viverrids able to stand on their hind legs. They walk, trot, run, climb up and down trees, and jump. They live on the ground, but also spend much of their time in trees. They are considered solitary, except during mating and when females have offspring.
They are omnivorous and opportunistically catch invertebrates, small vertebrates, but also feed on plants and fruit. Aquatic genets feed mainly on fish. Angolan genets are thought to feed on grasshoppers and arthropods. Johnston’s genet probably feeds mainly on insects.
In 2014, a camera trap in the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park captured a large spotted genet riding on the back of two different buffalo and a rhinoceros. This was the first time a genet was recorded hitch-hiking.
Females have up to five young in a litter. They are known to rear their young alone.
Common genet females become sexually mature at the age of two years. Once copulation has occurred, the gestation period lasts for 10 to 11 weeks. They are diestrous and give birth twice a year, during spring and late summer to autumn. Common genets have been known to live 13 years in captivity. A male genet lived for 22.7 years in captivity.
The etymological origin of the word ‘genet’ is uncertain; it might originate from the Greek prefix gen meaning bear and the New Latin suffix etta meaning “small”. Or it may be a derivation of the Arab name Djarnet, or from Old French ‘genete’, from Spanish ‘gineta’.
Pet genets are mostly common genets, rusty-spotted genets or Cape genets.
Pet genet owners wrote:
“Genets can be socialized with cats and dogs, but they attack small animal pets. They are not cuddly pets, and don’t do well in groups of genets but usually get along with dogs and cats if they have grown up with them. Smaller pets, like hamsters, quickly become food to a genet.”
“Genets are a ONE family pet, there is no such thing as rehoming a pet genet. They will not remain tame with a new family and a new environment. Change in environment and caretakers is very stressful on genets and can also cause self mutilation, cage pacing and behavior changes.”
“Once bonded, genets must remain with their original owner. Their attachment to their owner is very deep and they simply cannot adjust to new people. Genets that are given away frequently become neurotic or even revert to a state of complete wildness. … Genets should not be vaccinated.
Veterinarians unfamiliar with exotic pets often try to talk owners into having their genets vaccinated with a feline vaccine, but a genet is not a cat! There is no vaccine approved specifically for genets, and unsuitable vaccines can be just as dangerous as the diseases they are supposed to prevent. Far too many exotic animals have died as the result of improper vaccinations. Since your genet will be living indoors anyway, its exposure to other animals and possible viruses will be extremely limited.”
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.
Common genets lead solitary lives. Males and females maintain small home ranges, varying in size from less than 0.4 square miles (1 km2) to as large as 0.8 square miles (2 km2). Although genets prefer an independent lifestyle, their home ranges overlap.
Common genets communicate using smell and body language. They secrete a substance from microscopic glands in the skin that identifies the social and reproductive status of the individual. They also use strong-smelling urine for marking and when under stress. Feces include the scent-marking secretion. To intimidate aggressors, the common genet hisses and shows its pointed teeth while raising the long, black hairs down its back and erecting its tail, much like a threatened cat. Mothers and their young call to each other and also communicate using visual and olfactory cues.
Fully nocturnal, the common genet is extremely active in total darkness and rests during the day. Although they’re good climbers, common genets spend most of their time on the ground, only ascending trees to look for food or to escape danger. When walking, they hold their bodies close to the ground and their tails horizontal. To travel long distances, they typically follow roads, game tracks, or dry streambeds.
The common genet population is robust throughout its large swatch of habitat. They are abundant in protected areas, though they are sometimes hunted for medicinal and decorative purposes.
Primarily carnivorous, common genets eat small mammals, birds and their eggs, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They will enhance their diet with fruits, insects, mushrooms, and garbage. In North Africa, the long-tailed field mouse forms the majority of their diet. Common genets climb trees to gather fruit and hunt roosting birds. They also like to hunt domestic poultry.
The breeding season varies across regions. In West, East, and southern Africa common genets breed during the wet seasons. In North Africa and Europe, they breed during spring and autumn. In the courtship stage of mating, (which has only been studied in captivity), the male increases his scent marking frequency while the female decreases hers. Females reach sexual maturity at two years of age and gestate for 10 to 11 weeks. They give birth in hollow trees or abandoned burrows to one to four young. At birth, young genets weigh two to three ounces (60 to 85 g) and gain weight slowly. At 45 days after birth, the young begin eating solid food, though they do not start hunting until fully developed at 18 weeks. The mother provides milk to her young until they become successful hunters.
Friends & Foes
Predators that hunt common genets include servals, caracals, leopards, honey badgers, and large owls.
Population in Kenya & Beyond
Although the genet is one of the most common carnivores, there is no figure for how many of these elusive animals exist.
Range & Habitat
The most wide-ranging of the 14 genet species, the common genet lives in three main regions across Africa: coastal northern Africa, West Africa to East Africa south to Tanzania, and southern Africa. The common genet also lives in southwestern Europe and the Middle East.
Common genets occupy a variety of ecosystems across their vast distribution. Though they prefer to live in areas with trees, bushes, and a definite dry season, they can survive anywhere that has enough prey and woody or rocky shelters.
Did you know?
Common genets share communal latrines with other genets, civets, and some mongoose species.
Five Interesting Facts about the Spotted Genet
Genets have retractable claws adapted to climbing and catching prey.
Their diet can include small mammals, especially rodents, shrews, and bats as well as birds and their eggs, frogs, millipedes, centipedes, scorpions, and various fruits.
Genets can climb trees to hunt birds; however, they also spend much time on the ground hunting prey and taking shelter in rocky outcrops. They are able to squeeze their flexible bodies through any opening larger than their heads.
Adult genets are solitary except during periods of courtship or when young genets accompany their mothers.
Their main predators are owls, leopards, pythons, and humans.
Common genet has retractable claws (they can be hidden inside the paws) on its feet that facilitate climbing on the trees.
Common genet is nocturnal creature (active during the night).
Common genet rests during the day inside the hollow trees and dense thicket.
Common genet is a carnivore (meat-eater). Its diet is based on small mammals (forest mice are their favorite type of food), birds, lizards and insects.
Natural enemies of common genets are leopards, pythons, owls and humans.
Common genet has a mane (long hair) that stretches from the shoulders to the tail. In the case of danger, common genet is able to erect its mane to create impression of large body.
Common genet is solitary and territorial animal. It occupies territory of 3.1 square miles. Territories of animals of opposite sex often overlap. Males mark their territory with urine, females with scent.
Common genet produces various sounds for communication. Hiccup-like calls are exchanged between mother and her babies or between partners during the mating season. Young genets often purr and produce mew calls. Threatened genets produce clicks and growls.
Mating season of common genet takes place from January to September (with peak during the February and March).
Pregnancy in females lasts around 75 days and ends with 2 to 3 (up to 4) babies. Female gives birth in the crevices of rocks or inside the hollow trees. Babies spend first 45 days of the life in a natal den.
Young common genets depend on the mother’s milk until the age of 4 months. 7-week-old common genets are ready to enrich their milk-based diet with meat. Common genets reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 years.
Common genet can survive up to 8 years in the wild and around 13 years in the captivity.
The Small-Spotted Genet has a diet which consists mainly of small mammals and insects. Bats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, millipedes, centipedes and scorpions have been recorded as their food source. It would appear to eat less fruit than the Large Spotted Genet.
Two litters are produced per year, respectively of two to three young. The gestation period is between 70-77 days. The ears and eyes of young only open after 5-18 days. Canines erupt within the first month. Young take solid foods only after a few weeks, but continue suckling for several months.
Almost entirely solitary, pairs are seldom seen, probably only during the mating season. Habitat preference tends towards drier woodlands, although it is also found in riverine habitats. It often lies up in trees during the day, but is more commonly found in holes in the ground and in rocky refuges. It is less arboreal than the Large-Spotted Genet.
Genets are nocturnal carnivorous animals that resemble cats or ferrets. They can stay in a variety of habitats depending on the species type they belong to. They can be seen in arid to semi-arid regions and also in forested areas. They prefer dense vegetation like woodlands, savannas, and forests.
Like cats, genets are careful hunters. With the help of their sharp and extendible claws, they pin the prey. These claws also make them excellent climbers. Genets can make a variety of sounds like mewing, purring, hissing, and spitting if they feel threatened.
There are many species of genets. The two widely known sub-species among them are the Common genet (small-spotted genet), and the Cape genet (large-spotted genet). The common genet is found in arid regions. The Cape genet lives in dense habitats and in regions where water is available. It is known to be tolerant of most habitats. of genets are kept as pets worldwide due to their playful nature. They can be trained to use a litter box like a cat and can be fed like a cat. The genet is also well-known for the killing of poultry because of which farmers and owners dislike the genet.