Where are Exotic Pets Legal?

posted on 24 Sep 2014 15:15 by melodicloser1227

Where in the United States are exotic pets legal? This question would make more sense if it read "what exotic pets are legal to own" in a specified state. People's definitions of an exotic animal vary. The media generally uses the word 'exotic' to describe pets that people fear such as big cats, large snakes and wolves (even though these canines were once native to more states).

Exotics are generally any animal other than a dog or cat, and often this doesn't include farm animals, and common 'pocket' pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits, and small rodents like hamsters. Small reptiles are exotic pets, but they are rarely banned. Parrot species are another species of exotic that rarely face bans. There are exceptions to these rules of course. Animal bans also exist in certain cities, counties, and neighborhood associations.


The legality of certain animal species may depend specific regulations. Some animals are only 'legal' if you can meet certain requirements, be eligible for a USDA license, or are using the animal for specific, non-pet purposes (commercial, exhibition, sanctuary, educational). This article will address animals that are legal for private ownership, or with criteria that an average citizen can meet.

Big Cats, exotic cats (tigers, servals, caracals)

Big cats can be divided into two categories--there are the 'true' big cat species (tigers, leopards, lions, cheetahs, mountain lions, jaguars), and then there are the small to medium-sized cats, consisting of servals, caracals, Asian leopard cats, jungle cats, bobcats, fishing cats, and lynxes, which can be found in the diminishing exotic pet trade.

There are also hybrids of servals (Savannah cats), jungle cats, and Asian leopard cats (Bengals). Unfortunately, these animals are often lumped together, with the exception of Bengal cats which tend to be sold with lower wild parentage. These animals are banned statewide, in most U.S. states, despite the claims of organizations like Born Free. Around 5 states do not regulate them. One example is North Carolina, but many counties in this state not only ban these animals, but they even heavily restrict more common exotics. Also in North Carolina, special regulations exist for native felines.

*Native animals such as bobcats and mountain lions often have special regulations.

The smaller cats and hybrids mentioned here pose little or no risk to the public. Currently, no fatalities are listed for all of them--but they are often banned without question despite domesticated animals statistically posing a far greater public safety risk.

Some states, like Florida, may administer permits for the smaller cats to pet owners if they meet certain criteria, such as 1000 hours volunteering with the sought after species. The big cats are considered 'class 1 wildlife' and are not legal to own for private use (can be obtained for commercial use).

Hybrids may be legal in more states, but this depends on the generation. In New York State, Savannah cats are legal if they are the F5 generation.

Current states where big cats are legal (all or some): Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi (small cats), Missouri (with a permit), Montana (bobcats and lynxes), Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas (most counties have banned it), West Virginia.

*Many of these states have insurance and minimum caging requirements

Bold means most exotics are not regulated.

Most exotic birds are legal

Commonly kept herbiverous birds (hookbills, small soft bills) are mostly legal in all states (several species are even legal in Hawaii! but some must be banded and you should have a permit), including California, despite its extensive unsubstatinated bans against 'exotic' pets. Parrots and pet softbills fit nearly every definition of an 'exotic' animals; they are not domesticated (despite extensive captive breeding), so they retain most of their wild behaviors and are even somewhat difficult, high-mantinance pets.

In warmer climates, it is possible for pet releases and escapes to result in feral populations that threaten the environment. Birds even bite, which other exotic pets regardless of size are never allowed to do without resulting in people pushing for bans against them.

Quaker parrots, also known as monk parakeets, are unusually invasive in temperate climates and are illegal in California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wyoming for this reason.

Raptors, geese, and other native wild birds are regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be held without a permit.

Quaker parrots are invasive in northern states.

See all 16 photos

Quaker parrots are invasive in northern states.

Mustelidae (ferrets, weasels, polecats, Asian clawed otter)

Animals in this category are not commonly kept as pets with the obvious exception of ferrets, which are domesticated. Despite domestication and posing no threat to public safety at all, ferrets are illegal in California and Washington D.C. No other states except Hawaii have banned these animals, however they are illegal in New York City and a permit is needed for them in Rhode Island. Ferrets are widely kept as pets (their pet stores find it economical to stock supplies for the animal) in California despite the law and are also not become feral and invasive in that state.

Other mustelids are not legal in many states.

Skunks, Bats and Raccoons

These animals are grouped together because they are popular rabies vectors, and are regulated (and often prohibited) in many states because of this, despite no cases of captive bred animals harboring the virus.

Skunks- Based on this list, which should be verified for updated information, skunks are legal in Alabama, Florida (class 3 permit that is obtainable is needed), Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio (permit needed), Oklahoma (import permit and vet needed), Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Skunks should be deemed illegal until verified otherwise.

Racoons- Captive-bred (not from the wild) racoons may be legal in the following states, but this list must be confirmed.

For bats, laws must be examined carefully, they are probably not legal in most states.