Exotic Pet Ownership Laws By State

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: October 16, 2023
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There are exotic and wild pet laws in every state. Additionally, you may find local and county or parish laws are more restrictive. If you live in an apartment or an area governed by a homeowners association, then you may have even more regulations. Remember that laws may frequently change, so consult the latest rules before investing in a wild or exotic pet. Have a look at the exotic pet ownership laws by state, that we compiled for you.


It is illegal to sell, import, or process members of the Charias, such as walking catfish, and members of the Serrasalmus, such as piranha, black carp, and mongooses in Alabama. You can also not own any member of the genus, including deer, elk, moose, and caribou. There is also a ban on owning wild turkeys, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and wild rodents. Legislation that went into effect in October 2020 also makes it illegal to own or breed any bird, mammal, reptile, or amphibian listed under the federal Lacey Act. Furthermore, you cannot own a member of the tegu family. Those who already owned these pets before the new law went into effect can get a special permit.


Alaska residents cannot possess, sell, import, or export live game animals (any species of animal that is not a domestic bird or mammal. Additionally, it is illegal to fence in or impound any wild ones, even if you think it has been abandoned. A permit may be given for scientific and educational purposes by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. To help potential animal owners, Alaska authorities have produced a clean list that is acceptable to own.


A law will go into effect on July 1, 2021, requiring many more people to have a state license before they can own or care for wildlife in Arizona. Permits are available for rehabilitation, bat dealers, private game farms, scientific activity, and White Amur stocking and restocking. Each permit comes with its own set of stipulations on what you can and cannot own. If a resident chooses to move out of Arizona, it is against the law to take the pet with you in most cases. The animals cannot be sold but must be gifted to another person.


Residents may own up to six bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, red foxes, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, or squirrels that they have taken from the wild. A person can buy up to six individual native wildlife species. Different sexes must be kept in separate cages. It is illegal to sell these animals without a dealer’s permit. Generally, residents cannot own mountain lions, tigers, African lions, and bears.

Exotic Pet Ownership Bobcat

Bobcats are loving, loyal and apt to be jealous. They can grow to 35 to 55 Ibs and needs to be trained from an early age.

©Jack Bell Photography/Shutterstock.com


As far as exotic pet ownership is concerned, it is illegal to keep most wildlife species in California, including hedgehogs, all rodents except for hamsters, non-domesticated rabbits, and many others. If you want to keep rats, someone must have raised them in a lab. If you are going to keep elk, then you must obtain a special permit.


Generally, you cannot keep any type of wildlife in Colorado. There are special licenses that allow you to keep wildlife for rehabilitation, falconry, or scientific collection.


You cannot own hedgehogs, African hedgehogs, sugar gliders, bears, large cats, wolves, primates, and many other types of exotic wildlife in Connecticut. There are several types of special permits, including game breeders, parks, and veterinarians.


You must have a permit, which includes an emergency plan, to own most wild mammals in Delaware. The state is more liberal than most in the animals that you can own without a permit as they allow many types of lizards, chinchillas, hedgehogs, ferrets, opossums, rabbits, and sugar gliders.

District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, a person shall not import into the District, possess, display, offer for sale, trade, barter, exchange, or adoption, or give as a household pet, any living member of the animal kingdom, including those born or raised in captivity, except the following: Domestic dogs (excluding hybrids with wolves, coyotes, or jackals), domestic cats, (excluding hybrids with ocelots or margays), domesticated rodents and rabbits, captive-bred species of common cage birds, including chickens, non-venomous snakes, fish, and turtles, traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes, ferrets, and facing pigeons, when kept in compliance with permit requirements.


As long as you own 2.5 acres, you can keep many types of animals in Florida, including bears, large cats, rhinos, crocodiles and chimpanzees, and more. It is illegal to own Burmese, reticulated, African rock and Amethystine pythons, green anacondas, Nile monitors, green iguanas, and tegus. You can apply for a particular wildlife permit to keep some others, but the permit must be signed by a person who is another holder of the same license or a higher one.

Exotic Pet Ownership Green Iguana

Iguanas are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species.

©David A Litman/Shutterstock.com


It is against the law to own most wildlife in Georgia, including kangaroos, primates, non-domesticated canines, non-domesticated felines, crocodiles, alligators, elephants, bats, piranhas, air-breathing catfish, Gila monsters, and cobras. It is also against the law to own any hybrid created from crossing domestic and wild animals. Residents can own rabies-vaccinated European ferrets as long as they are neutered by 7 months.


The list of animals that people are allowed to own in Hawaii is extremely limited. It includes cats, dogs, cattle, beefalo, donkey, sheep, goats, swine, including pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, and llamas. Otherwise, a person needs a permit, which is only given for scientific or medical reasons.


Individuals living in Idaho can keep up to four animals of a species that it is legal to trap or hunt. Birds of prey for falconry, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders can be owned in Idaho, along with cats and dogs.


It is legal to own many wildlife mammals in Illinois, except for bears, lions, tigers, leopards, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs, margays, cougars, lynx, bobcats, jaguarundis, wolves, coyotes, and hyenas. Most U.S. native snakes can be owned except Eastern diamondback, Western diamondback, Mojave, Southern Pacific, and timber rattlesnakes.


Indiana is one of the most lenient states when it comes to owning exotic pets. The state issues three classes of permits, and you can own bears, wild cats, crocodiles, venomous reptiles, and most others with a Class III permit. You need a Class II permit to own beavers, coyotes, gray foxes, red foxes, mink, muskrats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, and weasel. Despite the state’s leniency, you need a Class I permit to own many others where no permit is required in other states, including many rabbits.

Exotic Pet Ownership weasel

While older children may understand to be careful around weasels, they are not suitable pets if you have younger children.

©Stephan Morris/Shutterstock.com


You cannot possess transport, breed, or own any dangerous wild animal in Iowa. If the animal is a crossbreed that looks like its wild relative, they are also banned. The state issues special permits for turtle and falconries. You can keep up to 96 frogs that you have caught.


There are very few animals that people living in Kansas cannot own. They cannot own lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, mountain lions, bears, or non-native venomous snakes.


Kentucky is another state where it is easy to own exotic animals. You can own African lions, bison, camels, yaks, alpacas, and many others without a permit. You can get a variety of licenses if you want to sell, breed, or transport them.


It is illegal to own most exotic pets in Louisiana. You can own one alligator snapping turtle, two razor-backed musk turtles, and two box turtles. Special permits are needed to sell turtles and reptiles.


You cannot own or process any exotic wildlife in Maine. In some cases, you can own native fish and amphibians. The only permit that the state offers is a special falconry permit.

Exotic Pet Ownership falcon

Falconry, the ancient sport of using birds of prey to hunt wild animals, has existed for at least 4,000 years.



Only research facilities, special permit exhibitors, and some veterinarians are allowed to process wildlife in Maryland. In most cases, the law applies to exotic and native wildlife.


It is against the law to keep wild animals as pets in Massachusetts. The state issues 11 types of special permits, with most applying to a very select group of individuals.


Michigan defines an exotic animal as any that is not domesticated in North America, and you cannot own them. There are special rules that allow you to show or exhibit them in the state. The only special permits required are to move llamas, cattle, bison, domestic dog, horses, ferrets, goats, poultry, sheep, and pigs on the state’s roads.


You cannot own bears, non-domestic felines, and primates in Minnesota. Any cat must be from a breed listed in a national or international multi-cat registry.


You can own many types of wildlife in Mississippi, but you will have to buy a permit from the state and meet very stringent requirements. These animals include primates, bears, canids, and felids.

Exotic Pet Ownership bear

Mississippi black bears are large, powerful wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect.



It is against the law to keep lions, tigers, leopards, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs, margays, mountain lions, Canada lynxes, bobcats, jaguarundis, hyenas, wolves, bears, nonhuman primates, or coyotes in Missouri. Furthermore, it is against the law to keep poisonous reptiles that are over 8-feet long.


Montana law defines many types of wild animals as alternative livestock. Included are native caribou, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, antelope, mountain sheep, mountain goat, reindeer, pigs, hippos, yaks, and bison.


Except for an entity operated by federal, state, or local government, you cannot own wolves, non-domestic felines, skunks, or bears in Nebraska. The state offers five different types of permits, including one for wildlife abatement.


You can own many animals in Nevada that it is illegal to own in other states, including tigers, lions, monkeys, and zebras. It is unlawful to own alligators, crocodiles, raccoons, bats, coyotes, moose, venomous snakes, and foxes.

New Hampshire

You can own many types of exotic pets in New Hampshire, including bison, wild boars, camels, sugar gliders, and zebras. You can also own any reptile that does not usually fatally attack humans. The state issues six different types of permits.

Exotic Pet Ownership camel

Camels are intelligent and emotional animals and form close bonds with humans.


New Jersey

New Jersey issues 11 different types of wildlife permits. Some of those permits cover only one animal while others cover up to five individuals of the same species. Hedgehogs, skunks, raccoons, and ostriches are all legal, but you cannot own bears, primates, venomous reptiles, exotic felids, or exotic canids.

New Mexico

It is against the law in New Mexico to own felines, crocodiles, wolves, alligators, and primates. If you get one of the six types of permits, you can own subhuman primates, skunks, raccoons, foxes or sylvatic carnivores, and many other animals.

New York

New York residents need a permit to own wolves, wolfdogs, coyotes, coydogs, foxes, skunks, venomous reptiles, and raccoons. There are a few animals that you cannot own in the state, including leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, tigers, Asiatic lions, cheetahs, mountain lions, jaguars, kangaroos, polar bears unless you are an exempted zoo. The state sells at least nine different types of exotic pet permits.

North Carolina

There are no statewide exotic pet laws in North Carolina, but you may need a license to bring some animals into the state.

North Dakota

It is against the law to own raccoons or skunks in North Dakota. All other animals fall into one of three categories. Category 1 animals are those who pose little threat to humans and are domesticated. Category 2 are animals that may pose health threats to people or other animals, and their owners need a permit. The third category is animals who pose particular concerns or may be environmentally hazardous, and their owners usually need a special educational permit.

Exotic Pet Ownership raccoon

Raccoons are very high maintenance and fairly unpredictable, which is why most animal experts advise against keeping them as pets. 

©Maryna Rayimova/Shutterstock.com


It is against the law to own many animals, including bears, hyenas, gray wolves, most non-domestic cats, elephants, rhinoceroses, and most primates in Ohio. The state offers many special permits.


It is against the law to own bears or cats over 50 pounds in Oklahoma. If you are going to sell wildlife or an exotic pet, then you need a commercial license.


You cannot have an exotic pet in Oregon, including Nonhuman primates, bears, non-indigenous canines or felines, or crocodiles. The state issues 13 different permits.


It is illegal to own almost any type of exotic animal in Pennsylvania. The state offers three types of permits, but they admit that they are practically impossible to get. Most start with two years of hands-on experience.

Rhode Island

People living in Rhode Island can keep water buffalo, alpacas, camels, yaks, and many other animals without a permit. You can get a permit to keep almost any type of animal, including giraffes, monkeys, and hippopotamuses.

Exotic Pet Ownership yak

Yaks can be used as a pack animal, and its hair can provide clothing and fabric for shelters and ropes.

©Vladimir Mulder/Shutterstock.com

South Carolina

It is only illegal to own Great Apes and non-native bears in South Carolina. It requires a permit to sell others, but you do not need a permit to keep most animals.

South Dakota

You need a permit to keep non-domestic even-toed ungulates, tapirs, rhinoceroses, Asian and African elephants, along with nonhuman primates in South Dakota. There are five types of licenses. The one you need depends on what you intend to do with the animal.


Animals in Tennessee are placed in one of five categories. Individuals cannot own an animal that the state considers inherently dangerous, like primates, wolves, bears, and African buffalos. The second class is those that do not fall into any other category. Animals in the third class are normal farm animals along with rodents, ferrets, alpacas, and others. None of these classes require a special permit. The fourth class are those black bears and white-tail deer and require a permit. The final class is those that are injurious to the environment, and they must be in zoos.


In most cases, animal ownership is up to counties in Texas. You need a permit to own many animals, including bears, coyotes, chimps, and other apes, lions, and tigers.

Exotic Pet Ownership coyote

Coyotes are extremely bold predators, who will sometimes attack pets right in the presence of one or more humans. 

©Jukka Jantunen/Shutterstock.com


A permit is needed to keep many animals in Utah, including non-domesticated cats, monkeys, apes, kangaroos, ferrets, hedgehogs, and coyotes. You can own alligators, crocodiles, alpacas, camels, chinchillas, ostriches, sugar gliders, and penguins without a permit.


Vermont has nine classes of wildlife and exotic pet ownership permits and licenses. You can own almost any animal for scientific or educational purposes. You do not need a license for llamas, alpacas, bison, European ferrets, ostriches, yaks, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and alligators.


A special permit is needed for any dog that might be crossed with a wolf. You can keep almost any other animal without a license, but you cannot allow public contact with many of them. The state offers three types of permits.


The law in Washington is vague when it comes to naming particular animals. You cannot own any dangerous exotic animal or any animal that is usually wildlife in the state.

West Virginia

West Virginia bans the ownership of dangerous animals. They have a list of animals that you cannot own, including hyenas, wolves, big cats, elephants, and rhinoceroses.

Exotic Pet Ownership Rhinoceros

The rhino has a reputation for being extremely aggressive and fares best in wildlife reserves.



You can keep almost all animals as pets in Wisconsin without a permit. If you want to import one into the state, then you may need a special license. The state offers three different permits.


If the animal is not a typical domestic pet, it is probably against the law to keep it in Wyoming. You can make an application for an exception, but it must be backed with lots of scientific data.


Every state has a different view on keeping exotic pets and you should check them thoroughly before getting an exotic pet. In addition, it is important to consider whether your environment is suitable for the animal you would like to import. Most animals have very specific habitat needs and this is especially true of any animal considered exotic. It is also important to consider what might happen if your pet escapes or you no longer want it. Exotic pets that have escaped or been released into the wild either do not survive because it is not the right environment for them or they thrive and destroy the native wildlife population. Before taking on an exotic pet, make sure that it is legal and that the animal will do well in its new environment.

What is Bad About Exotic Pets?

Group of domestic pets on white background animals

Should you actually get a typical, domestic pet rather than get an exotic animal?

©iStock.com/Liudmila Chernetska

While it may seem really neat and fun, there are many reasons for avoiding the temptation of purchasing an exotic pet, at least without doing your share of proper research.

To start with, domestic animals have been selectively bred and living with humans for many years. Think of how the dog has been domesticated from the wolf and how much they have adapted to live alongside people in everyday life. Daily care, diet, exercise, and behaviors are all very well understood for your typical house and farm animals. This all leads to safety for not only humans but also the animals.

Without doing the needed fact-finding about exotic animals, an owner could unintentionally cause the pet to become malnourished. Some of these critters are not fully understood, and giving them food that they would not normally obtain in the wild can have dire consequences on their health.

Another reason is that in the wild these exotic animals would perhaps be used to traveling throughout their territories on a daily basis. When they are domesticated and kept in a confined area, it can cause the animals to have behavior issues, depression, and other psychological problems.

Lastly, if an exotic animal does become sick or show signs of any of the above problems, finding proper care for it will be more difficult than with a traditional pet.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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