The Top 10 Illegal Pets to Own In the United States

Written by Emily Wolfel
Updated: September 13, 2022
Image Credit Delbars/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Surprisingly, it’s illegal to own pet hedgehogs, ferrets, and turtles in some states.
  • Many states and cities have also banned pet monkeys, sugar gliders, Chausies, skunks, lemurs, and zebras.
  • For obvious reasons, it’s illegal to own big cats like Bengals in at least 19 states. But some states allow it if you can prove that the cat is four generations removed from its wild ancestors.

If you live in the United States and think that you would love to own an exotic pet, check your state’s laws before buying the pet. Many states have illegal pet laws that you must obey. Even some animals that are commonly raised as pets in other areas of the world may be illegal animals in the U.S.

While these laws can be frustrating to deal with as a pet owner, they are typically enforced in the name of conservation or safety. Animals that are too hard or even impossible to domesticate could be a danger to you or your surrounding community should they choose to attack, while the more docile animals on this list could be problematic to your local ecosystem if they escape since they are deemed an invasive species. The punishment for non-compliance varies from state to state, but most carry a hefty fine and give your state the power to seize and/or euthanize your pet. Therefore, it is extremely important to follow state guidelines not only for your own benefit, but also for your pets’.

#10 Illegal Pet to Own In the United States: Hedgehogs

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs, famous for their prickly spines which they have everywhere except on their face, legs and bellies, are illegal to own in the USA.

Coatesy/Shutterstock.com

Hedgehogs may look like the perfect pocket pet. But it is illegal to own them in many states, including California, Hawaii, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Some cities, like Washington D.C. and New York City, also have laws against owning them.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal. So you are giving up sleeping at night when you own one because their noise will keep you away. When they become anxious, they curl up in a tight ball. It is easy to cause injury if you try to uncurl them. Additionally, they often carry foot-and-mouth disease.

Learn more about hedgehogs in this article.

#9 Ferrets

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Ferrets
Although ferrets have been domesticated for many years, it is still illegal to own them in many states.

jurra8/Shutterstock.com

Ferrets are illegal to own in California, Hawaii, and many individual cities, including Washington D.C. and New York City. The most common reason for banning them in those states is the changes they could cause to the ecosystem if they are set or lost in the wild. Ferrets are escape artists so that may not be an unreasonable fear.

When ferrets feel threatened, they often bite. They also bite to get a person’s attention. They also do not do well when changes occur, and they will often bite those around them during that time. These bites can spread germs and rabies. They also need to be taken care of regularly, or they have a strong musky smell that many find offensive.

If you are still thinking about getting a ferret, learn more about them here.

#8 Monkeys

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Monkeys
If you think of getting a highly intelligent monkey as a pet, first find out if it is not illegal in your state!

It is illegal to own a monkey in 19 states, including in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. Other states have a partial ban on owning a monkey as a pet, while others, like Florida, require you to volunteer with monkeys before purchasing one and pass a written exam.

Monkeys kept in captivity tend to bond with the person they perceive as in charge while viewing everyone else as an enemy. Monkeys are messy, and they will often throw their feces everywhere. Wearing a diaper is not a good answer because it can stop muscle development or weaken developed muscles. Additionally, monkeys carry many diseases that can be transmitted to humans when they decide to bite or scratch you. Before you consider getting one in areas where they are legal, consider that some monkeys live to be 40 years old.

Learn about the different types of monkeys here.

#7 Sugar Gliders

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Sugar Gliders
Although Sugar gliders have become more popular in recent years, it is still illegal to own one of them in some states.

Evannovostro/Shutterstock.com

Sugar gliders are a fad pet that many choose to own, but owning one is illegal in many states, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. They are also illegal in some cities like St. Paul, Minnesota, and New York City.

Even if owning a sugar glider is legal in your area, you may want to think twice before getting one as a pet. They are nocturnal and want a dark environment during the day. Their food, consisting of specialized water and nectar drinks, can be challenging to find. Like domesticated animals, sugar gliders need regular vet care, but most veterinarians will not take care of them.

Study more about sugar gliders here.

#6 Bengals

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Bengals
Bengal tigers, one of the biggest of the big cats, are endangered and illegal to own in many states.

While it is obvious why big cats, like lions and tigers, are banned as pets, but it is also illegal to own a Bengal in at least 19 states. Others have strict laws saying that you must prove that the animal is at least four generations removed from its wild ancestors.

Capturing Bengal tigers and breeding them with a domesticated cat cuts down on this animal’s gene population in the wild, further lessening its chance for survival as a species. Though wild Bengal populations have somewhat increased in recent years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) still considers them endangered.

Bengals typically live about 15 years in the wild, compared to 20-25 years in captivity. However, most ‘domesticated’ Bengals are bred in kitty factories, where they get minimal to no care. Many have health and behavior issues that make it hard to control them.

#5 Chausies

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Chausies
The Chausie, the first domestic/Jungle Cat breeding to have been officially recorded, is still illegal to own in many states.

Tania__Wild/Shutterstock.com

In at least 19 states, it is also illegal to own a Chausies. These hybrid cats were created by breeding jungle cats and domestic cats. They are about twice as big as the typical house cat and are very active. It takes time to walk your cat regularly and give them other forms of exercise, or they can become destructive. Many develop gluten allergies, so their food can be costly.

It is impossible to breed domestic qualities into an animal that has been wild for thousands of years. Many owners find that these cats are very aggressive. Additionally, many say that their cats refuse to use the litterbox. Since wild cats are solitary by nature, many Chausies are very antisocial.

#4 Turtles

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Turtles
Turtles, one of the animals with the longest lifespan, are still illegal to own in many states in the USA.

Marco Fine/Shutterstock.com

You cannot own a pet turtle in North Dakota or North Carolina, and many other states have bans on selling them if their shell measures less than 6 inches. Still, other states ban the sale or trade of turtles unless certified as free of salmonella. They carry the salmonella germs on their outer shells. When someone touches the turtle, they can get germs and get very sick or die. The germs can also be in their cages or aquariums, so cleaning those can be hazardous to your health. Additionally, other animals, like geckos and bearded lizards, can also be carriers.

Read more about river turtles here.

#3 Skunks

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Skunks
A skunk, whose sulfuric spray has a range of up to 10 feet, with an odor that can be detected up to 1.5 miles, is illegal to own in many USA states.

Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock.com

If you have thought that a pet skunk would make an ideal pet, do not be quick to buy one, especially if you live in 17 U.S. states, including Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Michigan, where pet skunks are banned. The bans include animals that have been domesticated by having their scent glands removed.

Even domesticated skunks often have trouble getting along with other animals that they usually hunt in the wild, like rodents and birds. Skunks need a calm environment, so having them with children around is often problematic because they startle easily. Skunk food can be hard and expensive to find. Additionally, skunks need regular medical care, including deworming regularly. Since there is no rabies vaccine for skunks, they can pass the disease on to other animals and humans if they get bitten.

Read here to learn more about skunks.

#2 Lemurs

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Lemurs
The very sociable lemur is illegal to own in quite a few states in the USA.

Ondrej_Novotny_92/Shutterstock.com

If you think it would be fun to own a lemur, be careful where you choose to live as they are illegal pets in Ohio, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina. Additionally, the sale or transfer of lemurs is highly regulated in many other states.

Since lemurs are social animals, it is cruel to own just one lemur. Females have scent glands on many parts of their bodies, which they use in the wild to attract males. They will mark your home with this scent everywhere, and it is a highly offensive odor. Lemurs love to make noise, so expect them to be continually singing, often at the top of their lungs. Lemurs are usually quite aggressive, especially as they enter sexual maturity. This animal carries many diseases that can be transmitted to humans, and we have many that can be transferred to lemurs.

Find out more about lemurs here.

#1 Illegal Pet to Own In the United States: Zebras

Illegal Pets to Own In the United States: Zebras
The Zebra, a dangerous animal that cannot really be tamed, is another animal that is illegal to own in many states in the USA.

A zebra is an illegal pet in Nevada and many other states. It is impossible to domesticate a zebra. Their kick can hurt or kill a human, and they use it often. It can be hard to earn the trust of a zebra, even one that was born in a domesticated environment and had the best care possible. Most owners report that they spent many months sitting with a bucket of grain in front of them before they could even pet their animal. Many are very hard to keep in fenced areas, as they are always looking for a way to escape. When they do, they will often run themselves to death before letting a human coax them back where they belong.

Read more about zebras here.

Make sure that you check the illegal animal laws in your location before you get a pet. The one that you are wanting may be against the law in your location. There are often good reasons behind the laws as some illegal animals do not make good pets.

Top 10 Illegal Pets in the United States

You can find an overview of the U.S.’s top 10 illegal pets we mentioned in this article listed below. We also listed the places with known bans against each animal, but it is not exhaustive. Double-check your state’s guidelines before trying to acquire one of these animals if you don’t see your state listed.

RankAnimalBanned Places
#1ZebraNevada, New Hampshire
#2LemurOhio, Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina
#3Skunk17 U.S. states, including Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Michigan
#4TurtleNorth Dakota and North Carolina; other states ban the sale of turtles smaller than 6 inches
#5ChausieAt least 19 states
#6BengalAt least 19 states
#7Sugar GliderConnecticut, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, NYC, St. Paul, MN
#8MonkeyCalifornia, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming
#9FerretCalifornia, Hawaii, NYC, Washington D.C.
#10HedgehogCalifornia, Hawaii, Georgia, Pennsylvania, NYC, Washington D.C.

Up Next…

Dogs, cats, and goldfish are great. But some of us are captivated by animals with a wild side!

The World’s Top 10 Non-Traditional Pets– Find out why sugar gliders, chinchillas, and even skunks have won over so many hearts.

Exotic Pet Ownership Laws by State– Delve into more of the nitty-gritty on the legality of the exotic best friend you’ve always wanted.

Prehistoric Pets– Dogs and cats have been found buried next to their owners in graves from 12,000 years ago! We know the pharaohs loved cats, but could some of them have kept hyenas, lions, and monkeys as companions?

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About the Author

Emily is an editor and content marketing specialist of five years. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania where you can regularly encounter anything from elk to black bears to river otters. Over the years, she raised livestock animals, small animals, dogs, cats, and birds, which is where she learned most of what she knows about various animals and what allowed her to work as a dog groomer and manager of a specialty pet store. She now has three rescue cats and two high-needs Pomeranian mixes to take up her love and attention.

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