Pets That Are Illegal to Keep in the U.S.

Pets That Are Illegal to Keep in the U.S.

Life gets more exciting when you live on the wild side. For most people, that means taking adventurous vacations or refusing to settle for the status quo — not necessarily choosing an unusual pet. However, if the domesticated cat or dog isn’t interesting enough for you, you might be tempted to try to raise a boa constrictor, an unusual rodent, or even a large cat. But when it comes to owning exotic pets,  you might be in for more than you realize.

Many pet owners aren’t prepared for the responsibility of owning an exotic pet. Some even find themselves on the wrong side of pet ownership laws in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some say over the pets Americans can own. But individual states have their own laws, too. Some states allow almost anything that creeps, crawls, or slithers, while others forbid almost all pets except domesticated cats and dogs.

General laws about exotic pets

bobcat kitten and baby striped skunk lookng at each other

Hawaii has the strictest pet ownership laws because its ecosystem could be disrupted by invasive species. PetHelpful reports the tropical state has the most restrictions. It goes so far as to quarantine even 

domesticated cats and dogs when they first enter the state. (That way, it can ensure they’re not carrying rabies.) Guinea pigs, domesticated mice, and select species of birds and turtles are permitted on the islands, though certain species are restricted.

On the other end of the spectrum, five states don’t ban residents from owning exotic pets — even lions, tigers, and bears. Nevada, Wisconsin, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina each have lax laws when it comes to pet ownership. If you’ve always dreamed of owning the animals you can usually only find in zoos, those are the states where you stand the best chance.

An estimated 65% of American households own at least one pet. So it’s not surprising we’ve gotten creative with our choice of animals. The American Bar Association reports the exotic pet trade is worth between $10 billion and $15 billion in the U.S. alone. Still, some pets are more widely shunned than others. If you want to own any of the fascinating exotic pets ahead, you might run into problems.