How to Get an Exotic Pet License

Published August 2, 2022
exotic animal pet hedgehog

Getting an exotic pet license to own a wild or dangerous animal is not a straightforward process. Regulations vary from state to state and may differ based on the species you want to keep. Many exotic animals, such as primates, big cats, and venomous reptiles, are illegal to own as pets in most states within the United States. However, smaller exotic pets may be legal with a permit from your local Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture, or Natural Resources Commission, depending on the state laws. Even so, these animals can be challenging or even dangerous to own. Contact one of these governing bodies in your state of residency to find out how to get an exotic pet license.

How to Get an Exotic Pet License

two ferrets on leash walking exotic pet

There is currently no federal legislation regulating the ownership of exotic pets in the United States. Therefore, each state has its own laws in place. In order to get a wild or exotic pet permit, you'll need to contact the appropriate governing body based on your state of residence. This may be the Department of Food and Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Wildlife Conservation, or a similar department. Beyond that, your county may have additional ordinances.

Depending on the type of animal you'd like to keep, you may be out of luck. Many species are prohibited to own in several states. Over 20 states entirely ban keeping dangerous animals as personal pets, which include venomous snakes, bears, primates, wolves, and big cats, whereas many others have varying levels of limitations.

Even common exotic pets, like sugar gliders, ferrets, Fennec foxes, hedgehogs, and some birds, are illegal in some states or require permits. Five states reportedly have no or minimal restrictions on exotic pet ownership: Delaware, Wisconsin, Nevada, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

How Much is an Exotic Pet Permit?

The cost of an exotic pet license to keep an animal as a personal pet depends on your state and the classification of the animal. Some governing bodies may charge as little as $20 to get a license for a sugar glider, whereas others require fees of $500 or more for a dangerous creature like a tiger. Many states require home inspections, veterinary care proof, and annual license renewals.

Breeding and Traveling with Exotic Pets

sugar glider exotic pet

While the federal entities do not regulate exotic animal ownership, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does manage the transportation and breeding of exotic pets. Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), any breeder or dealer of exotic pets must be licensed by the USDA. Importing exotic animals into the United States or traveling with them from state to state is also regulated. In order to do this, you'll have to meet specific criteria and obtain a health certificate through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

Pursue Exotic Pets with Caution

Exotic animals, such as Fennec foxes, sloths, and even wild cats, are becoming increasingly popular as pets. Even though many of these pets may not appear dangerous, they can compete with natural wildlife or carry illnesses. Laws around exotic pet ownership are in place to protect you, the individual animal, the general population, and the environment. It's important to remember that wild animals are wild. Consider whether captivity is the best place for these animals before bringing one home.

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How to Get an Exotic Pet License