What Pets Have Been Banned in States Across the Country?

By Joan Clamm
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Photo Courtesy: Bryan Padron/Unsplash

Many animals are banned as pets across the United States. However, in a few states, common domesticated pets are banned while exotic animals like big cats are not. Some cities also restrict certain animals even if they are not banned statewide.

So which states have the strangest laws about what animals you can own? They’re probably not the ones you think.

Wolfdog

A wolfdog hybrid is a dog resulting from a domestic dog and a wolf interbreeding. These animals are completely banned in Wyoming, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, New Hampshire, Illinois, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Georgia, Alaska and Connecticut. However, there are no federal laws regarding wolfdog ownership, so in many other states, they’re considered domesticated.

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However, wolfdogs can be aggressive, pack-oriented, dominant, and territorial. Owning a dog crossed with a wolf is also not recommended because they will never be considered rabies vaccinated by the USDA even after receiving the vaccine.

Pit Bulls

Pit bulls and their variants have been banned in Germany, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain, France and Italy, among other countries, because of widely publicized attacks on humans. Pit bulls are often used for illegal dogfighting, where the dogs are trained to be vicious and fight to the death.

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Unfortunately, it’s this inhumane treatment that causes attacks and aggression toward people, as no dog is born unsafe. Some homeowners insurance policies and rental agreements exclude people who own certain dog breeds. It’s important to check local laws before owning any "bully" breed.

Sugar Gliders

Sugar gliders are banned as pets in New York City, Hawaii, Alaska and California. If you happen to live in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, you may own one if you obtain a permit. Sugar gliders are difficult to care for because they feed on nectar and sap.

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Photo Courtesy: Cyron Ray Macey/Wikimedia Commons

They also, as their name suggests, like to glide in the air by jumping off of trees, which would be very hard to replicate in a home that wasn’t a treehouse. Sugar gliders are a nocturnal marsupial native to Australia, and they normally live in large family groups.

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Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are native to parts of Asia, Europe, New Zealand and Africa. Most pet hedgehogs are a cross between Algerian and pygmy African hedgehogs, although some purebreds are sold, such as the white-bellied hedgehog.

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It;s illegal to own a hedgehog in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, California, Georgia and some places in Canada. That’s because when hedgehogs were introduced to places like New Zealand and Scotland, they became an invasive pest species and damaged local ecosystems. Hedgehogs can also transmit certain diseases to humans and other pets.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are another species specifically prohibited in Hawaii. According to the state of Hawiaii’s website, "Snakes and large lizards have no natural predators in Hawaii and pose a serious threat to Hawaii’s environment because they compete with native animal populations for food and habitat."

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Another major concern about reptiles in Hawaii is that many of them prey on birds and bird eggs, which has the potential to completely wipe out exotic bird species, especially those that are already endangered. Of course, giant snakes have also been known to kill house pets and even humans.

Hamsters

Hamsters have become popular as house pets, especially golden or Syrian hamsters. They’re native to Syria, Greece, China, Belgium and Romania naturally and generally prefer warm, dry areas like sand dunes, deserts and steppes where they feed on seeds, plants and the occasional insect.

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Hamsters are banned in Hawaii, mainly because they could possibly survive in Hawaii’s warm climate and threaten native populations of animals and plants. Other invasive species including feral pigs, chameleons and tree snakes are already a problem on the islands, so the concern is legitimate.

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Ferrets

Black-footed ferrets were once native to much of the North American Great Plains, namely wherever their main food source, prairie dogs, existed. They are endangered but have been reintroduced in several U.S. states. The "ferrets" you can buy in a petstore are actually descended from European polecats, and they’re entirely banned as pets in California and Hawaii.

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They’re also outlawed in Dallas, Washington D.C. and New York City. The fear is generally that they will start wild colonies. Hawaii has banned them because they are a rabies-vector animal (which all mammals are), and Hawaii is a rabies-free island.

Venomous Reptiles

It’s illegal to own venomous reptiles in many U.S. states, including Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri, Vermont, Delaware, Illinois, Georgia, New York and California, to name a few. This is true even if you have taken on the responsibility and expense of having the reptile’s venom glands removed completely.

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You may wonder who would want to keep an animal in their house that could literally kill them with one bite. Some of them are herpetologists, while others are simply reptile enthusiasts that think these animals are fascinating.

Pythons

In 2012, the United States Interior Department banned the importation of Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas. While they remain legal to keep as pets, no new snakes of these species are allowed, as they’ve successfully colonized the Everglades and pose a serious threat to native wildlife.

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Wikimedia Commons

Burmese pythons can grow to more than 26 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds., and anacondas can reach 29 feet and over 500 pounds, making them dangerous to both human and animal populations.

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Gerbils

Gerbils are a small rodent originally from the deserts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Interestingly, a gerbil can shed its tail if a predator grabs it, letting it escape. The gerbils sold in pet stores are originally from Mongolia.

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Photo Courtesy: Officially Mr X at English Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

While gerbils’ cleanliness and minimal odor have made them popular pets across much of the country, they’re banned in Hawaii and California because there is a concern that they could escape and become invasive. The country of New Zealand has also followed suit for similar reasons.

Skunks

With skunks, it’s actually easier to list the states that do allow them to be owned as pets, which are West Virginia, Alabama, Wisconsin, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Wyoming, West Virginia and South Dakota.

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Skunks are affectionate, playful and enjoy humans when owned as pets, but most people have their scent glands removed surgically when they are young to avoid their notorious spray. However, they are wild animals, and not everyone is happy to see them as pets.

Miniature Pigs

Miniature pigs certainly are cute, but they are not legal to own as pets in many boroughs, towns and cities because they are considered livestock and not a domesticated animal. Many municipalities have ordinances making owning farm animals unlawful within the city/town limits.

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Photo Courtesy: SaltySemanticSchmuck/Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a problem with them because they have the potential to be aggressive and can carry rabies. However, any mammal has the potential to be aggressive and can carry rabies.

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Quaker Parrots

The Quaker parrot, also known as the monk parakeet, is from Argentina. However, because of similarities in climate, the parrot has adapted to life in many American cities, including Chicago and New York

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States that have banned Quaker parrots as pets include Colorado, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Tennessee. In Colorado, you may own a Quaker parrot if you obtained it before 1990, but that’s unlikely since their lifespan is 15 to 20 years. Even in states where they’re allowed, there are often restrictions such as permits, or required banding or wing clipping.

Snakes

To say that Hawaii doesn’t want snakes is a massive understatement. The island chain’s ecosystem is extremely fragile, and many of its exotic birds would likely become extinct if certain snakes were to be introduced.

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There are no native snake species in Hawaii, but people have managed to sneak a few in, and they can be devastating should they escape and kill native animals. If you are caught with a pet snake in Hawaii, you may find yourself serving up to three years in jail and paying $200,000 in penalties.

Hermit Crabs

Another species that Hawaii has banned is the Caribbean hermit crab. While some tourists no doubt think that hermit crabs belong in such a tropical paradise, they’re not native. They probably could manage there just fine, but the problem is that they’d adapt a bit too well and become a threat to other wildlife.

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The Caribbean hermit crab is native to the western Atlantic, Belize, southern Florida, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Venezuela, and the West Indies. These crabs feed on plant and animal remains, the feces of other animals and overripe fruit.

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Chinese Hamsters

Chinese hamsters are distinct from the species most people keep as pets but are also banned in California and Hawaii. The hamsters’ natural environment is similar to the climate in these states, and they could potentially survive all year outdoors. Chinese hamsters are said to make good first pets, but only where they’re allowed, of course.

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According to the Animal Humane Society, "Agricultural and environmental officials have expressed concern that released or escaped hamsters could establish wild colonies and damage crops and native plants and animals."

Fish

In Alabama, certain fish are banned because they destroy fish food sources and prey on the native populations, which affects the entire ecosystem. Fish from the genuses Clariasa and Serrasalmus (piranhas) as well as Black carp are prohibited.

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Photo Courtesy: Jonas Hansel/Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly enough, you can own a lion, tiger or monkey in Alabama because there are no laws about these animals. Obviously, these animals pose dangers of their own, however. None of them are domesticated, and they can all cause harm to their owners or others.

Mongoose

The mongoose is a carnivorous animal native to parts of Asia, Africa and Europe that’s banned in the entirety of the United States. However, they can be found in Hawaii as an introduced species. The mongoose was brought in to control introduced snake populations, such as the venomous habu snake.

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A mongoose will fight and kill and eat venomous snakes in the wild, and it used to be a spectator sport in Hawaii as well. However, due to pressure and protesting from animal rights groups, the practice is much less common today.

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Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

In Arkansas, it’s against the law to own large carnivores for personal use, such as lions, tigers and bears. The reasons for this are obvious — they pose a danger not just to their owners, but also other people and animals.

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However, you can own five or fewer coyotes, gray or red foxes, opossums, deer, quail, raccoon, rabbits or squirrels for some reason. If a person wants to own an animal purchased in another state, they must provide proof upon request that the animal was acquired legally.

Bats

Native bats are illegal to keep as pets in the United States. However, non-native species can be imported legally, such as straw-colored fruit bats, Egyptian fruit bats and leaf-nosed bats. However, according to many bat rescue and animal welfare websites, bats do not make good pets.

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The first reason you may want to reconsider owning an exotic bat is that they commonly rub their own urine on their fur and have smelly scent glands around their necks. They are also expensive and time-consuming to care for properly.

Crocodiles

Crocodiles are illegal as pets in California and Georgia, among other states. In states where crocodiles can be kept as pets, a permit must be obtained from the Department of Agriculture because crocodiles are a protected species. Crocodiles can get up to 17ft long and weigh over 2,000lbs.

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Crocodiles are native throughout the Caribbean and southern Florida, among other places. Most experts believe that there is no way to fully tame any crocodile, making them potentially dangerous to humans and other animals. They can also live to be 70 to 100 years old.

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Monkeys

With monkeys, it’s easier to list the states where they’re legal. You can have a monkey (for now) if you live in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia or Alabama. However, primate-owning is a hot-button issue with many animal-rights groups.

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Florida requires that a potential monkey owner obtain reference letters, complete a written exam, be at least 16 to 18 depending on the kind of monkey and have at least 1,000 hours experience working with monkeys.

Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles have very powerful jaws, and they can weigh over 200 pounds and live to be over 45 years old in captivity. While some stories about their bites are exaggerated, even baby snappers of only six inches in length can cause deep cuts.

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They’re not exactly the most appealing of pets, yet they’re surprisingly easy to obtain. Snapping turtles are legal to keep as pets in most of the United States, even Hawaii, The only state where they’re illegal is California.

Apes

Great apes include bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, and their legality varies greatly States like Alabama, Kansas and Nevada haven’t banned them, while others such as Delaware, Michigan, Idaho and Mississippi allow them if they’re registered with local law enforcement. Missouri allows them if registered with law enforcement. States like Vermont, Montana and Alaska ban them as pets.

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Ownership of great apes is extremely controversial, and California has even banned research and experimentation on great apes because of their complex, human-like brains. Similar legislation is moving forward in many other states, too.

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Foxes

The states where you can legally own an exotic fox are Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Florida, New York, South Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan, Wyoming, Kentucky, Nebraska and North Dakota. Foxes that are native to the United States are usually banned as pets.

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One example of an exotic fox, the fennec, is native to the deserts of North Africa, the Arabian desert, the Sinai Peninsula and southeast Egypt. They generally only weigh 1.5 to 3.5 pounds and top out at only eight inches tall.

Raccoons

Raccoons are banned as pets in Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana and Massachusetts, among other states. In the states where they are allowed to be kept as pets, a permit usually has to be obtained, so check your state’s specific regulations on pet raccoons before purchasing one.

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Photo Courtesy: Alex Makorov/Unsplash

If you do not apply for a permit and get your pet from any other means besides a raccoon breeder, your pet may be confiscated and euthanized. Additionally, most veterinarians are forbidden to treat any wild animals — even if you treat it as a pet — under penalty of losing their license to practice medicine.

Big Cats

Twenty-one states have an all-out ban on ownership of all dangerous exotic pets, and these include big cats like lions, tigers and leopards. Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama do not require a permit to own one of these animals.

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Furthermore, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Montana allow ownership of big cats after obtaining a permit. However, there are major considerations to think about if you want a big cat, and most of them have to do with safety — theirs and yours. Ever watched a house cat torture a mouse to death? Imagine that at 500 pounds.

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Alligators

In many states, you need a permit to own an alligator. If you live in a state that does allow alligator ownership, you are required to provide an enclosure that keeps the alligator in and other animals out.

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You are also fully liable for injuries or death if the alligator bites, kills or otherwise injures them. These animals are carnivorous, and no amount of human contact can make them into safe pets. Those who think otherwise often learn the hard way that they’re wrong.

Where Exotics ARE Allowed

There are five states in the U.S. with particularly weak laws concerning ownership of exotic animals: Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama. If you’ve always dreamed of owning a tiger or a bear, you might consider relocating to these states.

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An estimated 65 percent of households own pets in the United States. While most of these pets are cats and dogs, the American Bar Association notes that the exotic pet trade is nevertheless worth $10 to $15 billion per year. You may have to obtain a permit, but you can own some exotic pets.

Exotic Pets 101

Generally speaking, most pet owners in the United States are not prepared to have an exotic pet, especially a large one. There are many factors to consider besides local and state laws when deciding whether to purchase any exotic pet.

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It’s important to consider the ethics of keeping an animal used to roaming the rainforest or some other great distance in a cage for the entirety of its life. Exotic animal veterinarians are also difficult to locate and expensive, even in large cities.

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