Beyond Cats And Dogs: Unique Exotic Pets Legal In California

Pets are a huge part of our lives, and most homes throughout the United States have some sort of pet, whether that be a dog, a goldfish, or a horse.

But would you believe that wild animals like zebra, ostrich, and American bison are also kept as pets in California? The most shocking part is it’s actually legal to do so!

For me, I’m quite happy with my two dogs as pets and could never imagine looking after an exotic pet, but for some pet owners, the more exotic, unusual pets, the better.

Even though keeping some exotic animals as pets is legal, does it mean you should? Well, that’s a different story.

Exotic Pets Legal in California

It will probably shock you the types of animals you can keep as pets in California. It definitely shocked me. From large constrictor snakes to tarantulas and camels, here are some exotic pets that could share your home with you… if you wanted them to, that is.


can you own a zebra

When you think of a zebra, you would never place it in someone’s backyard grazing on their grass. In the wild, yes; in a zoo, possibly. But never in a suburban town as a pet. In California, it is legal to own a pet zebra, as all members of the Equidae family are not restricted. 

For the most part, zebras are very similar to horses and donkeys, and with the right care and adequate space, they can make fantastic pets. 

All that being said, pet owners wanting to add a zebra to their family need to have worked with exotic species for two years, one of which must have been zebras themselves. 

Hybrid Cats

Hybrid Cats

Hybrid cats, including the Savannah cat and the Bengal cat, are exotic pets that California residents can own. A hybrid cat is the offspring of a domestic cat and an Asian leopard cat or a serval. And in some states, you can only own hybrid cats if they are F5s or higher, meaning they belong to the fifth generation. 

In the Golden State of California, all-generation hybrid cats are legal, meaning a serval and a domestic cat can have a baby, and that baby could be your pet.

savannah cat legal in california

Hybrid cats carry a lot of stigmas as although they’re small enough not to kill humans, they are still part wild cats (F1s especially) and carry instinctive behaviors which could cause harm to humans. 

I will admit that the colorings and look of Bengal and Savannah cats are magnificent. I think that’s very hard to disagree with, but if you want a cat with a domestic-like temperament, you’re better off getting an F5 generation.

Monitor Lizards

legal exotic animals in california

I can understand keeping lizards as pets, as some are actually very cute, but in the state of California, you can own monitor lizards, like the Asian water monitor, which can be up to 2 meters in length and weigh up to 20 kilograms. 

Although small monitor lizards can make excellent pets, other monitors have venomous saliva that can cause swelling, burning sensations, and excruciating pain. Doesn’t sound too fun, does it?

American Bison

Exotic Pets

My dad always used to tell me this joke: what’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo. And although I love that joke and buffalos and bison because of it, I couldn’t imagine keeping a 1200-kilogram bison in my backyard. Could you?

Bison may look similar to regular livestock or cattle, but their sheer power means they require specialized handling and ample amounts of space, so if you’re thinking of getting a pet bison, it might be wise to think again.

Wolf Dogs

are wolfdogs legal in california

Now, wolf dogs or wolf hybrids are very different from domestic dogs, and you can own one in California as long as it is second-generation. The second generation would be the product of a wolf and a dog having pups, then one of those pups having their own little ones with a domesticated dog

The problem with wolf dogs, however, is that they have unpredictable behavior, and if you know anything about dog bites and dog attacks, then you’ll know that they can be fatal. So, is it really worth it?

If it’s the wolf-like appearance you are after, you’re better off getting a malamute or a Siberian husky.

Large Constrictor Snakes

pet skunk california

Venomous snakes may be illegal in California (as they should be), but large constrictors are quite the opposite, as residents of California can own constrictor snakes.

Although Green anacondas, Burmese pythons, and reticulated pythons aren’t venomous reptiles, they’re protected by the Lacey Act, meaning it is illegal to bring them over state lines. So even though you can own one, you won’t be able to get your hands on one.

If you know anything about snakes, then you know constrictors get their names from the way they hunt and kill prey, and even though it is rare, a boa constrictor can kill its owner. It is a wild animal, after all.


is Camelsis legal pets

Considering there are a few deserts in California, it may not come as a surprise that camels and a few other hoofed animals like pot-bellied pigs and yaks are legal to keep as pets.

Camels are traditionally working animals who once carried passengers and cargo across the deserts of their native habitats. Even though most camel populations are now domesticated, there are feral populations in India, Kazakhstan, and Australia, and wild populations in the Gobi Desert. 


can you have a toucan as a pet

If you enjoy keeping birds as pets, then you’ll be happy to know that in the state of California, toucan is legal. Toucans are magnificent birds, and while you know the typical toucan with its bright orange and yellow beak, there are actually four other species, all different colored but equally beautiful.


Ostrich is legal pet

The largest of all birds, the ostrich is another bird species that you could keep as a pet in California. I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to, as ostriches are known for their lethal kicks and aggressive personalities. 

Keeping animals as large as ostrich requires ample amounts of space and dedicated enclosures to house them overnight. Remember that ostrich could easily outrun a human, so if it did decide to attack, you’d be in for an unfair fight.


what animals can you own in california

I am not a bug person, and included in that are spiders, so it’s crazy to me that people like to keep spiders, tarantulas even, as pets. But each to their own, I guess. In California, it is legal to have tarantulas as pets, and did you know there are 1040 identified tarantula species? 

Having a tarantula as a pet is a great conversation starter. Still, it’s important to remember that tarantulas have venom, and many have urticating hairs on their abdomen that can cause intense irritation if they feel threatened.

I can’t say I’d enjoy days of excruciating pain, and if you feel the same, it’s probably not a good idea to get a tarantula.

Alpacas and Llamas

animals illegal in california

I must say there is something about alpacas and llamas, especially when their hair hasn’t yet been trimmed, and in California, you may see a few alpacas and llamas here and there because they’re legal to own in the state. 

all exotic pets you can own in california

Alpacas and llamas can make great pets because they’re domesticated animals, but if they have been bottle-fed or over-socialized when they were young, they may see humans as they do each other and start spitting, kicking, and trying to neck wrestle with you.

Bearded Dragons

what animals are legal in california

How cool would it be to have your very own dragon? Well, in California, you can!

Bearded dragons are legal in California, and granted, they aren’t giant fire-breathing monsters but more lizards with throats that can change color. But their name includes the word dragon, so they’re basically the next best thing.


pets in california

In my opinion, chameleons are some of the most impressive animals in the animal kingdom as they can shift their skin to different hues and various brightnesses. On top of that, they have independently moving eyes that allow them to see two separate individual images. Pretty cool, right? 

People living in California can own chameleons as pets, but watch out; you just might lose sight of them in their enclosure.

Desert Tortoises

can you own an otter in california

Desert tortoises are legal in California, but you will need to obtain a permit from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The desert tortoise is the official state reptile in California and Nevada. As they can live for up to 80 years in captivity, it really is a big decision, along with a big commitment, if you want to add one to your family. 

Unlike the largest living tortoise, the Galapagos tortoise, which is now endangered due to hunting, desert tortoises are considerably smaller at a maximum weight of 7 kilos and a maximum length of 36 centimeters.

California Exotic Pet Laws

An exotic animal is an animal that is not native to the United States.

Although California Natural Resources Agency has banned most wild animals from being kept as pets, like falcons, elephants, and even tiny ferrets, you are oddly enough allowed to own Wolfdogs and Savannah cats, given that they aren’t the first generation of offspring.

Crazy, right?

Legal Pets in California

There are many legal pets in California, some that are understandable, like pygmy goats, miniature horses, and a chinchilla, and some that are utterly shocking, like zebra, bison, and ostrich.

Illegal Pets in California

California aims to protect its native wildlife by placing strict state laws on animals that people can and can not keep as pets.

Some of the pets that California categorizes as illegal may seem odd at first, but once you understand why they are illegal, it will all make sense.


are Ferrets legal in california

Ferrets are popular worldwide, but in California, a ferret cannot be legally kept or possessed without a permit. This is because escaped and abandoned pet ferrets pose a threat to native California wildlife due to their excellent hunting abilities.

The permit issued is for specific reasons, like medical research or transporting rescued ferrets.


pets you can own in california

Unfortunately, for all hedgehog lovers, you can’t keep a hedgehog as a pet while living in California. Once these restricted species are introduced to the wild, they quickly become pests and take over the local wildlife.


can you own a monkey in california

Monkeys are another illegal pet in California as The Department of Fish and Wildlife see them as a menace to wildlife and agriculture and also a threat to the public. 

It’s easy to see monkeys as sweet and innocent, especially when you see them in movies. But monkeys can turn nasty very quickly, and a single bite can transmit diseases like herpes B and rabies. It’s better to leave monkeys in the wild where they belong.


can you have a pet fox in california

When walking in California, you may see a dozen wild squirrels, but that doesn’t mean you can keep them as pets. Squirrels and burrowing ground squirrels, prairie dogs are illegal in California.


pet california

It may surprise you that gerbils and even hamsters are illegal to keep as pets in California. That is because the climate in California is similar to gerbils’ natural habitat, meaning if they were to escape, they would quickly breed and disrupt the native flora and fauna.

However, if you’re looking for a first pet for your child, you’ll be happy to know that guinea pigs are legal in California.




Although foxes like the Fennec fox may be legal in some states, foxes are illegal in California because of the fact that they could exhibit aggressive behavior and attack other animals if they were to escape.


Can You Own A Pet Sloth In California?

No, you cannot own a pet sloth in California, as it is illegal.

Does There Exist Any Kind Of Permit To Own Exotic Pets In California?

Under the California Code of Regulations, any person who imports, exports, transports, or possesses restricted animals must have special permits.

Can You Own A Fennec Fox As A Pet In California?

You can’t own a fennec fox as a pet in California, as California has banned people from owning them due to the threat they impose on native wildlife.

Can You Own A Capybara In California?

In California, it is illegal to own a capybara, and the state is actually one with the most strict regulations about exotic animals.

Are Savannah Cats Legal In California?

Savannah cats are legal in California, and you can even own first-generation Savannah cats meaning a kitten from the first litter of a domesticated cat mating with a serval.

Can You Own A Tiger In California?

No, you can’t own a tiger in California, but you can in Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Oklahoma.

Can You Have An Owl As A Pet In California?

You can’t have a pet owl in California, and a special permit is only granted for native owls or education, falconry, or rehabilitation.

Are Otters Legal In California?

As cute as otters are, they are not legal in California, so you can not keep one as a pet.


Exotic pet ownership shouldn’t be taken lightly, and if you plan on getting an exotic pet, you need to do some thorough research to ensure you’re meeting its habitat, diet, and care requirements.

Many legal exotic pets are still in tune with their wild instincts and behaviors, and owning one could injure you, your family and friends, or other animals you have on your property. 

Megan Bryant
Megan owns two very needy but adorable Dachshund pups named Oakley and Cooper, who are the light of her life and the reason she’s awake at 6:30 am - not by choice, but because, according to her dogs, 6:30 is breakfast time, and they’ll stop at nothing until there is food in their bowls. Growing up with pets all her life, Megan has become extremely passionate about animals and found a love for researching and writing about ways to care for and appreciate all species that call this Earth home. During the times she’s not busy working, you’ll typically find her cuddled up between dogs watching various TV series.

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