Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Exotic Pets and California State Law
Always do your research before acquiring any uncommon pet that some lawmaker might decide is a threat to the environment, human health, or the animal itself.
Simply put, if you want an exotic pet mammal, stay out of California. California is known among ferret enthusiasts for being one of two states that has an unshakable ban placed on owning these elongated carnivores. In fact, any questions about pet legality in the state should be posed as "what animals are legal?" instead of "Is this animal legal?"
1. Hybrid Cats
These exotic pets which are actually technically domesticated—perhaps more so than a common non-pedigree cat—are legal in most states depending on their percentage of so-called wild genetics. Hybrid cats consist of the breeds Savannah cat (serval hybrid), Bengal cat (Asian Leopard Cat hybrid) and the jungle cat hybrid. None of these hybrids are mixed with so-called big cats, and all are not large enough to desire to prey on humans.
Still, hybrid cats carry a large stigma. In California, all-generation hybrid cats are legal. This rule is much better than in states like New York, which only allow F5 and under. These restrictions are hypocritical for any reason, as "regular" cats can and have attacked humans, have become a serious environmental threat (mainly because people tirelessly push to prevent controlling feral populations and stopping the free-roaming cat culture), and they have the same exact needs as so-called wild animals.
The California ordinance states that all members of the family Equidae are not restricted. Therefore, provided they are not prohibited by another ordinance, this would make zebras, wild horses and donkeys, and any hybrids of those legal. Zebras are not as shocking to own as you might think and are sometimes maintained like typical livestock. They do spook more easily than horses and donkeys and require an experienced trainer should anyone want to ride them. The idea of riding zebras has been popularized by the children's movie Racing Stripes. Pet zebras are more commonly and reasonably owned as pets that are interesting to watch.
3. Monitor Lizards
Despite being a state with pathetic laws banning hedgehogs and ferrets, reptile laws are surprisingly lax aside from venomous reptiles. Monitor lizards range from the small and personable Acanthurus monitors, which make excellent pets, to the large and intimidating Asian water monitors that are best suited for experienced owners. Crocodile monitors are another species notorious for their bad bites that can cause serious reactions from bacterial agents and/or venom in saliva. One owner describes a reaction from a bite:
"The bite itself hurt no more than any other monitor bite it just bled more. Within five minutes of the bite, I felt myself going slightly in to shock and this result in me throwing up (sorry for graphic detail!). I felt very shot away for the following hour (not helped admittedly by being hypo glycaemic). The swelling came up over an hour or so and a burning sensation started 30 mins or so after the bite. Several hours after the bite, the swelling had become so severe I had lost dexterity in my thumb and the two closest fingers and the joins had become very painful."
Most other non-native lizards are legal, too. Crocodilians are not.
4. American Bison
Another example of alternative livestock not banned on ordinance §671 is the American bison. These are large and powerful animals that aren't so tame but are often seen as farm animals utilized for meat and fur production. It is unclear if a permit is required for possessing bison that are only provided for agricultural purposes, which would not make them legal as pets.
Read More From Pethelpful
5. Second Generation "Wolfdogs"
Wolfdogs, also referred to as wolf hybrids, are confusing to define. Almost all wolves in captivity possess the genetics of domesticated dogs to some degree and can be considered 'wolfdogs' outside of species survival programs. In addition, wolves that have been bred in captivity for generations as pets are actually on the path to domestication themselves...this can make them similar to dogs (domesticated dogs likely descend from an extinct close ancestor to modern wolves). Many zoos, including those which are accredited by the AZA, display what are actually 'high content wolfdogs'.
In California, wolfdogs that are F3 and less (F4, F5, etc.) are legal. This means that the "wolf," most likely a high-content wolfdog but indistinguishable to most in looks and behavior, is the great grandparent to the offspring. These animals are still striking to the general public and are actually likely to be more problematic than high content/ "pure" wolves due to their mixed bag of genetics making them less predictable. With such an identity crisis, it's a shame these mixes are the only option people have to own a legal wolfdog.
6. Large Constrictor Snakes
Some of the largest snakes in the world that possess the capacity to kill an adult human (although actual occurrences of this are rare) appear to be legal in California as they are not named on the prohibited reptile list, unlike venomous snakes and crocodilians. This includes the Burmese python, reticulated python, and green anaconda. These snakes are also unfortunately listed on the Lacey Act as injurious species, meaning they can be owned but cannot be brought over state lines. The boa constrictor is a less large species that is not on the Lacey Act and is legal in California.
Most birds are also legal in California. The only illegal parrot is the invasive monk parakeet (or Quaker parrot). Corvids such as crows and magpies are illegal, as well as birds of prey (falcons, hawks, eagles) and vultures. Mynah birds, known for their incredible ability to mimic human speech, are illegal except for the species hill mynah and Rothchild’s mynah. Other interesting species such as toucans, exotic pigeons, and hornbills are legal so those interested in aviculture can do so and enjoy the spoils of Napa Valley or giant redwood forests.
Several ungulate species are legal in California, although most are actually domesticated even though they are considered "exotic." They include the water buffalo, yaks, pot-bellied pigs, alpaca, and llamas.
Ratites are a group of large flightless birds that includes ostrich, emus, rhea, and cassowary, the latter being a species that is more dangerous and likely to attack than most of the illegal mammals. Ostrich are sometimes kept for pleasure but are often considered alternative livestock raised for their meat.
Venomous arthropods like scorpions and tarantulas are also legal to keep in CA, as they probably are in all states except Hawaii.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Are fennec foxes legal in California?
Answer: No foxes are legal in California.
Question: Can i legally own a peacock/peahen in the state of California?
Answer: Yes, they are legal in all 50 states.
Question: Can you own a lynx in California?
Answer: No exotic cats of any kind are legal except for certain domesticated hybrids.
Question: Can I own a red fox?
Answer: Not in California, you can't.
Question: Can you own a pet alligator or crocodile in California ?
Question: What reptiles are legal in California?
Answer: Non-venomous reptiles are legal.
Question: Is this list up to date? I know people in California who have hybrid cats, monitor lizards, wolfdogs, large constrictors, and tarantulas.
Answer: Those animals are legal in CA.
Question: Can I own an elephant in California?
Answer: No, you can't own an elephant in California.
Question: Are jellyfish legal to own in California?
Question: Is there any way I can keep a capuchin in California if I have a degree in Primatology?
Answer: They only give permits to exhibitors if they have a ton of experience. Get experience professionally with capuchins and get a permit for education.
Question: If I live in California can I own a monkey?
Question: I live in California. Can I own a Jackrabbit? Even if he was rescued from a construction site and nursed back to health?
Answer: No. You must bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabber.
Question: Can you own a Dik-Dik in California?
Answer: No, one can not own a Dik-Dik in CA.
Question: I read on some other site that fennec foxes are legal to own in California. Is this true?
Question: Can I legally own a llama in California?
Question: Is it okay to own a sugar glider in California if purchased and driven in from another state?
Answer: No, you cannot bring banned animals in from other states.
Question: Is there any type of owl that is legal to own in California?
Answer: All owls are banned in California. Falconry is probably the only way. The rules for obtaining a falconry permit are very extensive, though.
Question: in California can I legally own a king cobra?
Answer: No, you cannot.
Question: If I live in California can I own a Zebra finch?
Question: If I live in California can I own a Tenrec?
Question: Are toucans legal to own in California?
Question: Can I own a caracal in California?
Question: If I live in California can I own a raccoon?
Question: If I live in California, can I own a pet salamander?
Answer: Yes, most reptiles and amphibians are legal in California.
Question: Are quokkas legal to own in California?
Question: Can I own a possum in California?
Question: Can you keep a bat as a pet in California?
Question: If I live in California, can I own a Chinese Water Dragon?
Question: Can I own a Fennec Fox in Los Angeles?
Question: My friend got a wolf pup. Are they legal?
Answer: I think so. Wolfdogs are legal in CA and that's most likely what any 'wolf' would be if a non-zoo affiliated person bought one.
Question: How may I legalize my parrot Amazona?
Answer: They are already legal.
Question: I live in California, so can I own a cheetah?
Answer: No, large cats are illegal in most states, and California bans most exotic pets that aren't reptiles and birds.
Question: If I live in California can I have a chameleon as a pet?
Question: I live in California. Can I own a chimpanzee?
Answer: No one can own chimps anymore. In California, most exotic mammals are illegal, including ferrets.
Question: Is it legal to own an armadillo?
Answer: Not in CA.
Question: If I live in California can I own an otter?
Answer: No, ferrets aren't even allowed in California without a very difficult to obtain a permit, the kind given only to exhibitors or breeders or those working in education or science.
Question: If I live in California can I own a Leser Tenrec?
Answer: No, in California you cannot own either a Leser Tenrec nor a hedgehog.
Question: Are peacocks allowed as a personal pets in the state of California?
Question: If I live in California, can I own a pygmy marmoset?
Answer: No, California has extremely restrictive laws on exotic mammals.
Question: If I live in California, can I own a Parrotlet?
Question: Can I own a mink in California?
Answer: No, you cannot.
Question: If I live in California, can I own a potbelly big?
Answer: Yes, but check your city rules.
Question: Are pangolins legal to own in California?
Answer: Pangolins are heavily trafficked and zoos struggle to keep them alive. No one has them. If they did, they'd be illegal in CA.
Question: If I live in California can I own a Vulture?
Question: Can I own a jellyfish in California?
Question: Are ferrets allows in California?
Answer: No, although many people have them.
Question: Can you own a bushbaby as a pet in California?
Question: Can you own a hedgehog in California?
Answer: No, not legally.
Question: Are regular snakes legal in California?
Answer: Most snakes are legal in CA with the exception of venomous snakes.
Question: If I live in California can I have a mouse lemur as a pet?
Answer: No way, but no one has those anyway.
© 2016 Melissa A Smith
... on September 03, 2020:
Can I legally own a hawk in Santa Barbara?
Ghost on September 02, 2020:
yes Anonymous you can own a chinchilla and Chicken no hermit crabs are not illegal in California and That Guy sorry but you can't have a southern African rock that is a very aggressive snake and Omar you can't have an eagle but you can have a red tail hawk in California but you just need to go to training
Chicken on August 25, 2020:
Are hermit crabs illegal in California?
That Guy on August 24, 2020:
Can I have an Southern African Rock as a pet in California?
pDub on August 23, 2020:
can show anyone the dark web if they want an animal that is illegal in their state for whatever bullshit reason.
Tilly on August 12, 2020:
It makes a lot of sense that you can have a monitor lizard but not a hedgehog
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on August 06, 2020:
Robyn Sharrar: No.
Omar on August 02, 2020:
Can I get a eagle As a pet in Cali
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 31, 2020:
Miles Norwood: All full blooded exotic cats are illegal in CA.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 26, 2020:
Emus are legal in California.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 26, 2020:
KUzpO: Any species that is Federally legal.
Anonymous on July 20, 2020:
can you own a chinchilla?
Hayleh on July 06, 2020:
Can I own a sloth in the state of California?
Oof on July 04, 2020:
Disappointed how you can have a big ass bird that can peck someone’s eye out but you can’t have a monkey
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 28, 2020:
Cece: All non-traditional pets plus ferrets.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 27, 2020:
They don't give permits to pet owners because no one can be expected to properly care for such a dangerous and high maintenance pet.
KUzpO on June 26, 2020:
which species of macaw can you own?
Joey on June 23, 2020:
Are racoons and kangaroo legal in California
:P on June 22, 2020:
Can I own a meerkat in LA,California
Cece on June 17, 2020:
Do you know what exotic mammals are mostly illegal in California?
Henika on June 10, 2020:
This list that California has provided is idiotic. Some of these animals that we can have dont make sense. This list needs to be updated.
Ferret lover on June 08, 2020:
Does anyone know how I can get a permit to own a ferret?? apparently you can own one with a permit.
sad idiot on June 07, 2020:
can't own a ferret, but i can own a zebra. reasonable.
Daring on June 05, 2020:
uggghhh everything i want is illlegal lol
Carol on May 26, 2020:
So I cant own a ferret in Cali but I can own a Bison that could kill me?
skitlzwrath on May 12, 2020:
yep we can have FRICKIN HUGE COW BULLS but no ferrets...a ferret bites you you will probably bleed but thats it...a bison bites u ur ded..a ferret steps on you yout alright....but if a bison steps on u ur gone and dead
RIP on May 08, 2020:
THEY LET US HAVE BISONS BUT NOT FRICKIN FERRETS
v on May 07, 2020:
Can I own a dingo in Cali?
Oregon Citizen on May 07, 2020:
can you own an octopus in oregon i cant find any thing about this subject
Vannessa on May 06, 2020:
This sucks i wanted a regular fox why do rhey keep bison but not foxes
Miles Norwood on May 04, 2020:
Can I own a cheetah in California. I heard they are considered lesser cats, not bigger cats.
Foxlover911285 on April 28, 2020:
D-mit I WANTED A FOX!!!!!!
AnimalQueen on April 25, 2020:
I want a wolf or a hybrid cat
Hoi on April 23, 2020:
OH SO THEY LET US HAVE AN AMERICAN BISON BUT NOT FENNEC FOXES?? Those animals are inquisitorial and can not harm humans ;-;
WalmartGod on April 13, 2020:
um i want an elephant.....:(
Idk on April 07, 2020:
Can you own a finnegan fox in California ?
Idk on April 07, 2020:
Can you owe a meerkat in Cali?
g on April 04, 2020:
can you own a monkey in cali
Mr. Potato Head on April 02, 2020:
Oh... SO THEY LET US HAVE OSTRICHES BUT NOT HEDGEHOGS AND FERRETS, THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!!???!??!?!?!?!!!?!?!!!?
grayson on March 18, 2020:
my friend has a tarantula
jocelyn on March 12, 2020:
are alpacas legal as pets in california?
Gabriel on March 10, 2020:
Can I own a scarlet macaw in California!?
Gavin on March 01, 2020:
Can I own a monkey in California?
Cali sucks now on February 04, 2020:
I wanted to get a fox kit or baby hedgehog but now looks like cali wont allow me to own one...i thought we were in America!?!?
leah wilson on January 12, 2020:
can you own a raccoon in the state of California
somebody that loves animals on December 30, 2019:
WE CAN OWN OSTRICHES YET WE CANT OWN HEDGEHOGS?!
Weeboy on December 09, 2019:
I wonder if you can keep a rhino as a pet in California
Robyn Sharrar on December 05, 2019:
Can you own A Canadian lynx-cross or a bobcat-cross in CA?
AmberFang on November 29, 2019:
Can you own a Hedgehog or a skunk? What about a roe deer?
Ferret on November 25, 2019:
Can you own a meerkat in Cali?
Eliana Gonzales on November 18, 2019:
I really wish u can have monkeys in Cali cuz that’s my dream pet since I was 5. I wanted to have a monkey cuz i always saw these YT vids of people that have monkeys. As I grew up when I was in 3rd grade we did biographies about Jane Goodall who loves chimpanzees! I fell in love with chimps and monkeys!❤️ ❤️
Aurora on November 10, 2019:
Can you own a pet peacock
I hope your are having a good day on November 06, 2019:
Can I have a fox as a pet?
Mary Jane Chavez on November 03, 2019:
You can have a big camel, you can have a zebra, you can have a ostrich, you can have a boa constrictor but you can't have a small monkey or a small ferret. Does not make any sense to me. There are alot of baby monkeys that are abandoned by their mothers. I just don't understand the laws here in California
Cloudyy on November 02, 2019:
We can have bison, zebra, camel, etc but we cant have a hedgehog or ferret
Secret on September 25, 2019:
I want a monkey
Ghost on September 22, 2019:
Can i own a pygmy marmoset in los angeles
Claria on August 28, 2019:
Can I own a Fennec Fox in California?
Bog on August 10, 2019:
They really should legalize the hedgehog and the ferret, all the other states are doing fine!
Manny on July 31, 2019:
Can I own a squirrel?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 22, 2019:
Republicans have pushed bans too. In my state, they have sponsored a ban bill.
Jay on June 20, 2019:
Can you own a deer in the California or another part of the USA?
Mark McNulty on June 19, 2019:
If you're upset that you cant have a certain animal as a pet, stop voting for your democrat tyrannical masters, they thrive on banning fun. Republicans and certainly Libertarians are far more likely to listen to reason and allow freedom.
bob on May 17, 2019:
can i own a coatii
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 09, 2019:
Matthew on April 30, 2019:
So I am legally allowed to have a pet snake (Corn Snake) as a pet in California.
Sammy on April 29, 2019:
Why can’t I have a ferret
jonathan on April 27, 2019:
Camels wow there legal
Jimm on April 02, 2019:
How much snakes can I own in California
bob on March 25, 2019:
can i own a kinkajou in California?
billy on March 18, 2019:
can i own an axolotl
Tyler Brandt on March 13, 2019:
Can i own a sugar glider in California
Dk on March 03, 2019:
can I own a Mink in California?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 28, 2019:
Kb on February 28, 2019:
Can I own an anteater in California
Kb on February 28, 2019:
Can I own a ferret or a weasel or a alpaca or a Savannah cat in California?
Lily on February 21, 2019:
Why are you not able to own ferret in ca but you are allowed to own a damn zebra.
Facebook on February 21, 2019:
UMIDIGI A3 Pro Smartphone Global Band - US$108.99 Sales Online gold - Tomtop
Key on December 02, 2018:
Can I own a weasal and bushbabyin california?
Kenna on November 20, 2018:
Can you own a bushbaby
Aditya_reptile_collector on October 25, 2018:
What are the types of snakes you can own in california.
Pepita Junaita Michael on October 20, 2018:
can you have a pet ant
T.m.i on September 27, 2018:
Can you own a hedgehog??
Noah on August 18, 2018:
Are Emus aloud in California? Like... Why are peacocks aloud and not emus. Unles if they are aloud?
Anthony on July 20, 2018:
Can you own another type of fox in California
nikki on June 28, 2018:
can you have a wolfdog in california?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 04, 2018:
Unless you mean Fingerlings the toy no, all primates are illegal. Finger monkeys don't really exist though.
Madison Clark on March 03, 2018:
In California can you own a finger monkey?
AP on December 18, 2017:
Quaker parakeets aren't actually invasive. They were banned in many states because they are agricultural pests in their native range, because they naturalize well in cities which led to a fear they would become invasive, and because their nests cause problems.
However they have never become established outside of their native range in non-urban habitats, they don't pose a threat to native species. Many jurisdictions still hate them because of the nests, but that's a problem for humans, not our native birds.
Furthermore, the quaker populations in the US were all established by wild imports. There is absolutely no risk of captive-bred pet quakers establishing colonies in California; the ban is as misguided and absurd as theirs ban on gerbils and slightly more absurd than their infamous ban on ferrets.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 01, 2017:
kim on November 29, 2017:
can i have a monitor lizard in North Carolina
california damn on November 24, 2017:
woah woah woah. hold up. You can have a bison, a fricking ostrich, and a (I think) poisonous giant lizard. But you can't have a hedgehog?! What the f California?
Unknown User on November 22, 2017:
You can keep all these dangerous animals but you cant keep a lemur, wth?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on November 19, 2017:
jordan peters Probably
jordan peters on November 01, 2017:
are alpacas legal pets in california if you have a good home for one?
seriously wtf on October 25, 2017:
so... you can own a bison, zebra, and a camel... but if you own a fennec fox they kill it. cali wtf
Mewmi on August 17, 2017:
Why are crows/ravens illegal though, they are so smart and beautiful. True, ravens might get too big, so the same reason that we can't have hawks, but crows are like the aristocracy of city birds. Pigeons are the common man and doves are the "royals" (all show and little mind.) I'm sure some people like pigeons, doves, budgies, and keeps, but I personally consider them the goldfish of pets. A living decoration at worst, at best a nice background noise.
However, parrots are expensive just to obtain and will likely outlive the owner, meaning they are a MUCH MUCH bigger commitment. A crow would be the perfect in-between for me.
CatSquid on August 03, 2017:
How can we have American Bison.... but not hedgehogs... WHY UNIVERSE WHY!
Anyways very good info
Unknown girl on July 26, 2017:
I'm looking for a pet that's legal in California, a good size and doesn't smell. I don't want something with fur cause it will smell but my mom is afraid of animals with scales. So I need something like a sugar glider but doesn't stink!!
Joe blow on June 27, 2017:
Hey can you have a hyena in California