10 Exotic Pets That Are Legal in Texas

Updated on November 15, 2018
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

What Are the Laws on Exotic Pets in Texas?

Everything is bigger in Texas, so they say. While the massive state may have garnered a reputation for doing things their own way and for having a large population of ranchers, larger exotic pets such as big cats and bears are not legal for the general public without a permit. However, overall, the state of Texas has relatively lax laws in regards to exotic pets. There are still plenty of unique and exotic pets that you can own without a license in Texas. Many of these species should remain legal because they pose little or no threat to public safety.

What to Know Before Getting an Exotic Pet

Here are some things to think about before getting an exotic pet of any type.

  • These are wild animals: Domesticated breeds of cats and dogs have been specifically bred to live with people. They have the desired traits to live in a home. These exotic animals will not behave like your common pet. You can't expect them to be affectionate or to be good around other pets and children. They will have much more demanding needs.
  • It could be hard to find a vet: It is not likely that you will be able to take your exotic animal to your local veterinarian. Your typical vet will probably have no idea on how to care for your animal. You'll have to find a specialist who can offer proper medical care. This will likely be challenging and there may not be a qualified vet near you.
  • These animals require a particular diet: You will certainly not be able to walk into a store and buy pet food for these animals. They will have dietary needs that are not flexible. Their food can be quite expensive as well.
  • Know your local laws: You should always check your local city or county laws regarding pet ownership since they may differ from state laws. You should always check exotic pet laws since you may need a permit where you live. You may not even be able to own an animal you're interested in.

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1. Lemur

  • Natural habitat: Madagascar
  • Size: Can range from 1.1 oz to 20 lbs depending on the species.
  • Diet: Varies between species, but they mainly eat plant material.
  • Lifespan: Larger species can live over 30 years.

Primates are illegal in most states. However, in Texas, you can own any species of lemur. The most common is the ring-tailed lemur, made famous from the film Madagascar. There are other species out there, such as the ruffed and brown lemur. These animals actually do rather well in captivity. In zoos, they are said to be one of the easiest mammals to keep happy and they perform little or no stereotyping behavior (pacing and other repetitious sequences that are supposed to indicate boredom or stress).

They can be relatively good-natured for primates, and this is certainly important for an animal that possesses biting capabilities. Still, all primates are considered demanding and are not pets for people who aren’t willing to center their lives around their needs. All lemurs are endangered. Because of this, they cannot be sold across state lines.

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2. Sloth

  • Natural habitat: Tropical rainforests of South and Central America.
  • Size: Can range from 7.9 to 17 lbs, depending on the species.
  • Diet: Typically eats leaves, fruit, and insects.
  • Lifespan: A two-toed sloth can live for 20 years in the wild, 30 years in captivity.

Texas is a sloth-friendly state. These popular animals are in a unique family that includes the tamanduas. They tend to not be illegal as often as other exotics because they are simply left out of bans that only list primates, bears, big cats, wolves, and other species people are more familiar with. Sloths are known to be extremely sensitive to stress and require stringent dedication to their environment. Should they be illegal? Of course not. They are unfortunately viewed as cute and cuddly, but they are one of the last species you will want to handle frequently. Luckily, they are not readily available and the pricing for babies start around $6000, so they are unlikely to be an impulse buy for most people.

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3. Kinkajou

  • Scientific name: Potos flavus.
  • Natural habitat: Sierra Madres in Mexico to southeastern Brazil.
  • Diet: Mostly eats fruit, figs in particular.
  • Size: Can be 16-24 inches in length. Can weigh between 3-10 pounds.
  • Lifespan: 23 years in captivity.

This animal resembles a monkey, but it is actually related to raccoons. These unusual animals have a prehensile tail and a taste for sweets that they obtain with the use of their long tongue. The kinkajou is a nocturnal animal. Unfortunately, these animals can have aggressive tendencies that are unpredictable. Therefore, a large space is needed for them to burn off energy. Otherwise, they are said to be quite sweet to their owners. Unlike monkeys, they also have a sweet smell. Kinkajous are legal in Texas and a few other states, such as New York and North Carolina.

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4. Capybara

  • Scientific name: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris.
  • Natural habitat: Forests of South America, typically near bodies of water.
  • Size: 3.48-4.40 feet in length. 20-24 inches in height. Can weigh between 77 to 146 pounds.
  • Diet: They mainly eat grass and aquatic plants.
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years in captivity.

The capybara is a giant rodent with webbed feet. It's as legal in Texas as its close relative, the Guinea pig. These dog-sized animals love to swim and require a deep water source to satisfy this need. Capybaras love their owners, and well-socialized individuals can even walk on a leash like a dog, exploring pet stores and public parks.

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5. Asian Leopard Cat

  • Scientific name: Prionailurus bengalensis.
  • Natural habitat: Can be found throughout South, Southeast, and East Asia.
  • Size: Is roughly the same size as a domestic cat.
  • Diet: Mostly eats small prey like rodents.
  • Lifespan: Up to 13 years in captivity.

This is a non-domesticated species of cat that, unlike big cats, are legal in Texas. These cats are exotic, but they do not exceed the size of a regular housecat. That being said, these are still challenging animals to own and can be leery of human interaction. There are medium-sized cats such as servals that have a higher tolerance for human interaction (mainly their owners, unless they are very well-socialized).

Asian leopard cats were the species used to create the popular Bengal cat breed. This cat breed has extremely watered down levels of so-called wild blood and is not comparable to owning an ALC.

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6. Kangaroo

  • Natural habitat: Australia.
  • Size: Varies by species, can be as large at 6'7" and weigh 200 pounds.
  • Diet: Varies by species but all are strict herbivores. Most commonly graze on grass.
  • Lifespan: Varies by species, some can live over 20 years in captivity.

Kangaroos are legal to own in Texas. They require a large and grassy area to roam, so don't even consider getting a kangaroo if you lack space. Adequate fencing is required to keep them contained. They can jump over four feet high and leap 15 feet in distance. They can not be house trained and don't do well with domestic animals. Ideally, they would have the company of another member of their species.

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7. Callitrichids

  • Natural habitat: Forests of South America.
  • Size: The largest species is the golden-mantled tamarin. It can grow over nine inches and weigh up to 14 oz.
  • Diet: Insects, fruit, and sap.
  • Lifespan: Varies by species, average is around 10-20 years in captivity.

Some monkey species are allowed as pets in Texas. One example is the small New World monkey called the callitrichid. This biological family consists of marmosets and tamarins. Even cotton-topped tamarins, which are critically endangered, are legal and produced by a number of breeders. However, they cannot be sold outside of the state. Due to their small size, these animals are among the most popular primate species to keep. Keep in mind that all primates are relatively challenging. Unfortunately, these small rodent-sized monkeys are messy and have a strong odor that will make them a poor choice as indoor pets for most people.

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8. Spotted Genet

  • Scientific name: Genetta genetta.
  • Natural habitat: Native to Africa, north of the Sahara and in southern Africa. Has been introduced to southwestern Europe.
  • Size: 17-22 inches in length. Can weigh up to 4.4 pounds.
  • Diet: Has a varied diet of insects, birds, fruit, and small mammals.
  • Lifespan: Up to 13 years in captivity.

This small, exotic pet resembles a feline, but it is not one. This sometimes makes it legal in states where exotic cats aren’t. They have the shape of a mongoose, the spotted patterns of a leopard, and the ringed tail of a lemur. They are similar in appearance to the illegal (in Texas) and native Southwestern ring-tailed cat, which also aren’t cats despite the name. Genets come in different sizes and seem to be mixed with different subspecies in captivity. They love to climb trees but also come down to search the ground for small animals. Spotted genets have a limited number of owners that can successfully care for them for the duration of their 20+ year lifespan. They aren’t pets that like to cuddle and can be extremely skittish.

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9. Coatimundi

  • Natural habitat: Range extends from southwestern US to northern Uruguay.
  • Size: 13-27 inches in length. 12 inches tall at the shoulder. Can weigh between 4.4 and 17.6 pounds.
  • Diet: Ground litter, invertebrates, and fruit.
  • Lifespan: Up to 16 years in captivity.

This unusual animal is native to Central and South America. There are different species of coatis in the pet trade: the mountain coati, white-nosed, and South American red coati. These are medium-sized animals (about the size of a large house cat) with large enclosure requirements, but they have the benefit of being an interactive and entertaining pet. The state of Texas has no problem with you owning this animal, but it will require some paperwork since they are protected by the state.

10. Bushbaby

  • Natural habitat: Africa.
  • Size: The largest species is the brown greater galago. It is over 12 inches in length on average and can weigh between 2.6 and 3.3 pounds.
  • Diet: Insects, fruit, and tree sap.
  • Lifespan: Can live up to 12 to 16 years in captivity.

Bushbabies, also known as galagos, are actually nocturnal primates. However, they are not monkeys; they are more closely related to lemurs. These animals are relatively small as the name implies, however, the much smaller lesser galagos do not seem to be available in the pet trade in the United States. The greater galago is commonly seen for sale. They possess the unfortunate habit of rubbing themselves with their own urine, which unsurprisingly produces a musky odor. Like monkeys, they will need a lot of room in their enclosure.

What Exotic Pets Are Legal in Texas?

The quick answer is that pretty much all animals are technically legal under state laws. Animals like tigers, bears, gorillas, and cheetahs can technically be owned if you are able to get a certificate of registration. Here is a list of summaries of state laws regarding exotic pet ownership.

How do you get an exotic pet permit in Texas?

You can get a permit from the city or county animal control department. If your county does not have a department, you can get a permit from the county sheriff. You generally need to show that you can safely care for and contain the animal. The owner also must have at least $100,000 in liability insurance for the animal. The animal control or county sheriff must be immediately notified if the animal attacks a human or escapes. Failure to register an exotic animal is a Class C misdemeanor. Owners will incur daily fines for the failure to register an animal.

How to Rehome an Exotic Pet

After getting your exotic pet, you may realize that you are in over your head. You may not be able to afford its food or medical expenses. You may find the animal too demanding to adequately care for. You might come to the realization that, despite your best efforts and intentions, you simply can't take care of this animal. This is a common occurrence; it frequently occurs with traditional pets.

The best thing to do for the animal is to call an animal sanctuary. They often take exotic pets from owners who find that they can't care for them. You could also call animal control if you need help in getting the animal off your hands.

Questions & Answers

  • Is it legal to own an otter in Texas?

    They are probably considered furbearers so no, otters are not likely legal in Texas.

  • Is it legal to own a finger monkey in Texas?

    "Finger monkeys" are small monkeys, so yes.

  • Is it legal to own a fox in Texas?

    No.

  • Is it legal to own a bear in Texas?

    You would need a permit in Texas, but they are not given to pet owners.

Comments

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    • profile image

      AP 

      12 months ago

      *Four-eyed opossum. I wrote this from my tablet and it was autocorrected without me noticing.

    • profile image

      AP 

      12 months ago

      The biggest surprises In what Texas allows without a license are probably venomous snakes and bats. Both of those are banned or restricted even more often than primates but are completely unrestricted in Texas.

      We also license rather than ban most "dangerous" animals (though we really only worry about dangerous mammals): the only animals banned here are furbearers (due to a misinterpretation of the law by the TDPW this also includes fennecs) and armadillos, both due to disease concerns from issues unrelated to pets (fur farms and food respectively).

      Since I want a three-banded armadillo, ringtail, and four-year opossum what we *do* ban miffs me a bit, but Texas is still definitely one of the better states for exotics.

    • profile image

      ManNewt 

      12 months ago

      Thankfully bushbabies aren't a victim of the ESA

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