Owning a Pet Cougar: Understanding the Hurdles and Risks
Can You Keep a Cougar as a Pet?
Yes! Cougars can be kept as pets in the United States, but there are certain legalities that must first be considered.
I have always been fascinated by cougars. As I got older and discovered that they could be legally kept as pets, I became increasingly attracted to the proposition.
Since my husband doesn't hate the idea, we are in the preparation stages for making this happen. It will very likely be some time 10 or 15 years from now. I have begun the process of doing research, and I will share my findings here.
Is It Legal to Own a Cougar?
The answer to this question depends on where you live. Each state has different laws regarding the ownership of big cats and other exotic pets. 21 states currently outlaw the ownership of wild animals. The states of Alabama, Nevada, and Wisconsin allow the ownership of pets like cougars with no restrictions. Here is a basic rundown of state laws regarding exotic pets. Keep in mind that laws can differ within your city or county. If you are interested in owning an exotic pet of any kind, I strongly advise researching the legality of ownership in your city and state as a first step. It would be heartbreaking to go through all of the work in deciding how to care for your pet cougar and building the enclosure to find out that you cannot own the cat in the area where you live.
A Cougar Is a Wild Animal! Can It Be Domesticated?
No, not exactly. It should be noted that there is a difference between domesticating and taming an animal. A cougar can be tamed in the sense that it can be used to being around humans in a fairly calm manner. This is essentially what happens with animals held in a zoo. They are still wild animals and can still be dangerous. Domestication is the change in a species over multiple generations where desired traits are selected by breeders. Docility could be one desired trait.
A big cat like a cougar has many attributes that prevent it from being domesticated. They have a very specific diet, which makes them expensive to feed. They have a fairly slow growth rate, which can be problematic for owners to do any type of breeding intervention. They can be difficult to breed in captivity, can be aggressive toward humans, and are generally solitary animals. It is also very challenging to give them an adequate living space in a common home.
For those who have exotic pets, the purpose of having the animal is not to domesticate it. It isn't even necessary to tame the animal (and not all exotics can be tamed). For those who love exotic pets, it is about a strong desire to make contact with an animal that others don't consider to be a pet.
Cougars are wild animals, just as the snakes that people keep as pets are wild animals. My sugar gliders are wild animals as well. Many pets that people keep originated in the wild. After a few generations, perhaps they could be tamed or even domesticated. It is commonly believed that the further the animal is from a wild parent, the more domestic it is. However, one thing that anyone considering such a dramatic purchase needs to consider is that a wild animal will always be wild. They are dangerous. Precautions must be taken, and the owner must ensure that they are able to care for a wild animal for the duration of a very long lifetime.
Which States Allow Big Cats as Pets?
Here is a quick rundown of states that can potentially allow you to have a cougar for a pet. A fair amount of states require a license or permit, which can be difficult to obtain.
- Alabama: There are no licenses or permits required for exotic animals.
- Delaware: A permit is required for wild mammals.
- Indiana: A permit is required for owning any dangerous exotic animal.
- Maine: A permit is required.
- Mississippi: A permit is required.
- Missouri: A permit is required. The animal must also be registered to the county it is held in.
- Montana: A permit is required.
- Nevada: No license or permit required.
- North Carolina: The state leaves it up to cities and counties on deciding the legality of exotic pet ownership. It may be illegal in some parts of the state to own a cougar and completely unregulated in other parts of the state.
- North Dakota: A permit is required for dangerous animals.
- Oklahoma: A permit is required.
- Pennsylvania: A permit is required.
- Rhode Island: A permit is required.
- South Carolina: There are no state laws concerning the ownership of big cats.
- South Dakota: A permit and veterinarian's examination is required.
- Texas: A license is required to own exotic pets.
- Utah: A permit is required.
- Wisconsin: The state has no restrictions.
What You Need to Know Before Owning a Cougar
If you are going to own a cougar (or any type of large cat or exotic animal for that matter), a lot of research is required. You cannot slack off on your research! There is a lot of information that you will need to have before you decide to purchase your cougar.
- Is it legal where you live?
- What kind of licensing will you need to have?
- If the laws change, will you be grandfathered in?
- Do you have enough room for a full outdoor enclosure?
- What are the cat's dietary needs?
- Do you have enough information on raw nutrition?
- Is there a good exotic animal vet in your vicinity?
Research, read, and collect information. Go online and contact government agencies to ask questions.
You'll need to contact the nearest exotic animal vet and ask them if they work with cougars. I'm lucky that there is one in my town. My first exotic cat will likely be an African serval, and I have been able to confirm that they take them.
Do Cougars Purr?
You bet they do! It was once believed that cougars (also known as mountain lions, pumas, panthers, and catamounts) were the largest cat to purr, but I've heard some talk recently that scientists are discovering that other big cats purr as well. However, they do so at a different pitch or volume. Cougars certainly have a very loud purr!
One of the things that I love most about cats is that rumbling sound that they make in their chest. I find it soothing and comforting. As someone who has suffered from depression, cats have been a real lifeline for me, and a cougar purrs like it has a V6 engine in its belly. Just listen!
Isn't It Dangerous to Own a Cougar?
The simple answer is yes. Big cat ownership is dangerous. There is no question that a person takes a risk when they decide to allow an exotic animal into their home. When I owned snakes, I was often asked, "Don't they bite?" And my answer was always, "If it has a mouth, it can and probably will bite."
The key to taking on a large exotic animal is to know what the risks are and to take precautions. For example, it would be foolish to enter a lion or tiger enclosure alone. Another person is your guard against attack, and you need someone else to help defend you if an attack does occur.
When someone chooses to take on an exotic animal, such as a pet cougar, they are accepting that there are risks. How much you understand your animal will certainly help avoid running into problems down the road. Species and breeder research are absolutely imperative in successful ownership of an exotic animal.
What to Do Around an Aggressive Cougar
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are around a cougar that seems aggressive. These tips will be helpful whether the animal is in captivity or in the wild.
- Do not run from a cougar. Like most predators, they have a natural instinct to chase after prey.
- Do not stand still or play dead. The cougar will see you as being easy prey.
- Make eye contact. Cougars consider theist be a threat.
- Make yourself appear bigger. If you have a jacket, open it up. Wave your arms around as well. Loudly shouting can help as well.
- If there are children around, pick them up before they get scared, and run away. Cougars see children as easy targets.
- Fighting back an aggressive cougar can dissuade them. Use anything in reach as a weapon if you can. Try to protect your neck as cougars often attack that area.
A Cougar Is Just a Really Big Cat
Most wild cats behave very much like our domestic cats. They play and interact with one another, with their humans, and with other pets. They hunt, sleep, and even purr.
I do understand the concerns from my friends and family who believe that it is cruel to separate these wild animals from their own social networks. I agree with many of their objections. But I also believe that it is perfectly human to want to connect with these wonderful animals, and that they can be kept humanely.
After watching the video above, please keep in mind that this level of trust is unusual. Most owners won't get to this point with their cat, and that needs to be understood and accepted. While every owner would love to reach this point with their pet, it takes a lot of dedication and very good breeding of the animal. Even then, there are no guarantees. This is still a cougar!
What About Declawing a Cougar?
There are a lot of thoughts on whether or not it is acceptable to declaw cats. The procedure involves the surgical removal of the first digit of the individual toe on the cat's paw. Declawing is not the removal of the nail, the way that human fingernails might be clipped. It is the removal of the entire distal phalange. It would be the same as removing the first digit of every single one of your fingers and toes. It is is an amputation, and it is a very big deal that is often made light of. Equating it to the removal of the fingernails isn't enough. Think of it as the removal of your fingers or moreover, your toes. It affects a cat's balance, their overall health, and their well-being. The procedure may also cause chronic pain for the duration of their lifetime.
The issue is compounded when we're talking about big cats. Cougars, lions, tigers, and other big cats are dangerous to begin with, but a cat with claws may not be aware of themselves or their strength, and this can be a huge issue.
I do not support the procedure for regular cats. If you do not want your cat to have claws, you do not want a cat. Get something that doesn't have feet. Maybe a nice snake. I have not made up my mind whether or not we will declaw our cougar. Not everyone does, and it will depend on laws and what my research says. This is an ongoing process for me, and I will eventually have to make a decision. If it comes down to it, I might make the decision not to get the cat if it means that I must declaw it.
What do you think?
Do You Think That Declawing Is Cruel?
How to Work With Big Cats
You may have come to the decision that owning a cougar may not be feasible (or you live in a state where it is prohibited). However, there are still many ways you can get involved with big cats.
- You can volunteer at a big cat sanctuary if there is one nearby you. These sanctuaries offer vital conservation efforts for these animals that are often endangered.
- You can look up your local zoo to see if they have any volunteer or internship opportunities. This is a great way to help animals as well as start a potential career at a zoo.
- If you are interested in a career in working with big cats, consider working towards a degree in biology, ecology, or zoology.
- If you live around cougar territory, you may consider becoming involved with the National Park Service. They do research on wild cougars and aid in conservation efforts.
How to Rehome an Exotic Animal
So you live in a state that lets you keep a cougar, and you managed to get through the process of obtaining all the necessary permits. You've managed to take of the animal, but you now realize that you may not be able to adequately care for it anymore. This is a common occurrence for owners of exotic pets. They may not have realized how much work (and money) goes into caring for these creatures. It's even a common occurrence with domesticated pets.
If you own an exotic pet like a cougar and can no longer care for it, it is recommended that you contact a sanctuary. These organizations often take wild animals from private owners. You could potentially give your pet to another owner, but it is strongly recommended that you ensure that they are capable of caring for it. It is strongly recommended that you contact an animal rescue agency if you need to part with your exotic pet.
My Story as a Cat Person
I am a dog person, but I'm also a cat lover. I've always been fascinated by cats, from the time that I was almost too small to remember. When I was five, I got my first cat. My parents took me to the shelter to pick him out, and he was wonderful. We named him Buffy because he was a long-haired buff-colored cat. He was never particularly affectionate, but I loved him like crazy. It still breaks my heart to think that he's gone.
Most people consider me a cat person, probably because I've had an ongoing love affair with cats in general. My favorite wild animals (after giraffes) are all cats. Bengal tigers, African lions, and Panthers all fascinate me. I've written furry fiction, and some of my favorite characters are cats. I remember watching Born Free over and over again when I was a child, wondering what it must be like to have a pet lioness that lived in the house with the humans, just like a house cat.
I've never been average when it comes to pets. I'm obsessed with the exotics. I've owned several snakes (varying from very small to very large Burmese pythons), rats, mice, and sugar gliders, as well as various lizards. I've owned cockatiels and budgies as well, though I'm not sure you could classify those as exotic birds. I would love to have an African grey parrot, though!
So...What Do You Think About Pet Cougars?
Would you ever consider owning a cougar for a pet?
Whether you agree or disagree with the ownership of exotic animals, please be civil in your responses here. I've received a lot of criticism for my standpoint on the ownership and captive breeding of wild animals, especially of cats in particular. Criticism has been both public and private, and it's often hurtful. You are free to express your opinion, but please do it politely. If you cannot be polite, at least be civil.
I am interested in your opinions, but more than anything, I'd like to know that you were here. If you have any additional resources that I might want to look at or feature, please let me know. I'm always looking for more information, and the resources that I've included on this page are my favorites.
Start Your Cougar Ownership Research Here
- Rexano: Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership
This site can be a bit difficult to navigate, but it is definitely one of the most comprehensive resources for exotic animal ownership that I have found. You'll want to spend some time on this site if you are interested in owning a big cat.
- Exotic Cats and Hybrids
This is the best place to learn all about wild cats and hybrids of all kinds.
- Feline Conservation Federation (FCF)
A non-profit, non-governmental organization that consists of wild feline managers, educators, conservationists, researchers, and all those who support the mission of feline conservation in captivity and in the wild.
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.
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