Critter Culture
Owning Exotic Cats: Which Breeds are Legal

Owning Exotic Cats: Which Breeds are Legal

Critter Culture Staff



If you're a fan of felines, you've probably had your fair share of cute and cuddly kitty companions. Chances are that you haven't experienced owning an exotic cat, though. And depending upon where you live, they may be entirely legal.

Quite a few small and medium exotic breeds are surprisingly kept as pets. Human-friendly, many aren't endangered or considered threatened. Yet some of the most common wild cats are probably animals you've never heard of before.



One of the most common exotic pets, bobcats can grow to over two feet tall and four feet long. They average 15-21 pounds, depending on gender. They only have a lifespan of, at most, ten years.

Experienced owners generally agree that bobcats are the best companion animals out of all exotic cats. They are entirely affectionate, form strong bonds with humans, and love dogs. However, they possess the strength to kill a deer, so they must be heavily supervised around children.

Bobcat standing on red rocks Donyanedomam/ Getty Images


Various lynxes

Several types of lynxes can live with a private owner. Caracals, or desert lynxes, are two examples that communicate by hissing and have a cat-like attitude. Eating up to three pounds of meat daily, these animals have a big appetite and an even larger presence. At around 40 pounds, they will destroy everything in their path during playtime.

Canadian and Siberian lynxes are two other types that aren't uncommon to exotic pet owners. Just like caracals, they have a lifespan of 12-16 years in captivity. Canadian lynxes love to climb. They're easygoing but don't always form devoted bonds. Conversely, Siberian lynxes are loyal and act like dogs, but they can inadvertently damage anything in their way.



Ocelots are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Made famous by the artist Salvador Dali who once owned one, they're now quite rare. Though they have a lifespan of two decades, they're a challenge to maintain. Preferring not to acknowledge commands, ocelots tend to do their own thing. Their diets consist of mammals, fish, reptiles, insects, and birds.

OCELOT leopardus pardalis, ADULT STANDING ON ROCK slowmotiongli / Getty Images


Asian leopard cats

The size of a domestic cat, Asian leopard cats, like to roll solo. They require a lot of attention and interaction before they'll take to an owner. As nocturnal creatures, they're quite shy and afraid of unfamiliar people. They live around a dozen years, eat a rodent diet, and prefer alone time in large enclosures.

Asian leopard cats aren't endangered; however, some leopards are, and they're illegal to own. If you're interested in an Asian leopard cat, you'll need documentation to prove that it's not part of the endangered subspecies list.



Sharing an abundance of similarities with caracals, servals are one of the most popular exotic pets to own. They're the likeliest type to get along with your other animals, too. Servals love to jump and play, but they're prone to weight gain if you don't devote ample time to their exercise.

Serval wild cat at home interior. African spotted kitten. Yellow golden fur with black dot and big fluffy ears. Cute savannah cat. Funny adorable pets at cozy home. Postcard concept. Med-Ved / Getty Images


Geoffroy's cats

Fairly uncommon as exotic pets, Geoffroy's cats are one of the smallest breeds on the planet. They can survive extremely hot and cold temperatures, and their lifespan reaches around 20 years. Because of their small and adorable size, they're primarily used to breed safari cats, which are hybrid animals.

Geoffroy's cat (Leopardus geoffroyi). Wild life animal. wrangel / Getty Images


Hybrid cats

When an exotic cat breeds with a domestic cat, it results in a hybrid. Overall, hybrids are intentionally mated, though some litters do occur without human assistance. As each generation passes, they become more domesticated: a first-generation pet will seem a lot wilder than an animal from the same bloodline a few litters later.

Chausie, abyssinian cat on dark brown background. tania_wild / Getty Images



You might be into the idea of an exotic pet, but a cat just isn't your style. A few animals take on a similar shape and appearance to small non-domesticated felines, but they aren't cats at all. Asian palm civets and spotted genets are two great examples. Though all have their own unique personalities, there's a better chance these pets won't be as high-strung or destructive as some exotic cats.

An Asian Palm Civet, popular in Indonesia for producing Kopi Luwak, a coffee which is produced after the berries are passed through the system of the civet. JudyDillon / Getty Images


Know what you're getting into

Deciding to own an exotic animal is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. Many who choose to take the plunge ultimately realize that such a pet is too much to handle. Aside from their initial costs of four or five figures, their continued required expenses and upkeep are absolutely overwhelming. These cats end up in animal sanctuaries because they're nearly impossible to re-home.

They need plenty of room, a special diet, and a specific vet that's experienced with zoo inhabitants. Plus, they may not get along with your current pets, and exotic cats will make travel and taking vacations quite difficult.

Brown Spotted pedigree Cheetoh kitten at 12 weeks old lealeaG / Getty Images


Legalities of ownership

Toyger cat with stripes outside

If you've carefully weighed your options and decided that an exotic animal is right for you, before you dive into selecting a specific type, it's important to see what's legal in your area. Depending on your state, laws are different. Some places permit basically anything, while others don't allow imports. Many areas require permits or proof of how you obtained the cat. Only allowing hybrids, having veterinary approval, and similar nuances also play a part.

All states are distinct, so it's critical you play by the rules. Make sure everything's on the up-and-up before you buy. But if you have the time, money, space and are a bit adventuresome, owning an exotic cat will be life-changing and rewarding.


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