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Quick Overview of Exotic Pet Laws

Matthew G. Liebman

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State College of Law
Printable Version

Quick Overview of Exotic Pet Laws


Private ownership of captive wild animals, commonly referred to as “exotic pets,” has increased significantly over the last few years. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of incidents in which these pets have escaped, attacked, spread diseases, or been abused. Because exotic pets like tigers or bears are not domesticated, they are far more likely to injure their owners, even when they are just “playing.” Also, exotic pets like monkeys and reptiles are far more likely than cats or dogs to carry unusual diseases or parasites. Wild animals also have very different lifestyles than traditional pets, so caring for them is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for owners. As a result owners often neglect or mistreat these animals, and they suffer miserable lives.

In reaction to these concerns about animal welfare, public safety, and public health, governments have adopted laws to prevent or limit exotic pet ownership. This has occurred at all levels of government, federal, state, and local. The federal government has made it illegal to transport large cats like lions and tigers across state lines in interstate commerce. Some states and cities have completely banned exotic pets, while others just require a license to have them.

Exotic pet owners have challenged these regulations in court, but they almost always lose because judges find that states and cities are free to decide to limit exotic pets. Since the courts have now affirmed the right to regulate exotic pets, it is up to executive agencies (such as local police or wildlife officers) to enforce the regulations that the legislatures have passed.

For an overview of the legal issues, click here.

For an in-depth discussion of this topic, click here.


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