Owning a Wild or Exotic Cat; Information, Laws, and
Have you ever dreamed of living with a bobcat or having a pet
tiger? You're not alone, and many people share their lives
responsibly and safely with such animals. My beloved companion is
a African Serval, a very affectionate 33-pound spotted feline.
However, this dream come true brings with it some very real
challenges and responsibilities far beyond those facing the
average pet owner.
A huge number of visitors to my exotic feline site are trying
to make very important decisions. Should I get a exotic cat? Is
this species the right fit for my family? Can I provide for one
There are a number of things to take into consideration when
deciding if exotic cat ownership is for you, and if the answer is
yes, which species of exotic cat is suitable for your situation.
- Your ability to make a lifetime commitment to an animal
who may cause you considerable headaches
- Your ability to be a responsible owner
- Local and Federal Laws
- Your financial ability to provide proper care and housing
for the cat
- Your level of experience in working with animals
- Size of the cat
- Disposition of the cat
- Endangered Species Status
Owning an exotic cat requires a lifetime commitment to a cat
who may live to be 20 years old. If your circumstances change,
the cat develops behaviors that are unacceptable to you, or you
simply grow tired of caring for it, an exotic cat cannot simply
be given over to your local humane society. Being placed in a new
home is much more traumatic to an exotic cat than to most
domestic animals and can cause a major change in their
personality. In some cases, they may never accept a new owner.
Qualified people willing to take in an adult exotic cat are hard
to find, and no, the local zoo will not accept your cat. Large
cats such as cougars and tigers are especially hard to place.
Everyone gets an animal with a certain dream in their minds
about how that animal will behave, and some people cannot handle
it if things turn out differently. For instance, if you want to
own a tiger, you probably imagine being able to play with it and
cuddle with it. That may happen; but if you undertake this
responsibility you have to be prepared for the fact that you
might not be able to so much as enter the cat's enclosure safely,
even if you raise him from a cub.
If you are interested in getting a small cat like a bobcat or
a serval, you probably imagine sharing your household with it, as
many people do. But what if that cat grows up to spray everything
If you've been researching the idea of owning an exotic cat,
you've probably discovered how much conflicting information there
is. Some sources seem to indicate that living with an exotic cat
is no more challenging than feeding your pet goldfish. At the
other end of the extreme spectrum, many sanctuaries and animal
rights activists paint them as unmanageable creatures that no
ordinary mortal could hope to deal with successfully. As is
usually the case, the truth lies in a rational world between the
two extremes. This site exists to provide realistic and balanced
Like all creatures, exotic cats are all individuals, and
nobody can tell you exactly how your future cat will act.
Generalizations can be made about the behavior of different
species, but individual personalities and behavior traits vary
widely. As a dog trainer, I have seen puppies with the perfect
upbringing turn out dangerously aggressive, and severely abused
dogs who were stable and friendly. I have met dangerous Golden
Retrievers and unprovokable Pit Bulls. It's the same with cats;
you can generalize to a certain extent, but never count on those
If you decide that you are serious about getting an exotic
feline, one of the first things you need to do is learn the
federal, state, county, and city laws regulating the ownership of
the species you are considering in your area. Contrary to
popular myth, exotic animal ownership is pretty heavily
regulated. Laws and permit requirements vary widely from area to
area, and owning exotic cats is banned altogether in many
The legal issues will become vastly more complicated if you
are interested in owning a cat that is endangered. While it is
not impossible, the additional laws and permits that you have to
contend with makes owning an endangered cat an unrealistic goal
for most people.
Owning an exotic cat means having to remain constantly aware
of changing laws and of proposed legislation, and being prepared
to fight for the continued right to own your beloved pet.
Owning an exotic cat can be quite expensive. You will need to
take into consideration the cost of building a secure and
spacious enclosure, feeding costs, veterinary costs, the initial
purchase of the kitten, and incidental expenses which seem to
crop up on a continual basis. The cost of owning a smaller cat
such as a serval or bobcat is more likely to be affordable than
that of owning a tiger or other large cat. When you get into the
large cats you will find that your feeding and enclosure costs
A major consideration is the size of the cat. Some species are
smaller than a domestic cat, while others reach 500 pounds. The
most common species to find in a pet household is the serval,
which ranges from roughly 18-40 pounds.
Owning a small cat is a more realistic goal for most people
than a large cat such as a tiger. Large cats are very expensive
to feed and house, heavily regulated by the federal government,
and of course much more dangerous. Often keepers are unable to
safely enter the enclosures of big cats once they mature. This
does not mean that these animals are malicious, but a tiger or
other big cat can easily injure you even in play. If you see
yourself with a "pet" cat, start thinking small.
Cougars are an interesting compromise in size and temperament.
They are actually classified as "small cats" even though most
people think of them as a big cat. They are large cats and come
with all of the duties, responsibilities, and cost of owning a
big cat. However, they often have very gentle and affectionate
natures; of all the large felines, they are probably the species
that you are most likely to be able to have a "pet-like"
relationship with after they mature. For those determined to own
a big cat, I would recommend a cougar over any other species,
especially over a tiger.
Owning an exotic feline is not for someone who spends their
time in fantasyland. If you are one of those pet owners who think
their dog is so sweet that he could never, ever harm anyone,
that all animals love you because you have a "special touch" with
them, or that no animal will be dangerous as an adult if you
"love it enough" or "raise it right," you have no business owning
an exotic cat.
You have to be able to objectively assess the safety of any
decision you make, whether it involves handling your own cat,
letting a family member or member of the public have contact with
the cat, etc. You have to be able to say "I love Tigger with all
of my heart and he loves me back, but I can tell from the playful
look in his eye that if I walk into his enclosure now he might
hurt me, so I choose not to."
It is important to locate a good veterinarian who is willing
to treat your exotic cat before you get one. It can sometimes be
difficult to find a good, experienced vet who will be willing to
treat exotics. Often, vets are uncomfortable around them or
disapprove of keeping them as pets and will therefore refuse to
treat them. Many clinics also lack large enough equipment to
handle larger felines like cougars or tigers. Veterinary costs
for an exotic cat can be higher than those for a domestic animal,
especially if your cat develops a serious problem and you are
referred to a specialty clinic or university.
If you choose to own an exotic cat, you owe it to your cat and
everyone else who owns exotics to be a responsible owner. What
constitutes responsible ownership? Some of the criteria, in no
- Provides a ample, nutritious diet suitable to the
- Provides ample housing for the cat to live in happily
- Provides shelter and protection from the elements
- Provides veterinary care as needed
- Purchases animals from an ethical and responsible
- Does not neglect or abuse the animal
- Provides generally pleasant living conditions and has the
cat's feelings and best interests in mind
- Makes a good-faith effort to comply with all applicable
- Takes stringent precautions to prevent the escape of the
- Protects the cat from unauthorized contact or harassment
from members of the public
- Protects the safety of the public and visitors
- Makes a lifetime commitment to caring for the cat
This article is written and copyrighted by Jessi Clark-White
This article may be reproduced in its entirety only; permission
is NOT granted to display edited versions. This article may not
be used to support the ending of private ownership of exotic
For more comprehensive information on exotic pets and their
ownership, visit my website, http://www.exoticcatz.com. You
can ask the author and other exotic pet owners questions at our
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