Did you know that more than 60% of American households have a pet living within? Well, you do now. Break that out at a dinner party and then bask in the hushed awe of your colleagues. (It’s about 62% if you want to be specific.) It’s probably no surprise that dogs are the most common household pet in the United States, with some 46 million homes having one or more canines as family members. Cats come in at a rather close second, with nearly 40 million feline-friendly homes in the country. The third most commonly kept domestic animal is the rabbit, though there’s a steep drop off here: about 19 million US households have these furry critters. Fish come in fourth, with some 12.5 million homes welcoming aquatic animals inside. Birds are in the number five slot, with just over 5.5 million homes featuring feathered friends.
As common as pets are in America, it might come as a surprise to you that many rather common pets are actually illegal in many places. Before you pull up the stakes and move to a new city or state, make sure you check the rules regarding animal ownership in your prospective new home. Not, y’know, not that you’ll probably heed them one way or another, but at least you’ll be ready to hide your salamander or potbellied pig when the cops show up.
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We all knew that one kid in elementary school who had a “pet” tarantula. This was also usually the kid who was into nunchucks and read books about hypnosis and who may or may not have worn a black leather bracelet with metal studs on it. Listen up, tarantula kid: stay outta New York City! And Maine! And many counties in Virginia! And all of Connecticut! And lots of places, in fact. These massive, horrifying arachnids might have been popular with that one kid, but they’re illegal in many places. Like anywhere near me.
Most iguanas are docile, gentle animals that pose little to no physical threat to anything other than insects, many of which are indeed in grave danger when near an iguana. In other words, an iguana is not going to attack you. But it might make you very sick, as they can carry and transmit ailments such as salmonella and other bacterial infections, viral diseases, and parasites. They also don’t do that well in captivity, surprisingly, with many “domestic” iguanas dying within a year of birth. Thus the laws of many areas that ban these gentle lizards are designed to protect you and them.
It is only legal to own a chimpanzee in a few states in America, though frankly private ownership of these intelligent, powerful creatures should be banned everywhere. Why? First, chimps are smart, social creatures that require lots of meaningful interaction to remain happy and stable, and this interaction is best enjoyed with other members of the same species. Second, an adult male chimp is about five to seven times stronger than an adult male human. If and when a chimp decides to freak out, it’s going to hurt you. Badly.
Unless you have a special permit, owning a macaw is illegal in about half of the states in the union. Which may well be for the better, because these giant parrots require an outsized amount of attentive care if you want to be a proper pet owner. They can live for half a century and learn dozens of words, but they can also become depressed and moody. And that massive beak can break finger with ease and cause plenty of flesh damage if a macaw decides it wants blood instead of a cracker. (FYI, don’t feed them crackers, learn the proper parrot diet.)
The ball python is the most common large constrictor snake that is regularly kept as a pet. But if you like following the laws, you had better not keep a python in the home if you live in Florida, Hawaii, New York, and in many cities and counties around the country. While pythons usually don’t murder and eat people (usually…) they wreak havoc on the wildlife they encounter after an escape or release from captivity, thus their ban in many places. In Florida, pythons had become seriously invasive, for example, to the level that regular hunts are organized to cull this nonnative menace.
10. Sugar Glider
What could be cooler than a charming little marsupial that will cuddle up in your pocket all day and then leap off your shoulder and fly across the room to land near its food bowl? Nothing, basically. But no matter, because despite their surge of popularity over the past decade or so, sugar gliders are illegal in several states, including Alaska and California, and are strictly regulated in several more states. These Australian natives are also banned in a number of cities and counties.
9. Hermit Crab
Hermit crabs are an ideal starter pet for many kids and a great creature to keep around if you want a very low maintenance animal to care for. Granted, they’re not going to give you many snuggles or kisses, but they also won’t bite or pinch you. If you want to own a hermit crab or give one to your kid as a dry run for that dog or cat, you’d better not live in Hawaii, though. The way the government sees it, the parasites these little guys can carry could cause untold harm to the many native crustaceans living around the islands.
Ferrets are popular pets with many people despite being notoriously demanding to own due to dietary and health concerns, and due to the fact that they are excellent escape artists. None of that matters if you live in California, Hawaii, Washington DC, and a surprisingly long list of areas around the United States, though. These weasel cousins are illegal in many areas of America, and are in fact banned in many areas of many other countries, as well. (If you’re thinking of getting one somewhere they are legal, they can live for as long as the years, FYI.)
7. Wolf-Dog Hybrid
Owning a wolf is not only a pretty poor idea, but it’s illegal everywhere. Which is good, because… they’re wolves. Wolf-dog hybrids, on the other hand, are legal in many places, though they probably shouldn’t be. These unique creatures tend to lean more toward their wolf side than dog side, after all, when it comes to behavior. Their ownership is restricted in more than a dozen states and permitted only with permits in several others. If you want to own a wolf-dog, just be aware that any other pets you own, like a cat or rabbit, will probably be treated like dinner sooner than later.
6. Miniature Pigs
So let’s get one thing straight right from the start here: miniature pigs? They’re not so miniature once they’re fully grown. Once fully grown, these so-called mini pigs weigh in at 50 pounds on the very low end and as much as 150 pounds on the heavier side. Not… miniature. While cute in their own way, they are also too intelligent for their own good, requiring lots of attention and diversion, yet not smart enough to not eat anything and everything, often including the actual bowl in which their food was served. Pet pigs are illegal in hundreds of cities, towns, and whole counties across many states.
5. African Pygmy Hedgehog
Hedgehogs have taken the internet by storm in recent years, largely because they are almost insultingly cute. How dare you be so charming, you little guys? Bastards, right? Right. Anyway, as cute (but maybe not so cuddly, if handled improperly) as these critters are, they’re illegal in many states, including California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Hawaii. This is primarily due to the risks they might pose to local ecosystems if they escaped out into the wild.
Gerbils are some of the most commonly kept household rodents, and why not? The little guys couldn’t be much more charming. But in California, it is illegal to purchase, sell, own, or transport gerbils. Why? It’s not because they are so ill suited to the California landscape, but in fact because much of the state presents a perfect habitat for these desert denizens. The fear is that escaped gerbils will quickly establish feral colonies that could override the natural balance established in an area.
Remember that “I like turtles” kid from the internet? Well, I hope he knows that any aquatic turtles measuring less than four inches across is illegal to sell in the United States! Red eared sliders are the most common freshwater aquatic turtles kept as pets in America, and a surprising number of them are sold illegally. When improperly cared for, small turtles can easily contract and transmit salmonella, and they die at an alarmingly high rate. If you want a pet turtle, buy or adopt a large one from a reputable provider. And also know that they’re actually a fair amount of work.
Though the hamster may be the beloved little pet of millions of Americans (most of whom are in elementary school), they are illegal in many areas and in the entire state of Hawaii. These plucky little friends are also banned in Australia and New Zealand. Why? Well, a typical hamster litter is between six to twelve babies, though there can be as many as 20 born at once. The gestation period is only about three weeks. And they can give birth multiple times a year.
While no states have outright bans on any dogs, many counties and municipalities have bans on multiple specific breeds of canine. Some of the most commonly banned breeds include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Bulldog, the Rottweiler, the Canary Dog, and others. Many of these breeds are unfairly miscast as violent and dangerous, with their aggressive disposition normally taught and developed rather than innate, though no one will argue that a pit bull certainly poses more threat than a Yorkie, except that you probably won’t trip over the former.
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