Full List of All Illegal Pets in California (2023 Update)

The state of California is not only famous for being among the leading states with the best animal protection laws but also for its tough laws on exotic pets.

According to the California Fish and Game Code, it’s illegal to keep as a pet any animal the department considers to pose a threat to public health and safety, native wildlife, or agriculture. These animals are termed “detrimental animals”.


It’s also illegal to keep as a pet any animal that has been declared endangered and in need of animal welfare. These animals are termed “welfare animals”.

While some restrictions are obvious, such as keeping lions, tigers, bears, or zebras, others might catch you off-guard and you can face severe penalties including:

  • A criminal prosecution punishable by up to 6 months in country jail and/or fine of up to $1,000 and/or
  • Civil fine of between $5,000 and $10,000 plus the cost of the animal’s removal, storage, and care.

So before you decide to bring your favorite pet into the state, it is invaluable to know all the illegal pets in California to avoid getting yourself into big trouble.

Related: List of Legal Pets in California (2022 Update)

All Illegal Pets in California

This is a comprehensive list of animals that are illegal as pets in California as of 2022. Keep in mind that if you want to transport, import, or possess any of these animals then you will need a legal animal permit.

1. Ferrets

You cannot keep ferrets as pets in California
It’s against the law to keep a ferret as a pet in California

This might come as a surprise, but keeping ferrets as pets in California is illegal. Ferrets are among the most popular pets in the United States, and there has been intensive but unsuccessful lobbying to legalize ferrets in the state. However, keeping one without a permit remains illegal.


According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, stray ferrets are “detrimental animals” and pose a significant risk to the rare native birds and animals of California. This ruling means you cannot import, transport, or possess ferrets in the state except with a permit issued for a legal purpose.

2. Hedgehogs

While they might seem innocent and harmless, hedgehogs are classified among the illegal pets in California. The nocturnal animals have quills that can penetrate the skin and transmit diseases such as Salmonella and ringworm to humans.

The main reason why hedgehogs are illegal in California is that they can become pests when introduced into the wild where they do not naturally occur. They are termed as a risk to California’s native wildlife.

3. Gerbils

Although gerbils are popular pets in the United States, state officials still regard them as a risk to California’s agriculture and native plants & animals.

Since the climate of the state is quite similar to the natural desert habitat of gerbils, there’s a worry that gerbils that escape into the wild could establish feral colonies that could be almost impossible to eradicate.

If you’re a rodent lover then you should go with legal alternatives such as domesticated golden hamsters, dwarf hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, and mice.

4. Monkeys

Surprise! Surprise! Monkeys are illegal pets in California as they pose risks to California’s wildlife, agriculture, and public health & safety – that’s according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

You can only possess or keep a monkey or other primates if you’re qualified and with a legal permit for specific purposes such as medical research or training them to perform in film productions.

5. Piranhas

If you’re an avid fish lover, live in California, and have been considering having a fish as a pet, you should stay away from the piranhas. They are beautiful and even seem harmless, but piranhas have razor-sharp teeth. 

All species of piranhas are on California’s list of restricted animals. This means you cannot import, transport, and even possess one without a legal permit.

6. Squirrels

Although there are many squirrels in the state of California, keeping one as a pet is illegal and could land you in big trouble.

These rodents have sharp nails and teeth and will eat anything including furniture, junk food, wallpapers, walls, and even their own waste.

7. Mongooses

Keeping a mongoose is also illegal in California. It is also illegal to import mongooses into the United States even for zoos because of their destructive nature. Mongoose can wipe out an entire small, ground-living native fauna.

8. Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are considered exotic animals and owning them in California and most other states is illegal. The main reason prairie dogs are illegal in California is to protect public health & safety, wildlife, and other natural resources.

9. Raccoons

Although it is legal to have a pet raccoon in only 16 states in the U.S., California is not one of them. You will need a legal permit to possess, transport, or import a raccoon into the state of California and only for a legal purpose.

10. African clawed frogs

Another animal you cannot keep as a pet in California is the African clawed frog. The aquatic frog with a small, wedge-shaped head and flattened body cannot be kept as a pet in California because it competes with and threatens native species.

Other illegal pets in California

Animals you cannot keep as pets in the state of California
Animals you cannot keep as pets in California

Other animals that you cannot legally keep as pets in California include:

  1. Hawks
  2. Sloths
  3. Falcons
  4. Crows
  5. Wild rodents
  6. Primates
  7. Wolverines
  8. Marsupials
  9. Zebras
  10. Bats
  11. Skunks
  12. Monk parakeets
  13. Degus
  14. Sugar gliders
  15. Fur-ranch foxes
  16. Caimans
  17. Morro Bay kangaroo rats
  18. Southern sea otters
  19. Ring-tailed cats
  20. Northern elephant seals
  21. Guadalupe fur seals
  22. Pacific right whales
  23. Salt-marsh harvest mice
  24. First-generation wolf-dog hybrids
  25. Bighorn sheep (except Nelson bighorn sheep)
  26. Big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards

FAQs about illegal pets in California

Let’s now have a look at some frequently asked questions about pets you’re not allowed to own in California.

1. Is it legal to have a pet raccoon in California?

No, it is not legal to have a pet raccoon in California. You need a legal permit to possess, transport, or import a raccoon into the state of California, and only for a legal purpose.

2. Are sugar gliders legal in California?

No. Unfortunately, sugar gliders are not legal in California. Sugar gliders are restricted from possession as pets primarily because they can become pests and can potentially cause diseases to humans.

3. Are axolotls illegal in California?

Yes, axolotls are illegal in California. Other places where you cannot keep axolotls as pets include Maine, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. In case you live in New Mexico or Hawaii, you need a permit to keep an axolotl.

Final thoughts

This is the full list of illegal pets in California updated in mid-2021. If you are not sure about the requirements and local and/or state laws governing pet ownership in California, we recommend you refer to California’s Animal and Pet Custody Laws.

This video explains why some pets are illegal to own. Courtesy: Seeker.

Credit ZoneA