An ocelot poses for a photograph.

What You Need to Know About Legal Exotic Cats

When one thinks of “exotic cats,” images of tigers or snow leopards might come to mind. There are, however, exotic cats that are legal to keep as domesticated pets here in the United States.

Exotic cats that are kept as pets in the home may be wilder than your average tabby, but they do not prey on humans. These cats can be a great pet for the right owner, but you should proceed with caution before making a purchase. Here’s what you should consider before bringing an exotic pet into your home:

The Reality of Keeping Exotic Cats As Pets

When Justin Bieber bought two Savannah cats–a mix between a domestic breed and a wild African serval–he faced strong backlash from the Senior Vice President of PETA, Lisa Lange. Lange said that Bieber was helping to fuel a “dangerous demand for hybrid cats,” in part because they are not legal in every state. In fact, the Savannah cats that Bieber bought for $35,000 are legally restricted or banned in Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Vermont. If you are interested in buying exotic cats, be thorough in your research about the legality of the purchase in your state.

Wild cat breeds are also quite expensive (as the Bieber price tag might suggest), with prices ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $20,000 per cat. Additionally, the amount of money that you would have to spend on care with legal exotic cats is much higher than what you would pay for a regular cat breed. Veterinary expenses can add up quickly as exotic cats require special attention from a veterinarian that specializes in zoo animals.

The Best Exotic Cat Pets For The Home

If you’re determined to bring an exotic cat into your home as a pet, it’s good to be knowledgeable about each breed to know which would be the best fit for you. Here are some of the best exotic cat pets to consider:


Originating in Africa, servals are popular exotic cats that are legal in the U.S. The serval–which is the type of cat Bieber purchased–has a spotted coat and long legs in comparison to its body. Some compare the serval to a cheetah because of its appearance, but in actuality, it is much shorter than a cheetah.

The serval is a medium-sized cat. Aloof and quiet, they will flee from average-sized people and have never been known to be dangerous or threatening to humans. They prefer small animal prey, such as birds, rodents, or small antelopes. The serval cat is not an avid climber, making them easier to confine than some other exotic cats. They communicate primarily by hissing and will eat about two to three pounds of meat a day.


Native to South America, the ocelot is a small wild cat with beautiful markings. These legal exotic cats are very rare in the pet trade, making them difficult to acquire. Compared to other exotic cats, they are more challenging to maintain as pets. An ocelot typically will not pay attention to disciplinary commands.

The renowned artist Salvador Dali owned an ocelot cat named Babou. Dali famously took Babou everywhere with him–to restaurants, on ocean liners, and to hotels–which is not highly recommended with ocelot cats. Ocelots are not typically social creatures and can emit a disturbing growl as a mating call that can scare humans.


This stocky, medium-sized cat is native to North America. Of all the different types of exotic cats, the bobcat will bond strongly with their owners. But bobcats possess the strength to kill an adult human. They are short and muscular, and they hunt fully-grown deer in the wild. For this reason, it is not the best exotic cat pet for those who have children, and should be heavily supervised or kept away from them altogether.

When a bobcat is raised in captivity, it can become quite lovable. Bobcats can even be friendly with deer when raised with them since kittenhood. They are also very affectionate toward dogs. Never forget, however, that bobcats can be very dangerous. They have moments of aggression, which is why they should be kept in a large, sturdy outdoor cage during these episodes.

Canadian Lynx

Native to the northern parts of North America, the Canadian lynx has thick fur and is prone to shedding. These exotic cats are active climbers, and they prefer to be at high points in the home. Because the Canadian lynx is a climbing animal, their enclosures need to be designed appropriately.

While the Canadian lynx does not form a devoted relationship with their human, they are easy going in that their temperamental fits are less severe, and good with strangers. This cat, however, is not eager to go on walks.


Native to Africa and Asia, the caracal is a type of lynx with a personality similar to a serval. Fully grown, it will stand 16 to 17 inches at the shoulder and it will weigh 30 to 50 pounds.
Caracals communicate primarily by hissing, which can sound threatening, but they are somewhat well mannered with a traditional cat attitude. A caracal will eat about 2 to 3 pounds of meat per day and, in captivity, they will live to be about 17 years old.

These exotic cats are known to play and interact with their owners, but strictly on their own terms. If you purchase a caracal, be careful as their play can be destructive to furniture and household objects.

Geoffroy’s Cat

This small cat is native to Central and South America. Geoffroy’s cats are among the smallest wild cat species, weighing only 4 to 8 pounds when fully grown. Because of their small size, they present no public safety threat to humans.

Geoffroy’s cats are relatively rare, in part because they have a limited gene pool in captivity. Geoffroy’s cats can be rather timid and less social, which means that they thrive in a relatively placid, quiet environment. If provoked, they can become nervous and aggressive, especially when they reach sexual maturity.

Asian Leopard Cat

Shy and elusive, this nocturnal cat is wary of humans. They are not ideal house pets, and do best when left to themselves in a large enclosure. If humans interact with them often, these exotic cats can prove to be docile.

The Asian leopard cat is the parent breed to Bengal cats, which are also a legal exotic cat breed to have as pets in the U.S. Some subspecies of the Asian leopard cat are endangered, which makes them difficult to purchase legally, and it requires documentation and permits to own them, which varies by state. Non-profit group, Big Cat Rescue, has a state-by-state exotic cat guide that you can reference before adopting or purchasing an exotic cat breed.

Jungle Cat

This large, nervous cat is native to Asia, Sri Lanka, and Egypt, and is typically bred with domesticated cats to create hybrids, like chausies or jungle bobs. In captivity, a jungle cat will live to be 15 to 20 years old.

They are fragile felines that require a lot of privacy in a quiet household or need to be housed in a well-sized outdoor enclosure a majority of the time. Although the jungle cat is not endangered, its species is on the decline.