13 Exotic Animals You Can Own in New York 2024: Transform Your Home into a Jungle

NY exotic pet licensing

While the allure of owning a less conventional animal is undeniable, it’s important to understand the legal framework that governs which animals you can legally welcome into your home.

In the Empire State, the legal parameters set for owning exotic animals vary significantly between the state and the city limits of New York City.

The state has clear prohibitions on what is referred to as the “Big Five,” ensuring the safety of both potential owners and the animals themselves.

Not all regulations are as cut and dry, with certain classifications allowing for unique and surprising exceptions to the rule.

Key Takeaways

  • New York State allows certain exotic pets, including hyenas and fennec foxes, with specific exceptions for NYC due to stricter regulations.
  • Owning an exotic animal in NY often requires obtaining permits and licenses, with annual renewal necessary to ensure legality.
  • NY has clear prohibitions against the “Big Five” (big cats, wild canids, bears, venomous/large reptiles, primates) to ensure public and animal safety.
  • Exotic pets in NY State may require substantial space and secure enclosures to mimic natural habitats and prevent escape.
  • Many exotic pets have specific dietary and environmental needs, emphasizing the importance of expert care and proper nutrition.
  • Certain exotic animals, like capybaras and ferrets, thrive in social environments and may need companions to prevent loneliness.
  • While some exotic pets can be trained and may form bonds with their owners, others retain wild instincts, making interaction more challenging.

Avoid The Big Five

In several regions, owning certain animals outside of sanctioned conservation efforts or regulated institutions is prohibited.

Prohibited Animals:

  • Large Felines: Including all forms of lions, tigers, and other big cats.
  • Wild Canines: Wolves, coyotes, and their kin are off-limits.
  • Bear Species: All bear variations, regardless of size.
  • Venomous/Large Reptiles: This category covers crocodiles and large snake species.
  • Primate Family: Ownership of chimps, various monkeys, and lemurs is not permitted.

In contrast, you can have domestic cats and large domestic dog breeds, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs and Mastiffs, in New York State and City. Remember, New York City landlords may have rules about large breed dogs in their properties.

Allowed Ones In New York City

New York exotic pet laws

Among permissible pets in New York City, several small and benign animals can be kept legally. These include:

  • Turtles (non-snapping) that are less than 4 inches
  • Domesticated rodents such as gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rabbits
  • A variety of birds: from parakeets and parrots to finches and canaries, along with pigeons
  • Limited species of small reptiles, specifically leopard geckos, anoles, and bearded dragons

Additionally, you may maintain honeybees within the city, provided you register any hives with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

13 Exotic Animals Permissible in NY State

Animal Name Permit Required
Porcupines Yes
Ferrets Yes
Hedgehogs Yes
Coatimundi (Coatis) Yes
Binturong/Asian Bearcat Yes
Axolotl Yes
Fennec Foxes Yes
Kinkajous Yes
Wallabies/Kangaroos Yes
Hyenas Yes
Sloths No
Capybaras Yes

1. Hedgehogs: Spiky Insect Lovers

New York exotic pet ownership

The African pygmy hedgehog stands out as the most popular exotic hedgehog breed that is legal to keep as a pet according to Birdsexoticsvet.  Unlike rodents, they share a closer genetic link to shrews and moles.

Known for their gentle nature, hedgehogs seldom resort to biting. Instead, they typically curl up into a ball, raising their spines defensively when threatened. Building a bond based on trust and comfort allows owners to safely handle and stroke their pets.

To ensure a balanced diet, hedgehogs need a mix of insects and vitamin supplements. While insects provide a good protein source, they lack certain vital nutrients. Exotic animal specialists recommend a variety of vitamin powders to enhance the nutritional value of commercially available insects, ensuring the pet’s well-being.

For housing, a modest-sized terrarium equipped with guinea pig bedding or a fleece lining is suitable. The enclosure should also contain small toys and an exercise wheel to stimulate the hedgehog’s physical activity. Regular maintenance, including daily spot cleaning and weekly thorough cleaning, is crucial for a healthy living environment.

Hedgehogs have an innate ability to metabolize toxins effectively, a trait developed from consuming a diet that includes beetles, wasps, and occasionally venomous snakes in the wild. However, this remarkable capability does not imply that pet hedgehogs should be fed harmful insects or reptiles.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 8-21 ounces
  • Lifespan: 3-4 years
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Trainable: No

2. Coatis: Curious Climbers

Legal exotic animal ownership

Coatis, charming creatures resembling raccoons, inhabit the canyons and hills of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. These exotic animals are among the few that can be house-trained for litter box use and leash walks, provided they are properly acclimated and trained. However, their long claws pose a risk of accidental injury to their owners, urging caution during interactions.

As omnivores, coatis have a diet that includes both plant and animal matter. In captivity, a balanced diet consisting of insects, lean meats, and vegetables is essential for their health. While fruits can serve as a nutritious snack, their high sugar content necessitates moderation in feeding. Owners must also diligently secure garbage cans and food sources, as coatis will exploit their keen sense of smell to scavenge for food whenever possible.

Coatis have an aversion to confinement in small spaces or cages, preferring the freedom to explore their environment. It’s beneficial to allow them free range within the home, dedicating a specific area for sleeping, resting, and using their litter box.

Reflecting their arboreal lifestyle in the wild, providing an environment with ample climbing opportunities is crucial for their well-being, enabling them to engage in natural behaviors and stay active.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 7-14 pounds
  • Lifespan: 14 years
  • Care Level: Medium-Difficult
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Trainable: Yes

3. Porcupines: Spiky Companions

Exotic pets in NY

In New York, it is legal to own various porcupine species, including the African-crested porcupine, prehensile-tailed porcupine, and the Palawan porcupine accoridn to World Animal Foundation.

These large rodents are relatively easy to monitor and pose a minimal risk of causing harm if they were to escape. Once domesticated, porcupines are not capable of surviving independently in the wild due to their reliance on humans.

For their well-being, porcupines require spacious environments. Habitats that provide both indoor and outdoor access are ideal, enabling them to search for food across extensive yards and seek shelter indoors at night to protect against predators. Climbing opportunities are essential for these animals, as high structures can help prevent them from getting into mischief.

A healthy diet for porcupines includes a variety of foods such as evergreen needles, bark, berries, seeds, grass, roots, vegetables, and hay. While fruits make a good treat, they should be offered in moderation due to their high sugar content.

Since porcupines are rodents, their teeth grow continuously. To maintain dental health, they need access to wooden chews or durable toys that can assist in wearing down their teeth.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 20 pounds
  • Lifespan: 18-30 years
  • Care Level: Medium – Difficult
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Trainable: Possible

4. Axolotls: Underwater Marvels

Unique pets NY laws

Axolotls are uniquely captivating pets, yet owning one is a rarity due to their critical endangered status. These aquatic salamanders are native exclusively to the still-water habitats of Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco in Mexico. Their skin is highly sensitive to pollutants, and they are particularly susceptible to illness from temperature fluctuations or an inappropriate diet.

For their care, axolotls need an aquatic environment ranging from 10 to 20 gallons, ideally without the company of other species, except for axolotls of a similar size according to Reptile Knowladge. It’s crucial to equip their tank with a secure lid to thwart any escape attempts, as they are known to recognize openings at the top of their enclosure.

The tank’s substrate should consist of aquarium sand or large pebbles that pose no risk of ingestion, preventing potential digestive blockages. The habitat must include a filtration system and a thermometer to maintain water temperatures within the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit (about 15 to 20 degrees Celsius).

In terms of diet, axolotls are opportunistic feeders, primarily consuming nightcrawlers, bloodworms, and frozen shrimp. Given their tendency to eat anything that fits in their mouths, it’s vital to offer food items that are safe and suitable for their consumption.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 2-8 ounces
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Diet: Worms
  • Trainable: No

5. Ferrets: Mischievous Bundle of Joy

Exotic animal regulations

Ferrets, charming creatures belonging to the weasel family, are obligate carnivores, necessitating a diet exclusively of meat to remain healthy. In their natural habitat, ferrets consume every part of their prey for sustenance as highlighted in Oxbow Animal Health. Pet owners often recommend providing a “franken meat,” which consists of various animal organs, to mimic this natural diet.

These energetic animals are capable of being litter-trained and can learn to respond to certain commands. Ferrets are playful and cunning, forming strong bonds with their human companions. They enjoy cuddling, gentle play, and daily interaction. It’s important to house ferrets in spacious enclosures that offer a secure environment for sleeping and attending to their needs when humans are away. Without supervision, ferrets might chew on wires or objects, posing risks to themselves and the household.

Ferrets have a tendency to hoard small items, often taking and hiding belongings. Missing items are frequently found in the ferret’s hiding spot. reported by BeChewy.

For optimal well-being, ferrets thrive when paired with a fellow ferret or littermate for companionship, as they are highly social animals that crave interaction. While they can get along with cats and dogs under certain conditions, caution is advised. In the wild, feral cats may prey on ferrets, and domestic interactions should be monitored unless the animals have been raised together to ensure harmony and prevent potential aggression.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 1.1-4.4 pounds
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Care Level: Easy to Medium
  • Diet: Hypercarnivore
  • Trainable: Yes

6. Capybaras: Giant Rodent Friends

New York pet ownership rules

Capybaras, renowned for being the largest rodents globally, offer a unique pet ownership experience due to their gentle nature and sociable dispositions. Although they are wild animals, capybaras have a calm demeanor that makes them relatively manageable pets, akin to caring for a pig, earning them the nickname “water hogs.”

These sizable rodents require extensive space for grazing and roaming, making a spacious backyard equipped with a pool and plenty of high-quality hay an ideal setting for their well-being. A diet enriched with vitamins, as recommended by an exotic animal veterinarian or a capybara breeder, is essential for their health and longevity.

Capybaras are known for their capacity to form strong bonds with their owners, displaying levels of affection similar to guinea pigs. They thrive on social interaction, meaning the more time an owner spends engaging with them, the happier they will be.

To prevent loneliness and depression, which capybaras can suffer from if isolated, owners should consider the possibility of keeping two capybaras together.

Like their rodent counterparts, capybaras also require an array of sturdy chew toys to help maintain their dental health by naturally trimming their teeth, ensuring they remain both healthy and content.

  • Permit Required: Yes 
  • Weight: 77-150 pounds 
  • Lifespan: 8-12 years 
  • Care Level: Medium 
  • Diet: Herbivore 
  • Trainable: Yes

7. Kinkajous: Tropical Rainforest Dwellers

Jungle pets in NY

Kinkajous, unique creatures that resemble a fusion of a raccoon and a monkey, are known for their challenging temperament, often exhibiting anxiety and aggression during specific times of the year. Despite their potential for domestication, there are frequent incidents of kinkajous biting their owners or caregivers.

Naturally arboreal, kinkajous spend most of their life in the treetops and are nocturnal, becoming most active when typical households are at rest. To accommodate their natural habits, pet owners should provide an environment rich with sturdy branches and hammocks to support their nocturnal activities, including sleeping and playing.

Their vocal nature can also disrupt sleep, making them a challenging pet for those needing uninterrupted rest.

Diet-wise, kinkajous require a mixture of lean meats and vegetables, with fruits serving as an occasional treat. This diet helps mimic their natural feeding habits while ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients.

For those considering adopting a kinkajou, it is advisable to do so when the animal is young. Early adoption facilitates bonding and may ease the acclimation process to a domestic setting. Conversely, adopting an older kinkajou may present challenges in adjustment and increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviors, such as biting and scratching.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 10 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20-25 years
  • Care Level: Difficult
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Trainable: Possible

8 and 9. Wallaby and Kangaroo: Marsupial Mates

Exotic animal permits NY

Wallabies and kangaroos, both members of the Macropod family, which translates to “large foot,” are renowned for their distinctive large feet that enable them to move swiftly across the Australian outback. These characteristics necessitate special considerations for those wishing to keep them as pets.

To ensure the well-being of both the animals and their owners, it’s advisable to provide wallabies and kangaroos with both indoor and outdoor living spaces. Given their need for extensive space to exercise and their powerful long tails, which can inadvertently cause damage indoors, these animals are best suited to homes with access to several acres of land. A substantial fence is also crucial to prevent them from wandering off.

As herbivores, their diet primarily consists of grasses, roots, hay, pellets, and vitamin supplements to maintain their health.

  • Permit Required: Yes (both)
  • Weight: Wallaby: 53 pounds, Kangaroo: 100 pounds
  • Lifespan: Wallaby: 11-14 years, Kangaroo: 8-25 years
  • Care Level: Medium (both)
  • Diet: Herbivores
  • Trainable: Wallabies: Possible, Kangaroos: No

10. Hyenas: Laughing Carnivores

Hyenas, surprisingly, are legally permissible pets in New York State, with the exception of New York City, where specific regulations implicitly prohibit their ownership. This legality stems from hyenas not being classified as big cats or wild canids (dogs) but rather belonging to the group Feliformia, which falls outside the scope of certain state laws targeting the ownership of wild or exotic animals.

While the idea of owning a hyena may seem intriguing, the practical realities are far less glamorous. Hyena cubs, which might resemble medium-sized dogs in size and behavior, can develop bonds of affection and friendliness with their caregivers. However, as they mature, their innate wild instincts become more pronounced, leading to potential aggression, including bites or attacks.

Hyenas are opportunistic feeders in their natural habitats, consuming a wide array of foods from fresh meat and carrion to vegetables, birds, insects, rodents, and lizards.

For those considering a hyena as a pet, young cubs may be manageable indoors with a diet comprising meats, vegetables, and occasional fruits as treats according to Academia.edu. Nonetheless, adult hyenas require significantly more space and should ideally have access to both indoor and outdoor environments to accommodate their complex needs and behaviors.

  • Permit Required: Yes 
  • Weight: 90-140 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20-40 years
  • Care Level: Difficult
  • Diet: Anything
  • Trainable: No

12. Sloths: Slow-Moving Tree Lovers

Exotic pet species NY

The two-toed sloth stands as the sole species of sloth that individuals can legally own as a pet within the United States. While certain states have restrictions or outright bans on sloth ownership, New York State permits residents to keep sloths without needing a specific permit.

Known for their exceedingly slow pace, two-toed sloths are not equipped to survive independently in North America, presenting minimal risk to the environment or human safety due to their inability to consume local vegetation or display aggression towards humans.

Despite their harmlessness, two-toed sloths are not particularly engaging pets. They display little interest in affection or social interaction, either with other sloths or humans.

Originating from the jungles of Central and South America, two-toed sloths require a living environment that closely mirrors their natural habitat to flourish in captivity. This involves creating a space with ample sturdy trees and branches to accommodate their climbing habits, maintaining hot and humid conditions throughout the year, and providing a diet comprised solely of leaves found in their indigenous regions.

Highlighting the potential longevity of these creatures in captivity, a Linne two-toed sloth named Paula reached the notable age of 50 years old, showcasing the significant commitment required in caring for a sloth as a pet.

  •  Permit Required: No 
  • Weight: 9-17 pounds 
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Care Level: Medium 
  • Diet: Herbivore 
  • Trainable: No

13. Fennec Foxes: Desert Dwellers

Exotic pet care tips

Owning a fox is a unique aspiration for many, particularly due to their resemblance to dogs, featuring pointed muzzles and fluffy tails. Among fox species, the Fennec fox stands out as an ideal blend between a fox and a small dog, captivating those interested in exotic pets.

Adapted for desert life, Fennec foxes require extensive space to satisfy their need for exploration. They are sensitive to cold, struggling with temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, necessitating indoor housing during colder months or a specially heated enclosure to maintain a warm environment.

Known for their high energy levels and vocal nature, these foxes need ample room to engage in natural behaviors such as running, jumping, and digging, which are vital for their well-being.

Training Fennec foxes brings varied opinions. Some owners report success in litter box training and teaching basic commands through consistent care and positive reinforcement. However, others argue that the innate wild instincts of Fennec foxes limit their trainability.

Dietarily, Fennec foxes are omnivores with a preference for insects, small rodents, lizards, birds, bird eggs, roots, and vegetables. To meet their nutritional needs in captivity, owners often supplement their diet with cat and dog food, ensuring a balanced intake essential for their health.

  • Permit Required: Yes
  • Weight: 1.5-3.5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10-14 years
  • Care Level: Medium – Difficult
  • Diet: Omnivores
  • Trainable: Possible

Requirements for Exotic Animal Ownership in NY State

To legally own an exotic animal in New York, you’re required to obtain the necessary permits and licenses. These documents are essential and ensure that you’re aware and capable of the responsibility entailed in exotic pet ownership.

  • Permit Application: Engage with state-approved animal breeders or shelters who can guide you through the permit process.
  • Annual Renewal: Your exotic animal license must be renewed every year, an easy and affordable task.

Failure to possess proper documentation can lead to strict penalties, including fines and confiscation of your exotic pet by authorities. Such animals are then placed in sanctuaries or other secure facilities. Always verify your status to keep your exotic pet legally.

Exotic Pet Policies: State vs. City

In New York State, you may have the opportunity to own various exotic pets due to more lenient regulations, especially if you possess adequate space for their habitat. Ny landowners can maintain larger animals, such as kangaroos, as they have the required room to accommodate their natural behaviors and exercise needs, reducing the risk of incidents.

Conversely, in New York City, the rules are much stricter. The high population density amplifies the potential for issues if an exotic pet were to escape, leading to disruptions or even injuries. Owning the same species such as kangaroos in the city could lead to considerable challenges, like traffic disruptions or safety concerns for both the animal and city dwellers.

Key Differences:

  • Space: Sufficient enclosures are more feasible in NY State.
  • Population Density: The risk of an escaped animal causing disruption is higher in NYC.
  • Safety: Potential harm to the public or the animal itself factors into NYC’s strict regulations.


Can I own a raccoon in New York?
No, owning a raccoon as a pet is illegal in New York. State regulations prohibit the possession of wild animals, including raccoons, due to concerns over rabies and other health risks.
Can I own an owl in New York?
Owning an owl as a pet in New York is not permitted for the general public. Owls are protected under federal laws and require special permits, usually granted for educational or rehabilitation purposes, not for private ownership.
Can I own a skunk in New York?
No, it is illegal to own a skunk as a pet in New York. Skunks are considered wild animals and pose health risks, including rabies, making them unsuitable for domestication.
Can I own a fox in New York?
Owning a fox as a pet in New York requires a special license, and even then, it’s heavily regulated. Foxes are considered wild animals, and their ownership is typically restricted to educational or conservation purposes.
Are capybaras friendly?
Capybaras are known for their docile and social nature. They can be friendly when properly socialized and cared for, often forming strong bonds with their human caregivers. However, they require a lot of space and companionship to thrive.
Can I own a pet duck in New York?
Yes, you can own a pet duck in New York. However, certain municipalities may have specific regulations regarding the ownership of ducks, especially in urban areas. It’s important to check local ordinances before acquiring a duck as a pet.
Do capybara bites hurt?
Capybaras have strong teeth designed for grazing on grass and plants. While they are generally docile, a bite from a capybara could be painful due to the force and size of their teeth, especially if they feel threatened or scared.
What is the safest animal on earth?
The term “safest” can vary depending on context, but domesticated animals like dogs and cats are often considered safe due to their long history of human interaction and predictability. Other small, domesticated animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs also pose minimal risk to humans.
What is the most chill animal?
Sloths are often cited as the most chill animal due to their slow-moving nature and relaxed lifestyle in the treetops of tropical rainforests. They spend most of their time hanging from branches, eating leaves, and sleeping.

Final Words

Embarking on exotic pet ownership in New York requires understanding local laws and securing the right permits, but the effort rewards you with a unique companion. Whether it’s caring for a hedgehog, bonding with a fennec fox, or observing the gentle nature of a capybara, these experiences enrich your life in unexpected ways.

By adhering to New York’s guidelines, you ensure a safe and nurturing environment for your exotic pet, opening up a world of unique interactions and mutual respect. Welcome to a fulfilling journey with some of the most intriguing animals.


All information presented in this text is based on our own perspectives and experiences. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is a reflection of the personal views of the authors. It should not be taken as professional advice, nor should it be used as a basis for making significant decisions without consulting a qualified expert. We do not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of the information provided and shall not be held responsible for any inaccuracy, omissions, or inaccuracies. We highly recommend consulting with a qualified expert in the relevant field for personalized guidance or advice specific to your situation

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