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12 Exotic Cat Breeds That Are Legal to Keep as Pets in U.S. (With Pictures)

In the United States, the average cat is probably the American Shorthaired. If a cat looks like a typical cat, then they probably are this breed. Many cats found at shelters are mixed breeds, but they tend to lean toward the American Shorthaired simply because this is one of the most popular breeds in this part of the world.

However, there are quite a few exotic breeds that are entirely legal to own in the United States. Some are only considered exotic in the U.S. because they look nothing like the American Shorthair.

The laws for each state in the U.S. are often different in regard to these unique cats. What is entirely legal in some states is banned in others. Some cat breeds may require a license to be owned in certain areas. Some places often have confusing and complicated laws, such as not exporting cats from other areas. This is because exotic cats like wildcats are not good to keep as pets. They are usually not domesticated, and they would probably rather live in the wild than in a human household. It’s much better to adopt a regular cat from a shelter than pay the often sky-high prices of an exotic cat. If you have your heart set on one, though, be sure to check your local laws before deciding to purchase an exotic cat.

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The 12 Exotic Cat Breeds That Are Legal to Keep as Pets in USA

1. Serval

serval cat_Anthony Murtagh_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Anthony Murtagh, Shutterstock

A Serval is an African wildcat that is legal in some areas of the U.S. They weigh about 20-40 pounds, which makes them about the size of a medium dog. They are tall and skinny, with cheetah-like patterns on their coat. They are somewhat similar to a cheetah and are often mistaken as such. However, they are much smaller.

These cats are aloof and independent. They will flee and hide from people they do not know and aren’t super affectionate. Typically, they are not threatening or dangerous to people unless they feel cornered. They would much rather flee when stressed out than have a confrontation.

In the wild, they eat small prey. Typically, this includes rats and similar rodents. They will occasionally take down a bird or small antelope. While in captivity, they will eat 2-3 pounds of meat a day. They are more of a runner than a climber, making them easier to care for than some other exotic cats. They don’t get into things quite as much or try to escape due to their preference to keep all their feet on the floor.

They don’t meow like domestic cats. Instead, much of their communication is done through hissing. This often means that their hissing isn’t necessarily bad. It is simply the only way that they can communicate.

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2. Caracal Cats

Caracal cat_Kristin Guyer, Pixabay
Image Credit: Kristin Guyer, Pixabay

This feline is native to Africa, the Middle East, India, and Central Asia. They have a large range of weight possibilities, from 19 to 40 pounds. Females are significantly smaller than males, though. In the wild, these cats prey on small mammals, rodents, and occasionally antelopes.

These cats act similarly to how you would expect a domestic cat to act. They are playful and interact with their owners, but only when they want to. They seem to have the independence of a domestic feline but to the extreme. They can ignore their owners for days before deciding that they want cuddle time. They are more active than other cats. If not properly exercised, they can exhibit destructive behaviors, such as tearing up furniture. They need an enclosed area to run and play, so “catios” are often recommended. These outdoor areas need to be much larger than those for domestic cats, though.

Like many medium-sized wild cats, Caracal cats will hiss to communicate just about everything. It can sound threatening, but these cats are rarely aggressive toward people.

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3. Ocelots

Ocelot cat_COULANGES_Shutterstock
Image Credit: COULANGES, Shutterstock

Ocelots are sometimes kept as domestic pets. However, they are illegal in many areas and quite rare. Unlike other cats on this list, there are no domestic breeders in the United States, so they tend to be quite a bit wilder than other cats as well. They are generally more challenging pets.

Ocelots will refuse to listen to people due to their fierce independence. They are challenging to train and will not pay attention to any commands. They can be somewhat playful with their people, but they tend to be aloof and would rather spend time alone.

These cats are not that social and will hide whenever visitors come over. They are not recommended for most pet owners, as they don’t adapt well to houses. There is a reason that they are rarely kept as pets.

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4. Canadian Lynx

Canadian Lynx_Jukka Jantunen_shutterstock
Credit: Jukka Jantunen, Shutterstock

As the name suggests, this Lynx is native to northern North America. They are extremely active climbers and prefer to be above everyone else. The home needs to be designed with that in mind. If you don’t provide this cat with appropriate places to climb, they will find places to sit high up. This often means that they will get into things that they shouldn’t and attempt to climb things that cannot hold them, like TVs.

They don’t bond closely with people and generally live solitary lives. However, they are adaptable and not too temperamental and can fit into human life with some ease. Just don’t expect them to interact quite as much as domestic cats. They’re far more prone to do their own thing than play. They are one of the few exotic cats on this list that doesn’t like being walked, perhaps because they prefer to climb.

They do have rather thick fur and shed quite a bit. Grooming is often required.

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5. Bobcats

Bobcat_Piqsels
Image Credit: Piqsels

These short, muscle cats are native to North America. This is one of the few exotic cats that enjoy being around people and will often bond with their owners. However, they are also one of the few cats that can kill a human adult. Therefore, they are quite dangerous to keep if they are not raised properly. They are similar to large dogs in this way, except dogs have long been domesticated.

They are not recommended in households with children due to their size and strength. They can easily injure and even kill a small child. Supervision is constantly required, but sometimes that isn’t enough for these fast cats.

When raised by people, Bobcats can be friendly and affectionate. Finding a high-quality breeder for these cats is necessary, as the correct care is often required to ensure that these cats are safe as pets.

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6. Asian Leopard Cat

Asian Leopard cat_Rosa Jay_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Rosa Jay, Shutterstock

Asian Leopard Cats are sometimes kept as pets, but they’re not ideal. They are nocturnal and extremely shy. Most will hide from humans and take an extremely long time to warm up to their owners. They are hardly ever accepting of visitors or anyone from outside the household. They are easily startled and will run or become aggressive. However, if socialized extensively, they can turn into relatively docile pets.

Often, this cat requires a license to own. They can be challenging to purchase legally and require specific documentation. Some subspecies are endangered, which makes them even more challenging to own. The laws vary heavily by state.

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7. Jungle Cat

jungle cat Felis Chaus_Matt gibson_shutterstock
Image Credit: Matt Gibson, Shutterstock

This large cat is native to Asia, Egypt, and Sri Lanka. They are often used to create domestic hybrids, so they are one of the easier cats to locate and adopt. They usually live for 15 to 20 years when kept in captivity and adequately cared for.

They are nervous, docile cats that will spend much of their time hiding. They are skittish around loud noises and multiple people. The Jungle Cat is best suited for quiet households and single owners. They need quite a bit of privacy, so ensure that you provide them with plenty of hiding spots around the house. You can also keep them in a large, outside enclosure for much of the time if you cannot provide privacy otherwise.

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8. Geoffroy’s Cat

Geoffroy's cat_Martin Mecnarowski_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Martin Mecnarowski, Shutterstock

The Geoffroy’s Cat is the smallest wildcat. They only weigh about 4 to 8 pounds when fully grown, making them much smaller than most of the other cats on this list. They are not that dangerous to people for this reason, which may be why many are kept as pets. They are similar in size to a domestic cat, though they don’t act quite the same.

While they are bred in captivity, these cats are rare. They have a relatively small gene pool in captivity, making breeding a bit more complicated than it is with other cats.

Their smaller size makes them timid and more docile than other exotic felines. They take a while to train and require extensive socialization if they are to live in a household. Many are prone to stress-related problems due to their difficulty adapting to life as pets, even if they were raised in captivity. They are not that social, though they will bond with people if given the time and effort. They need a relatively quiet area to thrive, so we don’t recommend them for larger families.

If they feel cornered, these cats can become aggressive. While they are relatively small, they can cause quite a bit of damage. You still need to treat them like a wild cat, even if they aren’t much bigger than a domestic one.

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9. Siberian Lynx

Siberian Lynx_slowmotiongli_shutterstock
Image Credit: slowmotiongli, Shutterstock

The Siberian Lynx is an entirely different species from the Canadian Lynx, though they are similar. Both species are Lynxes, so they tend to act similarly when kept as domestic pets. They are rarer and more difficult to find in the U.S., however. This is likely because anyone interested in a cat of this sort typically purchases a Canadian Lynx, as these are less expensive and easier to find.

Males are usually quite a bit larger than females and can weigh up to 80 pounds. A cat that size can quickly kill an adult human if they wanted to, so extra care needs to be taken when owning one of these animals as a pet. Females are much smaller and can weigh as little as 40 pounds, though that is still large as far as cats are concerned.

These Lynxes are playful and hyperactive. They need a great deal of exercise and room to roam. Otherwise, they may become bored and get into trouble. Owners often recommend having an outdoor area for them to run around in, even if you plan to have them spend much of their time inside. They like walking on a leash and are known for having a dog-like temperament.

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10. Savannah Cat

Savannah cat_Lindasj22_shutterstock
Image Credit: Lindasj22, Shutterstock

The Savannah cat is the best of both worlds. They are a mix between a domestic cat and a Serval. Often, they are sold by generation. F1 Savannah cats have the most Serval blood, so they are larger and act more like wild cats. As you move down the line, the cats get smaller and tamer. This allows you to choose the exact mix of wild and domestic that you need for your life.

Cats with savannah coloring are often more expensive than those that inherit a domestic pattern. If you’re willing to give up the wild-looking pattern, then you can potentially save quite a bit on these cats. There are many breeders in the U.S., but demand is relatively high. You often have to wait a while before one of these cats is made available to you.

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11. Chausie

Chausie cat_Tania__Wild_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Tania__Wild, Shutterstock

The Chausie is a hybrid cat that is a mix between a Jungle Cat and a domestic cat. they were first bred and recognized in 1995, so they have been around for longer than some other cats. Most of the Chausie cats that are sold are the fourth generation, so they are quite tame. These cats are also fully fertile, which isn’t true for cats higher up on the family tree.

In general, these cats are intelligent and outgoing. This does depend on the domestic cat that was used in the breeding, however. Chausies can be hyperactive and seem to be all over the place as kittens. Adults tend to calm down a bit and are quieter, though they are still more playful than your average cat.

Unlike many cats on this list, the Chausie does not like being alone. They require regular human contact to remain happy. They can get along with other cats and even dogs if they are raised next to them. They usually cannot be successfully rehomed as adults, so be sure you can commit to their whole lifespan before adopting one.

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12. Bengal Cat

bengal cat_Gidon Pico, Pixabay
Image Credit: Gidon Pico, Pixabay

This hybrid is created by breeding a domestic cat with an Asian Leopard cat. The domestic cat breed is typically an Egyptian Mau, as they are spotted and resemble an Asian Leopard cat. They have a wild-like appearance and a gleaming coat. Many people choose these cats due to their appearance, but it is crucial to ensure that you have space and the ability to care for them.

They are incredibly energetic cats, which often means that they need plenty of play and exercise. If their needs aren’t met, they can become irritable and try to make their fun. Typically, this involves destructive behaviors and getting into things that they shouldn’t. They require more work than your average cat due to their high mental and physical stimulation needs.

These cats are regulated in a few different states and outright banned in some cities. Cats in the F5 generation and further are considered entirely legal, though, and can be kept in most places.

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Summary

Exotic cats often require far more work and planning than your average domestic cat. Even hybrids require quite a bit of time from their owners, though this often doesn’t mean they’re more affectionate or loving. Many are not as adaptable to human homes, which means they are not an excellent fit for everyone.

This means that you need to be completely aware of what you’re getting into before making your purchase. Exotic cats are often only suitable for particular people.

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Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

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