What you need to know about Houston-area exotic animal laws

HOUSTONWith the discovery of a tiger outside a Houston home, many people are wondering if there are laws that regulate these types of animals.

There are rules at several levels of government regarding import and ownership of exotic animals, but it’s mainly left up to the states to decide how to regulate them.

Here’s a look at rules in Texas and the Houston area.


The state of Texas requires a permit to sell, purchase or possess animals that are considered dangerous, including bears, coyotes, cougars, chimps, lions and tigers.

Two bills have been introduced in the State Legislature, however, that would prohibit the private ownership of big cats, bears, great apes, hyenas, macaques and baboons. The bills contain exemptions for sanctuaries, breeders and exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Houston does not allow ownership of exotic animals unless the facility is a nationally accredited zoo.

Harris County

Harris County requires animals that are considered dangerous or wild to be registered with the county. There are also rules that govern where these types of animals can be kept and the signage that must be displayed at facilities that house them.

The following animals are considered dangerous:

  • apes
  • bears
  • binturongs
  • bobcats
  • cheetahs
  • cougars
  • coyotes
  • elephants
  • hyenas
  • jackals
  • jaguars
  • leopards
  • lesser pandas
  • lynxes
  • lions
  • ocelots
  • rhinoceroses
  • servals
  • tigers
  • wolves

The following animals are considered wild:

  • Non-domestic canids, including hybrids.
  • All non-domestic felids, including hybrids.
  • Non-domestic ungulates.
  • Non-human primates.

Read more about the Harris County regulations at HarrisCountyTX.gov.

Galveston County

The county has not allowed new permits for exotic animals since 2007.

Fort Bend County

Ownership of wild animals is prohibited.

Montgomery County

The county has established regulations regarding the ownership of dangerous wild animals, which appear to be very similar to rules in Harris County. The regulations also include a list of animals that are considered to be dangerous.

Read more about the Montgomery County regulations at mctxcao.org.