If you are a budding Siegfried and Roy, you may be pleased to know that in many places of Nevada, you can legally own lions, tigers and other large cats without a permit. Other legal animals in some areas of Nevada are elephants, ostriches, monkeys, zebras and many other wild animals.
But chances are, the exotic animal you are interested in is not something large and dangerous, but something unusual, small and cute – say, a ferret or a hedgehog. It probably comes as a relief, therefore, to know that while Nevada laws are far from the most lenient in the country, they are far more lax than neighboring California.
In Nevada, pets such as ferrets, hedgehogs and gerbils make perfectly fine and legal friends. However, before you run out and buy that sugar-glider, you should check with the animal control division of your local county government to see if the animal you want is permitted where you live. Many counties and cities have stricter regulations than the state of Nevada when it comes to exotic animals.
Local restrictions on pets can be tougher than Nevada state laws
Animals that are legal as pets under Nevada state law but illegal in some localities -- Henderson and Clark Counties and the city of Las Vegas, for instance -- include monkeys, chimpanzees, lemurs, wild cats, wolves and wolf-hybrids, and most poisonous or large constrictor snakes.
However, while these animals are legal at least somewhere in Nevada, there are other animals you can't possess in Nevada unless you have a permit for a special use. Special use permits may be issued to qualified people for wildlife rehabilitation, capture of rescued or escaped animals or lawful use of animals in entertainment or science.
You are unlikely to be criminally prosecuted for possession of a small illegal pet, unless you also violate Nevada animal cruelty laws. But your animal can be confiscated and, in many cases, euthanized. If you are prosecuted it will be for a misdemeanor, which can be punished by up to 6 months jail time and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense. You may also be required to pay the costs of removing and caring for the animal as well as the county's legal costs.
Although not by any means a complete list, the following are five of the most common pets that are always illegal in Nevada:
Nevada Administrative Code 503.110 prohibits private ownership of all species of fox, including the adorable Vulpes zerda or Fennec fox (pictured above). Though not terribly common as pets, Fennecs are prized in the third or so of U.S. states in which they are legal due to their small size -- about 6 inches – and their large, bat-like ears.
Although it is illegal to own foxes in Nevada, it is legal to hunt certain species (not including Fennecs), in season. As always, check with the Nevada Department of Wildlife before hunting any animal.
Skunks are some of the most beautiful creatures in nature. Domesticated skunks -- that is skunks that have had their scent glands removed as babies -- are considered by some people to make good pets, though there is disagreement about whether this practice is cruel.
Wild skunks should never be kept as pets, even in the seventeen or so U.S. states in which keeping a skunk as a pet is legal. And, alas, Nevada isn't one of those states and it is illegal throughout the state of Nevada to own even a domesticated skunk.
Some people find raccoons adorable and they are legal as pets in many states (though they often require a permit). However, they are wild animals and most experts believe they do not make good pets. Raccoons are notorious for biting and can carry zoonotic parasites and infectious diseases such as rabies.
However, regardless of your opinion on the subject, it is always illegal to keep a raccoon as a pet in Nevada. Raccoons are also one of the species that may not be rehabilitated in Nevada.
Other animals that cannot be rehabilitated are coyotes, foxes, skunks, rats, mice, ground squirrels, bats, or any animal whose possession is prohibited under NAC 503.110 or by a county or city ordinance that applies to the premises or locations for which the permit is sought.
Wild, captured wolves
In Nevada, you may legally possess a wolf or wolf-hybrid as a pet IF it has been bred in captivity and lawfully acquired. However, many local county and municipal governments prohibit ownership of wolves and wolf-hybrids regardless of how they were raised, so it is best to check before obtaining one or moving to a new Nevada locale.
Wolves caught in the wild should not be kept as pets under any circumstances. You may, however, be able to obtain a Nevada Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit from the Department of Wildlife if you wish to rehabilitate (but not keep) a wild wolf.
Most states ban the keeping of bats as pets and Nevada is no exception. Although many people like the idea of owning a bat, it is generally agreed that keeping a pet as a bat is bad for both the animal and the would-be owner.
Aside from the fact that captivity is cruel to bats, bats are the most common source of rabies in the United States. If you find a bat in Nevada, your best bet is to leave it alone.
One final animal deserves mention in our article and it is the desert tortoise, which has been designated as threatened under both federally and Nevada law. It is illegal to handle a wild desert tortoise without federal and state authorization. You are, however, legally permitted to keep:
- One desert tortoise if it was in captivity before August 1990, or
- One progeny (offspring) of a desert tortoise that is legally in captivity.
Desert tortoises are not harmful to humans or their pets and are not considered a public safety threat.
We hope you will never face Nevada criminal charges or the loss of a beloved pet or for keeping an illegal animal in Nevada. If you do, however – or if you or a loved one is charged with a violation of Nevada's animal cruelty laws – we are here to help. Simply contact us via the form on this page or call our nearest office for a free consultation with one of our caring Nevada criminal defense lawyers. Also see our article, A Nevada animal cruelty charge can result in significant jail time.