When most Canadians think about taking on the responsibility of owning a pet, getting a dog, cat, budgie, goldfish, hamster, or lizard typically comes to mind.
Yet, there are a wide range of rarer and more unique animals that fall off the beaten path when it comes to pet ownership. Below is an overview of 10 exotic animals that can be legally owned as pets in Canada and links to rules for each province at the bottom.
Note: While it should go without saying, just because it’s legal (or rather, not illegal) to own an exotic pet, doesn’t mean its a good idea for you and the animal. Pets require you to commit time, energy and money to their health, well-being and the safety of both them and other people. For more, see are you ready to get an exotic pet?
1. Potbellied pigs
- Average Lifespan: 12 to 18 years
- Average Height/Weight: 38 to 42 cm, 35 to 60 lbs
- Best Aspect: Intelligent and trainable
- Biggest Downside: May be destructive when bored
These adorable little guys (and gals) are quickly becoming the norm as a common household pet, thanks to their intelligence, and the fact that they can be trained to perform a variety tricks, just like a dog. It’s important to note, as cute and sweet as potbellied pigs are, they do require a lot of food, plenty of exercise, and can get destructive when they get bored (and this can happen pretty easily).
- Average Lifespan: 8 to 10 years
- Average Height/Weight: 50 to 62 cm, 75 to 150 lb
- Best Aspect: Very social
- Biggest Downside: Need a lot of attention
Looking for a larger-than-life furry friend? Capybaras are basically over-sized hamsters! Stemming from South America, they can grow up to be as big as 170 pounds, larger than a mid-sized dog. While they could make a great Canadian pet, they do need a ton of attention, plus some specialty items to accommodate their needs. They require a pool for swimming, and non-toxic grass. If you have little ones, you may want to wait before adding this exotic animal to the family, as they can also get aggressive, and have sharp teeth.
3. Mini donkey
- Average Lifespan: 28 to 32 years
- Average Height/Weight: 91 cm, 200 to 450 lb.
- Best Aspect: Affectionate
- Biggest Downside: Stubborn
If you live out in the country, or have a nice large backyard, consider adding a mini donkey to your family. These animals need an open field for grazing and exercising, as well as a salt lick and hay for maintenance. It’s also important to note that they can live for about 25-35 years, so deciding on this animal as a pet can truly be a lifelong commitment.
4. Sugar glider
- Average Lifespan: 8 to 10 years
- Average Height/Weight: 24 to 30 cm, 0.25 to 0.3 lb
- Best Aspect: Playful
- Biggest Downside: Need a lot of attention
They look just as sweet as they sound! Part of the marsupial family (along with koala bears and kangaroos), they get their “sugar glider” name thanks to a membrane they have that allows them to stretch from their wrists to ankles, which essentially has them gliding in the air. They’re pretty smart too, and can be trained much like a dog, remembering their name and performing tricks and such.
Still, there is a catch with sugar gliders – they are colony animals – meaning, if you adopt one, you’ll have to adopt at least two more, as they prefer to live with other sugar gliders. Failing to do so can cause the animal to become depressed.
5. Fennec fox
- Average Lifespan: 10 to 13 years
- Average Height/Weight: 20 cm, 1.5 to 3.5 lb
- Best Aspect: Can learn to use litter box
- Biggest Downside: Barking
Hard to think of a fox as a pet, where in many areas of Canada, pet owners struggle to protect their cats and dogs from this animal; however, the truth is, they can be fairly friendly, with the energy of dog, and can be trained to use the litter box like a cat.
While they do spend a lot of time sleeping, owning this exotic pet can keep you busy between their feeding, playtime, and socialization. They also tend to bark quite a bit, so if you have neighbours who aren’t fans of loud animals noises, perhaps the fennec fox isn’t for you.
- Average Lifespan: 3 to 6 years
- Average Height/Weight: 8 to 12 cm long, 1 to 3 lb
- Best Aspect: Low maintenance
- Biggest Downside: Tough to hold
If you are looking for an alternative to a hamster or guinea pig, a hedgehog may be the right exotic pet for you. They don’t require too much time on maintenance, just regular feedings and cage cleaning, and spend most of the day sleeping as they are nocturnal. While their outer skin is prickly, these animals are cute as heck, and a little shy too – so it’ll take time for them to warm up to you and their surroundings.
7. Hyacinth macaw
- Average Lifespan: 50 to 60+ years
- Average Height/Weight: 100 cm, 3 to 4 lb
- Best Aspect: Can learn words and phrases
- Biggest Downside: Noisy
If you are more inclined to a feathered friend, the hyacinth macaw is part of the parrot family, and can be a very sweet and smart pet. With that said, they are on the endangered species list, and can cost a pretty penny with a price tag of over $10,000 for each bird. They can also get aggressive and loud if not socialized properly, or given ample room to fly around and exercise.
8. Muntjac deer
- Average Lifespan: 10 to 14 years
- Average Height/Weight: 45 to 52 cm, 20 to 25 lb
- Best Aspect: Affectionate and love to play
- Biggest Downside: Bark/scream
Hailing from Southeast Asia, the leaf muntjac is the smallest deer of the breed and can grow up to an average height of 20 inches, weighing a mere 10-20 pounds. They can be trained to respond to their own names, use a litter box (just like a cat), and can live both outdoors or indoors; however, those who own a muntjac deer must ensure to set up a safe fence around their home.
9. Pygmy goat
- Average Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
- Average Height/Weight: 40 to 60cm, 75 lbs.
- Best Aspect: Friendly
- Biggest Downside: Noisy
If you are looking for a high-energy pet, a pygmy goat may be a good option. They have a certain liveliness to them, and spend much of their day simply prancing around. In fact, they make great pets as they are easy to handle, friendly, and very social. They are fine to roam in an average-heighted backyard, but tend to get a little noisy at times, so this could cause an issue with neighbours.
- Average Lifespan: 20 years
- Average Height/Weight: 54 to 62 cm, 18 to 40 lb.
- Best Aspect: High energy, playful
- Biggest Downside: Difficult to contain
Servals are part of the Savannah cat family and share a similar fur pattern to cheetahs. They can get up to 40 pounds when they mature, and tend to be more active at night, and sleepy during the day. With that said, these animals are allowed in most Canadian provinces, but restricted by generations. A fine example of this is that Alberta only allows F4 generations or lower (i.e. F5, F6, etc.) of the serval within the province.
Are you ready to get an exotic pet?
After “is it legal?”, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it safe for myself and others around me?
- Is it compatible with other pets? Humans?
- Do I have time for its routine requirements (feeding, walking, bathing, playing, etc.)?
- Do I have access to suitable veterinary care?
- Can I afford to feed, shelter and pay for its vet bills?
- Can I shelter it safely with enough space?
- Will the smell/noise/sight of it bother me or my neighbours?
Exotic Pets and Canadian Law
Below is an overview of how each province and territory regulates exotic animals, if any needed applications/registrations/permits are needed, and whether or not they are overseen at either the provincial or municipal level. It’s important to note that regardless of what province someone resides in, a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permit might be needed.
This province has some thorough regulations around exotic pet ownership, and in most cases, a permit is required for most of these types of animals. While no certain species are prohibited, the province does have specific rules around specific animals, and there may also be municipal guidelines that are in affect when it comes to your pet. It is advised that before you fully decide to take on an exotic pet, contact the Fish and Wildlife Office in your area to determine if a permit is needed, and the steps around this process.
In BC, exotic animals are referred to as “controlled alien species”, and the province compiled a list of over 1,000 of these animals in 2009 in an effort to regulate these species due to the potential threat they pose to property, wildlife and wildlife habitat, as well as people.
In some instances, individuals that live in BC may be allowed to possess controlled alien species, and in these cases, possession permits need to be applied for. There are more than 22 municipal governments in the province that have their own bylaws when it comes to these regulations around these types of animals, and these may be more restrictive than what the province has laid out.
Manitoba has a makeshift of province-wide laws when it comes to exotic pet ownership, with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities recently creating guidelines around possession. Those in this province should reach out to municipalities when it comes to what kind of animals are prohibited, and what permit requirements are needed. Individuals can also call or email Manitoba’s Sustainable Development department for further direction.
Exotic pets require a permit, unless listed under Schedule A of the province’s Fish and Wildlife Act, which exempts just over 40 species. For more information, or if you have specific questions, contact New Brunswick’s Environment and Local Government department.
Newfoundland and Labrador
The province offers an insight on all species that can enter without a permit via the Wildlife Act of Newfoundland. It’s important to note that all others require a permit, and it is the responsibility of the pet owner to do so. The province has also provided a clear outline around exotic pet ownership via a recent brochure.
No specific species are banned from entering this territory; however, permits are needed, as well as a health certificate from a veterinarian stating that the animal is free from disease and in good health. Once the application is submitted, an individual must wait on approval from the Deputy Minister for a decision.
Nova Scotia offers a nice outline around animals that are prohibited in the province, and those not on this list simply require a permit.
This Canadian territory has a lax view on exotic pets, with no specific laws around ownership. Their Wildlife Act deals mostly with native species that reside in the region.
Surprisingly, Ontario is currently the only province in Canada that lacks formal province-wide legislation as it relates to exotic animal ownership. The power around this was given to municipalities via the 2003 Ontario Municipal Act, therefore, exotic animal bylaws are not standardized, and can vary between cities and townships across the province. Ensure to check with local municipalities to confirm requirements and review animal by-laws in your area.
Prince Edward Island
PEI has a comprehensive list of animals that are prohibited, and permits are not only required for ownership, but for selling or importing specific species as well. If your exotic pet escapes, owners are also responsible for recapturing them, as well as any costs linked with all this.
Quebec is one of the few provinces that offers extensive specifics around which exotic animals don’t (and do) require permits for ownership.
Much like Quebec, Saskatchewan offers an outline of specific animals that do require permits for ownership in the province, and those that do not. While there aren’t animals that are outright banned from Saskatchewan, the government has not been issuing out permits for certain species for some time now. It’s also important to note, that municipal governments in the province also have bylaws when it comes to exotic pets, around control and regulation.
Yukon’s Wildlife Act currently has a ban on all animals that are “not indigenous to the Yukon and that in its natural habitat is usually found wild in nature”. Therefore, if you reside in this area of Canada, there’s no leeway when it comes to exotic pet ownership in this region.
Local and municipal bylaws
If your province doesn’t have any rules against keeping the animal you’re considering as a pet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. Keeping farm and exotic animals within city limits is against the law in many municipalities, so check your local bylaws before proceeding.
What to read next
Over to you
We’re interested to know – which one of these animals would you want most as a pet? Did we miss any that are allowed in Canada? Let us know by leaving a comment below!