Do Otters Make Good Pets?
Keeping a pet otter may seem tempting because they are adorably playful and curious. However, many states do not allow otters to be kept as pets. Very few states allow otters, but some may allow this animal with special permitting and licensing. Keep in mind that any otter species is a wild animal that will need specialized care, housing, and diet to stay happy and healthy. Of course, before deciding to purchase a pet otter, do your research to ensure you have the right applications, permits, and licenses in your particular state.
In all states where otters are legal to be kept as pets, the only species that can be owned is the Asian-clawed otter. Because Asian otters are not marine animals, they are not federally protected. Sea otters on the other hand are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes them federally illegal to own. It is important to get a pet otter from an individual or group that sells exotic animals because removing one from the wild can be dangerous.
In Which States Can I Have a Pet Otter?
North Carolina will allow several exotic animals to be kept as pets and has very few pet ownership restrictions. Native mammals, however, are regulated, and you need a permit to house them or to use them for educational, exhibition, or scientific purposes. Asian otters are unregulated without a permit because they are not native species. However, local jurisdictions within North Carolina’s specific counties or cities may have laws prohibiting exotic animals.
A simple Wildlife Hobby Permit is usually all that is needed to keep exotic pets in Missouri which will allow the owner to keep one animal under the permit. River otters are specifically mentioned as animals that can be owned in the state with a permit. There are also specific guidelines for the cage size required to keep a river otter. Asian otters are not mentioned, implying they are legal without special permitting.
Florida uses a similar classification system to Missouri that categorizes exotic animals into Class I, which are the most dangerous, and Class III animals which don't harm the general public. Animals not specially mentioned in Class I and Class II automatically fall into Class III. Because otters are not specifically mentioned, they fall under Class III regulations which means they need a simple permit for care. Otter care is closely monitored to ensure proper enrichment is provided. Because of its climate, Florida is a popular state for owning exotic pets.
In Nebraska, only a Captive Wildlife Permit is needed to keep river otters. This permit costs $33 to purchase and to obtain it, a conservation officer will visit your house to ensure you have the proper enclosure and habitat for your pet otter to thrive. Because they are not mentioned directly as prohibited wildlife in the state, Asian otters are either legal with a permit or are not regulated.
Otters are considered "game animals” in Michigan so they apply under game animal laws. This classification means that only native otters are legal which includes the river otter. You can keep an otter as a pet with the proper permits that allow you to house game animals in captivity. They will need to be kept in an enclosure that is at least 10’ x 8’ x 6’. The enclosure must be increased by 40 square feet horizontally for each additional animal. The otter will also need access to a separate den at least 4 feet cubed.
The permit needed to keep an otter in North Dakota is called a Non-Traditional Livestock Permit. Otters are considered a category 2 animal, which means they are somewhere between domesticated animals and dangerous animals. Pet owners can get a permit once a local wildlife officer inspects their facility to ensure the right size, shape, and enclosure are in place.
In Nevada, rules are pretty relaxed for large carnivores that cannot be owned in other U.S. states. River otters do not appear to be restricted at all. Nevada even lists “marine mammals” as requiring no permit to export, import, or own as a pet. However, it is important to remember that marine mammals are illegal to own because of their status as federally protected species.