Is it legal to own a rusty-spotted cat?

Rusty-spotted cat
Rusty-spotted cat. Cute yes. Not cute to own one though. Pic in public domain on Reddit.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The thought of owing a rusty-spotted cat is quite popular judging by the Google searches:

Is it legal to own a rusty-spotted cat?
Is it legal to own a rusty-spotted cat? It depends where you are.

Note: this article is in 3 parts for tech reasons. Sorry. There is a link to next part at the end of each section. Thanks.


The answer depends on where you are and I am referring to the country or the state in the USA. In the UK, it is legal to own a rusty-spotted cat. You don’t need a licence to own a rusty-spotted cat in the UK, which greatly surprises me, because it is an exception to the list of dangerous wild animals as set out in the schedule to The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007 (a ‘statutory instrument’). Note: I have amended this section on May 7, 2022 having noticed that this cat is ‘excepted’ from the list of designated dangerous wild animals.

The reason must be because of its size. It is probably considered to be no more dangerous than a domestic cat. However, this diminutive cat has the mind of a lion ?. I have some doubts about the drafting of this statutory instrument so please check with the local authority. I would suggest that this statutory instrument is badly drafted and there are errors in it but I don’t know the history behind it.

The rusty-spotted cat would, however, continue to be protected once owned under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Moral dimension and conservation

However, there is also the moral dimension which I’ll get out of the way. I know it is boring but it is necessary to touch on this. Arguably, it is immoral to own a rusty-spotted cat as a pet because this is a wild cat species. It is the smallest species of wild cat and probably the smallest cat on the planet which is why people who’d normally adopt a domestic cat might want to adopt this little feline. It is exotic, special and very cute looking but its behaviour is not cute.

This cat is not domesticated and it should be allowed to live peaceably in its habitat in the wild. To try and own one as a domestic cat is both foolhardy and wrong. It is also quite possibly doomed to failure. It is reputed to be a fierce fighter with one in captivity viciously attacking a gazelle fawn without any fear. There was great difficulty in getting it off. It is small but if you listened to it screaming in your living room, you’d probably be scared shitless or your wife or child would. Or you’d better get a gallon of enzyme cleaner to get rid of the smell of pee sprayed all over your favourite carpet or sofa when it marks territory.

And they are incredibly agile climbers and movers. Believe it or not they are substantially better movers than domestic cats. They have great grace and agility in their movements and dart around like squirrels.

Then there are the conservation issues. In the wild, the population of this species is declining because of human activities. If you buy one, where did it come from? The wild? A zoo? Someone stole a cub from their mother? None of it is good and it’s bad for conservation.

To recap: morally, ethically and practically it is not a good idea to own one. But is it illegal?

26 thoughts on “Is it legal to own a rusty-spotted cat?”

    • California has strict laws on the keeping of exotic animals. At a guess it would be probited entirely to keep a rusty-spotted cat or at best you’d need a license that would probably contain demanding conditions. Please don’t even think about it. They look cute but they are wild animals and even if you could keep one they’d mess up your life because of the demands on your time.

  1. I want to own a rusty spotted cat when I move to Texas next year, I’ve tried looking it up many times but I can’t seem to find anything saying if it is illegal or not. If you could help that’d be great.

    • Karlie, I have various pages on keeping wild cats as pets in Texas one of which concerns the bobcat and another the serval. There are others. You’ll need a license to keep a rusty-spotted cat. There will be conditions. Here is the page:

      Ask yourself if it is a good idea to have a rusty-spotted cat as a pet. They can’t be true pets. They are wild cats behaving like wild cats. You might be able to tame your cat but that won’t be enough to call them a ‘pet’.

      The cat will change your life – a lot of it negatively.

      And think about conservation. Where will the rusty-spotted cat that you buy – if you can buy one – come from? From the wild? Torn from its mother as a kitten?

      I don’t want to sound negative but I am being realistic. Far better to adopte a rescue cat from a shelter. Good luck though and thanks for asking.

    • It’ll be a little complicated as laws vary between states/provinces. However, in general, the rusty-spotted cat will be illegal in Canada unless possessed under a license. Although there may be a complete ban. The rusty-spotted cat is not one of those species such as the serval or caracal which is occasionally legalised as a pet in America. It is a pure, endangered wild cat species despite looking a bit like a pet. It is not a pet. So, I’d presume that the rusty-spotted cat is illegal in Canada! I’ll do a page on this eventually. Thanks for commenting. Disagree with me? Please comment some more.

  2. Hello, Mr. Broad. I appreciate you composing this informative piece on this intriguing cat species. I live in NY and there are some pretty stringent laws here regarding owning exotic animals like the rusty spotted cat. Is it legal to own one here? I’m not interested in purchasing one, as they are wild animals. However, considering that we can own fennec foxes with a special permit, I was wondering if we could own this particular species of wild cat too. Thanks for your time!

    • New York state

      New York state is quite advanced in terms of animal welfare compared to most other American states. For example, they have a statewide ban on cat declawing, one of only two US states to do that. I would classify New York state and California as the two leading American states on animal welfare.

      In general terms, is unlawful for a person to possess a wild animal in New York state. That includes all members of the felidae family i.e. cat family except of course for domestic cats. That information comes from the Born Free website.

      The relevant statute numbers are as follows as per this website: Citation: N.Y. ENVTL. CONSERV. §11-0103, §11-0303, §11-0511, §11-0512, §11-0516, §11-0103, and §11-0917; N.Y. AGRIC. & MKTS. §370.

      The site indicates to me that a person could apply to obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation within 60 days if they are found to be in possession of a wild animal in violation of these laws.

      The official website of the city of New York, incidentally, states that all cats other than domesticated cats i.e. all undomesticated cats cannot be kept as pets. Therefore, it is illegal to keep them as pets. This would include the popular, diminutive small wild cat species the rusty-spotted cat.


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