Owning an otter as a pet can seem appealing, but is it legal in Texas? With their playful nature and cute faces, it’s easy to see why some may be interested in having an otter as a pet. However, there are many considerations when it comes to owning exotic animals like otters in the state of Texas.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: otters cannot legally be kept as pets in the state of Texas without proper permits and licensing. Keep reading to learn more.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover whether it’s legal or not to own an otter in Texas, permits required, steps to take, pros and cons of having an otter as a pet, their care requirements, potential costs and more to help you make an informed decision.

Is It Legal to Have an Otter as a Pet in Texas?

Owning an otter as a pet in Texas can be quite tricky due to the state’s exotic animal laws. While they are undeniably adorable, otters require very specific care and housing needs that make them unsuitable pets for most people.

Texas Laws on Exotic Pet Ownership

In Texas, it is legal to own an otter with the proper permits and licensing. However, Texas has fairly strict laws regarding exotic pets to protect public health and safety:

  • Otters are considered nongame wildlife, so a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Nongame Permit is required.
  • Otters fall under the category of “dangerous wild animals”, so a certificate of registration from local animal control is also needed.
  • There are minimum enclosure requirements for dangerous exotics like otters.
  • Owners must carry $100,000 in liability insurance.
  • It is illegal to take native otters from the wild in Texas.

These laws are in place because otters are still wild animals with special needs. Their adorable appearance can lead people to underestimate how demanding they are as pets.

Required Permits and Licensing for Otters in Texas

Here are the main permits and licenses needed to legally own an otter in Texas:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Nongame Permit:

This permit allows Texans to possess “protected nongame wildlife” like otters. Permit holders must adhere to regulations on habitat conditions, handling, and transportation.

Local Certificate of Registration for Dangerous Wild Animals:

Otters fall under Texas’ definition of dangerous exotics, so a certificate from your city or county animal control is mandatory. This verifies your enclosures meet size standards and you have proper safety protocols.

USDA Class C Exhibitor License:

Though not required by Texas for personal pets, many experts recommend getting this federal license. It shows you can properly care for exotic animals and allows transporting otters across state lines.

Obtaining all these permits takes time and preparation. Prospective owners should thoroughly research otter behavior and housing needs before acquiring one legally in Texas.

Steps to Take to Own an Otter Legally in Texas

1. Research Extensively on Otter Care Requirements

Owning an otter is a major commitment that requires extensive preparation. Before getting an otter, you must comprehensively research their specialized care, housing, dietary, socialization, and enrichment needs (Otter Specialists).

Otters are highly intelligent, active animals that need plenty of space to swim and play. They are social and live in family groups in the wild. Allowing them to live solo is cruel. You need to be prepared to not just provide food but fulfill their other complex needs.

2. Ensure You Have Proper Facilities

Otters require a very specific habitat to thrive that replicates their natural environment (World Otter Day). At minimum, you need a large outdoor pond, an indoor pool, and dry resting areas they can enter and leave easily.

The habitat area should have features that allow digging, climbing, running around through tunnels, and playing with toys. An enriched habitat keeps them physically and mentally stimulated. You also need backup power in case of electrical failure to run filtration and heating systems for temperature regulation.

3. Obtain Proper Licensing and Permits

In Texas, owning any exotic pet requires permits from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). Depending on the species of otter, you may need both state and federal exotic animal permits. Some species like the Giant Otter are listed as endangered. Their possession requires permits from the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Violating animal welfare and exotic pet regulations can result in criminal charges, fines up to $10,000 per violation, and confiscation of animals.

4. Find a Reputable Breeder or Rescue

Never acquire pet otters from unethical breeders or illegal wildlife traders. Work only with reputable AZA-accredited facilities that responsibly breed otters while maintaining high standards of animal welfare and care.

Responsible rescues like the Otter Sanctuary sometimes have otters in need of adoption. Adopting rescues prevents enabling and funding the exotic pet trade that continues capturing wild otters. Ensure to pick otters appropriate for a pet environment and not candidates for release back into the wild.

Pros and Cons of Owning an Otter in Texas


Owning an otter in Texas can be an incredibly rewarding experience for the right owner. Here are some of the main benefits of having an otter as a pet in the Lone Star State:

  • Otters are highly intelligent and lively animals that make for engaging pets. They are naturally curious and playful, providing endless entertainment.
  • It can be deeply satisfying to form a close bond with these charismatic creatures. Otters are very social animals that often form strong attachments to their owners.
  • Watching otters play and interact is an amusing spectacle that brings joy. Their antics and expressions are endearing to observe.
  • Otters are nimble, semiaquatic mammals that can be trained to perform an array of tricks and tasks above and underwater.
  • Their thick, water-repellent fur makes them well suited to Texas’ climate extremes. Otters remain comfortable in heat, humidity, and during winter months.
  • Otters are small enough to be accommodated indoors but active enough to appreciate outdoor space. A pool or pond is ideal if available.

Provided they receive proper care and housing, otters can thrive as pets in Texas. Their captivating nature and behaviors bring unique companionship.


While otters can make for alternative pets, there are also notable downsides to consider:

  • Otters are high maintenance animals with specialized dietary, housing, and care requirements. Their needs can be challenging for owners to meet long-term.
  • They are energetic and require ample daily stimulation. Bored otters often become destructive.
  • Otters are prone to emitting loud screeches/whistles and frequent, smelly droppings. This can disturb neighbors.
  • Their powerful jaws and sharp claws allow them to damage furnishings, clothing, etc. Vigilant supervision is necessary.
  • Being semiaquatic, otters need access to water for lengthy swimming and diving daily. This entails maintenance.
  • Otters are adept escape artists. Outdoor housing must be very secure with proper fencing/covers.
  • Obtaining and keeping permits required for otter ownership can be an arduous process with inspections.
  • Vet care for otters is limited; exotic pet specialists may be sparse in one’s region of Texas.

The considerable commitments involved make otters unsuitable pets for many. Passion and resources are needed to provide good welfare.

Otter Care Guide for Prospective Owners

Housing Requirements

Otters are highly active animals that need ample space to swim and play. The minimum enclosure size for one Asian small-clawed otter is 76 square feet, but more space is better. Otters are semiaquatic, so their enclosure must contain both dry areas and a large pool for swimming.

The water should be at least 3 feet deep. Ideal housing has an above-ground pool attached to a wire cage or fenced dry area. The enclosure must be escape-proof with a secure top or roof.

Diet and Feeding

Otters eat a variety of whole prey items including fish, crustaceans, amphibians, small reptiles, and sometimes birds. Frozen or fresh seafood like shrimp, crawfish, clams, and squid should make up 25-30% of their diet. The rest should be a commercial carnivore diet formulated for otters or ferrets.

Feed them 2-3 small meals per day and provide clean drinking water at all times. Otter treats can include meat baby food, crickets, worms, and fruits like melon.

Enrichment and Playtime

Because otters are smart and energetic, they need lots of enrichment to keep them occupied. Provide puzzle feeders, tunnels, and toys to play with. Allow them daily supervised time outside their enclosure to explore and play.

Have shallow pans of water or a kiddie pool available so they can swim and splash outside their main habitat. Otters also love to play games like fetch or chase with their owners.

Grooming and Hygiene

With their dense fur, otters require frequent brushing and occasional baths to stay clean. Brush their coat 2-3 times per week using a stiff bristle brush to remove loose fur and dirt. Trim their claws every couple weeks.

Bathe otters as needed using gentle animal shampoo and be sure to rinse thoroughly. Provide multiple litter boxes with pine or aspen shavings that are cleaned daily.

Vet Care

All exotic pets like otters require specialized veterinary care from a licensed exotic animal vet. Annual vet visits are recommended to check their overall health. Otters need ongoing care like core vaccines, parasite prevention, and dental cleanings under anesthesia.

Major health issues seen in pet otters include heart disease, arthritis, abscesses, respiratory infections, and tooth decay. Pet insurance can offset the high cost of healthcare.

Costs of Owning an Otter in Texas

Purchase Price

Otters are not commonly kept as pets, so finding one for sale can be extremely difficult in Texas. If you manage to locate a breeder, plan on spending anywhere from $3,500 to $5,000 to purchase a baby Asian small-clawed otter.

Captive-bred North American river otters tend to cost even more, with most breeders charging upwards of $6,000 per kit.


Otters are active, playful animals that need a lot of space, preferably with access to a pond or pool. The International Otter Survival Fund recommends a minimum enclosure size of 76 square meters for one Asian small-clawed otter and 150 square meters for a pair.

Building a habitat this large can easily cost $15,000 or more.

You’ll also need to factor in heating, cooling, lighting, substrates, hides/dens, and enrichment items. Many owners spend thousands of additional dollars outfitting their otter enclosure properly.


In the wild, otters eat a variety of fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and small mammals. Replicating this diverse diet for a pet can get expensive. You’ll likely need to purchase specialty meats like rabbit, venison or duck, marine fish like mackerel or smelt, frozen/live fish foods, and invertebrates.

Expect to spend at least $100 per month to feed one small otter. The costs go up substantially if you have multiple otters – plan on around $800-1,000 each year for a pair.

Vet Bills

Exotic vets with experience treating otters are rare, so you may need to travel long distances for medical care. Check-ups, vaccines, tests and minor treatments can cost $400 or more per visit. If your otter has a health emergency or requires surgery, you could easily spend thousands of dollars.

Be prepared for a minimum of $2,000 per year in routine and emergency vet expenses, more if your otter develops chronic health conditions over its 15+ year lifespan.

Permit Fees

Texas law prohibits keeping wild otters as pets, so you’ll need special permits from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department if you want to own a captive-bred otter legally. Some of the required permits include:

  • Nongame Permit – $272 per year
  • Commercial Nongame Permit – $519 for 5 years
  • Wildlife Breeder Permit – $289 per year

You may also need to register your otter enclosure with the USDA and secure liability insurance, adding several hundred dollars more in annual costs.


While otters are undeniably adorable, owning one as a pet is not legal for most people in Texas without proper licensing. Their care requirements are also complex. Thoroughly research what’s needed to properly care for otters before obtaining one.

We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of what’s required to own an otter legally in Texas. Please consider adopting a more domesticated pet that is legal in your state.

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