Are you looking to add a new furry, scaly or feathered friend to your home in Washington? With varying laws on exotic and domestic animals across municipalities, it can be confusing to know what pets are legal to own.

This comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know about legal animals you can own as pets in Washington.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: dogs, cats, small mammals like hamsters and guinea pigs, as well as fish and some birds are generally legal to own as pets across Washington. However, specific municipalities may have additional regulations, licensing or banning of particular species – so be sure to check your local laws.

Washington State Laws on Animal Ownership


Dogs are popular pets in Washington. There are few restrictions on dog ownership, but owners must license their dogs in their county of residence. Dogs must be under control at all times; it’s illegal to allow a dog to run loose off the owner’s property, with exceptions for dog parks and other designated off-leash areas.

Dangerous dogs with a history of aggression may be regulated under Washington’s dangerous dog law.


Cats are legal to own in Washington with no license required. However, the state allows counties, cities and towns to adopt cat licensing laws if desired. For example, Seattle requires cats to be licensed.

Cats must be under their owner’s control and counties have the right to enact leash laws for cats. Free-roaming, stray and feral cats are also addressed in some municipal codes.

Small Mammals

Common small mammals like gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and mice are fully legal in Washington. No special permits are required to keep them as pets. Exotic small mammals like sugar gliders and hedgehogs are also allowed with no restrictions.

The main animal welfare laws that apply to small pets relate to anti-cruelty and proper care.


Keeping fish as pets is popular in Washington. There are no statewide restrictions, licensing or permits for home aquariums. However, the Washington Invasive Species Council regulates invasive aquatic plants and animals. People should avoid releasing unwanted aquarium plants or animals into the wild.

There are also laws protecting native fish species in Washington.


Pet birds are legal to own in Washington. No permit is required, but endangered birds like bald eagles cannot be kept as pets in the state. Birds that become a nuisance or public health risk may be addressed under statutes giving animal control agencies authority over problematic animals.

Selling baby chickens, ducks and rabbits in quantities under 25 is legal without a permit thanks to a 2011 exemption bill.

Municipal Regulations for Animal Ownership


The city of Seattle has some specific regulations when it comes to owning animals within city limits. All dogs and cats over 8 weeks of age must have a license that is renewed annually. There are also limits on the number of animals a household can have based on zoning – for example, you can only have up to 3 dogs or cats in a single-family residence.

Seattle also has breed-specific legislation targeting “pit bulls” – these dogs must be spayed/neutered, microchipped, and require a special “pit bull” license. The city also prohibits tethering animals outside for longer than 15 minutes when the owner is not home.

Other prohibited animals include livestock like potbellied pigs and chickens.


The City of Spokane requires all dogs over 4 months old to have a license, which helps support animal care and control services. Licenses must be renewed annually or biannually. There is no specific limit on the number of pets a household can own in Spokane.

Interestingly, Spokane does allow residents to keep miniature pigs as pets, as long as they are under 95 pounds. Roosters are prohibited, but residents can own up to 3 hens with the proper permit. Breed-specific legislation is also notably absent compared to other Washington cities.


Tacoma requires pet owners to license both cats and dogs. Dog licenses need annual renewal, while cat licenses are good for up to 3 years after rabies vaccination. Households are limited to 3 dogs and 3 cats over 4 months of age.

The city prohibits ownership of certain exotic animals like lions, tigers, and bears. Potbellied pigs are allowed with proper permitting as exceptions for 4-H projects or emotional support animals. Backyard chickens are also conditionally allowed.

Like Seattle, Tacoma also has targeted regulations for “pit bull” breeds – special permitting, secure enclosures, spay/neuter requirements, and more. Certain breeds like wolf hybrids and ostriches are banned entirely within the city.

Permitting and Licensing Requirements in Washington


All dogs over the age of eight weeks are required to be licensed in Washington, according to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 16.54.010). Dog licenses can be obtained from your local city or county auditor’s office. Proof of current rabies vaccination is required at the time of licensing.

License fees are generally $15-30 per year.

There are additional permitting requirements in some areas for dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs. A dangerous dog permit typically costs $250-500 per year. Dogs must be microchipped and owners must carry a minimum $300,000 liability insurance policy.


There are no statewide licensing or permitting requirements for cats in Washington. However, some individual cities and counties have mandates to license cats. For example, Spokane County requires all cats over the age of one year to have a license, which costs $10 per year for spayed/neutered cats or $40 per year otherwise.

As with dogs, additional permitting rules may apply for cats officially declared as dangerous. Owners may need to follow regulations regarding microchipping, confinement, leash requirements, and warning signage.

Exotic Animals

Washington has strict exotic animal laws (RCW 16.30) prohibiting the possession of dangerous wild animals as pets. This includes big cats, bears, wolves, primates, alligators, crocodiles, and more. Venomous reptiles and amphibians also generally require special permits.

However, some exotic pets like fennec foxes, kinkajous, servals, and wallabies may be allowed with proper exotic animal permits. Requirements vary by county and city jurisdiction. Annual permit fees commonly range from $100-$250. Caging, veterinary records, microchipping and more may be mandatory.

Additional Considerations for Legal Pet Ownership

Housing Laws

Many cities and counties in Washington have laws regarding the number and type of pets allowed in rental properties or neighborhoods. It’s important for pet owners to be aware of any housing restrictions before getting a new animal companion.

Landlords may require additional deposits or monthly pet rents. Some properties ban certain dog breeds or exotic pets. Knowing the rules upfront prevents headaches down the road.

For example, the city of Seattle limits residents to a maximum of 8 household pets, of which no more than 3 can be dogs. Some exceptions apply for licensed breeders. King County has noise and nuisance ordinances regarding barking dogs.

Many condos and apartments have size and weight restrictions on dogs. Check your local municipal codes or consult your landlord before bringing home a new furry friend!

Health and Safety Regulations

Washington state takes animal welfare seriously. All pet owners must provide proper food, water, shelter, sanitation, exercise and veterinary care. Animals cannot be neglected, abused or abandoned. Dog and cat breeders must be licensed by the Department of Agriculture.

Certain animals like wolves, primates and endangered species are illegal to own without special permits.

There are also public safety laws regarding animal behavior. Dogs must be leashed when not on their owner’s property. Dangerously aggressive dogs may be designated as “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” with special restrictions. Owners can be held liable if their pet bites or injures someone.

Most cities require cats to be indoor pets. Failing to properly contain or control animals often leads to citations and fines.

Importing Animals

Bringing pets into Washington from other states or countries is regulated. Dogs and cats must have a current rabies vaccination and health certificate. Birds, reptiles and amphibians may require permits and quarantine periods to prevent disease outbreaks.

Importing wildlife is generally prohibited without authorization from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Additionally, many local municipalities have mandatory pet registration or licensing programs. For example, all dogs and cats over 8 weeks old must be licensed annually in Seattle. Fees help cover animal control services.

Consider any import/entry requirements and registration costs when relocating a pet to Washington.


Owning a pet can be a rewarding experience but also carries significant responsibility. By understanding Washington state laws, municipal regulations, permitting requirements and other considerations, you can ensure you choose a legal and ethical animal companion.

Similar Posts