Learn about the laws pertaining to the possession of wildlife in Massachusetts before acquiring an animal or bringing one into the state when you move. A summary of these laws provided is below. This is only a summary and people should refer to the appropriate Code of Massachusetts Regulations (321 CMR 9.01) for details.
Massachusetts' regulations regarding the possession of wildlife are among the strictest in the country. The goal of these regulations is to protect both the interests of wildlife and the public. The Division recommends prospective pet owners to consult with a veterinarian to determine what species is suitable for their household's abilities, lifestyle and commitment to pet care.
- MassWildlife has statutory responsibility for all freshwater fish ( Division of Marine Fisheries regulates saltwater fish), reptiles and amphibians, birds, and mammals, regardless of whether they are native to Massachusetts or occur elsewhere in the world. In some instances, such as species on the federal endangered or threatened species list, or migratory birds, authority may be shared with the federal government or another Massachusetts agency.
- MassWildlife laws apply to wildlife sold in pet stores in Massachusetts. MA pet stores are regulated and inspected by the Department of Agricultural Resources
- Purchasers can reasonably assume that an animal for sale in a MA pet store is legal.
- Do not assume that animals for sale in other states, including those states adjacent to Massachusetts, are lawful in MA.
- Be wary of animals advertised for sale on the Internet or in newspapers. These animals may be lawful at the point of origin, but illegal to bring in to Massachusetts.
- Some towns may have municipal bylaws which prohibit certain invertebrates such as scorpions, tarantulas or other venomous spiders, or which further regulate the keeping of animals which MassWildlife otherwise allows. Check with your city or town to comply with both state and local laws.
Learn More about Legal Animals
For purposes of possession, MassWildlife groups animals in the following categories:
- Wild animals that DO NOT require a permit from MassWildlife
Read more about the exempted animal category
Complete list of animals that are exempt from permitting requirements
- Domestic animals (DO NOT require a permit from MassWildlife)
Read more about the domestic animal category
- Wild animals that REQUIRE a permit.
Any species in this category requires a DFW permit. Permits are not issued for keeping these species as pets. Permits in this category are issued only for certain scientific, educational, commercial, or other specific reasons.
Read more about this category
Types of animals that DO NOT require a permit from MassWildlife
This category refers to animals which are wild by nature, which may be possessed, maintained, propagated, bought, sold, or imported without a MassWildlife permit and are exempt from most state requirements (M.G.L. c. 131, § 23 and 321 CMR 9.01 ). These exempt animals must be obtained from a lawful source, may not be captured or taken from the wild in Massachusetts, and may not be liberated (released) to the wild.
In order to be listed as exempt, the animal (or group of animals) must meet the following criteria:
- Accidental release will not adversely affect the ecology of Massachusetts;
- The animal in captivity, or if escaped, poses no substantial danger to humans, either from injury or disease;
- Proper care of the animal is no more demanding than the care of common domestic animals; and
- Trade in the animals has no significant adverse effect on the wild population of the animal in any of its natural habitats.
The only exempt wild animals which may be taken from the wild in Massachusetts are certain reptiles and amphibians (321 CMR 3.05). Such animals may be kept as personal pets, but may not be sold, bartered, or exchanged. The possession limit is 2 on each of these reptiles and amphibians. Allowable species include the American Bullfrog, American Toad, DeKay's Brownsnake, Eastern Gartersnake, Eastern Musk Turtle, Eastern Newt, Eastern Racer, Eastern Red-backed Salamander, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Fowler's Toad, Gray Treefrog, Green Frog, Milksnake, Mudpuppy, Northern Dusky Salamander, Northern Two-lined Salamander, Northern Watersnake, Painted Turtle, Pickerel Frog, Red-bellied Snake, Smooth Greensnake, Snapping Turtle, Spring Peeper, and Wood Frog.
General Wildlife Possession Guidelines
This is only a summary of which animals require a permit and people should refer to the appropriate Code of Massachusetts Regulations (321 CMR 9.01) for details, especially with regard to snakes and lizards.
All aquarium trade* fish, including:
Only the following 11 mammals (or groups) may be kept as pets:
|All other mammals not listed as legal or domestic.|
* See 321 CMR 9.01 for definition.
** Regulations regarding the possession of snakes are quite detailed and should be consulted (321 CMR 9.01) for specifics.
*** Regulations regarding the possession of lizards are quite detailed and should be consulted (321 CMR 9.01) for specifics.
Domestic Animals (DO NOT require a permit from MassWildlife)
Definition: Domestic animals are those kinds of animals which have undergone a process of selective breeding in captivity and have consequently been changed both physically and behaviorally from their wild ancestors, while still maintaining a close genetic similarity to them. Animals were domesticated for companionship, transportation, food, pelts or fibers, hunting, or as guard animals. Wild animals raised in captivity (even over many generations) which have merely become tame or accustomed to people are not domestic animals.
All animals or groups of animals below may be possessed, propagated, maintained, imported, bought, sold, or otherwise disposed of without the need for a MassWildlife permit or license (321 CMR 9.02). MassWildlife does not regulate these animals. However, in some instances, persons may need to comply with certain local or state laws regarding dog licenses M.G.L. Ch. 140, § 137 or municipal agriculture or zoning bylaws, or with requirements of the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture pertaining to companion pets, as well as livestock and farm animals. Contact MassWildlife if you have any questions about the following lists of domestic animals.
- Domestic geese, ducks and muscovy
- Captive-reared Mallards acquired and properly marked in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations;
- Common Coturnix or Coturnix Quail;
- Domestic chicken
- Peafowl (Blue Peafowl)
- Domestic guineafowl
- Domestic turkey, including breeds and varieties derived from the Wild Turkey, but not including captive or captive-bred Wild Turkeys or pen-raised or game-farm Wild Turkeys;
- Common pigeon or Rock Dove
- Domestic dog (but not hybrids, see below)
- Mink, propagated in captivity for 2 or more generations (M.G.L. Ch. 128, § 8B)
- Domestic ferrets which have been surgically neutered or spayed and rendered incapable of breeding (M.G.L. Ch.131, § 77)
- Domestic cat, including the Pixie Bob and Bengal Cat (for Hybrids, see below)
- Domestic ass, including mules, burros, and donkeys
- Domestic horse
- Domestic swine, but not including captive European wild hog or free-living wild pigs or swine
- Dromedary Camel
- Domestic Water Buffalo or Carabao
- Domestic cow
- Domestic yak
- Zebu cattle
- American Bison
- Domestic goat and sheep
- Domestic hamster (Golden Hamster)
- Guinea Pig
- Mongolian Gerbil
- Laboratory rat and mouse
- Domestic rabbit, but not including so-called "San Juan" rabbits
Wolf-dog hybrids or other hybrids between domestic dogs and any wild canine species, or any feline animal which is a hybrid between a domestic cat and any wild feline species, are not domestic animals and may not be maintained, propagated, imported, bought, sold, or otherwise possessed in Massachusetts (M.G.L. Ch. 131, § 77A). Certain recognized breeds of show or pet cats, which are known to be or reputed to be of hybrid origin, are considered to be domestic and may be lawfully possessed.
The Savannah cat, which is derived from a hybrid of the African Serval and domestic cat, is considered a domestic breed only if it can be documented to be generations (F4) past the original mating with an African Serval.
REMINDER: The above information is only a summary and people should refer to the appropriate Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) and the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) for details.
Wild Animals that REQUIRE a permit.
Permits in this category are issued only for certain scientific, educational, commercial, or other specific reasons, (See 321 CMR 2.12 ). Applicants must be able to demonstrate that they are actively engaged in the activity for which they have applied for or received a permit. Permits are not issued for keeping these animals as pets.
Any animal listed in any rarity category of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, any category of federal endangered species law or listed on the Massachusetts List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern species may not be possessed without a permit.