Is Getting a Pet Tiger a Good Idea?

Donna Cosmato Author

Why would you want a tiger as a pet? Do you want a unique pet as a good conversation starter? Is this a way to express your individuality? Does the appeal of these big cats fascinate you?


Whatever your reasons, before you jump into ownership, check state or federal regulations. You don’t want to invest your time, money and love into a pet to have it taken away from you because of legal issues. Most states ban private ownership of large, undomesticated cat, but it is legal in some states.

States that May Allow Ownership of a Tiger

The following is for educational purposes only. Laws may vary from state to state.

  • Alabama does not restrict or regulate tiger ownership.
  • In Nevada, you don’t need any documentation or permits to own a tiger. Nevada does not have a tiger ban.
  • North Carolina’s codes do not ban private ownership of tigers. Cities or counties in North Carolina may impose bans or regulations. Currently, you don’t need an entry permit for large felines.
  • South Carolina’s code doesn’t ban tigers or specify any regulations on their possession.
  • An import permit or veterinary certificate may be necessary in Wisconsin.
  • Maine and Oklahoma may allow private ownership of wild animals with a permit.
  • Texas requires a certification of registration before ownership approval.

Regardless of where you live, it’s wise to check for any local, federal or municipal laws that might apply. There may also be home owner association or other covenants to consider.

Can Tigers be Good Pets?

Strawberry Tiger

Should tigers be pets? We may never get a satisfactory answer to this as everyone’s idea of a “pet” is likely different. A better question might be “Is it possible to domesticate a tiger?”

Tigers are often called big cats, but they are not super-sized versions of domestic cats. Even a domesticated cat may strike out with their claws if irritated. What could happen if your tiger decides to take a swipe at you?

It may take years or decades to build a relationship with your pet. But, the relationship remains tenuous because wild animals are unpredictable. Are you willing to take a risk?

Tigers are an endangered species. Would you help or harm them by making one a pet?

What are the housing requirements for keeping a big cat comfortable and healthy? The International  Exotic Animal Sanctuary recommends a minimum of 4,500 square feet of living space. There must also be adequate water for swimming and cooling.

Is your heart set on owning a tiger? Do you live in a state conducive to such ownership? How about volunteering at your local zoo or with a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pets? Some hands-on experience could be what you need to test the risk versus reward.

Answering all these questions should help you decide for yourself if a tiger would be a good pet for you.

Tiger Trivia

Cute Tiger No matter how cute and cuddly your little tiger cub is, he or she will grow up to be big. Average tigers weigh from 200 to 480 pounds. But, they can weigh as much as 600 pounds and reach a length of 10 feet.

Tigers have an average lifespan of 20 to 25, so their longevity is a factor to consider. Unlike the more social lions, they are territorial, and the males do not play well together. Males mark their territories the way most felines do by spraying urine or feces. This can be a sanitation problem and/or nuisance in the long run.

Caring for Your Tiger

Besides the suggested size of living space, how will you keep your tiger confined to its environment? These excellent climbers need a home that provides plenty of exercise. You’ll also have to keep them from getting bored. As you consider where your tiger will live, ask yourself: “Would I be content to live here if I were a tiger?”

Another major consideration is what you will do if your pet gets sick. You can’t put it into your car and take it to the vet. How will you handle transportation issues? If your vet doesn’t treat exotic pets, what will you do?

You could:

  • Ask your vet for a referral to a qualified expert
  • Use the Internet to find an exotic pet veterinarian
  • Ask friends or other exotic animal owners for a recommendation of a vet
  • Call or visit your local zoo and ask for a referral to an appropriate caregiver

No matter how you handle this aspect of your pet’s care, it’s always easier to locate and to choose a vet before you need one. The last thing you would want is to have an emergency with your pet and be unable to get the proper care.

Buying your Tiger

Have you done your legal homework, weighed the pros and cons, and decided a pet tiger is for you? Congratulations! Here’s some tips for choosing a seller you can trust:

  • Confirm the animal’s country of origin
  • Buy from reputable, ethical sellers
  • Ask for seller referrals from other tiger owners before making a buying decision
  • Develop a relationship with a qualified seller and let him guide you through the process
  • Ask the seller for a list of former clients and then check her references

Tiger in the Snow Use these suggestions to pick the best big cat for you:

Choose an active, alert and unblemished tiger with a sleek, glossy coat and bright eyes. Are there signs of animation and a good disposition? That’s a positive sign. Do you see any external parasites or signs of disease, deformities or infections? Any of those could be red flags of warning. Take your time and make sure you are satisfied with your choice. After all, you’ll be companions for a long time.

Feeding your Tiger

Here are general guidelines:

Tigers are meat eaters (carnivores). They may eat grass, berries or fruit to help with digestion, but base their diet on protein sources like raw meat. Ask your vet to create a dietary plan that supplies all the necessary nutrients.

You may want to ask your vet these questions about your pet’s eating habits:

  • Does my pet need to have food always available?
  • How often should I feed?
  • What amount should I give him?
  • What should I do if she stops eating or has a poor appetite?
  • Are the feeding requirements for young or elderly tigers different?


By now, you might be wondering “Even if it’s legal, is owning a tiger the right choice for me?”

Before you make that final decision, here’s some reasons why many states ban tiger ownership. Some of these might affect your decision.

  • Fear of the animal’s potential for causing injury or death
  • Health and safety concerns – an unvaccinated tiger could contract rabies
  • Prevention of animal abuse
  • Protection of an endangered species*

*The World Wildlife Federation estimates the population of tigers worldwide as 3,890.

As you can see, there’s more to owning a pet tiger than legality issues. No matter what your ultimate decision is, your goal is to own a pet with whom you can share a loving companionship. If a tiger isn’t right for you, you might consider another exotic pet like a sugar glider, Fennec fox or even a tarantula.