Otters are adorable furry water babies found either in riverways or in the ocean. Many people are surprised to learn that there are 13 species of otter across the world. Unlike other pet species, otters have not been domesticated.
Any animal can be tamed but many species have not been bred specifically for work. For example, dogs were domesticated to help protect village livestock or pull sleds. Cats were domesticated for ratting purposes. Otters have never been domesticated and there are still wild populations in many countries.
Is it legal to own a pet otter?
As a general rule, there is only one species of otter that could be possible as a pet in America. The Asian short-clawed otter has wild populations along the riverways of North America so they do not fall under the Marine Mammal protection act as most other otter species do. Although they are not a banned marine animal, most states still ban the ownership of otters. Even in a state where it is possible, owning an otter is incredibly difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
States where owning river otters is legal with a permit or license are:
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
The state of Nevada has the loosest animal restrictions regarding ownership. Otters, both river and marine species, are not listed as requiring a permit or license to import or export, so you could own an otter there without a permit.
In states where permits are required, they will outline certain guidelines that must be followed. These include things like having a home inspection, providing a shelter and den that meets or exceeds the minimum specifications and proving that you have the appropriate knowledge to care for an otter. In most other states, it is illegal to own an otter as a pet and you cannot apply for a permit. Only rehabilitation centers or private animal parks may apply for special permission.
In the UK, you must apply for a permit to own, capture or sell otters. This is because there are otter species native to Britain and they have been brought back from the brink of extinction. Otters are a protected species and as such, permits are only approved under certain conditions.
Where can I find an otter?
You cannot go down to your local pet store to buy or adopt an otter. They are wild animals and very rarely kept as pets. The only place you can get one is from a broker or exotic pet breeder. This is a tricky situation to navigate as many brokers will not tell you where they source their animals. Many wild otter species are listed as endangered or threatened.
Pricing varies between brokers and also by country. Since owning otters as pets is not very common, there is no guideline to follow when it comes to price. To draw appeal, some brokers or breeders will advertise babies or young otters because they are so cute. This causes serious problems as the otter is often not old enough to leave its mother.
Do otters make good pets?
If you do manage to find someone who has a healthy otter to sell and you have the required permit, you need to consider how you will care for your new pet. Otters are not like a regular cat or dog. They are not suited to living indoors because they smear their droppings and create a very pungent odor.
The best enclosure will provide a pool for swimming, a heated den area for sleep and a large outdoor space for exercise and foraging. There are two things you must be mindful of; digging and climbing. Otters are great at both, so the fencing must be sunken well into the ground and the enclosure must have a roof.
Diet is also very important. Otters require a variety of insects, fish and crustaceans to get all the necessary nutrients to keep them fit and healthy. Combining their feeding routine with enrichment will prevent boredom. This includes hiding their food so they have to search for it or putting it inside something so they have to work out how to release their food.
Otters are extremely vocal animals with high pitched squeaks and chirps. You will certainly not win any popularity contests with your neighbors! Otters are also known to nip. Mostly this is play behavior but they have sharp teeth and even a playful bite can draw blood.
It is not advisable to own an otter unless you understand their behavior. They require constant enrichment to prevent them from becoming stressed. This is simply not possible to provide if you work a 9-5 job where you are away from home 8 hours or more of the day.