Are Bengal Cats Illegal?

A photo of a bengal cat licking its tail that says "are bengal cats illegal" in white text over it.

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While Bengal cats are legal in most states, there are some states where these cats are completely banned. 

Where is it illegal to have a Bengal cat?

Bengal cats are completely illegal to keep in Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, and Rhode Island.

What is a Bengal cat?

Bengals are a breed of cat that originate from the hybridization of an Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat. They are known for their beautiful, leopard-like coats, loud vocalizations, and their wildly active energetic nature.

Why are Bengal cats illegal in some states?

The major reason Bengal cats are illegal in some states is due to concern over the risk of rabies. Technically, rabies vaccinations are not approved for use in exotic animals or in exotic/domestic hybrids—which the Bengal cat is. Because of this, a few states have deemedBengals to be a potential rabies risk and have outlawed them entirely, no matter how many generations away from the wild Asian leopard cat they are. 

For state specific information about the reasons Bengal cats are illegal, read on!

Why are Bengal cats illegal in Hawaii?

Bengal cats are illegal in Hawaii due to increased risk to native Hawaiian wildlife. In addition to preying on native species and being a potential rabies risk, Bengals also commonly carry a parasite known to kill the Hawaiian Monk seal.

According to the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture website, “The regulation of animal breeds and species that are permitted to enter Hawaii is under Plant Quarantine Branch jurisdiction and administrative rules.  Non-domestic dogs and cats and hybrids such as wolf, wolf cross, Dingo, Bengal, Savannah, etc. are prohibited under Plant Quarantine (PQ) law.”

Why are Bengal cats illegal in Maryland?

Bengal cats are illegal in Maryland due to concerns regarding rabies. Maryland’s Rabies Emergency code bans the ownership of any “mammalian wildlife species, or hybrids, for which there is no U.S.D.A. certified vaccine against rabies.”

I personally reached out to Wildlife Permits Coordinator from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and she confirmed that Bengals are also banned per Md. Criminal Law Code Ann. § 10-621. 

Why are Bengal cats illegal in Montana?

Bengal cats are illegal in Montana because Asian leopard cats are illegal to possess in Montana due to being unclassified. 

I personally reached out to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks department and was told:

“Asian leopard cats are exotic animals not classified by statute, and they are not native to Montana; therefore, possession of such animal would be prohibited. A Bengal cat is a hybrid Asian Leopard cat and domestic cat and cannot be owned because Asian leopard cats cannot be possessed in Montana.”

Why are Bengal cats illegal in Nebraska?

Bengal cats are illegal in Nebraska, but, unlike other states, there is no specific logical reason for their prohibition. Simply put, Bengals are banned in Nebraska because they are not considered “domestic cats” per Nebraska state law.

I reached out to Nebraska’s Game and Parks department to confirm Bengals were illegal and was told “Yes, any feline other than the species felis domesticus are not allowed.”

Why are Bengal cats illegal in Rhode Island?

Bengal Cats are illegal in Rhode Island due to concerns over rabies. 

Rhode Island law states that “All exotic wild animals and hybrids of the order Carnivora for which there is no USDA conditionally licensed or unconditionally licensed rabies vaccine are expressly prohibited from importation or ownership without the issuance of a valid permit by the Rules and Regulations Governing the Importation and Possession of Wild Animals. Ownership is restricted to bona fide researchers, USDA licensed exhibitors authorized to possess animals of this order, and Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) certified facilities.”

A case involving the claim that Bengals are domestic cats has actually gone to court in Rhode Island, and it was determined that they are not considered such. Dr. Scott Marshall, chairman of Rhode Island’s Rabies Control Board stated during this case “there is no approved rabies vaccines for use in hybrid cats…” with that, the ban of Bengal cats in Rhode Island has shown to hold up in court. 

More information on the precedent setting case regarding Bengal cats in Rhode Island can be found here.


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