I admit that, like almost anyone who has lain eyes on a sand cat, I’m absolutely enamored with the little critters. These feisty, rugged little animals are native to the deserts of Africa and Asia, where they hold claim as the only wild cats who can live in true desert habitat. Sand cats are smaller than domestic cats and have big eyes and ears, giving them a permanently kitten-like appearance– and, as I learned by bringing a laser pointer to my local zoo, they certainly can act just like their domestic relatives. The combination of cuteness, exoticism, and small size is sure to leave many people wondering: can you keep a sand cat as a pet?
There’s not exactly a simple answer to this question. In the United States, laws regarding the ownership of non-domesticated animals, including wild cats like the sand cat, vary by state. Some states outright ban the ownership of all exotic cats, while others have strict licensing requirements. A few states have no licensing requirements at all and actually permit the ownership of almost any wild animal. So, depending on where you live, a pet sand cat might be either fully permissible by law or completely illegal.
There are many other factors to consider, though. It can be hard for the owners of any exotic animal to find appropriate veterinary care for it, since many vets will only treat domesticated animals like cats, dogs, and rabbits. There may not be a vet in your area who will spay, neuter, and vaccinate sand cats, or treat them in the event of an emergency. This could leave your precious pet prone to disease or unable to get help after a serious injury– not a situation that you want any animal to end up in.
Sand cats also have different needs from domestic house cats, and it’s unlikely that you can meet those needs in your home unless you’re intimately familiar with the species. They are solitary by nature to a much greater extent than house cats, so they aren’t likely to be friendly and affectionate toward their owners. Their nocturnal nature is also far more apparent and they’re likely to sleep through the entirety of the time you’re awake. Their nutritional needs can’t necessarily be met by even a “premium” diet of cat food, since cat foods are formulated for pet cats. And, since sand cats have strong instincts to wander, dig, hunt, and explore– instincts that have largely been bred out of their domesticated cousins– they may become very stressed in a captive environment, leaving pet sand cats both unhappy and prone to physical illnesses.
You would also experience a lot of logistical problems trying to obtain a sand cat, even if your state allows it. Sand cats are not an endangered species and instead fall into the “near-threatened” category, meaning that they are at risk of becoming endangered. However, this still presents a bit of a roadblock to potential breeders. Sand cats are heavily dependent on conservation, and most successful captive breeding has taken place in zoos, not private homes. While there are hundreds of breeders of exotic wild cats, including servals, caracals, and bobcats, there are no breeders of pet sand cats currently advertising their wares online.
If you want to own a pet sand cat, take your passion in a different direction instead. It will be not only easier, but also far more ethical. Visit your local animal shelters to meet any of hundreds of homeless cats and kittens who were designed for life in a human home, and many of them have the charming “buff”-colored markings seen in sand cats. If you absolutely must have an exotic-looking cat, there are several breeds of spotted domestic cat, and domestic cats that look like wild cats, that can give you the wild look you’re after. There’s no need to get a pet sand cat to experience the charm of a cute kitty.