Hamsters are illegal in California, which has some of the world’s strictest pet laws. Some hamster species, such as the Chinese hamster, are banned in California to protect native plants and wildlife.
The Californian landscape is similar to the hot desert conditions hamsters originate, meaning they’ll breed and multiply if they escape or are abandoned by owners.
If you keep or sell a banned hamster while living in California, you’ll face a fine or prison sentence, depending on the crime. However, some Syrian hamsters and dwarf species are legal without a permit.
Why Are Hamsters Illegal in California?
Hamsters are illegal in California and Hawaii because they’re invasive species.
Specifically, Californian officials are concerned that the environment is too similar to a hamster’s native habitat. Hamsters predominantly live in deserts and feed on insects, shrubs, flowers, and plants.
California is so similar to hamsters’ native habitat that their numbers would multiply.
Another reason hamsters threaten the Californian landscape is that, as Companion Animal confirms, they’re heavily preyed upon, so they frequently procreate to maintain their populations.
If many hamsters escaped and started breeding, the population would soon become out of control, threatening native wildlife and plants.
They would also provide predators with too much food to eat. Eventually, these predators would over-hunt other prey species, causing them to become extinct.
Owning or selling banned hamsters is against the law in California, leaving you liable to prosecution. While fines are far more common, you may face a prison sentence if you repeatedly break the law.
If you’re found to have a hamster, this could have the following legal consequences:
- A fine of $500 – $1000 and the cost of the hamster’s removal, storage, and care.
- A 6-month jail sentence for a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1000.
You’ll also have the hamster removed from your care. The only way you could legally own a banned hamster species in California is with a permit that permits scientific research for an institution.
What Law Bans Hamsters in California?
Specific hamster species are banned under Section 671 of the Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations. The law states that importing, transporting, or possessing restricted live animals is illegal unless you have a valid permit.
It’s not only hamsters that are banned in California, as you’re not allowed to own or sell the following:
- Monkeys and apes.
- Birds, including sparrows, crows, rooks, cockatoos, and blackbirds.
- Lagomorphs (excluding domesticated rabbits), such as hares, rabbits, and pikas.
- Some rodent species, like gerbils, woodchucks, muskrats, and squirrels.
However, while some hamster species are banned, domesticated races of golden hamsters and, until more recently, some dwarf species are/were allowed.
Will Hamsters Ever Be Legal in California?
The Californian environment will always be vulnerable to new, invasive species. As hamsters are well-known for escaping their enclosures, there’s always a chance they could survive in the wild.
Some owners also release their hamsters into the wild instead of rehoming them.
It’s not uncommon for female hamsters to already be pregnant when sold, meaning there’s a possibility they could start a colony if they give birth after escaping or abandonment.
However, according to the LA Times, unlike gerbils, which are also banned, domesticated hamsters are unlikely to survive 24 hours in the wild.
Californian lawmakers have already relaxed the rules for golden hamsters (or Syrian hamsters) and some dwarf species, so it could apply to all hamsters in the future.
What Rodents Are Legal in California?
While California has strict laws regarding what animals you can’t own, many rodents can be legally kept as pets, such as:
Golden hamsters (Syrian hamsters) can be legally owned without a permit in California. Syrian hamsters are among the most common domesticated breeds and are larger than their dwarf cousins.
Many ethical breeders operate in and around California, so hamsters are easy to find and purchase if you have a suitable set-up that provides ample space to roam and play.
In more recent times, California has relaxed its stance on dwarf hamsters, so the following hamster species are legal to own as pets:
- Russian dwarf
- Winter white
However, you need a permit to own a Chinese hamster because they’re considered a more invasive species than all other hamster species.
While many people are frightened of rats and see them as vermin, domesticated rats are among the friendliest animals you can own. They’re also legal in California.
Unlike hamsters, rats prefer to live in small groups of around five. They’re larger than hamsters and can weigh up to 4 x more. Though bigger, they’re easier to train than hamsters.
While California has strict policies regarding rodents, domesticated mice are legal in California. Mice make good pets for the following reasons:
- Easy to tame
- Entertaining to watch
Mice can live in pairs or small groups but need space to prevent territorial behavior.
Wild guinea pigs aren’t legal in California, but domesticated guinea pigs are allowed.
However, in some areas of California, including Sutter County, you’re only allowed to keep 12 guinea pigs at one time – or a combined total of 12 animals, including:
- Guinea pigs
- Chicken hens
According to Live Science, chinchillas are rodents native to the Andes Mountains in northern Chile and are related to guinea pigs.
Nearly every chinchilla in the United States is a direct descendant of the 11 chinchillas American mining engineer Mathias F. Chapman brought into the country in 1923.
Unlike hamsters, chinchillas can tolerate freezing conditions but can’t survive temperatures above 80 F (27 C). As California gets very hot in the summer, chinchillas fare better in air-conditioned homes.
Wild hamsters are a serious problem in California, which is why some species are banned. Before getting a hamster, check with the local authorities to ensure you’re not breaking any laws.
While receiving a fine is problematic, having your pet taken away and destroyed can be far more traumatic. Ensure your enclosure is secure to prevent the hamster from escaping.