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Can You Keep a Pet Lion & Is It a Good or Bad Idea?

Lions do not make good pets. While you can legally keep lions as pets in some states, they are dangerous wild animals. They are among the largest felines and are easily capable of killing humans, and even if they are raised in captivity, they will keep their natural instincts.

Lions are some of the most majestic animals in the world, which is why many are fascinated by the idea of keeping them as pets.

But are pet lions legal? Or even a good idea?

Throughout this article we’ll cover the legality of keeping a lion as a pet, we’ll see what they need to be happy and healthy, and why keeping them as pets isn’t the greatest idea.

Are Lions Kept as Pets?

Lions are occasionally kept as pets. Exotic pets, lions included, are a problem throughout the world. Lion populations are declining, and the exotic pet trade isn’t helping. Large felines require a lot of attention and care, and even well-meaning people can’t provide everything they need in captivity.

Wild animals aren’t pets, even if you treat them as such. Keeping a pet lion is detrimental to their health and possibly even yours.

Even if you cover all of their needs, the animal’s life is going to be unnatural. All animals have a place in the ecosystem and taking them out of their natural environment is disruptive.

The lion is both an apex predator and a keystone species. This means that their disappearance from the ecosystem would have a profound, unforeseeable negative effect on other wildlife.

Since most people can’t accidentally stumble across lion cubs, keeping pet lions is also morally questionable. You’d have to buy a lion illegally, contributing to the exotic pet trade and the decline of the lion population.

Are Lions Kept as Pets

How Much Does a Lion Cost?

Lions cost a lot, between $600 and $15,000 depending on the type of lion. Buying the cub is only the first step. You also need permits and insurance. A special enclosure with ample space also needs to be constructed for the animals, and much more.

Exotic pets set you back quite a lot, and lions are no exception. 

A lion cub can cost you as little as $600, but their price is generally higher averaging around $2,500. Lion cubs can cost anywhere between $600 and $15,000.[1]

Rarer types of feline, like white lions, can cost upwards of $100,000.

Besides the initial cost of buying the lion itself many other things will add up over time:

  • Permits, insurances, and other paperwork
  • Cages and enclosures
  • Other safety implements
  • Veterinary care
  • Lion food

All in all the expenses of owning and caring for a lion add up at a couple hundreds of thousands dollars. The yearly meat intake of a lion will set you back more than $10,000 by itself.

How Much Does a Lion Cost

Can You Have a Lion as a Pet in the US?

Yes, you can legally keep lions as pets in many states. There aren’t any regulations on keeping big cats in Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. In other states, it’s either completely banned or licenses and permits are needed.

There are no regulations on keeping lions in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Wisconsin

Here, having big cats as pets is completely legal. You don’t need any permits or licenses. But that’s not the case in most states.

Depending on the state, you either need a permit or it’s completely banned. These permits and licenses are easy to obtain in some states but very difficult in others.

The following states allow private ownership of big cats with the necessary permits and licenses:

  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • Texas
  • Missouri
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Indiana
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maine

Ownership of big cats is completely banned in the remaining states 33 states. There may be exemptions for some species, certain organizations, or licensed individuals.[2]

Do Lions Make Good Pets?

No, lions don’t make good pets. They are large, wild predators and impossible to fully control. They can be unpredictable and dangerous to people around them, including their caretakers or “owners”.  While they may get attached to certain people and even show affection to them, they remain wild animals.

Lions don’t make good pets at all. They are dangerous wild predators and their actions may be unpredictable. 

They aren’t domesticated and can’t be fully tamed.[3]

While lions raised in captivity may seem friendly, they aren’t. They do get attached and show affection to certain people, but will always be wild animals with wild instincts.

Lions shouldn’t be kept as pets for many reasons:

  • They are large, dangerous predators and they can easily kill a human.
  • They are unpredictable and you need to be careful around them.
  • They need a large enclosure to roam.
  • They will scratch and damage their environment.
  • They need constant attention and care.
  • Lions are expensive to keep and feed.
Do Lions Make Good Pets

Are Lions Dangerous?

Lions are dangerous animals. In nature, they are apex predators. There aren’t many animals they can’t hunt.

They are effective hunters and even a lone lion can take down huge prey, like an African buffalo. These felines evolved to be better at catching and killing prey, so they are exceptionally deadly.

Lions are more than capable of killing humans. An unarmed man has virtually no chance against a lion. They don’t generally see us as prey, but there have been cases of so-called man-eating lions that deliberately targeted humans.[4]

Even big cats raised in captivity may turn on their caretakers and become violent. Many people comfortable around lions have been maimed or killed by them.[5]

Related Article: Are Lions Dangerous?

Can Lions Be Domesticated or Tamed?

No, lions can’t be domesticated or tamed. Lions raised in captivity may be tamer than their wild counterparts, but they aren’t tame. Domestication is a process that takes thousands of years with humans selectively breeding and encouraging certain traits in wild animals.

Lions are wild animals. They can’t be domesticated or tamed. 

Captive lions can become tamer than wild lions and they can be trained to a certain degree.

Domestic vs. Tame Animals


Domesticating an animal species is a long process. It takes thousands of years to fundamentally change an independent wild species to depend on humans.

Domestication happens as a result of selective breeding for traits that humans find useful. Animals become dependent on humans, to the point where their relationship with us is akin to something like symbiosis.

Domestic animals simply need humans to thrive and even survive, and many domestic species wouldn’t be effective in nature.


Lion Training

Taming is a much simpler process than domestication. To tame an animal you have to condition it to live and interact with humans and other animals.

A tame animal is generally socialized with humans from a young age. They aren’t aggressive and their instincts and wild behaviors are mostly suppressed.

Lions can’t be tamed. 

While some individuals raised in captivity may seem so, they are still wild.


While lions aren’t domesticated and can’t be tamed, they can be somewhat trained. Even wild animals can be trained, and big cats like lions are no exception.

Lions raised in captivity from birth are usually trained. They are tamer than wild lions and they allow their caretakers to enter their space.

Many lions are also trained in circuses, conditioned to follow simple commands. 

The methods used to train a lion are similar to the ones you’d be familiar with from your dogs.[6]

How to Take Care of a Pet Lion

Taking care of lions is difficult. They are high-maintenance animals, making it difficult to fulfill their needs. They need a lot of attention, care, meat, and space to walk around. When they are cubs they also need to be bottle-fed.

Taking care of a lion (or any other large cat) isn’t as simple as caring for a domestic cat or dog. They are high-maintenance animals and you’ll need to sacrifice a lot of your time and money.

Lion cubs need constant attention from their caretakers, especially if their mother isn’t around. They need to be bottle-fed for their first six to ten months, slowly adding meat to their diet after they turn three months old.

They also need a lot of space to roam. In the wild, lions have vast home ranges covering hundreds of square miles.[7]

Lions also need large enclosures with enough space to walk around and stay active. When they are placed in small enclosures they tend to pace a lot.[8]

How to Take Care of a Pet Lion

What Do Lions Eat?

Lions are hypercarnivores, and most of their diet is made up of meat with the rest being other animal matter. 

In the wild lions eat a variety of different species, generally large herbivores found in their environment.

Before completely switching to their adult diet, lion cubs need to be fed with milk formula to ensure their healthy development. They are slowly weaned off the formula after three months and stop drinking milk by the time they are six to ten months old.

Once they are adults lions eat quite a lot. Males are larger and eat more than females[9]:

Weight:240 – 316 pounds350 – 500 pounds
Quantity of food:About 11 lbs of meat daily.Around 15 lbs of meat daily

Larger individuals require more food. In the wild lions rarely get to eat daily so they end up gorging on a lot more meat when they get the opportunity.


Keeping lions as pets is legal in some states, but it’s not a good idea at all. Lions are dangerous apex predators. They aren’t domesticated and they can’t be completely tamed. By keeping a lion as a pet you put yourself and others in danger and you aren’t helping lions either. Lion populations are in decline and contributing to the exotic pet trade isn’t helping. The cost of caring for a lion is also high, with the initial purchase itself burning around $2,500 on average.

About Codrin Frunzete

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