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Home > Cats > Do You Need a License to Breed Cats? US Regulations Facts & FAQ

Do You Need a License to Breed Cats? US Regulations Facts & FAQ

ragdoll cat with its kittens

Cat breeders are not as prominent as dog breeders, but people still breed cats for both pleasure and business. Since cat breeding does not get as much attention as dog breeding it raises the question of whether you need a license to breed cats. The answer can be a little tricky. In some cases, yes, you will need a license. But in other cases, no, you will not need a license. The answer will depend on the answers to a series of important questions and where exactly you are attempting to breed cats.

This guide will give you a basic overview of whether you will likely need to seek a license to breed cats. These questions are important in determining whether the state will label you an official or hobby breeder.


What Counts as Breeding?

The government typically considers breeding as the facilitation of the reproduction of animals for the sole purpose of selling the offspring. That often disqualifies people who sometimes have litters of kittens to keep some of the kittens, to give them away, or if your family pets happen to get pregnant from time to time. Breeding is a purposeful action with the end goal of selling the kittens for money. But that is not the only thing that the government looks at when requiring a license.

States will also factor in whether you are advertising, displaying, or transporting animals in order to help facilitate a sale. If you are advertising online or offering to ship animals to potential clients, that is likely to be considered breeding activity.

How Many Breeding Animals Do You Have?

One of the first things you need to determine is how many breeding animals you have or plan to have. A breeding animal is a female who is raised for the express purpose of having litters of kittens. If you have four or fewer breeding animals, you are likely in the clear when it comes to needing a license. If you have five or more breeding animals on hand, you are likely going to need to seek licensing or certification. The number of breeding animals is only one piece of the puzzle.

The more breeding animals you have, the more likely it is that the government is going to label your operation an official breeding business and require paperwork.

two different cat breed beside each other
Image By: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Is Breeding Cats Your Primary Source of Income?

The next thing to consider is whether breeding cats is a primary source of income. If you are deriving a substantial amount of income from breeding cats, that income is going to show up on your tax return. This will have two effects. First, it will tip the government off to the fact that you are breeding animals for money. Second, it can cause the government to think that your primary income source comes from a business that deals in animals which comes with a long list of potential restrictions and rules that need to be followed. These rules are administered by the Food and Drug Administration on the federal level and can also be regulated at the state level.

Do You Have a Specific Place to Show and Sell Animals?

If you have a specific space set aside primarily for breeding purposes, this can trigger the need for a license. If you have a storefront, property, or special area on your property that is set aside specifically for the purpose of breeding, raising, showing, and selling cats, then you will likely need to seek a license. Do you advertise a specific place for people to come to look at your animals and potentially make a sale? This could qualify as a pet store or breeding business and that will likely result in the need for a special business license and or breeding license.

If you do not specifically have areas where your cats are displayed or sold, you likely do not need a license. That means you let your cats hang out in your house like normal, and you deal with the kittens if and when they come. That usually will not trigger the need for a business license.

cats in animal shelter
Image By: Yulia Grigoryeva, Shutterstock

Check Local Rules and Regulations

One of the toughest parts about trying to advise on a legal topic like this is the fact that local laws can differ wildly from place to place. Most states have individual laws governing animal breeding, including cat breeding. Some states might have very little oversight or enforcement of breeding laws, and other states might take it very seriously. Some states might require strict licensing for all breeding activity, while other states will only require a license for large-scale operations.

Beyond that, local governments can also pass their own laws. That can be applied at the county level, the city level, or even by a homeowner’s association in some cases. That means that you need to look up your exact local laws and ordinances governing cat breeding. Start at the state level and work your way down to the local level. Keep in mind that your local government is more likely to catch you and enforce local laws than the state or federal government.

Violating breeding laws can result in fines. It can also result in inspections of your home or facilities to ensure that they are up to the code that governs businesses dealing with animals.

Check With the USDA

If you are not sure whether you need a license or not, you can use the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) online tool to find out. This short survey will ask you a series of questions about your breeding operation. At the end, based on your answers, the USDA will advise on whether they think you might need a license or not. If the survey results say you should seek a license, it is probably a good idea to start researching what you need to do to make your breeding operation legal to avoid any potential pitfalls down the road.

You can access the USDA online licensing survey here.

You can also look up an overview of the breeding laws state by state here.

man typing on laptop with cat sleeping on keyboard
Image By: Sharomka, Shutterstock

Overview of USDA License Requirements

License Not Likely Required
  • Four or fewer breeding animals
  • Breeding is not a primary income source
  • You have no specific place to display or sell animals
  • The USDA survey initially cleared your activity
License Likely Required
  • Five or more breeding animals
  • Breeding is a primary source of income
  • You have a storefront or specific space to display and sell animals
  • The USDA survey initially flagged your activity



Whether or not you need a license to breed cats is going to depend on a number of factors. Your exact location is going to play a big role in the final licensing determination. Whether or not you are breeding cats for the sole purpose of selling them for income is also going to factor heavily into the answer. If you live in an area with strict rules and you are breeding to make a profit, you will likely need a license. Look up your local laws and regulations to make a final determination for your particular situation.

Featured Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

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