Pet culture in Canada and what animals are legal

By: Callum Denault

Published on: August 1st, 2023

When people think about the ways Canada is culturally different from other parts of the world, they usually think of big things like the wintry weather, unique dishes like poutine, or how the country’s politics are run. But Canada’s cultural differences can show up in smaller aspects of life as well, such as pet ownership. 

Here is a guide to navigating both the culture and laws newcomers may encounter when trying to bring a pet into Canada or adopt one here. 

Dog culture in Canada

The culture around dogs in Canada is similar to that of the United States, where dogs are seen as “man’s best friend” and treated as loyal companions. This can be seen in Canada’s top ten most popular dog breeds, which include breeds such as Havanese, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, and King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, which are strictly companion dogs that are not used for labour or any physical activity. 

Because Canadians tend to keep their dogs indoors, walking them is extremely popular. Of the 7.9 million Canadians who own a dog, they tend to walk their dogs an average of four times per day, and this activity is found to have a positive effect on mental health.  

Animal abuse is strongly disliked in Canada, to the point that the Ontario government has dedicated Animal Welfare Services which encourages people to call them if they see any animals (wildlife, farm animals, or pets) being mistreated.  

Is it safe to let my pets outside? 

While many people let their pets roam outside the home, in North America dogs are typically just left to roam a fenced-in backyard. Some people choose to let their dogs outside as a substitute to walking their dog although dogs tend to benefit more from being walked by their owners. Unlike some parts of the world where street dogs are common and accepted by their communities, street dogs are rare in North America, with many in the United States being put down by shelters. Most pets in Canada are fully domesticated and not meant for an outdoor lifestyle, with cats sometimes being an exception.  

Letting your cats roam outside the home can help them get more exercise and increased social opportunities, but also comes with a lot of risks. Risks faced by outdoor cats include: getting run over by a car, getting attacked by a wild animal/predator, getting kidnapped by a person, getting fleas or ticks, getting poisoned, or getting lost far from home.  

If you do decide to let your cat go outside, it is a good idea to schedule a routine where your cat leaves the home during the day and comes back before it gets dark. Nighttime is when predators are most active, and when drivers struggle seeing the road. 

Other tips include keeping your cat updated on vaccines and giving them a collar and/or microchip to help strangers return the cat to you. Any cat that has been declawed should not be allowed outside since it has no way of defending itself.  

You should also keep your cat inside during winter. If it is too cold for you to go outside wearing a regular jacket, it is also too cold for your pet. Any pet that goes outside during winter should be regularly checked for signs of frostbite, properly groomed to keep its fur waterproof, and have access to an emergency source of water and shelter (such as a doghouse) near your home in case you are not around to let them inside. 

Animals that you are not allowed to have in Canada 

Unfortunately, some animals which are kept as pets in other countries may not be legal to keep in your Canadian home. A lot of these laws are different depending on which province or territory you are in, so it is important to check on local laws if you are worried about being allowed to keep a certain type of animal as a pet. 

Pit Bulls and similar dogs 

Dogs that are considered pit bulls are banned in several parts of Canada. The term “pit bull” can refer to the specific Pit Bull Terrier breed, but also several related breeds of dog that tend to have a similar medium-to-large size, athletic build, square head, and supposedly aggressive behaviour. Bullies, American Bulldogs, and Staffordshire Terriers are all considered pit bulls

Canada has had a pit bull ban for several years, but since it is up to provincial governments to enforce this ban, how strict the laws are and exactly what types of dogs they apply to varies across the country.  

For instance, pit bull breeds are not illegal in British Columbia, while Nova Scotia requires pit bull owners spay or neuter their dog after it reaches six months old, unless they have insurance to cover for a permit which allows them to have an unchanged dog. Alberta requires pit bulls to be leashed, muzzled, neutered, and equipped with a collar that has an identification tag. New Brunswick pit bull owners have to keep their dogs muzzled off private property and attend three hour long obedience classes at least once every two months. 

In Ontario, pit bulls are banned and owners would have to either move their dogs out of the province or turn them over to the government. However, in 2021 the government relaxed this law and returned several dogs to families which were originally taken because of their appearance. These dogs are tested to see if their breed is actually that of a pit bull, meaning pit bull-like dogs are still at risk of being banned in the province.  

However, the Ontario laws are becoming even more loose, with some owners being able to own a pit bull so long as they get a permit, which usually requires they neuter their dog and put a muzzle on it. 


Just as many Canadian cities allow people to own chickens as pets, there are those which have banned “backyard chickens”. Some residents consider the laws confusing as with people living in rural parts of Ontario who are still not allowed to keep chickens.  

Vancouver, Edmonton, Guelph, Brampton, Newmarket, Niagara Falls, Kelowna, Surrey, parts of Montreal, Gatineau, Victoria, Moncton, and Whitehorse are all cities where people are allowed to keep chickens in their own homes. Cities that ban personal chicken ownership are Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon. 

Skunks, geese, raccoons, and other animals native to Canada

Any animal belonging to a species considered native to Canada is illegal to be owned as a pet. This is because of laws designed to protect Canadian wildlife, which includes raccoons, Canadian geese, and skunks. Also, since these animals are not domesticated like cats and dogs, they usually are very difficult to keep as pets. However, if there are raccoons near your house, feel free to feed them as long as you are not putting yourself or the raccoons at risk.  

Canada Geese are known for their aggression, which is why their nests should be given space, and people should avoid being around geese near tall grass since tall grass makes them nervous. If a goose attacks you, it is recommended you stare it down, standing your ground with a neutral posture. Hitting the goose or running away will trigger it to be more aggressive, and the best course of action is to dodge out of the way of their charges since a goose’s main goal is to chase you. 

If you are struggling with any other wild animals in your life—including pesky raccoons or skunks—and want to know how to deal with them, please see The Newcomer’s guide to Canadian wildlife

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