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10 Most Popular Pets in South Africa (Updated 2023)

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

little cute French bulldog puppy

South Africa has a diverse number of legal pets, from dogs that can be found in nearly every South African home, to loving felines, tiny hamsters, songful parrots, and even racing horses. Pet keeping is a hobby enjoyed around the world, and many South Africans view their pets as part of their own family.

The following animals listed in this article are popular favorites in South Africa.

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The 10 Most Popular Pets in South Africa

1. Dogs

Cute Cockapoo dog sit on table
Image Credit: MT.PHOTOSTOCK, Shutterstock

Dogs seem to remain one of the most popular pets in the world, including in South Africa where they are considered a very common pet to own. South Africans greatly appreciate their canine companions and even have some common dog breeds that are well-known in the country, including the Boerboel and Rhodesian Ridgeback.

South Africans seem to favor larger dog breeds, but there are plenty of smaller dog breeds available and loved in many South African homes. Aside from being man’s best friend and making a good pet, dogs are also commonly used as an assistant or guide dogs to help South Africans with disabilities and impairments, or for mental health support.

The number of dogs in South Africa is so high, that many shelters and rescue organizations are overflowing with unwanted dogs that need loving homes. This is why we recommended adopting dogs rather than buying them or supporting the local shelters and rescues where possible.

2. Cats

tortoiseshell persian cat on the grass
Image Credit: andres felipe Aristizabal, Pixabay

Cats are a second favorite pet for South Africans to own. Cats are common in many South African homes, and even as a country known for loving their dogs, many South Africans are cat lovers.

When we talk about South African cats, we don’t mean the felines part of the “Big Five”—the lion and leopard. Instead, we mean the small and fluffy felines that are kept as pets around the world, the domesticated cat. This includes the popular tabby cat, Maine Coon, and the British shorthair.

There are estimated to be around 2.4 million cats in South Africa, proving just how popular cats are in this country. Like most popular animals in South Africa, cats are found in high numbers at rescues and shelters and require a loving home.

3. Fish

a couple of Black moor goldfish in a tank
Image Credit: Vlad Siaber, Shutterstock

Fishkeeping is a prevalent hobby in South Africa, and aquatic pets like fish are a favorite. There are many South Africans who keep fish as pets, whether it is as a pet for their children, a decoration item in the home, or as a hobby.

Having a beautifully decorated aquarium with impressive fish inside is something worth bragging about in South Africa, and devoted South African aquarists spend to put a lot of time and money on this hobby. Fish can either make a simple and inexpensive or extravagant pet in this country, depending on what your preferences are with both aquarium and fish keeping.

Goldfish and koi seem to be the most popular types of fish in South Africa, and they are displayed in outdoor ponds in many South African gardens.

4. Hamsters

adult european hamster in front of a tree
Image Credit: An13nA, Shutterstock

As a popular pet in the country and one that is common in many pet shops in South Africa, hamsters can be found in many homes, but they are especially common pets for children. These cute rodents are known for having less of an “unclean” stigma than mice and rats, who can also be kept as pets in South Africa.

South Africa does not have any purebred dwarf hamsters, instead, they have hybrid dwarf hamsters (a cross between a Campbell Russian and Winter White hamster) along with the larger Syrian hamster. Robovorski or Chinese dwarf hamsters are incredibly rare in this country and are currently not available as pets in South Africa.

South African hamster care is not well researched or updated, so many hamsters do not have their proper care requirements met. Thankfully, there has been an influx of hamster rescue organizations and ethical hamster groups aiming to improve South African hamster care.

5. Rabbits

rabbit lying on the carpet
Image Credit: ZouZou, Shutterstock

Rabbits or bunnies are popular pets in South Africa, and they are mostly found outdoors where the South African climate is more tolerable. The adorable rabbit can be found in pet stores or from breeders throughout the country where they are in demand as pets during Easter time.

There are many different types of rabbits found in South Africa, including the Netherland dwarf, Dutch, and Angora rabbit. Sadly, like with many small pets, rabbits are often rehomed, abandoned, or given up to shelters in high numbers in South Africa.

It is not uncommon for small populations of domestic rabbits to populate in the vlei and greenbelt areas surrounding many South African homes, as these are usually rabbits that have been cruelly released into the “wild” when their owners no longer want them.

6. Birds

two cockatiel on top of bird house
Image Credit: Piqsels

Birds like parakeets and parrots are popular winged pets in South Africa, with the African grey parrot being a common favorite. Birds make great vocal pets in this country, and their care is generally more researched than other small pets.

As highly intelligent creatures, parrots in South Africa are taught words and phrases that they can repeat, and the African grey parrot is an example of a bird that has an extensive vocabulary that is quite impressive. Parakeets and finches are other sought-out birds that chirp and sing. They are kept throughout South Africa while being popular for requiring less maintenance than parrots.

7. Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pig
Image Credit: chiprida, Pixabay

Guinea pigs make popular pets for adults and children in South Africa. Guinea pigs are often owned second in line to rabbits, and they have slightly less demanding care requirements, while also requiring less space than a rabbit. Guinea pigs are known for being quite vocal and skittish, and they are not always the cuddliest pet.

Common guinea pig breeds to own in South Africa include the Abyssinian, Smooth-haired, and Peruvian guinea pigs. They are easy to come by in pet stores, rehoming sites, and even from guinea pig rescue organizations.

8. Snakes

copperhead snake
Image Credit: Jumpstory

Even though South Africa has a diverse amount of wild snake populations, including the well-known Cape Cobra, there are plenty of snakes kept as pets. Snakes are often kept as exotic pets in SA, and they are one of the most popular reptiles.

A permit is required to keep a snake in captivity in most South African provinces, with some snake species requiring no permit in certain provinces. Snake keeping is a more expensive hobby in South Africa, and rare snake morphs can be sold for as much as R20,000. This excludes the enclosure and other essential equipment you would need for these reptiles.

However, there are cheaper snakes such as the corn snake which can be kept in South Africa. Before owning a snake in South Africa, be sure to check with your local wildlife officials whether you need a permit to keep the snake.

9. Horses

man comforting a horse in stable
Image Credit: michaeljung, shutterstock

Horse racing is enjoyed as a sport in South Africa, and they are common pets to keep on farms or small holdings. Horses are also kept as pets in rural areas where they are used as working animals, mainly for transport. These are not your average backyard pets, and they do better on large properties with stables and plenty of space.

Horse riding has also been used as a form of therapy in South Africa, and they make great companions too if they are not kept for sporting or working purposes. Horses are quite loyal and intelligent animals, which is why they become increasingly popular pets in South Africa.

However, you will need to ensure that the horse is kept in a suitable environment, as their care and exercise requirements differ in comparison to other smaller pets in South Africa.

10. Rats

group of rats
Image Credit: Piqsels

Even though most South Africans dread a rat infestation in their home, others make an exception for domesticated rats such as the fancy or dumbo rat. These types of rats are kept as pets in South Africa, and they are unlike the large brown rats one might see in South African bush or streets.

Rats can be found in pet stores or rescue organizations, and they make great pets for rodent lovers. As social animals, rats should be kept in same-sex groups if they are bonded. They require larger cages and more broken floor space than hamsters. As a nocturnal animal, rats can be found climbing, chewing, and digging during the night while you are sleeping.

Most rats are affectionate and interactive pets, which is why they are a popular favorite in South Africa.

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Can Tortoises Be Kept as Pets in South Africa?

Tortoises are common yet illegal pets to own in South Africa as they are wild animals and protected. South Africa is home to 12 species of tortoise and 2 subspecies, and there are abundances of tortoises spread throughout. The dry lands in the Karroo are ideal environments for a variety of tortoises, and tortoises are also common in gardens in hot and humid areas.

Since it is common for tortoises to wander into South African gardens and breed, they are then considered “pets”. Some popular South African tortoises include the Angulate, Hinge-back, and Leopard tortoises

It is currently not permitted for tortoises to be kept as pets in South Africa without a permit and permission from wildlife officials, but it is still done unintentionally. Tortoises that wander into gardens should ideally be left alone if there is no threat from another animal, and the appropriate wildlife or nature conservationists should be contacted for further guidance.


Large dogs and domesticated cats seem to be the most common pets in South Africa, followed by rabbits, exotics, and small pets like rodents. South African pet care is always improving, which is why a pet you wish to keep should always be researched to ensure you can meet their standard care requirements.

When it comes to keeping exotic reptiles and pets, check with nature or wildlife conservationists whether you can legally keep the animal without a permit.

With such a large number of unwanted animals in South Africa in local rescues and shelters, South Africans are encouraged to adopt pets if it is an option.

See also: 11 Exotic and Rare Rabbit Breeds (With Pictures)

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