Can I Have a Pet Bat?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2023
4 min read

Bats are interesting animals and sometimes desirable pets. But keep in mind that bats are wild animals and having one as a pet is not recommended. They don’t behave like domestic dogs and cats. Bats are not trainable.

There are many issues you must consider before taking in a bat. Keeping some types of bats is illegal in the U.S.

You can keep a bat as a pet, but it's not recommended. Unfortunately, caging doesn’t work out well for bats. These mammals perform better in the wild. Bats need to fly long distances to stay strong. That means a caged bat is weaker than one in the wild. They also need to be in a colony to survive. A bat in the wild can live up to 30 years while only a few pet bats will live for even a year.

Bats need special care, housing, and nutrition. They are complicated animals, making it almost impossible to take care of them properly even if you wanted to. Many people have tried only to end up with a dead bat within a few weeks.

Bats are unique animals. Taking them away from the wild isn’t recommended. There are many laws protecting bats, and the federal government regulates the transfer of bats. Interstate laws prohibit their transport without special permits. You may often need to get U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) permits from the Animal Health Inspection Service to handle bats.

If you do decide to get a bat as a pet, here are some things to consider: 

The diet of a bat. Different species of bats feed on different types of food. The bat’s age also influences what they eat. Here are some foods bats like to eat:

  • Milk: All bats feed on milk for the first six weeks of life.
  • Fruits: Some species of bats eat fruits. They are usually attracted to the smell of ripe fruits.
  • Insects: The largest proportion of bats (about 70%) eat insects. Some of the insects include mosquitos, cockroaches, flies, and beetles.
  • Blood: Only some bat species from Mexico and South America are known to feed on blood from mammals and birds.
  • Nectar: Bats that eat nectar have a long snout and tongue for feeding. They resemble hummingbirds.
  • Fish and other animals: Some bat species are known to eat fish, frogs, birds, lizards, and some rodents. Other bats may even feed on other bats.

Rabies. Like many other wild animals, bats can carry the rabies virus. Even a small, seemingly unimportant bite from a bat can cause transmission of the virus. This means that before you take in a pet bat you must be immunized against the virus. An infected bat may even transmit the virus to other domestic animals in the house. Even if immunized for rabies, a person would need additional care if bitten by a rabid bat or another animal. It is not as simple as just being vaccinated for rabies.

In addition to rabies, bats can spread fatal viruses like Hendra (to horses), SARS, and Ebola to other mammals. Bats aren’t affected by these viruses because they have a highly effective immune system. It gives them broad-spectrum immunity against viral attacks. Other animals could develop severe health issues or even death. 

Sociability of Bats. Bats (especially females) can form strong relationships with each other. The flying mammals can make and keep friendships lasting for years. This is how they can stay together in their large colonies. Studies on bats revealed that they rub their noses against each other as some form of bonding. They also pass on information using calls.

Nocturnal. Bats are nocturnal. This means they roost (hibernate) in caves or trees during the day and come out to feed at night. This fact makes them quite interesting and misunderstood by many. Bats are one of the most mysterious mammals. In some states like Missouri, it’s illegal to kill a bat unless it’s destroying your property.

Their being active at night may not favor you as a pet owner.

If you live in an area with bats, it’s common to find a bat in your home. When you do you should try and avoid direct contact with the bat. You can open a door or window and see if the bat will escape on its own, or use a towel or box to capture it and then call for an experienced bat rescuer. 

Protect the bat against direct sunlight until help arrives. You should never handle bats with bare hands.