Can I Keep an Octopus as a Pet?

The idea of having a curious and intelligent cephalopod as a companion is undoubtedly alluring, but you shouldn’t keep one as a pet.

Dec 2, 2023By Colt Dodd
can I keep an octopus as pet

You know the saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”? That applies to keeping an octopus as a pet. Even if you’re an experienced aquarist, there are many ethical and legal implications of keeping one of these cephalopods as a pet. Some reasons are pretty obvious, but some aren’t.

Like many of nature’s creatures, octopi thrive while in their natural surroundings. If you’re dead set on having an exotic aquatic animal, consider other animals. In the long run, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartbreak, debt, and frustration.

You Shouldn’t Keep an Octopus as a Pet

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This article isn’t meant to rain on your parade or otherwise dissuade you from pursuing your dreams as an aquarist. It’s meant to put things into perspective, so you can make informed decisions. Here’s a quick run-through of what to know:

  • Keeping an octopus is expensive. Unless you just won the lottery, chances are, you don’t have the financial resources to support an octopus. This is more than buying the animal and its tank; obligations include regularly having a supply of fresh fish, installing water filters, and affording veterinary care.
  • There’s not a lot of octopi vets. Suppose your eight-legged friend gets sick. Do you know who to call? Not only are cephalopod veterinarians in short supply, but their consultations come with a hefty price tag.
  • Water changes can prove overwhelming. You can’t add some salt to water and stick an octopus in there. They need very specific water parameters to remain healthy. You might find that regularly having to clean the tank and change the water could prove time-consuming––especially if you have a 70-gallon or larger tank.

Octopuses Are Sentient Animals That Need Heightened Stimulation

seafloor octopus
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The octopus is a brilliant creature––perhaps among the smartest animals in the world. Scientists and aquarium keepers have observed them opening jars to get to food and escaping from tanks! What’s more impressive is their ability to recognize and distinguish between individuals. This high level of intelligence makes octopuses dream pets for aquarium hobbyists.

However, for an octopus confined to a small aquarium, it’s nothing short of a nightmare. Scientists conducted a study featuring an octopus in what appeared to be a decently sized aquarium. Within a few days, observers noted that the octopus started engaging in self-harm––a sign of distress in the wild.

You may think: “But lots of aquariums have happy, healthy octopi!” Well, these aquariums have millions of dollars in funding, with octopi basically getting around-the-clock stimulation, medical support, and other assistance. Even then, some aquariums only keep octopi on exhibit for a few years before they’re released back into the wild.

Octopi Refuse to Eat Pre-Packaged Food

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

You can’t open a can of tuna, dump it into your octopus’s tank, and expect them to chow down. Because they are hunters, you’ll need to feed them live prey and simulate how they would hunt down food in the wild. Between work, familial obligations, and your other hobbies, this could quickly get tiresome.

What’s more, octopi generally prefer their own company and do not make the best tank mates with other aquatic animals. You might get some fish, hoping to keep your octopus happy with some friends, then watch as the eight-legged creature eats them one by one. Your aquarium could soon turn into an episode of Squid Game.

Legal Aspects of Owning a Pet Octopus

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Okay, fine. In most places, there aren’t any specific laws that prohibit octopi ownership. But this is likely to change as aquariums become a larger and larger hobby. What’s more, while there aren’t any specific laws pertaining to octopi, there are bans and restrictions on owning certain exotic animals. There are even state-specific limitations on keeping a caught fish as a pet. There are even some laws at the federal level that protect endangered species––like the rarely-seen roughy umbrella octopus.

Even after all this, if you’re considering an octopus as a pet, research and understand the responsibilities involved. In some countries, like the United Kingdom, lobsters, crabs, and octopi are classified as “sentient beings.” This defines how these animals are kept in captivity and even served in restaurants.

Other Animals Make Better Pets

pink axoltol
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even though you shouldn’t keep an octopus as a pet, you don’t have to give up on your underwater dreams altogether. There are plenty of other animals that are easy to take care of but scratch that exotic animal itch.

Here are some ideas:

  • Axolotls. How could you say no to that pink, smiling face? Believe it or not, axolotls are fairly easy to take care of. Just make sure to conduct some research first; these little guys are endangered, after all.
  • Crayfish. Crayfish rule. They really do make lively, engaging pets. The best part is that crayfish can survive in even the poorest conditions. That’s why they’re common sights on the banks of the oxygen-deprived Mississippi River.
  • Snails. Snails are also a great choice for mollusk enthusiasts. They’re low maintenance and live peacefully with other fish. They even “take out the trash” by eating what settles to the bottom of the tank.

Beta Fish Also Make Good Pets

beta fish
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

You know what also makes a great pet? Beta fish. Also known as “fighting fish,” these frilly beauties can actually coexist with other fish, like tetra. Yet, don’t be fooled by the display at PetSmart; they can’t live in small plastic cups. They need tanks that are three gallons or above.

Save Yourself the Trouble: Don’t Get an Octopus

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Instead of shelling out thousands of dollars on your next aquarium disaster, buy yourself a membership to your local aquarium, and visit the cephalopods it has. Not only does this sate your need for an alien-like creature, but your patronage goes a long way in ensuring these magnificent creatures live happy, healthy lives.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.