Adopting a pet: Laws and registration

Published: Jan. 9, 2017 at 6:02 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2017 at 11:49 AM EST
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The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Animal Services Unit is located at 180 Division Drive in Wilmington, NC. To reach by phone, call 910-798-7500 or by fax 910-341-4349.

New Hanover County Laws

  • Any dog left alone outside on its owner’s property must be secured with either a fenced-in yard, chain link fence or kennel. Dogs cannot be restrained by ropes, chains or tethers.
  • Dogs that are 25 pounds of less held in an outside enclosure must have a pen at least 8’ by 10.’ Dogs larger than 25 pounds must have a 10’ by 10’ pen. Each dog held outside must have a dog house (top, bottom, three sides) that is large enough to stand up, turn around and lie down in.
  • The county-wide leash law requires a leash on any dog off its owner’s property.
  • If you own or breed dogs and have four or more litters per year you must have a kennel permit and renew it every year.
  • If you own or care for an animal that has a planned or unplanned litter you must purchase a breeders permit no later than three business days following the birth of the litter.  That permit must be purchased for every litter born. Call Animal Services directly.

Pet Registration

All dogs, cats and ferrets four months old and up must be vaccinated for rabies and registered with the New Hanover County Animal Services Unit. Registration must be mailed, paid by phone (910-798-7500) or paid in person (M-F 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or Sat 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). If you are a new resident or this is your first pet, send in a copy of your pet's rabies certificate along with the registration payment.

Registration renewal coincides with the rabies vaccination schedule. Stay up-to-date!

You may purchase a one or three-year registration or you may opt for the plan that coincides with the length of your pet's rabies vaccination. Failure to register can result in a $100 fine.

  • The cost is $10 for a pet less than one year old that is getting a one year license.
  • The cost is $10 if the pet is spayed/neutered, older than one year and getting a one year license and $20 if it is not spayed/neutered.
  • The cost is $25 if the pet is spay/neutered, older than one year and getting a three year license. $50 if it is not spayed/neutered.
  • Ferrets can only get a one year rabies vaccination and a one year county registration, both must be renewed every year.
  • You may need a specialty license registration if you have several animals. Five to ten pets will cost $45. Eleven to twenty will cost $70 and $100 if you have 21 or more animals.


  • If you own a cat, dog or ferret in NHC/City of Wilmington that is four months or older, you must have a current rabies vaccination and pay a registration fee.
  • A licensed veterinarian must vaccinate the pet for rabies.
  • Pets brought into NC with a certificate of rabies issued by a licensed vet will be valid. Registration fees may be paid at the shelter when proof of rabies vaccination is given.

Rabies Facts

  • Rabies is a deadly viral disease that can be prevented but not cured.

Here's what to do if you think you or your pet may be at risk:

  • If you think your pet has been bitten by a rabid animal do not touch your pet without protective gloves on. Wash every wound to remove saliva which is how the virus is carried.
  • Call Animal Services to report any exposure. Try to have accurate descriptions of the attacking animal. If the attacking animal is a different pet, try to get the owner’s name and address.
  • Contact your doctor and/or veterinarian even if the wound is minor.
  • Capture and isolate the attacking animal if possible and keep children away from all animals involved.
  • Re-vaccinate your pet within five days if your currently vaccinated pet is exposed to a rabid or potentially rabid animal.
  • Keep your property free of garbage and pet food that may attract wildlife. Be sure to secure all trash container tops.