Skip to main content

Animal Keeping Regulations

Animal keeping is regulated by the City of Hickory to minimize adverse impacts of incompatible land uses, promote agriculture in an urban setting, and to ensure the public safety and general welfare of its citizens.

General Regulations

Chapter 9 of the Land Development Code, as well as, Part II, Chapter 4 of the City Code of Ordinances contain the regulations related to animal keeping within the City of Hickory’s municipal boundaries. Properties located within Hickory’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) are subject to regulations from the Land Development Code, as well as, any general police power ordinances adopted by the respective county.

Regulations largely depend on the zoning district of the subject property. The keeping of large and small domestic animals is permitted in the R-1 (Low Density Residential) and IND (Industrial) zoning districts subject to the following ratios:

  • Large domestic animals: Three (3) animals per gross acre on irrigated land or one (1) animal per gross acre on non-irrigated land
  • Small domestic animals: One (1) animal per two thousand (2,000) square feet of land

In all remaining zoning districts where dwelling units are permitted, small domestic animals are allowed to be kept as household pets. An aggregate total of five (5) small animals per dwelling unit is permitted. The keeping of six (6) or more small animals constitutes a zoning violation, unless approval has been given by the City of Hickory. Certain small animals that are always housed entirely within the dwelling unit are excluded from the numerical limitations.

Examples of small domestic animals include chickens, guinea hens, geese, ducks, turkeys, dogs, and cats. Examples of large domestic animals include cows, horses, donkeys, llamas, goats, sheep, and swine. Miniature horses, etc. are classified as large domestic animals. The keeping of swine and goats within the city limits is strictly regulated and is generally considered a nuisance. Within the city limits, one and only one miniature Vietnamese pot bellied pig, up to 100 pounds in weight, may be kept as a family pet.

Animal Enclosures

No structure or enclosure for animals other than fencing or grazing land may be located less than fifty (50) feet from either the centerline of any street or from any adjoining lot. All animal enclosures shall be kept in a sanitary condition at all times. Unkempt enclosures may constitute a nuisance violation and enclosures too close to property lines is considered a zoning violation.

Generally speaking, no permits are required for animal keeping, although permits may be necessary for animal enclosures or other related accessory structures. For more information, please contact the Planning Department at (828) 323-7422.


Chickens are considered small domestic animals and are subject to the aforementioned regulations, as well as the following: Roosters are permitted, but properties within the city limits are subject to the city’s noise ordinance. Additionally, for properties within the city limits, chickens and other fowl are not permitted to run at large.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA) requires that all poultry owners register for a NCFarmID number. According to the NCDA, all poultry owners are required to register regardless of flock size. NCDA states that this measure is necessary to adequately prepare, manage and control possible HPAI outbreaks. For more information, please visit the NCDA website.

Commercial Operations

A kennel, zoo, or other commercial operation related to animal keeping should be discussed with the Planning Department and approved in accordance to the Land Development Code. These uses are limited to certain zoning districts and may require a public hearing for approval.

The temporary use of goats or other animals to remove kudzu, is permissible, but must be discussed with the City of Hickory beforehand for approval.

Bona Fide Farm Exemption

The North Carolina General Assembly has passed specific regulations that exempt bona fide farm operations within the ETJ from municipal zoning regulations, which include, but are not limited to, the regulations listed on this webpage. Generally speaking, bona fide farm purposes include the production and activities relating or incidental to the production of crops, fruits, vegetables, ornamental and flowering plants, dairy, livestock, poultry, and all other forms of agriculture in accordance to G.S. 106-581.1. Bona fide farms already within the city limits or farms that are annexed are not eligible for this exemption. For more information regarding the bona fide farm exemption, please review G.S. 153A-340.

In order to be classified as a bona fide farm, evidence in accordance to G.S. 153A-340 must be presented to the City of Hickory. If the exemption is utilized, a commercial zoning application must be completed and submitted at no cost to the Permit Center for record-keeping purposes.


Chapter 12 of the Land Development Code outlines regulations related to non-conformities. Generally speaking, pre-existing animal keeping that does not comply with the current regulations may remain as long as no increase in further nonconformity occurs. If such "grandfathered" animal keeping is determined to have ceased for a period of more than one hundred and eight (180) days, than the property must become compliant with the current regulations.

For more information regarding animal keeping regulations, please contact the Planning Department at (828) 323-7422.