Are Sloths Good Pets?

Liz Armstrong
Sloth on a rope
Three-toed sloth

The abundance of adorable baby sloth photos on the Internet recently has led to an increasing number of people considering sloths as an exotic pet. However, to stay happy and healthy, sloths require a special diet, and a unique enclosure. Due to the extensive requirements for their care and the difficulty in obtaining a sloth legally, sloths do not make good pets.

Personality

Sloths are quiet, slow-moving animals and because of this, people presume that they have a relaxed temperament. However, the San Diego zoo notes that the two-toed sloth in particular, can be very aggressive towards perceived threat and bite very hard. Many people prefer three-toed sloths who have a more docile personality, however, according to National Geographic, three-toed sloths do not generally do well in captivity.

Sloth Habitat

Since these animals, by design, are meant to hang upside down from tall tree branches, they are incredibly clumsy on land. Consequently, any enclosure must have ample space and lots of trees, branches, or ropes for the animal to hang on.

  • An ideal enclosure would be a walk-in aviary or solarium, with either fake or real trees (including leaves), ropes, and other things on which to climb.
  • An added benefit to such an enclosure is the ability to control temperature and humidity. Sloths are rainforest animals, so they need enclosures that are warm and humid.
  • Because sloths are born foragers, they need a lot of space to carry out instinctual foraging activities as well.
  • Despite their inability to walk on land, they are excellent swimmers. As such, providing a pool that can be easily accessed by your sloth would be a good idea.

Diet

In the wild, a sloth's diet typically consists of vegetable matter, leaves, twigs, and fruits. They may also feed on insects for nutrients. Properly feeding a captive sloth is difficult due to the specialty of the vegetables and other foods that they eat in the wild. Their diet cannot simply come from a grocery store, because the vegetables people eat are not as high in fiber as what a sloth's body requires to function properly.

In captivity, sloths are fed a primate feed, such as the Marion Leaf Eater Food which can be purchased at a zoo or from online zoological retailers such as Mazuri.com or ExoticNutrition.com. Zoo keepers and rescue groups feed their sloths an additional diet of a salad of fruit and vegetables, yogurt, dog chow, and a meat mix.

Additionally, insects like meal worms or silkworm pupae may need to be in their diet, which may not appeal to people who are squeamish.

Veterinary Care

Before you take on sloth ownership, it's important to think about whether or not you'll be able to find a vet if your sloth gets sick, and for routine wellness check ups. Due to their exotic nature, it will be very difficult to find veterinary care for a sloth. You can search for exotic vets via LocalVets.com to see if there is any chance of finding healthcare for this type of animal in your area.

Another consideration is to figure out who can take care the sloth in the event you go away on vacation or need to leave town for other reasons, as it is not likely that a boarding facility will be available.

Sloth Legalities

If you are truly prepared to commit to caring for a sloth, the legality of owning a sloth, and finding a reputable resource to get one, will be the final determining factors in the decision to own one.

Exotic Pet Ownership

There are many county, state, and federal regulations on exotic pet ownership. Some states make it completely illegal to own an exotic pet while others require permits or licenses. Before you get your pet sloth, make sure that you contact the following:

  • Born Free USA and the Animal Legal and Historical Center through Michigan State University can help you find out if it's legal to own an exotic animal in your state.
  • Call the USDA or call the National Import Export Services (NIES) Call Center at 301-851-3300 to find out if there are additional permits and requirements you need to comply with in order to import your sloth.
  • You may also need to contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to see if you need any special permits through that agency.

Don't forget to also contact your local Animal Control. They will be able to help you with local laws, requirements and permits specific to your county or town.

Obtaining a Sloth

There are not many legal sloth-breeding establishments. The likelihood of indirectly helping the illegal sloth trade is high as it's impossible to tell if the sloth you are getting was obtained illegally.

High Maintenance

In general, sloths do not make good pets due to their sensitive stomachs, specialized diet, hard-to-find veterinary care, and their need for a warm, humid habitat with plenty of high branches or hammocks from which to sleep, eat, and hang out. If you are just dazzled by their cuteness, consider joining the Sloth Appreciation Society instead.

Are Sloths Good Pets?