Are Sloths Good Pets? Answers and Information

Updated March 21, 2022
Sloth On Tree Branch

Do sloths make good pets? The abundance of adorable baby sloth photos on the internet recently has led to an increasing number of people considering sloths as pets. However, to stay happy and healthy, pet 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.

Are Sloths Dangerous?

Sloths are quiet, slow-moving animals and because of this, people presume that they have a relaxed temperament.

Do Sloths Bite?

However, despite their placid appearance, the two-toed sloth, in particular, can be very aggressive towards perceived threats and can bite very hard.

A More Docile Sloth Breed

two-toed sloth

Many people prefer three-toed sloths, which have a more docile personality; however, according to National Geographic, three-toed sloths do not generally do well in captivity.

Sloth Habitat

Owning a sloth requires significant space dedicated to them. Because these animals, by design, are meant to hang upside down from tall tree branches, they are incredibly clumsy on land.

Ideal Sloth Enclosure

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 sloth can easily access would be a good idea.

Sloth Diet

Happy, rescued Sloth

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.

Finding Feed for a Sloth

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. Zookeepers and rescue groups feed their sloths an additional diet of a salad of fruit and vegetables, yogurt, dog chow, and a meat mix. Because feeding sloths is so difficult, it is best left to the experts.

Protein Sources for Sloths

Additionally, insects like mealworms 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 you'll be able to find a vet if your sloth gets sick, and for routine wellness checkups. 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.

Common Sloth Health Problems

Sloths suffer from several problems related to captivity, particularly in regard to their diet and proper climate conditions. These include:

  • Skin diseases, such as dermatitis from parasites and sarcoptic mange.
  • Encephalitis, which has the potential of passing on to humans.
  • Behavior problems are also commonly brought on by the stress of captivity.

A retrospective study of one zoo in Brazil examined sloth health problems over the course of 20 years and found that 45.7 percent of medical issues were related to nutrition, 12.3 percent to digestion, 12.3 percent to respiratory problems, and 6 percent to physical injuries.

Care for Sloths When You Travel

Another consideration is to figure out who can take care of 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.

Caring for a Baby Sloth

Baby sloth

It's hard enough to provide proper care for an adult sloth, but with a baby sloth, you'll find yourself needing to bottle feed and hand-feed your sloth regularly if they're under 1 year of age. Zookeepers report that one single feeding can take up a lot of time, because everything with sloths is slow and you'll need to do this four times a day or every two hours with an infant.

You'll also need to work to acclimate the baby to captivity with the added stress of not having a mother, which can lead to further behavior problems and a weakened immune system. Baby sloths cling to their mothers and rely on them for their care, and infants will have a difficult time thriving without one. Even the experts struggle to raise baby sloths, so unless you a trained zoologist, consider another exotic pet.

Can You Have a Sloth as a Pet Legally?

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.

Regulations for 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 you contact the following:

  • 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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 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.

Sloths Are High-maintenance Pets

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.

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Are Sloths Good Pets? Answers and Information