Should You Keep a Capuchin Monkey as a Pet? (2024)

Capuchin monkeys are energetic animals that require enrichment and an active lifestyle—often, when raised by humans, they rarely get enough stimulation. They may be adorable as babies, but as they get older, capuchin monkeys can get bored easily, which can lead to increasingly destructive behaviors. They usually end up as incompatible pets, rendering them difficult to care for and resulting in rescue or euthanasia.

Here's everything to know about capuchin monkeys and why they should stay in the wild and out of homes.

Species Overview

Common Name: Capuchin monkey

Scientific name: Cebinae

Adult Size: 13 to 22 inches; Up to 4 pounds

Lifespan: 15 to 25 years in the wild

Can You Own a Pet Capuchin Monkey?

There are many factors to think about before bringing home a capuchin monkey, including legality and ethical concerns.

Legality

Currently, it is legal to own a pet capuchin monkey in North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia, Indiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. The laws change all the time, and if you are considering getting a pet capuchin monkey, thoroughly research both your state and local laws. Some places might require a license for capuchin monkeys as well.

Laws on Exotic Animals for Each State

Ethics

Capuchin monkeys are often surrendered as pets because they have needs most humans don't have the skills or time to fill, making it more than likely that owning one is—in most instances—unethical. However, there are always exceptions, and if you are an owner who is enthusiastic about giving your pet capuchin monkey everything it needs to thrive, it may very well be happy in your home.

Things to Consider

Capuchin monkeys are wild animals and really shouldn't be kept as pets. Unless you have ample space for exercise and are committed to keeping and caring for them for their entire life, which could be up to 40 years in captivity, you should consider a different pet.

Capuchin Monkey Behavior and Temperament

Capuchins—considered the smartest of the New World monkeys—are diurnal (active during the day), social, and territorial. They spend most of their waking hours searching for food, urinating to mark their territory, and hanging out in trees. They are mostly found in rainforests in South America and Latin America.

Captive capuchin monkeys are charming as babies and need to be cared for similarly as a human baby would. Capuchin babies can form a tight bond with their human mother or father, may need to be bottle-fed for some time (if not forever), and will need to be trained to be a part of the family. You can hire a specialized monkey trainer, but it is very difficult to find a trainer with primate experience who will ethically train a monkey.

Once they reach age five, capuchin monkeys become much harder to handle. A bored monkey may display aggression, biting its owner or someone else to get attention or garner interest. It may also try to escape its enclosure or misbehave—even throwing feces. Aggressive behavior is typical in capuchin monkeys and can sometimes occur without prior tendencies. Most capuchin monkeyowners use diapers for the monkey's entire life and keep them on leashes in and out of the house for both the safety of the monkey and the public. All of this begs the question, "Should we keep monkeys as pets?"

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Are Capuchin Monkeys Good Pets?

Veterinary Treatment

Capuchin monkeys were trained as service animals until 2010 when the American Disabilities Act deemed them a danger to both owners and the public due to disease transmission and aggression. Because of this, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages the use of primates in service, making it difficult to find an exotic vet to treat pet capuchins.

Housing

In the wild, capuchins swing from tree to tree, something that most home enclosures don't permit. The lack of natural habitat in a home setting raises controversy regarding keeping these monkeys at all. Typically, there isn't nearly enough space or foliage safely enclosed in the average yard to allow the primate proper exercise.

That said, the bigger the enclosure, the better. If you do decide to house a capuchin monkey, make sure it has plenty of trees to swing and jump from, provide a shaded area for shelter from the elements, and be sure it's monkey-proofed. Even healthy and happy monkeys are curious, and a breakout is inevitable if they're given the time and an outlet.

What Do Capuchin Monkeys Eat and Drink?

In the wild, capuchin monkeys eat bugs, fruit, small birds, nuts, and flowers. Mimicking this monkey's natural diet in captivity can be somewhat tricky. A high-quality, formulated monkey chow provides the bulk of their nutritional needs, while ample outdoor space allows them to forage. You can also supplement their diet with baby food, fruits, and vegetables. A varied diet keeps a monkey interested, especially if you hide it and they have to search for it. It is best to feed your monkey on a regular schedule twice per day.

Capuchins also thrive with the occasional cooked meat treat (about 1 teaspoon), but never give them table food, dairy products, or sweets, as this is not part of their natural diet and can lead to health problems.

Should You Keep a Capuchin Monkey as a Pet? (1)

Common Health Problems

Capuchins can become infected with common human ailments since their immune systems are not as robust as ours. Many pet capuchins develop diabetes due to improper nutrition. Like humans, your pet monkey should have regular blood screenings to monitor glucose and cholesterol levels closely.

Capuchins can suffer metabolic bone disease, especially when taken from their mother so young and due to a lack of adequate replacement nutrition. If you purchase a capuchin, check with your veterinarian for diet recommendations to avoid this life-threatening illness.

Disease Transmission

Capuchins, like other primates, can transmit certain diseases to humans, the most notable being hepatitis and rabies. Monkeys are also natural hosts of herpes B (or monkey B) virus, which can cause fatal encephalomyelitis in people. Monkeys commonly develop latent, lifelong infections that can be transmitted to people via scratches and bites.

Exercise

Capuchin monkeys will need lots of physical—and mental—stimulation to thrive. They do not do well in small enclosures and will need ample space where they can run around, climb in trees, and explore their territory.

Grooming

Grooming your capuchin monkey can be a great opportunity for bonding and attention—in the wild, the monkeys will groom each other as a sign of affection and respect, so similar feelings can be fostered through owner-to-monkey grooming.

Every month or so, wash your monkey with a mild shampoo designated for human hair, being careful not to get soap in their eyes. Rinse soap thoroughly, then dry your capuchin with a soft towel or hair dryer set to low heat.

Training Your Capuchin Monkey

Part of the difficulty (and issue) with owning a capuchin monkey comes from training. They are incredibly smart but also have their own ideas for how they want to learn (or not learn things), making it difficult to train them properly. It is recommended that you seek out a kind and patient trainer skilled in primates to help you with your capuchin.

Pros & Cons of Keeping a Capuchin Monkey

When it comes to owning a capuchin monkey, there are many aspects to consider before committing to primate ownership. Capuchin monkeys are charming and adorable creatures, but unless you're extremely well-versed in primate care, owning one may be more difficult (and potentially dangerous) than it is enjoyable. You also need to have a veterinarian for its care, including wellness and illness exams.

Pros

  • Charming and adorable animals
  • Can form strong bonds with their caregivers

Cons

  • Potentially dangerous to have in your home because of disease risk and aggression
  • Very difficult to give them enough physical and mental stimulation
  • Need ample space in your home for them to climb and swing
  • Hard to find a vet who specializes in capuchins

7 Kinds of Primates That Are Kept as Pets

Purchasing a Capuchin Monkey

Capuchin monkeys can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000. When purchasing a capuchin monkey, you need to find a reputable breeder, but even this can be a dilemma. Capuchin breeders take the babies from their mothers at an extremely young age—this practice helps the human owner form a tighter bond but can cause permanent emotional and psychological damage to both the mother and the baby. In the wild, capuchins usually stay with their mother for the first several years of their life.

It can be difficult to verify if a breeder or dealer is reputable, but it only takes a few minutes to confirm if your breeder is USDA-licensed. Ask to see the license or, if over the phone, ask for their federal number and look them up for validation. Try to buy directly from a breeder rather than going through a broker. It's essential to know the history and parentage of the animal. You should feel comfortable asking a lot of questions about the animal, including its current care schedule and the breeder's assessment of the monkey's temperament. Additionally, you should ask around for referrals from people who have used the same breeder.

Warning

The illegal exotic animal trade is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide. Scams abound online and offline, and it can be practically impossible to get your money back.

If monkey ownership is something you genuinely have your heart set on, and you realize it is difficult to obtain a monkey (or if around-the-clock care for a monkey is not doable for you), you can also look into monkey sponsorship. Jungle Friends is a sponsorship service for monkeys released from research labs. A year-long donation provides food, housing, and enrichment opportunities for the monkey of your choice, granting you a certificate of sponsorship, a photo, and access to a video link of the monkeys in their natural sanctuary.

FAQ

  • Are pet capuchin monkeys hard to take care of?

    Due to various environmental and social needs, pet capuchin monkeys are very difficult to care for. In their infancy (up to age five), they are considered more tame and easy to care for, but they will quickly become a handful and are not a suitable choice for pet owners who do not have previous primate experience.

  • Do capuchin monkeys do better in their natural habitat than in a domesticated one?

    Yes. Capuchin monkeys will thrive in a jungle or sanctuary environment where they are free to explore and play. Additionally, monkeys are social creatures and will benefit from being surrounded by a large "family" of other primates like themselves.

  • Can you domesticate a capuchin monkey?

    Yes—though it's not always suggested. Regardless of how much they're trained, capuchin monkeys will still possess many of their innate behaviors and can exhibit issues such as aggression, acting out, and escapism.

  • Can capuchin monkeys be potty trained?

    No. Capuchin monkeys will need to wear diapers for their entire lives when living in a domestic environment. They tend to throw their poop and even play in their pee, so they will always need to wear a diaper if you want your home to stay clean.

Should You Keep a Capuchin Monkey as a Pet? (2024)
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