Are you ready to care for a monkey as a pet?
Being a monkey owner is NOT for everyone, it is for a rare type of person. I do not recommend anyone to obtain a primate, unless they have done the proper RESEARCH. Be clear about what a monkey is before you get one so that you won't be disappointed later. If you want a monkey as a novelty item, an attention gettter or a cross between a doll and a child, you may be very happy with an infant-but not with a growing or full-grown monkey.
Remember, monkeys are different than dogs and cats in that they do not retain "tameness" without a continued investment of time. Even with an investment of time, monkeys naturally progress to behaviors of adolescence and maturity that make them less compatible with most humans and their human households. They are A LOT of work! This page will give an outline of the responsibilities of owning a primate. If anyone has any additional comments/advice, please send me an email.
First and foremost, the most powerful tool that will help you successfully raise a primate is KNOWLEDGE. Research all that you can about primates. Determine which species is right for you, and then research the specifics of that species. Educating yourself beforehand will prove invaluable. Understand monkeys temperaments, characteristic behaviors, and needs. This is the FIRST STEP in acquiring a monkey.
Obtaining a Primate
It is vital to research where you are planning to get your monkey. If you are dealing with a breeder, ask for references of others they have sold monkeys to. Require them to give you their USDA permit number (required by all US breeders). A baby monkey will NEVER be free. Monkeys are expensive to buy, and maintain. If you can't afford the monkey, chances are you can't afford its care. People email me all the time for information on how to get a "cheap or free" baby monkey, because they want a capuchin for $600. It does not exist! Marmosets are the least expensive at $1,500+, Capuchins cost $6,000-8,500+, Squirrels cost $5,500-8,000+, and macaques cost $3,500+. A current primate owner whose life change requires re-homing of their monkey will not give it to a person with no experience. When pet monkeys are re-homed they are usually 2+ years old and require experienced caretakers. Although an older monkey may be free it is no longer a baby, and needs the care of someone who knows how to handle a monkey. I got Sofie at 3 years old and still paid $2,800 for her. Bottom line, FORGET a free monkey!
*Remember, Since 1975, the Federal Quarantine Regulations (42CFR71.53) have restricted the importation of primates. Primates CAN NOT under any circumstance be imported to the US as pets. DO NOT buy a monkey from outside the US. It is a SCAM. If you visit another country and purchase one you will NOT be allowed to bring it into the US. You can NOT travel outside of the US with your monkey because you won’t be able to bring him back in.
CDC on Primate Importion
(For those of you outside the United States- Each country has their own laws regarding ownership, importation, etc. I do not know the laws for countries outside the US. I do know that most developed countries follow CITES, and have very strict importation regulations regarding endangered species. Also most developed countries prohibit import of monkeys for use as pets. Canada for example prohibits import of monkeys for pets. I suggest looking at your countries Department of Agriculture page for animal ordinances.)
If obtaining the monkey from another person IN the United States ask them if you can visit with the monkey first. Ideally, you know the history of the monkey, and can gradually acquaint yourself with that monkey slowly. There will always be a break-in period when obtaining an adult monkey, but the “break-in time” depends on the home the monkey came from and how adequate their care was. Generally, the better the care and time given to the monkey the easier the break-in will be. (This really applies to any animal.)
(In my case, Sofie was very well taken care of, and very well socialized with both people and animals. She is not a biter. She would only try to bite if I tried to dominate her, because she was not used to me and felt threatened. I was a stranger to her. The day after I got her she was jumping on my shoulder, but I couldn’t grab her. One week later, she would play with me a little bit, but I still couldn’t grab her. Two weeks later, I could play with her, grab her around her waste and give her kisses when she was playful. Now she loves me, looks to me for security, and even "protects" me against Joey. It took me about 6-8 months to fully gain her trust. Not that I couldn't handle her before that, it just took that long to gain her trust 100% where she knows that I will never hurt her. She no longer wears a tether. She allows me to use her tail to keep control of her when out of her cage, etc. My patience paid off because she is truly one of the most loving animals I have been in contact with.)
Research the type of monkey you are thinking of getting. Capuchins are more social than other kinds, however, it always depends on the individual personality just as people have. Squirrel monkeys can be very social as well, but may bite more often than capuchins, because they are more nervous (small size) and are frightened easier. Macaques are also common, however, macaques are larger and stronger. (Many animal rights groups and organizations opposed to private ownership say they can carry Herpes B, although with regular testing and proper vet care, Herpes in pet populations is highly unlikely. Herpes B is very difficult to transmit, as the animal has to be under high levels of stress to shed the virus, such as in invasive research. There has never been a reported case in the pet sector.)
New World primates come from South America. These include capuchins, squirrels, spiders, howlers, and marmosets. They live primarily in trees and are physically weaker than Old World primates, but still very strong in proportion to their size.
Old World primates are generally from Africa and Asia. These include macaques, colobus, guenons, and patas. Since these primates also spend time on the ground as well as trees, they have obtained much more physical strength than New World primates.
Don't even think about owning one of the large apes, such as chimpanzees and orangutans. These require extremely large enclosures made of steel in adulthood. Apes can live up to 60 years in captivity. Strength surpasses that of SEVEN men, and if not cared for by a professional animal trainer can be very dangerous as adults. Also, ALL of the large apes are critically endangered with very few left in the wild due to poachers who sell them for bush meat, and habitat loss.
Owning a primate is a LIFETIME COMMITMENT. It is not fair to take an animal and not commit to providing it with care for the duration of its lifetime. Primate babies will bond to you immediately and you become their troop. You will be very important to them as they are social animals. They are very dependant on you and will demand from you constantly. With a lifespan, for most, of 30+ years, it is your responsibility to provide for that new member for its entire life. It is your decision to own one, so be certain that monkey parenthood is right for you. It is more difficult for an adult monkey to adjust to a new owner, and more difficult to find someone with the experience necessary to "break in" and adult monkey. Learning to read their language and anticipating their moods is essential part of the "break in" and having these skills will stress yourself and the monkey less. In other words, finding someone to properly care for a monkey is not as easy as finding someone to take care of your dog or cat.
Vacations will be difficult. You can not travel outside of the country with your monkey under any circumstances. When traveling with them beyond state lines you must have a valid health certificate with you. Also, you must take into account 20 states currently have bans on monkeys. If you want to travel, you will have to find a trusted relative/friend to care for them in your absence. (Please be wary of who you leave your primate with, as a very well behaved monkey fetches a high price. I have heard stories of owners leaving their beloved primate with a “friend” and came back to no monkey, which was devastating to the owner, and am sure the monkey.)
Monkeys that are well cared for can live anywhere from 15-45+ years, depending on the species. Are you willing to make that kind of commitment to an animal? Capuchins WILL live 40+ years! If something were to happen to you, is there someone who would continue to care for them in your absence? If you are 30+ years old this means you will have a monkey until you are 70+ years old. Are your children willing to care for your monkey if your monkey outlives you?
Are you able to DEDICATE TIME EVERY DAY to your primate? They need 24 hour companionship to be happy and healthy. If you can not spend the necessary time, are you able to acquire a second primate to keep them company? Monkeys, for the most part, are NOT for persons who work a forty hour week out of home. In the first year or two of the monkey's life you will need to take it with you to work every day, or have someone to care for it while you are at work, in which case the monkey would probably bond more to that person. After the first 2 years, IF and ONLY if you get a companion monkey can they be left alone while you are at work. They DON'T like solitude. If you work an 8 hour day five plus days a week a primate is not for you.
If you move to another state, will you be willing to move with your primate (cage, toys, etc.) or not move to a particular state, because they are illegal there? What if your future spouse does not like the monkey or vice versa? Are you willing to end a relationship because the person you are dating doesn't like living with a monkey? The monkey must come first.
These are all things that need to be considered BEFORE you acquire a primate as a pet.
Monkeys require a lot of time to care for. All monkey owners I know, including myself, that have a hands on relationship with their primate kept them with them 24/7 during all their infancy, and some even into adulthood. After the monkey were weaned they either had a mate, or continued to be with the ownerat all times. Most owners I know have more than one monkey. Primates are social aniamsl and require constant companionship. That is what it takes. Owners either worked from home, took the monkey to work, or didn't work (housewife or retired). Not only is one on one time needed, but also time to prepare their enclosures and keep a healthy habitat for them.
Every morning, I wake up at about 8:30 AM to begin their food and cage preparation. My morning “Monkey Routine” takes about 20-25 minutes. I begin by gathering some monkey biscuits and soaking them in water (juice has lots of sugar), so that they soften up. I then walk outside to get all their monkey dishes and water bottles to clean. Afterwards, I gather two or three different fruits/ veggies. I microwave the veggies in water so that they soften up, and chop them. Next, I cut the fruit in to bite size pieces. They seem to waste less if pieces are bite sized. Once the fruits and veggies are ready, I take the soaked biscuits out of the juice and add to their food bowls, along with the fruits/veggies. Next, I refill their water bottles and take all of the food/water back to their cage so it’s ready for them. I then remove from the cage the dirty toys from the day before and replace them with clean ones. Once their cage is ready, I go into my room to get the two of them and put them in their outdoor cage.
I then return to my room and I clean out their sleeping cages, so that it is ready for them at night. All of the dirty hammocks and blankets go into a hamper that I clean once a week. THEN I get ready for work.
Throughout the day, my housekeeper watches them, and refills their food dishes at certain times. They love to see someone familiar outside, so they enjoy when she has chores to do in the yard and especially around their cage.
When I arrive home from work, and my room is monkey proofed, I go get Joey and Sofie. From about 6:30 pm to about 9:00-9:30pm they play with me and cause havoc :) in my room. Occasionally, I will take them out for a walk around my block to change their scenery. Once I am home, they follow me wherever I go. If I go to the kitchen, they follow. If I go to the bathroom, they follow. If I am on my laptop, they jump on it (Hence all the typos and miscellaneous characters on this site) They enjoy being around me and getting my attention.
You WILL need a cage, no matter what you believe. For the monkey’s safety it is essential. It is unrealistic that your monkey will be in your presence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Monkeys, especially capuchins and larger monkeys, are capable of opening doors, windows, cabinets, and the such. What if they open a medicine cabinet while you are not around to stop them? This could prove deadly to your monkey.
I recommend providing a larger than regulation size cage. USDA requirements are the bare minimum. Monkeys need room to exercise. Right now my monkeys’ cage is 7 feet x 7 feet x 4 feet. This is temporary, as I want to build them a much larger outdoor cage (at least double that). Even though the present cage is rather large for 2 squirrel monkeys, they are not confined to it. They come out often. I take them for walks outside, play in my bedroom, occasionally sleep in bed with me at night, and other activities. Their cage has lots of toys and enrichment items in it to prevent boredom, which I alternate about once a week to clean them. Remember, YOU are their sole provider for everything in their lives.
You also need to be sure that the cages are secure enough to weather storms, and prevent their escape. Monkeys are VERY SMART. Even my squirrel monkeys know how to open their cage. I need to keep a lock on it to prevent them from opening the doors.
If the cage will have trees/plants inside, you have to be sure that the primate is not allergic to them. Some plants can be deadly to the touch.
All primates are highly intelligent animals. They require constant mental stimulation and companionship in order to grow up happy and healthy. As their caretaker, you will need to provide your monkey with lots of activities to prevent them from boredom. Foraging items can be added to their cage. Also, toddler toys and hiding food in different places of their enclosures can keep them busy for some time.
If a monkey does not get the mental stimulation it needs it will become bored and this can lead to depression, or aggressive behavior.
(Learn more on the Caging & Enrichment page )
Primates require a specialized diet. They CAN NOT eat human food alone. They must be fed their monkey biscuits and a variation of fruits and vegetables. Their intake of sugar must be monitored, because too much junk food can lead to diabetes, which will require insulin shots just as in humans. As a rule of thumb, if it is not healthy for humans, it is definitely not healthy for monkeys. They should NOT be fed ice cream, chocolate, fried foods… This will lead to unhealthy eating habits. If given too much “people” food it will be more difficult to get them to eat their monkey biscuits, which are essential for their proper development.
A primate's diet should consist of monkey chow specially formulated for their type (Old World Monkey vs. New World Monkey, & Marmoset diet), insects and a variety of fruits and veggies. Fruits, such as oranges, pears, apples, grapes, tangerines, bananas, and cantaloupe. Raw or steamed veggies, such as carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, and potatoes. Insects, such as crickets, wax worms, and meal worms. Also, a variety of nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, and such (Unsalted). They will also eat lizards.
Marmosets are gum eaters, and require a different type of commercial diet than other monkeys.
Sacrifices and Expenses
Having a monkey means you will be making many sacrifices. It will be difficult to go on vacations. It is very hard to find a person that will monkey sit if your monkeys are not adjusted to being left with someone else. You will have to watch them 24/7 when not in their cages. You will spend A LOT of time CLEANING after your monkey. Sofie loves to find any paper or magazine, climb up a curtain, and begin to rip it to shreds, allowing each piece to fall gracefully on the floor. I am glad that my monkeys are squirrels, because they LOVE to bite the buttons on all my remote controls. Thankfully, they are too small to cause much damage to them. Had they been capuchins, none of my remotes would have buttons. My laptop is officially missing two of the keys, and I have no idea where Sofie dropped one of them. I am always careful where I leave any cups, especially tall ones. They love to hold on to them and drink, which leads to tipping and a mess to, you guessed it, clean up. I also have to be careful where I leave my small coveted items and necessary documents. If they can see it, they can get it. And good luck getting it back. Ah yes, and the crown molding they have so adeptly chewed away at straight to the wall! That is their favorite pass time. You have to be willing to put their needs before your own.
Monkeys are also expensive to maintain. I am not saying you need to be a millionaire to be able to have one, but you do need to be financially stable with some disposable income.
1) Purchasing the monkey can run you anywhere from $2,500 to over $8,000, depending on the species, and age. Babies are always more expensive.
2) Next, their cage. A decent size cage will run you about $300 in materials if built yourself, or upwards of $1,000 for an already made iron cage.
3) Vet bills are also more costly, because they require an exotic animal vet. The initial vet check with vaccines and tests will cost about $350.
4) If you decide you want to diaper train them, which most owners do, you will need to purchase diapers, which need to be changed about every hour and a half. The cost of 40 diapers is about $10, so about $20-30 a months on diapers.
5) Food- Monkey chow costs about $25-30 for a 20lb bag. Depending on your species of monkey that will last anywhere from 3-6 months. In addition to this, fruits and veggies need to be purchased, which can run about $15-20 a week. Some primate species such as marmosets, require vitamin D3 and other supplements, if kept primarily indoors. This will be about another $10 a month.
6) Enrichment items- stuffed animals, toddler toys, ropes, mirrors, perches, tire swings, blocks, etc, all cost money, even if bought at a thrift store.
Monkeys in themselves are very clean animals. They wipe their mouths after eating, clean their hands if dirty, groom each other (squirrels actually don't groom each other, they scratch themselves to stay clean), etc. BUT they all leave a heck of a mess. They are extremely messy eaters, as well as in play. Any food you give them will be bitten to pieces and chewed, taken out of their mouth, put back in, and repeated, until they have consumed the entire piece of food. All of this leaves a heap of crumbs and debris where ever they go.
They enjoy tearing anything and everything apart. If you leave your lipstick where they can get it, they will remove the top and smear it all over. If they grab a hold of a marker, they will remove the cap which can leave marks on curtains, couches... If they get a hold of those squeeze tubes they will bite it, which will leave holes, and it will leak what is in it. You get the picture. What ever room your monkeys are in needs to be monkey proofed. Basically that means, you need an empty room with only their toys in it. Lamps can be dangerous, because when they climb it and jump off, the impulse from their jump can knock it over. (Hence no lamps in my bedroom, and my monkeys are small!). They can unlock their cages and make a mess while you are not around, in minutes!!!
Monkeys are also very difficult to potty train. SO unless kept in a diaper 24/7 (which is bad for them because as babies would, they will get diaper rash), you will be cleaning up poop from all over the room. They pretty much go wherever they want, even on you. They don't throw their poop, like many say, at least mine don't. But you have to be on the lookout for where they have been because they will stop right in their tracks, "drop one" and continue playing as if nothing. And depending on what you are feeding them, they will occasionally get a case of the runs. Not Pretty, especially if they are diaperless hanging out on top of your curtains! Oh yes, Squirrels, & some other species, ano-genital rub (rub their rumps on things). If their tush is dirty, they will rub it against whatever they are on.
A monkey's temperament depends on the nature of care provided to that monkey. A monkey who was given the time and consistent care required should not have an aggression problem. Not necessarily biting, but temper tantrums, such as loud screams, with a primate is comparable to a person being in a bad mood. I have learned to recognize their "language" and am able to tell if they are not in a good mood. Monkeys have different screams, and in the case of squirrels, various chirps, barks, and screams. You will learn which are good chirps, and which are bad ones. As an owner, you will learn what your monkey's “rules” are and when you can and can not break them. Some rules, i.e. grabbing tail, taking objects from them, may only apply to strangers. Joey, for instance, lets me do pretty much anything to him, but if a stranger walked over and took a piece of food from his hand they would probably be in trouble. A lot of their rules are common sense, and they vary from monkey to monkey.
Monkeys require consistency and discipline, such as a firm "NO," or time out. Never hit a monkey, especially an adult. It will backfire on you. They will see it as a threat, and either become more upset or fear you. A relationship with a monkey is built on trust, security, and respect. You can never show fear, and always maintain your alpha/troop leader status. A feeling of security is important with monkeys. Most monkeys are nervous animals, which scare easily. A glass plate crashing on the floor, a loud truck passing by, and screams from another person are examples of things which can evoke a fear reaction from a monkey. They will turn to you for protection. If they are on another person and become scared you have to be very careful that you have control, or else the monkey may get upset at the person.
Understanding what sets off a monkeys temper is important. Similar to a dog who does not like to have his food touched by owners, but is very loving otherwise, so is the case with monkeys. In my research and experience I have found that monkeys become aggressive for 3 reasons 1) territorial (taking a prized item from their cage while cleaning), Dominance (to establish their rank among the family), and out of fear. I believe firmly in changing the nature of care provided rather than changing the monkey or giving him up. If a dog doesn't like his food touched and will bite a hand who comes near it, the owner simply does not disturb the dog while he eats. Same logic with monkeys. If a monkey does not like their territory invaded (removing items during cleaning) then having a lockout box, or separate cage can be added for cleaning the cage. Simple as that.
These are points you must be aware of should you obtain a primate. This is a part of them you must accept and not just give them up because you can’t handle them. That is what the research was for. It is not fair to them. You cannot expect anything more than them to be just what they are, monkeys. They are allowed to have moods just as you do. Don't expect them to be anything more than who they are with their own individual personalities.
On the flip side, 90% of the time they can be the sweetest, most loving members of your family. They will cuddle with you, kiss you, and even give you a hug. Make sure you get to know their language, body movement. They all mean something specific. My squirrels have learned some human words. Understand their body and vocal presentations for when they are nervous, angry, or bothered. Should you see your primate "bearing" their teeth, which is not an aggressive expression with most primates, it is fear. Find cue words and actions that calm them. Knowing and learning any animal’s language is important, whether it is a dog, cat, or monkey.
Monkeys and the public
Extreme caution needs to be exercised when taking a pet monkey out in public. People love to see and touch them, but contact between the monkey and the general public should not be allowed, especially regarding children. Laws regarding primates in the US differ from those laws regarding other domestic pets, such as cats and dogs. If a monkey so much as scratches a person by accident while playing, where there is no aggression, the monkey can still be confiscated in order to be tested for rabies. There is no mandatory quarantine period as there is when domestics bite. The fate of your monkey will be in the hands of the Animal Control officer who seizes your monkey. Most AC officers opt for euthanasia because of a lack of education on primate zoonoses, and unwillingness to be responsible if the monkey did have rabies had they allowed quarantine. (There has NEVER been a reported rabies case from monkey to human in the US.) One of the options available to prevent euthanasia is if the recipient of the bite or scratch agrees to a series of post-exposure rabies shots, which are about 6 shots during a few weeks, and can be painful. Most parents of young children don't care about the monkey’s life, and refuse the post-exposure shot leading to the killing of the monkey. Even updated records from a veterinarian demonstrating a current rabies vaccine for the monkey is not a guarantee of protection, because there is no FDA approved rabies vaccine for exotic animals. Ironically, we KNOW the shot works on the monkeys (human rabies shots worked on monkeys before being tested on humans, with 100% accuracy), the FDA requires separate testing for primates and Pharmaceutical companies do not find it worth the investment. Also many primates would have to be sacrificed in order to prove the vaccine works. So again I repeat "Please do NOT allow strangers, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN, to play with your monkey." Even a harmless accidental scratch has lead to the unnecessary death of a pet monkey because of uneducated persons.
Many states have outlawed owning a primate, this will probably increase in time. Check with your state to find if owning an exotic pet is illegal. Should you decide to still obtain a monkey in a state that does not allow it, you will probably find yourself with a broken heart when they come and have the monkey removed from your home.
See my page listing the states and their laws for more details. Always visit your state’s fish & wildlife for more current information. Check with your local laws, because counties can also prohibit them. Also, Home Owners Associations in housing communities may prohibit exotics, so check with them first, as well.
A Call For Higher Standards
Honesty from Breeders, Dealers, and Brokers: Let the new monkey owner know what they are getting themselves into, the knowledge required, costs of proper caging, diet and vet care, licensing/permit information, and public health concerns. Ask about experience, research done, expectations, how the primate will be housed, acceptance of other family members to a pet primate.
Accountability In New Monkey Owners: Make an educated choice. Learn as much as you can about the care of monkeys before you buy one. Have the proper sized housing from day one. Have a veterinarian in your area who sees primates, determine how much time you can dedicate to your monkey and if it is sufficient for proper social development of the primate, knowledge of health and diet, toys and other enrichment. Make sure you understand permit requirements and public health concerns.
Commitment: Stay committed to ongoing, supportive education, to upgrade housing, vet care, enrichment, social or other conditions when necessary. Stay up-to-date on legislation and public health concerns.
After reading all of this, one may wonder “Why on earth would anyone want a monkey?” Because the rewards you get from them are so much greater than the efforts you put in. Primate owners benefit from the monkeys companionship much as dog owners would. Primates are so much like us it will amaze you. It will keep you entertained for hours just watching them play and interact with each other and you. It is very rewarding that you have gained the trust and love of an animal species so complex. Primates can show affection so much more than other animals. A monkey can give you a hug, or in the case of my squirrels hold your face and give you kisses. They will get to know every part of you and notice subtle differences in your appearance. (Joey can tell when I am wearing my color contacts!) They can sense your emotions and try to comfort you when they see that you are hurt. They will protect you no matter what the risk to them is. You are constantly learning and educating yourself. Though it may sound strange, some of what you learn from your monkey’s behavior can be applied to other situations in your life, and vice versa. There are so many more reasons why sharing your life with a primate can be such a positive experience. They teach you patience, creativity, and respect for nature. Primates keep your mind active. You always have to be 10 steps ahead of them. You are constantly thinking of new ways to keep them entertained and toys they would love. It is amusing just watching them play with toys, flip the pages of a magazine,...although some things may upset you (unlock BOTH latches of their cage), you can't help but be amazed they could do it, and chuckle a bit :)
Obtaining a primate, should you do so, will become one of the biggest and most challenging commitments you will ever encounter. It can also be one of the most fulfilling and greatest experiences, if entered into within the right circumstances. Honestly, the challenge is what I love most!