Kinkajous as Pets

These exotic pets are friendly and sociable

Kinkajou (Potos flavus) sitting on branch, captive, South America
Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images

Kinkajous, also known as honey bears, are small, golden-brown rainforest-dwelling mammals that have become increasingly popular as pets. Celebrities such as Paris Hilton have been known to have a kinkajou as a pet but the rich and famous aren't the only ones who find these animals adorable. Making the decision to care for a kinkajou isn't to be taken lightly though, as these animals require a very special owner.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Kinkajou

Scientific Name: Potos flavus

Adult Size: The kinkajou's body length varies somewhat among the subspecies, but it is usually between 16 and 25 inches, and the tail adds 15 to 20 inches. Its weight can reach 7 pounds.

Life Expectancy: 20 to 25 years in captivity, but some can reach more than 40 years

Difficulty of Care: Advanced. These nocturnal animals like to get into things and can be messy. They also require warm temperatures and high humidity levels.

Kinkajous in the Wild

Kinkajous are nocturnal tree-dwellers and in the wild, they spend most of their time in the rainforest canopies. They have prehensile tails and can turn their feet backward, which helps them with climbing and running up trees. Although they somewhat resemble monkeys, they are actually more closely related to raccoons, coati (coatimundi), and red pandas. The kinkajou also indulges on fruit and honey by utilizing it's long tongue while climbing in the trees, which is how it got its nickname, the honey bear. 

Kinkajous are found throughout Central and South America. Due to the fact that they only produce one offspring a year in the spring or summer, habitat destruction, and the illegal exotic pet trade, the wild populations are declining.

Kinkajou Behavior and Temperament

If hand raised from a young age, kinkajous can be quite tame, but they are still wild animals. They are active, curious, and like to get into things, much like a raccoon does. They are nocturnal and are most active in the late evening when they feed and explore. In general, kinkajous tend to bond with one or two humans, and may find it difficult to move from one household to another; because they are long-lived (25-30 years) it's important to consider whether it's feasible to keep and care for your kinkajou throughout its lifetime.

Kinkajous do not have much of an odor but they can be messy, partly from tossing food around and partly because litter/house training isn't really feasible (but they do tend to pick a few favorite toilet areas).

Kinkajous can be noisy at times, especially when defending their food source. They have a variety of vocalizations that include a soft huffing, chirping, or whistling, a "barking" noise (like a yelping dog), and a shrill shriek that can be very loud (a feeding call).

Housing the Kinkajou

Kinkajous need a large, tall cage that is at minimum 4 feet wide by 6 feet long by six feet tall but the larger the cage the better. Provide lots of branches, ledges/shelves, and ropes for climbing within this cage to give your kinkajou something to do while inside. In addition, you can try a variety of bird toys such as hanging wood/rope parrot toys and wide pieces of PVC pipe from the home improvement store. Hammocks or sleep sacks can also be hung in the cage as well as a nest box of some sort, often made from an opaque plastic storage container with a hole cut in the side and suspended from the walls of the cage for easy cleaning.

In addition to the enrichment sources inside the cage, kinkajous also need lots of play and exercise time outside of their cages daily for socialization and to prevent boredom. Most owners find it best to confine kinkajous at night and when they are not supervised, but the ideal kinkajou owner would have a similar nocturnal lifestyle as their pet.

Because they are rainforest dwellers, kinkajous are adapted to warmer temperatures. Anything under 60 degrees Fahrenheit can be unhealthy for a kinkajou. Ideally, humidity levels should be kept at no less than 50 percent.

Food and Water

Kinkajous primarily feed on fruits and nectar/honey in the wild, although if the opportunity arises, they will sometimes eat insects, eggs, and frogs along with other plants and blossoms. In captivity, they can be fed monkey biscuits or chow, and a variety of fruits (especially tropical fruits) such as bananas, papayas, mangoes, melons, kiwis, grapes, pineapple, pomegranates, cherimoya, figs. It is said that some kinkajous are allergic to strawberries so these are best avoided and experts recommend avoiding citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, and avocados. Dairy, chocolate, and caffeine should always be avoided.

Heavy ceramic food bowls or bowls that can be securely attached to the side of the cage are good for feeding. Kinkajous can be messy and territorial at feeding time, and anything that keeps them from dumping their food will help with clean up time. Water can be provided in a bowl but these are prone to be dumped or dirtied, so a heavy water bottle with a sipper tube usually works better. Make sure your kinkajou figures out how to drink from the sipper tube before completely making a switch off of bowls.

Common Health Problems

Kinkjou care is similar to cat or dog care, and similar vaccinations and vet visits are appropriate. The reality, however, is that few vets will have experience working with kinkajous, so it's important to locate the right vet before purchasing your pet.

Exotic vets recommend rabies and distemper vaccines as well as dewormings provided by a qualified vet. In addition, kinkajous should be neutered or spayed at about 6 months of age. Additional recommended vaccines should protect against rabies, canine distemper, parvovirus, and feline distemper.

Like most other mammals, kinkajous do have sharp nails that can be clipped regularly, as well as teeth that may need cleaning or care. Avoid declawing or defanging your kinkajou: if you are concerned about being injured by your pet, it's best to avoid an energetic exotic like the kinkajou.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Kinkajou?

As with most exotic pets, the laws around owning a pet kinkajou vary from state to state and even from county to county. Kinkajous are not considered to be dangerous animals, but they can carry diseases such as roundworm which can be transmitted through bites or fecal contact. Even if it is legal to own a kinkajou, you may need to purchase a permit. If you live in a rental property or a homeowners association, make sure that exotic pets are allowed before taking the leap.

Purchasing Your Kinkajou

Kinkajous are best purchased from accredited breeders. Expect to pay $1,500 to $3,000 for your pet. When buying, check the breeder's credentials and make the time to visit before making a purchase. Interact with your potential pet, and be sure that the kinkajou you're considering is friendly, active, bright-eyed, and healthy. In addition, be aware of the conditions in which the kinkajou has been raised. How does the breeder treat his or her animals? Are the cages large, clean, and appropriately furnished?

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