Kinkajou (Honey Bear): Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Kinkajou (Potos flavus) sitting on a branch

Anup Shah / Photodisc / Getty Images

Kinkajous are small, golden brown, tree-dwelling mammals that are native to Central and South American rainforests. Also known as honey bears, kinkajous have become popular in the exotic pet trade. They are generally friendly, playful, and curious when raised in captivity. However, they are easy to startle and might become aggressive with their owners. Plus, they can be difficult to house, as they require lots of room for exercise. And they need a varied diet that mimics what they would eat in the wild. Overall, this is a high-maintenance pet that requires a knowledgable and committed owner.

Species Overview

Common Name: Kinkajou, honey bear

Scientific Name: Potos flavus

Adult Size: 16 to 24 inches long, with the tail adding 15 to 20 inches; weighs between 3 and 10 pounds

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

Kinkajou Behavior and Temperament

In the wild, kinkajous spend most of their time in the rainforest canopies, and they are nocturnal animals (more active at night). Although they somewhat resemble monkeys, they are actually more closely related to raccoons and red pandas. Wild kinkajous indulge in fruit and honey while climbing trees, which is how they got their "honey bear" nickname. These are somewhat social animals, spending some time alone and some time in groups grooming, sleeping, and playing together.

When raised in captivity from a young age, kinkajous can be quite tame. But they will still retain their wild characteristics, making them unpredictable. And they will bite if they feel threatened, which is why it's best to keep them separated from any other pets in the household. As pets, kinkajous generally are active and curious, and they like to get into things, requiring a lot of hands-on care from you to keep them entertained. They also can be noisy at times. They have a variety of vocalizations, including a soft huffing, chirping, or whistling; a "barking" noise like a yelping dog; and a shrill shriek that can be very loud.

Moreover, while kinkajous don't have much of an odor, they can be messy pets. They like to toss their food around, and house-training them isn't typically successful. Instead, they often pick a few places around the house to use as their bathroom, so you might be able to put a pan or papers in those spots to collect the waste.

In general, kinkajous tend to bond with one or two humans. And if you ever have to rehome your pet, it might find the adjustment very difficult, which can lead to stress and health problems. When handled regularly from a young age, kinkajous are typically happy to sit in their owners' arms or on their shoulders. But they’d often rather be on the move, playing and exploring. Expect to spend at least a few hours per day interacting with your pet to keep it tame.

Housing the Kinkajou

Kinkajous need as large of an enclosure as possible. At minimum, it should be 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 6 feet tall. Large macaw enclosures often work well for kinkajous. Provide several branches, ledges and shelves, and ropes for climbing within the enclosure. You also can include some items made for large parrots, such as wooden ladders, rope swings, and hanging ropes with pieces of wood on them. Avoid anything with a chain, as this can injure a kinkajou's digits.

Include a hammock or nest box in the enclosure where your animal can go to feel safe and rest. Fleece is a good material out of which to construct a hammock. And many owners fashion a nest box out of a small plastic storage container lined with fleece and attached to the side of the enclosure.

Most owners find it best to confine kinkajous whenever they're not able to supervise the animal. The ideal kinkajou owner would have a similar nocturnal lifestyle as their pet, but that's not an option for many people. But you still must allow your kinkajou to play and exercise out of its enclosure for at least a few hours each day for socialization and to prevent boredom. Kinkajou-proof the area of your home where you let it play as you would for a toddler—hide power cords, cover outlets, remove breakable objects, etc.

Kinkajous are generally fine with the room temperature of a home. Just make sure the temperature stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, humidity levels should be no less than 50 percent. These animals also can benefit from an outdoor enclosure for more environmental enrichment. Set it up similarly to the indoor enclosure, but make sure your kinkajou always has access to shade. Also, always monitor your animal when it's outdoors in case there are predators or inclement weather in the area.

Food and Water

Kinkajous primarily feed on fruits, nectar, and honey in the wild. But if the opportunity arises they will sometimes eat insects, eggs, frogs, and other plants and blossoms.

In captivity, they can be fed commercial primate foods, which will form a nutritious base to their diet with many vitamins and minerals. They also should get a variety of fruits (especially tropical fruits), such as bananas, papayas, mangoes, melons, kiwis, grapes, pineapples, and pomegranates. In addition, they can have some seasonal vegetables and a bit of protein, such as cooked chicken or eggs. Experts recommend avoiding strawberries, citrus fruits, avocados, broccoli, and onions, along with dairy, chocolate, and caffeine.

Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate quantity and variety to feed your animal, as this varies with age, size, and activity level. It's typically best to feed your kinkajou in the evening when it's waking up and looking for food, but ask your vet for the ideal feeding schedule.

Heavy ceramic food bowls that your kinkajou can't flip over or bowls that can be securely attached to the side of the enclosure work well for feeding. Fresh water also should be provided at all times. However, water in a bowl is likely to be dumped or dirtied, so a water bottle with a sipper tube that attaches to the enclosure wall is recommended. Make sure your kinkajou figures out how to drink from the sipper tube before removing its water bowl.

Common Health Problems

An exotic animal veterinarian who specializes in kinkajous can be difficult to find, but it's important to locate the right vet before purchasing your pet.

While these are generally healthy animals, an annual wellness exam is still ideal. Your vet will likely recommend some vaccinations, including those for rabies and distemper, as well as deworming. In addition, kinkajous should be neutered or spayed at about 6 months old to help prevent aggression due to hormones and certain hormone-related medical issues, such as cancer. Plus, kinkajous will need regular nail trims to keep their sharp nails from damaging you or your property.

Some kinkajous are prone to dental disease due to the amount of sugar in their diet. Signs of this include a lack of appetite, a bad smell coming from the animal's mouth, and weight loss. If this is the case, consult your vet immediately; they should be able to advise you on appropriate dental hygiene for your pet.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Kinkajou?

Kinkajous are legal in several states, but it's still important to know your local ordinances, which can differ from the state law. Many areas require a permit to keep a kinkajou. And rental properties or homeowners associations often have restrictions for exotic pets.

Moreover, it is critical to source a captive-bred kinkajou. Habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade, paired with kinkajous' naturally low number of offspring per year, have caused the wild populations to diminish.

Purchasing Your Kinkajou

If you're ready for a pet kinkajou, find a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Expect to pay around $1,500 to $3,000 on average. Do not purchase an animal over the internet or through a classified ad, as this might be a scam or you might end up with a sick animal. Instead, make time to visit with the animal and ask the seller questions about it. The seller should be able to give you thorough information about the animal's origin, age, health, and temperament.

Look for a kinkajou that is friendly and active. Its eyes should be bright, and it should appear to be at a healthy weight (no bones showing). Ask to see it eat if possible. Plus, note the environment in which the seller keeps its animals. The enclosures should be large and clean with the appropriate ropes, branches, and other furnishings. If a seller refuses to show you its facility, that's a major red flag.

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