Also known as honey bears, kinkajous are cat-sized rainforest mammals with long tails. They are related to raccoons and coatis. Kinkajous are generally friendly, playful, and curious when raised in captivity. But, while a kinkajou can make a unique pet for the right person, these animals are also high-maintenance. They are easy to startle and might become aggressive with their owners. Plus, they can be difficult to house because they require lots of room for exercise. Kinkajous need a varied diet that mimics what they would eat in the wild. All things considered, the kinkajou requires a knowledgeable and committed owner.
Common Names: Kinkajou, honey bear
Scientific Name: Potos flavus
Adult Size: 31 to 44 inches from head to tail; up to 10 pounds
Lifespan: 20 to 25 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Kinkajou?
Kinkajous are legal in several states, but it's still important to know your local ordinances, which can differ from state law. Many counties and cities require permits to keep a kinkajou. Rental properties or homeowners' associations often have restrictions for exotic pets as well.
Ethically speaking, it is critical to source a captive-bred kinkajou. Habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade in their native regions have caused wild populations to decline. Buying a wild kinkajou would contribute to this species' increasingly vulnerable conservation status. It is also a challenge to provide truly ethical care for an animal whose natural habitat is so different from a human household. Mimicking the kinkajou's native environment would be a costly and laborious undertaking.
Things to Consider
Kinkajous may be a unique and interesting animal to own, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are great pets. They are naturally nocturnal, so waking them to interact during the day may disturb them physically and emotionally. An agitated or startled kinkajou may be more inclined to bite. In addition, kinkajous make loud noises—often at night—making them problematic pets for people who have neighbors or enjoy an undisturbed night's sleep
Kinkajou Behavior and Temperament
When raised in captivity from a young age, kinkajous can be friendly with humans, but they retain a wildness that makes their behavior unpredictable.
Kinkajous have extremely sharp teeth, and although they are generally mild-mannered animals, they will bite if alarmed or irritated. They may be easily startled and are likely to bite if they feel threatened. For this reason, it's best to keep them separated from children or any other pets in the household.
Unlike dogs and cats, which provide cuddly and animated companionship for humans, kinkajous' wild genes make them less interested in being in the company of people. They prefer to forage in the rainforest at night, often by themselves, and sleep during the day.
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.
Kinkajous can be noisy. They have a variety of vocalizations, including a "barking" noise like a yelping dog and a shrill shriek that can be very loud.
As pets, kinkajous generally are active and curious, and they like to get into things, requiring a lot of effort to keep them entertained. Their mischievousness can also lead to messiness. 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 paper in those spots to collect the waste.
Kinkajous need as large an enclosure as possible. At a minimum, it should be 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 6 feet tall. Ideally, though, owners would implement zoo standards, which would be 10 to 12 feet of complex, vertical space. Some large macaw enclosures can work well for kinkajous. Provide several branches, ledges, shelves, and ropes for climbing within the enclosure. You also can include some parrot toys, 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 paws.
Include a hammock or nest box in the enclosure where your animal can go to feel safe and rest. Fleece is a good material for a hammock, and you can fashion a nest box out of wood or a small plastic storage container lined with fleece. Attach the box to the side of the enclosure so that it is suspended above the floor since kinkajous sleep in trees.
Kinkajous are generally fine with the room temperature of a home. Just make sure the temperature stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, humidity levels aren't specifically determined for this species but the Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommends keeping it between 30 and 70 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 to avoid predators or inclement weather.
What Do Kinkajous Eat and Drink?
Kinkajous primarily feed on fruits, nectar, and honey in the wild. They will sometimes eat insects, eggs, frogs, and other plants and blossoms.
In captivity, they can be fed commercial omnivore foods, such as raccoon food, which will form a nutritious base to their diet with many vitamins and minerals. They also enjoy a variety of 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.
Heavy ceramic food bowls or bowls that can be securely attached to the side of the enclosure work well for feeding since the kinkajou can't easily spill them. In an ideal environment, owners should stimulate how kinkajous would typically find food in the wild using terminal branch feeding (placing food throughout the ends of ropes, branches, or ladders). 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.
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.
Common Health Problems
An exotic animal veterinarian who specializes in kinkajous can be difficult to find, but it's very important to locate the right doctor before purchasing your pet. You may end up traveling out of state to find a clinic that will see your pet and should be prepared to know where to go if your kinkajou gets sick.
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.
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.
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, though that's not an option for many people.) But confinement doesn't allow a kinkajou to get enough exercise, even in the best enclosure, so you must allow your kinkajou to play and exercise out of its enclosure for at least a few hours each day for health, 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, and remove breakable or sharp objects.
In the wild, kinkajous groom one another with their tongues. In captivity, a single pet kinkajou may need an occasional warm sink or tub bath to remove some of the natural oil that can accumulate in the animal's fur. Ideally, begin acclimating your kinkajou to bathing as a baby so that it becomes a familiar experience. Fill a sink or tub with a few inches of warm water, turn off the tap, and gently settle your pet into the water. Go slowly to avoid startling the kinkajou. Use a mild pet soap to wash the fur, then rinse thoroughly. Make sure to avoid getting soap or water in the eyes or ears.
A kinkajou weighs about as much as the average house cat (10 pounds), but it can be quite a bit longer because of its tail, which can reach up to 2 feet long. Kinkajous use their long tails to help them climb trees, and they wrap their tails around branches for stability while they eat and sleep.
Pros and Cons of Keeping a Kinkajou as a Pet
Kinkajous are fascinating animals that most people will never see in the wild. That makes it tempting to own such a unique pet, but they aren't the most rewarding companions to keep in your home. Kinkajous are wild—even those raised in captivity—which means they haven't been bred over generations to rely on humans. They prefer to sleep during the day and wake up to eat at night, making them difficult to interact with. Plus, housing them requires a big investment because they need large, complex enclosures with lots of climbing structures and toys.
Purchasing Your Kinkajou
If you're ready for a pet kinkajou, find a reputable breeder or rescue organization. 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 wild or 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 visible through the fur). Ask to see it eat if possible. Plus, note the environment in which the seller keeps the kinkajou. The enclosure 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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Can you hold a kinkajou?
Kinkajous that have been well socialized with humans will often allow their owners to carry and pet them. Mostly, though, kinkajous prefer not to be touched and may be easily startled by people.
Can kinkajous live in your house?
The climate of a house is usually acceptable to kinkajous; they need a large enclosure with plenty of climbing surfaces where they can be kept when unsupervised. Kinkajous can not be potty trained.
Where do kinkajous live in the wild?
Kinkajous live in rainforest habitats from southern Mexico down to the southern edge of Brazil.