No matter how exotic an animal is, it's likely you'll find someone somewhere who is keeping one as a pet. If you have the money, the patience, and the temperament to provide for their needs, an anteater might be the right exotic pet choice for you.
There are four kinds of anteaters found in the wild, but the species most suitable for adventurous keepers is the Southern anteater (commonly referred to as the lesser anteater). This unique and solitary animal is closely related to the sloth and the armadillo and can be trained to be tame when raised from birth.
Common Name: Anteater
Scientific Name: Tamandua tetradactyla
Adult Size: 13 to 35 inches long, with a 15- to 26-inch tail; 3 to 18 pounds
Lifespan: 7 years (may live into their teens)
Can You Own a Pet Anteater?
Anteaters are legal to own on a federal level, but specific state regulations can vary from place to place. Before purchasing a pet anteater, it's a good idea to check with state and local ordinances in your area to determine whether owning one would be legal and whether you need a license.
Like with all pets, it is important to determine if you have the means, time, and energy to care for an animal before purchasing. Anteaters need a detailed amount of care, and are often not a good pet choice for people who work full time out of the home or have young children to take care of.
Anteater Behavior and Temperament
Native to several countries in South America, lesser anteaters reside in trees and on forest floors. They visit many nests each day in search of insects including ants and termites. Lesser anteaters spend much of their time climbing, aided by prehensile tails, which help them move from branch to branch like a monkey. Although their sight is poor, anteaters have a well-developed sense of both smell and hearing.
If threatened or attacked, anteaters will back up against a tree or grab onto a branch with their tail and defend themselves with their claws. Anteaters also have another line of defense: a liquid that is four times more potent than a skunk's scent. When this substance is sprayed from the animal's anal glands, it stops predators in their tracks. Anteaters also mark their territory with spray, making them horrid housemates.
Lesser anteaters are not social; they prefer to live alone, away from other anteaters and pets. For this reason, most pet owners purchase young, hand-raised baby anteaters, whose parents have adapted to humans. However, tame adult anteaters are not a walk in the park either, as they can damage furniture with their claws and urinate and defecate on your belongings.
In the wild, lesser anteaters spend half of their time in trees, so when kept in captivity, they need ample climbing opportunities. Sturdy tree branches and mounted poles—offered both indoors and outdoors—must be strong enough to hold the weight of this animal. Provide them in varying diameters for the health of this animal's foot muscles (similar to birds).
Anteaters have unusually low body temperatures for mammals, so their environment must hover around room temperature at all times. Aim to keep your anteater enclosure at an ambient temperature of 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. While some up and down fluctuation is acceptable, an anteater exposed to prolonged temperatures above 90 Fahrenheit is at risk for heatstroke. If kept too cold (at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit), your pet anteater can become sick.
Outdoor enclosures must provide space for both climbing and exploring, as well as for protection. A hollowed-out tree stump or house, equipped with a heating element for cold nights, makes a safe haven for sleeping. If your anteater is invited indoors, secure your belongings and always supervise the animal for its own safety.
What Do Anteaters Eat & Drink?
Like most exotic pets, a proper diet is critical to the well-being of an anteater. Anteaters have acidic stomachs, high protein requirements, and no teeth. They need to eat a large volume of insects, almost 10,000 ants, and termites every single day—such a volume is difficult to obtain in captivity.
Most zoos offer these mammals a high-protein insectivore powder mixed with water, insects, honey, and fruit. However, the bulk of a captive anteater's diet usually comes from a commercial feed (leaf-eater diet or cat food) used in different combinations of kibble or powder. You can even add in raw meat for a protein boost. But remember—anteaters don't have teeth, so they must be fed only soft foods.
Allow your anteater to eat the ants it finds outside, then supplement with purchased ants as part of an enrichment opportunity. Place the ants on a small branch or in a container with dirt or rocks to promote exercise and ingenuity. You can also offer old, rotted logs and stumps for your anteater to tear apart in search of termites; rotten logs are usually plentiful and free.
Common Health Problems
You may have a difficult time finding an exotics vet that is able and willing to care for your anteater, but it's vital that you locate one. Anteaters are prone to respiratory diseases, especially when their environment is too drafty or cold. Lack of humidity may also cause foot problems such as dangerously dry skin and cracked paw pads. Organ failure can also occur with inappropriate or insufficient diets, which can be detected by an annual blood screening from a competent vet.
Anteaters are difficult to potty train, so be prepared for the constant scent of foul-smelling urine when housing one indoors. Some owners claim to have success training their anteaters to use pee pads. However, anteaters like to mark their territory—especially their bedding areas—effectively making training a moot point.
Defecation usually occurs while they are climbing trees, so make sure tree limbs don't overhang anything of importance. Although pee pads placed throughout the house—in the anteater's enclosure and under branches—is the best way to keep the messes contained, accidents will occur and will require immediate cleaning, but often to no avail. Because the smell is so pungent and made to last, cleaning products are insufficient for the task.
Purchasing Your Anteater
Ranging in cost between $3,500 and $8,000, a pet anteater is suitable only for those with a robust budget. Building an enclosure and providing long-term care will more than double your purchase amount. The price of this unique mammal—and the fact that they aren't readily available—deters most exotic pet enthusiasts. Remember that anteaters need very special requirements. So if a pet anteater sounds like a budget-breaker for you, why not sponsor this endangered species instead? For a mere $25, you can help protect one of the world's most valuable species in the wild.
Similar Pets to the Anteater
If you’re interested in anteaters, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be a pet.
Are anteaters hard to take care of?
Yes. Anteaters are extremely difficult to care for, a fact that deters everyone but the most dedicated exotic animal enthusiasts.
Do anteaters do better in their natural habitats than in a domesticated one?
Yes—due to their unique environment needs and insatiable appetites, anteaters fair much better in their natural habitat than in captivity.
How long to anteaters live as pets?
In the wild, anteaters can live up to 14 years—however, in captivity, they only live around 7 years.