Capuchin Monkeys: Good as Pets?

Capuchin Monkey
Mint Images - Norah Levine / Getty Images

The capuchin monkey is native to Central and South America and is found primarily in rainforests. Capuchins spend their time in groups of 10 to over 30 capuchins, made up of males, females, and young monkeys who tree surf and look for food together.

Capuchins are diurnal, arboreal, intelligent, social, and territorial. They spend most of their day searching for food in the wild, urinating to mark their territory, and hanging out in trees and are said to be the smartest of the New World monkeys.

In the wild, capuchins swing from tree to tree, something that most home enclosures don't permit. The lack of a natural habitat in a home setting is one of the biggest reasons why there is such controversy regarding these monkeys being kept as exotic pets. There typically isn't nearly enough space in a home setting to allow a capuchin monkey to properly exercise yet the appeal of a furry infant-like pet still attracts many people to them.

Capuchin Monkeys As Pets

Many people across the country own and breed capuchin monkeys both legally and illegally. States vary in their laws for keeping primates as pets, but the concerns are the same everywhere, even among monkey owners.

Capuchins, like other primates, can transmit certain diseases to humans. Hepatitis is the most feared next to rabies. Capuchins can also be infected with more common ailments quite easily from humans since their immune systems are not as strong as ours.

Most capuchin monkey owners use diapers for their monkey's entire life and keep them on leashes in and outside of the house for both the monkey's and the public's safety. Capuchins are commonly dressed up, bottle fed, and treated as furry human babies for the 35 to 40 years that they live in captivity and they can grow to weigh up to 4 lbs.

Many capuchins used to be sold as service animals but that practice has dwindled due to the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 2010 that no longer recognizes primates as service animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association's statement regarding the discouragement of primates as service animals has also made it difficult to find an exotic vet to treat capuchins.


Are Capuchin Monkeys Good Pets?

Capuchin Monkey Babies

Capuchin breeders take the babies from their mothers at an extremely young age to form a tight bond between the monkey owner and the monkey. Some people say this causes permanent emotional and psychological damage to both the mother and the baby monkey since, in the wild, capuchins stay with their mother for the first few years. This is another controversial reason why more laws have been passed regarding owning and breeding primates. 

Capuchin babies will form a tight bond with their human mother or father, be bottle fed for some time (if not forever), and are trained, or dominated, to be a part of the family. Special monkey trainers exist to aid in the training of capuchin monkeys, although each trainer has their own controversial training methods.

Some trainers recommend removing all four canine teeth from the capuchin to prevent serious bite injuries down the road. Trainers say bites are inevitable; therefore, unnaturally removing the teeth is the best thing for the owner's safety. This is, of course, yet another controversial issue and few veterinarians will perform the procedure.

Capuchin Monkey Diet

Monkeys in the wild will eat bugs, fruit, small birds, nuts, flowers, and more. Mimicking their natural diet in captivity is difficult and many pet capuchins develop diabetes due to improper nutrition, despite many owners knowing better.

Capuchins kept as pets are fed a variety of foods including table food, baby food, and monkey chow, but should have regular blood screenings done to closely monitor glucose, cholesterol, and other chemistry values, just like humans.

If you are considering getting a capuchin monkey as a pet or service animal, consider your other options and the 40 years of care and diapers before giving in to one of those cute, fuzzy, baby-like faces.

illustration of capuchin monkeys as pets
Illustration: Nusha Ashjaee. © The Spruce, 2018