Capuchin Monkey Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Capuchin monkey
Mint Images - Norah Levine / Getty Images

Capuchin monkeys are energetic animals that require enrichment and an active lifestyle, yet often when raised by humans, they rarely get enough stimulation. They may be adorable as babies, but as they get older, they get bored easily. They usually end up as incompatible pets, rendering them difficult to care for and resulting in rescue or euthanasia.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Capuchin monkey

Scientific name: Cebinae

Adult Size: Up to 4 pounds

Life Expectancy: An average of 15 to 25 years or up to 45

Capuchin Monkey Behavior and Temperament

Capuchins—considered the smartest of the New World monkeys—are diurnal (active during the day), social, and territorial. They spend most of their waking hours searching for food, urinating to mark their territory, and hanging out in trees. Most capuchin monkey owners use diapers for the monkey's entire life and keep them on leashes in and out of the house for both the safety of the monkey and the public.

Trained as service animals until 2010, the American Disabilities Act deemed them a danger to both owners and the public due to disease transmission and aggression. The American Veterinary Medical Association also discourages the use of primates in service, making it difficult to find an exotic vet to treat pet capuchins.

Captive capuchin monkeys are charming as babies and need care much like a human baby. Capuchin babies can form a tight bond with their human mother or father, may need to be bottle-fed for some time (if not forever), and will need training to be a part of the family. You can hire a specialized monkey trainer, although particular trainers use questionable training methods. Some trainers recommend removing all four canine teeth from the monkey to prevent serious bite injuries down the road. This practice is another debatable issue, and few veterinarians will perform the procedure.

Once they reach age 5, they are much harder to handle. A bored monkey may display aggression, biting its owner or someone else. It may also try to escape its enclosure or misbehave—even throwing feces. Aggressive behavior is typical in capuchins and can sometimes occur without prior tendencies.

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Are Capuchin Monkeys Good Pets?

Housing the Capuchin Monkey

In the wild, capuchins swing from tree to tree, something that most home enclosures don't permit. The lack of natural habitat in a home setting raises much controversy regarding keeping these monkeys at all. Typically, there isn't nearly enough space or foliage in an average yard to allow the primate proper exercise.

That said, the bigger the enclosure, the better. And if you do decide to house a capuchin, make sure it has plenty of trees to swing and jump from, provide a shaded area for shelter from the elements, and be sure it's monkey-proofed. Even healthy and happy monkeys are curious, and a breakout is inevitable if given the time and an outlet.

Food and Water

In the wild, capuchins eat bugs, fruit, small birds, nuts, and flowers. Mimicking this monkey's natural diet in captivity can be somewhat tricky. A high-quality, formulated monkey chow provides the bulk of their nutritional needs. Ample outdoor space allows them to forage. Supplement their diet with baby food, fruits, and vegetables (cut to size). A varied diet keeps a monkey interested, especially if you hide it, and they have to search for it. It is best to feed your monkey on a regular schedule and twice per day.

Capuchins also thrive with the occasional cooked meat treat (about 1 teaspoon), but never give them table food, dairy products, or sweets, as this is not part of their natural diet and can lead to health problems.

illustration of capuchin monkeys as pets
The Spruce / Nusha Ashjaee

Common Health Problems

Capuchins, like other primates, can transmit certain diseases to humans, the most notable being hepatitis and rabies. Monkeys are also natural hosts of herpes B (or monkey B) virus, which can cause fatal encephalomyelitis in people. And monkeys commonly develop latent, lifelong infections that can be transmitted to people via scratches and bites.

Capuchins can become infected with common human ailments since their immune systems are not as robust as ours. Many pet capuchins develop diabetes due to improper nutrition. Like humans, your pet monkey should have regular blood screenings to monitor glucose and cholesterol levels closely.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Capuchin Monkey?

As of 2018, it is legal to own a pet capuchin monkey in North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia, Indiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. The laws change all the time, and if you are considering getting one, thoroughly research both your state and local laws. Also, check on the history and legitimacy of the breeder.

Purchasing Your Capuchin Monkey

Capuchin monkeys can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000. When purchasing a capuchin monkey, you need to find a reputable breeder, but even this can be a dilemma. Capuchin breeders take the babies from their mothers at an extremely young age. This practice helps the human owner form a tighter bond but can cause permanent emotional and psychological damage to both the mother and the baby. In the wild, capuchins usually stay with their mother for the first several years of their life.

It can be difficult to verify if a breeder or dealer is reputable, but it only takes a few minutes to confirm if your breeder is USDA-licensed. Ask to see the license or, if over the phone, ask for their federal number and look them up for validation. Try to buy directly from a breeder rather than going through a broker. It's essential to know the history and parentage of the animal. You should feel comfortable asking a lot of questions about the animal, including its current care schedule and their assessment of the monkey's temperament. Also, ask around for referrals from people who have used the same breeder or broker.

Keep in mind that the illegal exotic animal trade is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide. Scams abound online and offline, and it can be practically impossible to get your money back.

If monkey ownership is something you genuinely have your heart set on, and you realize it is difficult to obtain a monkey or if around-the-clock care for a monkey is not doable for you, you can also look into monkey sponsorship. Jungle Friends is a sponsorship service for monkeys released from research labs. A year-long donation provides food, housing, and enrichment opportunities for the monkey of your choice, granting you a certificate of sponsorship, a photo, and access to a video link of the monkeys in their natural sanctuary.

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