Sloths as Pets

Bradypus tridactylus
Nicolas Reusens / Getty Images

Two-toed sloths are rising in popularity as exotic pets. They are very calm, slow-moving creatures who eat special diets, are quiet, need a lot of trees to climb on, and can live up to 30 years, making them suitable only for the most seasoned of exotic pet owners who are ready, willing, and able to handle the exotic needs of a sloth for many years.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Two-Toed Sloth

Scientific Names: Choloepus didactylus (Linnaeus's two-toed sloth) and Choloepus hoffmann (Hoffmann's two-toed sloth)

Adult Size: The two-toed sloth can weigh up to 17 pounds.

Life Expectancy: More than 30 years in captivity

Difficulty of Care: Advanced. Two-toed sloths do not like to be petted or groomed. They move slowly and spend much of their day hanging and not walking.

Sloth Behavior and Temperament

Sloths are wild animals and are not domesticated. They adhere to their natural instincts and do not like to be petted, groomed, or bathed. Unlike most other animals, they do not show obvious external signs of stress. Instead, their natural response to fear or danger is to remain still. As a result, it can be difficult to tell when a sloth is scared or stressed.

Sloths are known for their slow-moving pace. This is a natural defense mechanism for them. Since they cannot outrun their predators, they rely on camouflage. Their slow pace allows them to escape visual detection. They move slowly to avoid being identified. Their limbs are adapted for grasping, hanging, and climbing. They can hang upside down from branches and trees without effort, but can barely walk. They will drag their legs if moving along the ground. They are excellent swimmers and can even hold their breath underwater for up to 40 minutes. Sloths in the wild are mostly nocturnal, but captive sloths may change their schedule.

Many people think you can just clip the sharp claws on a sloth so they do not scratch you, but sloths actually need their claws to properly grip onto branches and trees. Do not clip the claws and consult with your exotics vet if you believe there is an issue with the sloth's claws.

Housing the Sloth

In the wild, two-toed sloths spend all their time in tall trees. They are not able to really walk on the ground since they have claws at the ends of their arms and legs and not hands or feet; they need plenty of trees or structures to spend their day hanging from. Sloths are not quick creatures by any means, so keeping them in a secured area would only be for their protection from other pets and people.

Logs, poles, branches, and other items that you are able to use to create room for your sloth to climb on must be positioned within reach of each other since sloths do not jump from tree to tree like lemurs and monkeys.

Sloths are from Central and South America where the environment is very hot and very humid. They need this same kind of humidity and temperature even in a captive environment. This can be difficult to duplicate without having your sloth contained in a large room that allows you to control the environment. A small bedroom with things to hang on is recommended along with heaters and humidifiers to recreate a tropical atmosphere. If it doesn't feel like a rainforest (about 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 80 to 90 percent humidity) or a hot day in Florida in that bedroom, it isn't a good environment for your sloth to be in. Sloths that remain too cold for too long will experience a drop body temperature and their digestive system will shut down. It's acceptable to take your sloth out of its makeshift rainforest room for periods of time, but it must go back to its room to sleep.

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How to Create a Happy Home for Your Sloth

Food and Water

Sloths eat leaves. One of the hardest parts of owning an exotic pet is trying to replicate its natural diet in captivity. Thankfully zoos are continuing to do research on diets of exotic animals in captivity that exotic pet owners can use. Therefore, if you do not have access to the kinds of leaves found on the trees of Central and South America (most people do not), you need to obtain a leaf eater pellet like the zoos feed their sloths. Marion Leaf Eater pellets are one kind of leaf eater pellets you can feed, but in addition to the pellets, you should offer some lettuces, dandelion greens, apples, and an occasional grape as a treat. It is important to remember you cannot just feed leaves off the trees in your backyard to your pet sloth. Not all leaves are equal and always avoid leaves with pesticides or chemicals on them.

Common Health Problems

Find a few exotics vets in your area that will treat your sloth in case it gets sick. Not every vet (especially an exotics vet) is available at all times, so it is a good idea to have a list of vets to call when you have a problem in case your regular vet is not available. Sloths in captivity can be afflicted with nutritional issues, digestive problems, respiratory problems, and physical injuries. Nutritional problems are the most prevalent as it is quite difficult to replicate a sloth's natural diet in captivity.

illustration of care sheet of sloths as pets
The Spruce

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Sloth?

Despite their rise in popularity, there are very few legal breeding facilities where you can purchase a two-toed sloth, and more and more people and places are taking part in the illegal trade of the three-toed sloth, which does very poorly in captivity and is illegal to own. Check with your state and local laws about owning a pet sloth. Some states may issue permits to own a pet sloth, but that will only be for the pet owner at one address. This means the sloth cannot be boarded, it cannot cross state lines, and other restrictions. It is not recommended to keep sloths as pets due to their very specialized diet, environment requirements, and the difficulty in knowing for sure that your sloth was not taken from the wild.

Purchasing Your Sloth

There are very few (if any) actual sloth breeders. Any sloth for sale has a high probability of being illegally imported. Baby sloths are often stolen from their mothers in the wild, so purchasing an illegal sloth only contributes to this practice. Rescued sloths are often rehabbed by sanctuaries at zoos or close to the sloth's natural habitat with the goal of reintroducing the rehabbed sloth back into the wild.

Similar Pet to the Sloth

If you’re interested in pet sloths, consider other exotic animals such as the capybara, prairie dog, kinkajou, coatimundi, and Patagonian cavy.