Sloth: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Bradypus tridactylus
Nicolas Reusens / Getty Images

Two-toed sloths are rising in popularity as exotic pets. They are very calm, slow-moving creatures that eat special diets, are quiet, and need lots of trees for climbing. They can live up to 30 years, making them suitable only for the most seasoned of exotic pet owners who have the time and ability to handle the specialized needs of a sloth for many years. Two-toed sloths are more common than three-toed sloths in the pet trade. Their diet is more adaptable; you can substitute other greens for their native leaves. Generally, three-toed sloths do not fare as well in captivity.

Species 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: Weighs up to 17 pounds and can get just over 2-feet tall

Life Expectancy: More than 30 years in captivity

Sloth Behavior and Temperament

Sloths are wild animals and are not domesticated. Sloths in the wild are mostly nocturnal, but captive sloths may change their schedule.

They do not like being 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. However, if it does feel threatened, it will use its sharp claws and teeth and can cause serious injury. As a prey animal in the wild, other pets living in the house are likely stressors. Males sloths are primarily solitary creatures; females sometimes live in small groups together.

Sloths are known for their slow-moving pace and they hardly make a noise. Their limbs are adapted for grasping, hanging, and climbing. They can hang upside down from branches and trees without effort but can barely walk. Many people think you can just clip the sharp claws to prevent scratching, but sloths need their nails to grip onto branches and trees properly, so do not clip them. They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath underwater for up to 40 minutes.

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How to Create a Happy Home for Your Sloth

Housing the Sloth

In the wild, two-toed sloths spend all their time in tall trees. In captivity, they need plenty of trees or structures to spend their day hanging from. They are not able to walk on the ground since they have claws at the ends of their arms and legs and no hands or feet. They will drag their legs if moving along the ground. Keep them in a secured area for their protection from other pets and people.

Position climbing logs, poles, branches for climbing within reach of each other. Sloths do not jump from tree to tree like lemurs and monkeys.

A sloth's natural habitat is the rainforests of Central and South America where it is very hot and very humid. In captivity, they need this same kind of humidity and temperature. A habitat can be difficult to replicate if you do not provide a small enclosed room (at least 8-feet cube) that allows you to control the environment. People use heaters and humidifiers to recreate a tropical atmosphere of about 90 to 100 Fahrenheit with 80 to 90% humidity. Sloths that remain too cold for too long will experience a drop in body temperature, and their digestive system will shut down. You can take your sloth out of its makeshift rainforest-like room for short periods, but it must go back to its room to sleep.

Food and Water

One of the hardest parts of owning an exotic pet like a sloth is trying to replicate its natural diet in captivity. Sloths eat leaves, mainly leaves found on the trees of Central and South America.

They sleep about 20 hours a day and usually forage for food at night. Their metabolism is so slow that it can take up to three weeks or one month to digest food. They pee and poop about once a week.

Offer food every night. Feed a leaf eater food, such as Marion Leaf Eater pellet food or Mazuri High Fiber Sticks, which zoos use to feed their sloths. In addition to the pellets, offer lettuces, dandelion greens, carrots, apples, green beans, sweet potatoes, and an occasional grape as a treat. You cannot 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.

In the wild, sloths get their water from dew on leaves or water contained in their food. In captivity, secure water and feeding bowl high up in the enclosure as well as on the ground. Also, strap big lettuce leaves and greens around the enclosure and on branches where the sloth likes to hang out.

illustration of care sheet of sloths as pets
The Spruce

Common Health Problems

Find an exotics vet in your area who will treat your sloth. Sloths in captivity are susceptible to nutritional issues, digestive problems, respiratory problems, and physical injuries. Dietary issues are the most prevalent issue since it is quite challenging to replicate a sloth's natural diet in captivity.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Sloth?

As of 2019, it was legal to own a two-toed pet sloth in Florida (with a permit), Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota (with health certificate), and Texas. Other states may allow sloths, but their state laws do not explicitly state it. Other states may issue permits to own a pet sloth, but that will only be for the pet owner at one address. Some laws ban boarding sloths, crossing state lines with them, and other restrictions. Contact your state and local officials to verify if it is legal for you to own, board, or transport a two-toed sloth where you live.

The illegal pet trade also captures wild specimens for selling, which is unlawful, and also attempts to sell three-toed sloths, which do not live well in captivity.

Purchasing Your Sloth

Sloths are costly animals typically priced around $6,000 up to $10,000 for a captive-bred baby. If this will be your first sloth, you should not look for anything other than a captive-bred baby. Steer clear of adult sloths as they are usually unsocialized or may be wild-caught. Both do not do well in captivity.

Despite their rise in popularity, there are very few legal breeding facilities where you can purchase a two-toed sloth; it might be a bit difficult since they are so rare to find, but they are available. Sometimes exotic pet stores sell them, which is often a questionable source. An exotics pet broker will likely be your best way to find one.

Seek a seller who proactively gives you a lot of information about the animal and ask a lot of questions about you and your suitability to care for a sloth. Some sellers may not even sell to you if you are not a zoo or registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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