Capuchin monkeys are energetic exotic animals that require enrichment and an active lifestyle—often, when raised by humans, they rarely get enough stimulation. They may be adorable as babies, but as they get older, capuchin monkeys can get bored easily, which can lead to increasingly destructive behaviors. They usually end up as incompatible pets, rendering them difficult to care for and resulting in rescue or euthanasia.
Common Name: Capuchin monkey
Scientific name: Cebinae
Adult Size: 13 to 22 inches; Up to 4 pounds
Lifespan: An average of 15 to 25 years or up to 45
Can You 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 a pet capuchin monkey, thoroughly research both your state and local laws. It's also a good idea to check on the history and legitimacy of the breeder through which you choose to obtain your animal.
Capuchin monkeys are often surrendered as pets because they have needs most humans don't have the skills or time to fill, making it more than likely that owning one is—in most instances—unethical. However, there are always exceptions, and if you are an owner who is enthusiastic about giving your pet capuchin monkey everything it needs to thrive, it may very well be happy in your home.
Things to Consider
Before acquiring a capuchin monkey, it's important to do a great deal of research regarding their needs and requirements to ensure you can fulfill your duties as an owner. It's a good idea to try and touch base with others who have successfully cared for and owned a capuchin monkey in order to get their perspective.
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.
Capuchin monkeys were trained as service animals until 2010, when 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 to be cared for similarly as a human baby would. 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 to be trained to be a part of the family. You can hire a specialized monkey trainer, although some trainers may use questionable training methods you'll want to avoid. Some trainers recommend removing all four canine teeth from the monkey to prevent serious bite injuries down the road. This practice is yet another debatable issue, and few veterinarians will perform the procedure.
Once they reach age five, capuchin monkeys become much harder to handle. A bored monkey may display aggression, biting its owner or someone else in order to get attention or garner interest. It may also try to escape its enclosure or misbehave—even throwing feces. Aggressive behavior is typical in capuchin monkeys and can sometimes occur without prior tendencies.
Are Capuchin Monkeys Good Pets?
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 safely enclosed in the average yard to allow the primate proper exercise.
That said, the bigger the enclosure, the better. If you do decide to house a capuchin monkey, 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 they're given the time and an outlet.
What Do Capuchin Monkeys Eat and Drink?
In the wild, capuchin monkeys 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, while ample outdoor space allows them to forage. You can also 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 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.
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. 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.
Capuchin monkeys will need lots of physical—and mental—stimulation in order to thrive. They do not do well in small enclosures and will need amply space where they can run around, climb in trees and explore their territory.
Grooming your capuchin monkey can be a great opportunity for bonding and attention—in the wild, the monkeys will groom each other as a sign of affection and respect, so similar feelings can be fostered through owner-to-monkey grooming.
Every month or so, wash your monkey with a mild shampoo designated for human hair, being careful not to get soap in their eyes. Rinse soap throughouhly, then dry your capuchin with a soft towel or hairdryer set to low heat.
Training Your Capuchin Monkey
Part of the difficulty (and issue) with owning a capuchin monkey comes from training. They are incredibly smart but also have their own ideas for how they want to learn (or not learn things), making it difficult to train them properly if you yourself are not trained and experienced in primate care. It is recommended that you seek out a kind and patient trainer skilled in primates to help you with your capuchin, whether that's training them to be on a leash or if you're hoping they'll do tricks.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Capuchin Monkey
When it comes to owning a capuchin monkey, there are many aspects to consider before committing to primate ownership. Capuchin monkeys are charming and adorable creatures, but unless you're extremely well-versed in primate care, owning one may be more difficult (and potentially dangerous) than it is enjoyable.
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 the breeder's assessment of the monkey's temperament. Additionally, you should ask around for referrals from people who have used the same breeder. 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.
Similar Exotic Pets to the Capuchin Monkey
Monkeys live in the wild and are not often suitable pets, but if you are interested in owning a pet monkey or similar species, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Are pet capuchin monkeys hard to take care of?
Due to various environmental and social needs, pet capuchin monkeys can be very difficult to care for. In their infancy (up to age five) they are considered more tame and easy to care for, but they will quickly become a handful and are not a suitable choice for pet owners that do not have previous primate experience.
Do capuchin monkeys do better in their natural habitat than in a domesticated one?
Yes. Capuchin monkeys will thrive in a jungle or sanctuary environment where they are free to explore and play. Additionally, monkeys are social creatures and will benefit from being surrounded by a large "family" of other primates like themselves.
Can you domesticate a capuchin monkey?
Yes—though it's not always suggested. Regardless of how much they're trained, capuchin monkeys will still possess many of their innate behaviors and can exhibit issues such as aggression, acting out, and escapism.