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Do Sloths Make Good Pets?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated May 21, 2024
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Exotic pet enthusiasts frequently turn to a pet sloth for a family-friendly, cuddly pet. They have easy-going temperaments and can be affectionate and even playful; they are long-lived, often surviving for 30 years or more in captivity; and they are unlikely to run away. While sloths can make good pets for some people, there are a number of drawbacks to keeping one. As with other exotic pets, they are expensive to obtain, may be illegal in some places and may require special licenses and permits. Depending on the species, they may have special dietary requirements and specialist veterinary care is likely to be very expensive, making costly exotic pet insurance advisable.


To many families and individuals, owning a pet sloth seems appealing, as they are “cute” animals that are usually good with small children. Since they are also typically slow moving, they are fairly easy to keep track of and do not tend to try to escape or run away. Although they can make sounds, they are not generally noisy and are very unlikely to engage in destructive behavior, such as scratching furniture or chewing up clothes or cushions. The fact that they are generally very clean animals that are comfortable living in the house once they have gotten used to it also makes sloths attractive as pets.


The disadvantages of owning a pet sloth, however, are often substantial enough to discourage most people from purchasing one. They are exotic animals that are often difficult to buy legally, so the purchase price is likely to be very high. There is the possibility that the pet may become ill and require highly specialized veterinary care, which could be extremely costly. This makes exotic pet insurance very advisable; it may, in fact, be a legal requirement in some places. Even if a sloth can be purchased and kept legally, many establishments, such as hotels, pet boarding facilities and apartments, will not allow them because they are considered exotic pets.

Types of Sloth

There are two main types of sloth — two-toed and three-toed — which belong to different families. Within these categories, there are four species of three-toed sloths and two species of the two-toed variety, giving six in total. The names refer to the number of toes on the forelimbs; all species have three toes on their hind legs. The three-toed forms have more specialized diets, involving particular species of plants, supplemented by bugs. For this reason, the two-toed types are more commonly kept as pets.


In the wild, these animals spend almost all of their time high in trees, suspended from branches. As pets, they will behave similarly and will enjoy climbing and hanging from anything suitable. In their natural environment, sloths descend from their trees only to defecate, which they do infrequently, typically about once a week. They do, however, produce a large volume of feces.

The sloth’s thick fur harbors many parasites, such as mites and ticks. Because of this, they tend to scratch a lot. Their parasites are not thought to pose a threat to humans, however.

Baby sloths cling to their mothers until they are old enough to fend for themselves. A pet sloth will usually demonstrate similar behavior and will happily embrace its owner, which greatly adds to their appeal. If properly looked after, they are affectionate and, despite their slow movements, surprisingly playful. Many owners have reported that their pets enjoy playing “peek-a-boo” using an old blanket.

General Care

A pet sloth needs to be provided with something to climb on that is strong enough to take its weight. It will enjoy climbing and hanging from real or fake trees inside the home. If this is not possible, it may be happy climbing other structures, such as wooden or metal frames, that have been constructed for this purpose. Ideally, it should have a large living space in which it is allowed to roam and play. At the very least, a tall, roomy cage should be provided to give the animal plenty of room to climb around.

Sloths live in areas with continually high temperatures and are not well adapted to life in temperate regions. They have a very slow metabolic rate and are unable to warm themselves in cold conditions by shivering. For this reason, it is essential to provide a constantly warm environment to ensure that the animals remain comfortable and healthy.

Properly caring for a sloth also requires obtaining special food that can be expensive and difficult to find. Suitable food can sometimes be purchased from zoos or zookeeping resources, but this is not always the case. Additionally, some people may be too squeamish to feed the pet its proper diet, which may include insects. Two-toed sloths appear to be less specialized in their diet and will eat a variety of vegetable matter, but it is important for owners to ensure that they receive enough of all the trace nutrients they require. Anyone considering keeping a sloth as a pet should seek expert advice applicable to the particular species.

Legal Issues

Sloths are generally considered to be “exotic” pets and this means that potential owners may have to meet certain conditions and obtain special licenses or permits. Before considering keeping this animal as a pet, it is essential to check out any legal requirements. These vary from country to country and, in the US, from state to state. In some countries and some states, it may simply be illegal. Keeping a sloth under these circumstances could result in a large fine or even imprisonment, as well as confiscation of the animal.

Are Sloths Dangerous?

Sloths aren’t considered a dangerous animal the way bears, tigers, and hippos are, but interacting with a sloth can still pose risks. Sloths are extremely unlikely to attack a human unless they are frightened or provoked, but they have sharp teeth and long claws that can cause serious injury (and which could potentially carry pathogens that result in the injury getting infected). Also, sloths can carry certain types of viruses that can also infect people, and like any animal, they can be a host for many types of insects and parasites that could pose health risks for humans.

Are Sloths Friendly?

While sloths are famous for being easy-going, they are not social animals. In the wild, they live alone and try not to draw attention from other animals in order to avoid predators. Since they are solitary, most sloths don’t expect to be touched and can find even gentle petting quite threatening. A baby sloth being hand-raised by humans might appear to enjoy the attention, but in most cases that won’t last into adulthood. While some sloths who are kept as pets or who live in wildlife rehabilitation centers do enjoy some human interaction (on their own terms), it’s definitely not guaranteed that every sloth will.

How Much Does a Sloth Cost?

In many countries and some US states, it’s illegal to own a pet sloth, which means the price of one in those areas will be whatever the black market charges (and usually pretty high). If you buy a sloth through the legal market, the price will likely be at least several thousand dollars. Sloths also require specialized food and veterinary care that is more expensive than what you’d usually need for a dog or cat.

What Do Sloths Eat?

In the wild, two-toed sloths eat everything from leaves to fruit to insects to lizards and other small animals; they sometimes even eat carrion. Three-toed sloths eat mostly leaves (and can be picky about which types).

Where Do Sloths Live?

Sloths are native to Central and South America. They live in tropical rainforests, though some species live at slightly higher elevations than others. Sloths spend almost all of their time in the treetops, usually hanging upside down; under normal circumstances, they come down about once a week to defecate. Sloths are so well adapted to their environment than on Barro Island (which is off the coast of Panama), scientists estimate that if you added up the mass of all the mammals that live in the treetops, sloths would account for about 70%.

Don’t Sloths Have Algae in Their Fur?

Sloth fur does indeed host algae, which in wet conditions can make the sloth look a bit green, but there’s a lot more going on than that. Sloth fur is often considered to have its own ecosystem. In addition to algae, it’s home to a variety of mites, ticks, lice, even beetles and moths. Sloth fur is unusual in another way as well. Because sloths spend so much time hanging upside down, their fur grows in the opposite direction than it does on most mammals.

Are Sloths Really That Slow?

Sloths are the slowest mammal on Earth! They even blink more slowly than do other animals, and they spend up to 90% of their time not moving. Although they are faster in trees than they are on the ground, a typical sloth still only moves about 40 yards over an entire day. (In contrast, spider monkeys, which also spend most of their time in the treetops, often move thousands or even hundreds of thousands of yards in a single day.) Sloths are so still because their metabolisms move at a much slower pace than those of other mammals; they can’t digest their food quickly enough to have enough energy to support more and faster movement.

How Many Babies Does a Sloth Have?

Sloths have only one baby at a time. A sloth’s gestation period (length of pregnancy) is six months for three-toed sloths and a full year for two-toed sloths. It’s possible for a sloth to have one baby every year, but this doesn’t always happen because sloths are so solitary and slow-moving that males and females sometimes go more than a year without encountering each other at all. A baby sloth is ready to leave its mother once it’s about five months old. Scientists aren’t actually certain how long sloths typically live in the wild. In captivity, some two-toed sloths have lived for more than 30 years.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basic needs of a pet sloth?

A pet sloth requires a specialized diet, often consisting of leaves, fruits, and vegetables, which can be difficult to replicate outside of their natural habitat. They need a large, vertical space to mimic their arboreal lifestyle, with a consistent warm and humid environment to thrive. Regular veterinary care familiar with exotic animals is also essential.

Is it legal to own a sloth as a pet?

The legality of owning a sloth varies by location. In some places, it's illegal to keep them as pets due to their status as exotic animals. Where it is legal, permits and licenses are often required. It's crucial to check local wildlife regulations and ensure compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

How do sloths interact with humans?

Sloths generally have a docile and solitary nature, which can be mistaken for friendliness towards humans. However, they do not crave human interaction and can become stressed by excessive handling. While they may tolerate human presence, they do not form bonds in the same way domesticated pets like dogs or cats do.

What are the potential health issues for pet sloths?

Pet sloths can suffer from nutritional deficiencies if their complex diet is not properly managed. They are also prone to respiratory infections due to their slow metabolism and the need for a warm environment. Additionally, sloths require specialized veterinary care, which can be challenging to find and expensive.

How long do sloths live, and can they adjust to captivity?

Sloths can live up to 30 years in the wild, and while they can survive in captivity, their lifespan may be shortened due to stress and improper care. Captive sloths require environments that closely mimic their natural habitat, which is difficult to achieve, and they often do not adjust well to the constraints of captivity.

What are the ethical considerations of keeping a sloth as a pet?

Keeping a sloth as a pet raises significant ethical concerns. Removing sloths from the wild can contribute to the decline of their populations and disrupt ecosystems. Ethical considerations also include the animal's quality of life in captivity, as sloths have complex needs that are challenging to meet outside of their natural environment.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1006687 — On Apr 28, 2022

This is horribly irresponsible. Not only do sloths make terrible pets, captivity also kills them. Especially 3-fingered sloths. Rule of thumb: if a sloth is out of a tree, it’s in distress. And distress for these animals = elevated blood pressure, heart failure, respiratory and digestive immune failure. Leave them in the forest and stop writing shit like this.

By anon994795 — On Mar 07, 2016

Sloths are one of my favorite animals.

By anon991103 — On May 27, 2015

Exotic pets should not be allowed. It's ridiculous. Most people can't take care of a dog properly, let alone a wild animal. Get a hobby, or maybe a life?

By anon989936 — On Mar 28, 2015

It's my financial burden, which is none of your business.

If I choose to introduce an exotic pet into my home and expose myself to "it's" diseases, this is also none of your business.

All species adapt to the habitat they are in.

A violent sloth? Are you kidding me?

I do not need a house sitter to care for my sloth. My sloth travels with me.

My cats are a bigger pain than my sloth.

My sloth is my buddy and we get along great.

The moral of the story, mind your own business, butt out of mine. Oh and shove your opinion. If you have never owned a sloth you have no right to comment.

By anon956843 — On Jun 16, 2014

It's best to keep them in their natural habitat, i.e., so we can wipe them out along with the rest of their forests?

Sarcasm aside, I'm sure sloths would make great companion animals for certain people (re: lifestyle, knowledge, financial resources, etc.). I doubt they're suitable for the mass market yet. (Domesticated, litter-trainable pet rats make great pets for the certain types of people too, especially little girls for some reason.)

Bottom line: a responsible pet owner is always the right person for the pet that's right for them.

By anon950533 — On May 11, 2014

I believe that if you can give the animal a good quality of life, based on its specific needs, there isn't anything wrong with owning one as a pet. By good quality, I mean better than it would in the wild: access to food, a perfectly suited environment, shelter from predators and health care against illness. To ensure that, you have to know where your pet is coming from. Taking an animal out of its natural environment, unless in a rescue situation where the animal wouldn't survive without human intervention, is wrong. There's also a difference between a captive pet, and captive bred/born pet.

When we talk about domestication, we speak of an entire species. Species that have a long history of domestication have a working purpose and were considered resources long before they were considered pets. We now have machinery for much of what we used domesticated pets for, so now when we think of domestication we think any and all pets.

Sloths are not domesticated in the traditional sense - they're tame, wild, animals. I believe that there should be laws that protect exotic or native wild animals. A ban would do nothing but create a black market where the animals will undoubtedly suffer. We need regulation so that we protect the environment, and enforce proper ownership starting at enforcing proper education in care.

By anon945895 — On Apr 15, 2014

Looking at the cons here, this isn't a great deal more difficult or expensive than keeping a chameleon, so I don't think it's that bad. The only real problem I could see in this is perhaps getting the license. Other than that, it seems like keeping a big cuddly chameleon.

By anon356636 — On Nov 27, 2013

A sloth born in captivity is not considered a wild animal? Please tell that to all the people who have been attacked by lions, bears and tigers all born in captivity and still wild animals! Get your facts straight. Let the sloth stay in the jungle. If it was meant to be a pet, we would have domesticated it long ago!

By anon354797 — On Nov 11, 2013

I do not have a pet sloth, but I do want one. That being said, before I get one, I will do even more research. I have already researched if it is legal for me to obtain one (yes, with a special license), what kind of food they eat (only general knowledge as specific breeds have different requirements), their needs (I already have blueprints drawn up to change a free room in my house into a sloth sanctuary including regulated heat and humidity, four wooden tree stumps for climbing in each corner, an interlocking web of thick rope for it to move around, and many other necessary amenities), and I have already spent a lot of money and time on this project.

However, I want other exotic pet owners to take away this: I have already put hundreds of dollars into this project, have researched the requirements for a few years, already started studying for the special license, and I still may not get a sloth if I can't care for it.

My next step is to go see a sloth reserve in the States. The one everyone knows about in Costa Rica refuses to help people learn how to care for sloths, which I understand, but it is disappointing.

If I stay and care for sloths for a few days and the experts think I will be able to learn to care for a sloth, and give me their blessing, then I will start construction of the room and start looking for a sloth. Even in Canada I can find breeders, but I am waiting for a rescue -- someone who got a sloth but couldn't care for it. That way, I wouldn't be producing another sloth from a breeder. The breeder I am looking at only mates their sloths when enough people order a sloth, meet the breeders requirements, and pays for the animal. Even then, the litter may not have enough for everyone and then you have to wait for enough people to place another order.

What I am trying to say is: do all your research, get training, be prepared to spend a lot of time and money on your project, and even then be prepared to never get one. If you truly want to see the animal succeed, it's best to know when you aren't good enough to care for it and walk away, rather than get it and watch it slowly die. This is true for any and every pet, but especially exotic pets.

By anon352924 — On Oct 26, 2013

The number one concern should be the animal's welfare.

I had the amazing opportunity to care for a baby sloth who was brought to a wildlife sanctuary in Costa Rica.

Let me be clear: they are extremely difficult to care for. It is quite different than taking care of cats who have been domesticated thousands of years and caring for an animal taken directly from the rainforest. They have a precise diet, need a specific habitat, and will become quite depressed if these needs are not met.

Many of these wonderful animals have died for one person to have a "pet". Please do not contribute to this illegal trade of such amazing animals.

Oh, and the little one I was caring for died. This was even with a vet on staff and many others caring for her. It broke my heart, but I learned much about these wonderful creatures.

By anon347363 — On Sep 06, 2013

By wanting a pet sloth, people are creating a market for these animals. Pet traders go to countries in the tropics where people are poor to obtain baby sloths for a couple of dollars. They sell for 100 times profit. To get the baby, the mother is killed.

Please leave them where they are and help protect the rainforests, because that's their home and the homes of many more amazing animals and plants that's rapidly being destroyed by deforestation. This is a tragedy already happening all over the rainforests that are still left.

By anon343160 — On Jul 27, 2013

Do any of you have a sloth as a pet or are you just hypothesizing?

By anon342687 — On Jul 23, 2013

There are two negative considerations for getting a pet sloth: first, unless you live in a tropical climate, you will have the cost of continuous heating bills for the room in which you keep your pet.

Second, the difficulty of going on holiday and finding someone reputable to care for, or board your sloth. Unless you have a house-sitter who knows your pet, you will have costly trouble not to worry about your sloth while you are away.

By anon331675 — On Apr 24, 2013

@anon330669: Thank you. A cat's natural habitat isn't "in a house". Also, a sloth born in captivity is no longer considered a "wild animal". If you can properly care for a sloth, there's nothing wrong with getting one.

By anon330669 — On Apr 18, 2013

Do most of you disagree with having dogs and cats as well? Animals didn't come from captivity. They came from the wild. Personally, I feel that if the pet is well taken care of it isn't a bad situation.

If a person has the financial capability which would come with the price of buying one, they should be able to have it. Animals aren't as complex as a human being. I'm sure some of these people are thinking this way.

If they are fed, get plenty of exercise, and have stimulation and love, that is basically all any living thing requires to be happy. Anything else is either too much or too little.

By anon329781 — On Apr 11, 2013

The cons aren't all that bad compared to most pets. If introduced as regular pets, as opposed to being exotic pets, they would be less of a hassle than owning a dog.

Bring on the sloths!

By anon301415 — On Nov 04, 2012

While I feel that sloths should never have been introduced to the pet trade in the first place, now that they're here, I think they should stay. It is true sloths belong in the wild, but now that they are in the pet trade they can be used for education (as long as they are being cared for properly.

If sloths were made illegal as pets, people would resort to smuggling sloths with money as the primary focus, rather than the well being of the sloth. Sloths are one of God's many wonderful creatures and should be treated with the respect, care, and love, all creatures deserve. If a civilian can provide those needs, then I see no problem owning a sloth.

I plan to get a sloth later in life after I go to college (I'm only 16 now), and will provide ample space with trees, hammocks, and a proper diet. I will use the sloth as a way to educate others and as a loving companion. However, not all sloths should be kept as pets. The pygmy three toed sloth is critically endangered and should only be placed in breeding programs.

By kentuckycat — On Nov 25, 2011

@stl156 - I have to say that I find your argument compelling. Most of the time it depends on the animal itself and whether or not it is possible for them to even return to the wild.

Sloths do make great pets, but it is up to the owner to be able to properly care for them and make sure they are being humane in their care. If they were domestically raised they cannot return to the wild, thus they have to stay in captivity and hopefully have a good owner.

It is easy to say that these owners of exotic animals should not have them, however, most of the time these owners have the resources and the money to properly care for them and do so. It is the bad owners that get the bad press and what you hear about.

This is definitely an issue where people have opinions based off of what they have heard. However, the question that should be raised is the issue of ethics and whether or not exotic animals should be owned at all, in regards to these animals living outside of their natural habitat, as opposed to pointing fingers at all the exotic pet owners and focusing neglect and abuse as the primary rallying cry to banning exotic animal ownership.

By stl156 — On Nov 24, 2011

@Izzy78 - Although you may be right, I feel like we should not totally condemn people that own exotic animals. Sometimes it can be a good thing for people to own exotic animals, because they are caring for a species that may be threatened and they protect this animal from being killed in the wild or from poachers that will just kill it.

Also, usually these exotic animals are not taken directly out of the wild. They usually grow up in captivity and would not survive in the wild otherwise and it only makes sense for someone to own them and care for them.

The same thing goes for zoos that house exotic animals. There is no reason to send the zoo animals back out into the wild because they probably would not survive. In zoos they have appropriate knowledge and resources to accommodate these animals and make it as comfortable possible for them.

By Izzy78 — On Nov 23, 2011

@titans62 - I have to agree there is really no reason for someone to own an animal like a sloth. The only reason for someone to own it would be to say that they own an exotic animal, but they are owning an easy going exotic animal that is not dangerous like a lion or tiger.

The problem with owning a sloth is that first off they are going to be very expensive to own and require extensive care. I worry that people that decide to own exotic animals, like sloths, will not be able to provide the proper care to the animal and not do absolutely everything that is necessary in order to be completely humane with this animal.

I also agree that there is no reason to own an exotic animal that is taken well out of its habitat and put in a place that is a completely different environment that they are not able to adapt to.

By titans62 — On Nov 23, 2011

To be totally honest I do not see any reason for someone to own a sloth. I have always thought of them as being very dirty animals, despite being cute and cuddly and in reality a very appealing pet to have.

However, the costs will drive the owner insane and the other thing that has to be considered is that a sloth is an exotic animal that probably is not living in their natural habitat. Thus they become a special needs animal and in order for the owner to be right and humane they have to continually go the extra mile to accommodate their pet sloth.

I find it to be a very bad idea to own a sloth and feel like it is one of those pets that someone should not be able to own. They come from the wild and they belong in the wild.

By Crispety — On Nov 23, 2011

@BrickBack -You make a good point. Also what happens if a person changes their mind and does not want the animal? Sometimes people get into fads and want to own a wild animal like this because of a movie they saw and don’t realize the work it takes to maintain an animal like this.

People also have to realize that wild animals regardless of their reputation can be unpredictable and act like wild animals. Although the sloth has a mild reputation because it is a wild animal it could adversely react to something and maybe get a little violent.

That is the thing with wild animals. They can be really unpredictable and then people are shocked when they attack or harm others. I think that these animals are illegal to own as pets for a reason.

By BrickBack — On Nov 22, 2011

I think that sloths are really cute, but the whole idea of keeping wild animals as pets is a little cruel. I think that these animals need to be in their natural habitat and keeping one of these animals in a home is not right.

Also a lot of these wild animals carry diseases and it might be better to see them in a zoo. I think that if you really want a sloth, it might be a good idea to give money to a wildlife fund that helps these animals in their natural habitat.

This way you can care for these animals, but not need to have them in your home.

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