What Do You Think About Me Keeping A Monkey As A Pet?

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Click the ark to see the vaccinations monkeys might require:

Who Is This Dr. Hines, That You Should Pay Any Attention To His Advice?

I have worked with monkeys most of my life. In the military, I provided their health care in government laboratories. Later I did the same in zoos, circus acts and animal sanctuaries. I also treat monkeys belonging to private owners. I probably have more monkey health care articles on the web than any other veterinarian. I don’t work for a big “humane” or government organization with an agenda. I don’t run an animal “haven” trying to take monkeys away from private owners. I am not trying to prove a point and I don’t want to sell you anything. I have just learned a lot over the years about captive monkeys and I want to share with you what I know. What you do with that information is entirely up to you.

Have You Really Thought About Why You Want A Monkey?

It is hard to sit and watch the monkeys at the zoo without an irresistible longing to hug one and bring it home. Curious George and The Jungle Book have given all of us a warm spot in out hearts for monkeys. The chimps in circus acts and on TV are so cute and appear so affectionate. They appear as happy, cuddly little folks that would just love to be part of your family. Life would be very dull if you and I didn’t have our fantasies, and dreams.

Some of us have “voids in our hearts” and want something to cuddle and love. A little monkey will be dependent on you, for a time and do this. But it will never love you as a child, friend or spouse loves you. It will depend on you – but dependency and reliance are not love.

If you started reading this article intending to purchase a monkey and finish it with doubts in your mind; that will be fine. If you finish the article and decide not to buy one, that will be even better – for you and your family and especially for an innocent animal somewhere that does not get bred and does not suffer the sad fate of all pet monkeys.

Now it is true that in their child-like years, monkeys are cute, cuddly and intelligent tricksters = little elves that are very dependent on you, their surrogate parent. This goes for the smallest of marmosets to the largest of the apes – the first 6-14 months are messy but delightful.

However, this honeymoon always ends. It ends sooner for small breeds of monkey than larger one, but when it is over, the reality check always begins. That is when your monkey undergoes a Jekyll & Hyde personality change – that is what it will seem like to you. That is when most monkey owner decide their pet is just acting bad and needs some tough love and discipline. What is really happening is that your cute little surrogate child is becoming what God intended it to become – a monkey.

What Will Happen As Time Goes By?

Eventually, the monkey will become destructive out of frustration and the realization that the life it is living is not the life it was designed for. It will become bored and upset because it does not have the space, monkey-to-monkey interactions and activities to keep it occupied.

Here Are Some Of The Things That Will Begin To Happen:

It will bite you and fly into rages when insignificant things happen that it does not like or for no apparent reason at all. The monkey will begin to act psychotic, hugging itself, rocking, sucking its fingers and pace its cage. It will chatter a lot and “smile”. Monkeys do not smile because they are happy; they smile when they are anxious or frightened. It will become more and more demanding and possessive of your time and attention. It may remain loving with you, but fly into a jealous rage with other members of your family.

Will The Monkey Change My Life?


When you leave the monkey unattended, it will become destructive. So you will have to stay home bound most of the time. Your friends will see less of you, and your life and activities will begin to center around the monkey. Some of your friends and family will accept this – but a lot of them wont. The majority of your neighbors will consider you quirky, eccentric and a blight on the neighborhood. By now you are probably so attached to the monkey that you consider moving way out into the country.

County, state and federal officials will begin to visit your home and order you around. They will send you letters; want lots of permits, licenses and paperwork. You will be seeing a lot of them and getting to know them well. Your local veterinarians will want nothing to do with monkeys when you need their help. You will have to travel miles to find one and you will not find them particularly helpful.

Your health will often suffer and you will age considerably over the 30 or so years that your monkey lives with you. Your life will be much like that of the parents of a special needs child – one in a strong adult body with an imperfect mind. But your pet monkey will not be able to return love in the way that special needs children often do.

As you learn more about monkeys, you learn that the ones you see on television and out in public are all juveniles, borrowed from the zoo or animal farms, and returned when they become unmanageable, and replaced with new cute infants in a never-ending cycle. When the old ones become too unmanageable and dangerous, they are simply warehoused, destroyed or turned into breeders of more infants.

Mature monkeys are destructive, messy, and possessive. They possess all the basic emotions of human beings, but without the inhibitions we have. Because of this, they can be quite dangerous to you, other family members and guests. After you or friends have been repeatedly bitten, you will find a vet in some distant location who is willing to pull out your monkey’s teeth. You will have this done because other monkey owners have told you monkeys do just fine without teeth. When the monkey then begins to claw you, you may have its fingernails removed as well. When the monkey still “misbehaves” you will have it castrated.

More Bad News:

The yearly veterinarian checkups need to include tuberculosis testing, possibly viral testing, vaccinations and blood examinations. They will cost plenty. Monkeys have been know to carry  diseases  that can transfer to you and your family and the veterinarian will want to check for these. You can read about those diseases here. When it bites a neighbor or strangers, you will need to hire a lawyer as well. When your home insurance company finds out you have a monkey, you will loose your coverage or your premiums will go up.

Your monkey will like your junk food more than its nutritious food and the monkey is smart enough to know the difference. It will eat all the bad stuff you will give it and may go on to develop diabetes requiring daily insulin injections. (  ref1 , ref2 ,    ref3)

Most of its teeth will eventually be extracted to prevent injury to you or to others. The fragile bones of its jaws will be damaged and the monkeys tongue will hang out of its mouth at a bizarre comical angle.

Neutering your monkey did not change its disposition. It’s still acting like a cranky old man.

You are told by the USDA and State officials that you need a bigger cage and lots of other major modification. They also tell you you will need to start keep daily paperwork and logbooks for them to inspect. Building proper caging is challenging. The cage will be expensive and bulky. Monkeys are masters at escape and the cost of an acceptable , home made, government-approved, indoor-outdoor cages for a medium size primate is many hundreds or thousands of dollars. The City tells you that you need a building permit and enforces setback requirements. You may need an OK from your City Health Department as well ( they view pet monkeys and apes as a disaster in the making ).

Well, I Think I Can Handle All That

Lets say that none of the above issues concern you or you have accepted them or you’re just hell-bent on having a monkey. Say you have unlimited financial resources, acreage and enthusiasm. The next thing to consider is what will happen to your monkey if things don’t work out or if you situation changes in the next 30 – 40 years. Many things have happened during the last 30 years of my life that I had never anticipated and things will happen in your life as well. When they do, who is going to take responsibility and care for this monkey? Will the monkey have to endure the psychological trauma of loosing its adoptive family and moving to new or poorer facilities or being bulk-loaded into some overcrowded “sanctuary” or “haven” with strange scary animals it does not recognize as its own kind ? Will it end up in a ratty cage in someone’s back yard with neighborhood kids chucking rocks at it ? By now, it won’t be happy living with monkeys either. Will the police shoot the animal ? Will you be sued over something your monkey did ? Will the pet you loved end up in some roadside carnival or flea market ? There are many more displaced, second, third and fourth-hand monkeys in the United States than there are reputable sanctuaries with the resources to care for them. Monkeys are too social and intelligent animals to make good pets. They are just similar enough to humans to make us want one in our family, and just not similar enough to ever be happy there. Their pediatric dependency and friendliness fade as they mature to adults. They regress into neurotic self-destructive behaviors that are quite predictable and have nothing to do with the way you treat them. Monkeys need to be with other monkeys to develop normal social skills. If you hands raise them, they will forever be social outcasts – unable to adjust to the normal social groups that monkeys need to form to be content.

Some Things That People Say About Pet Monkeys That Are Not True :

Monkeys Are Unpredictable

Monkeys are very predictable. They only appear unpredictable if you expect them to behave like you and I and not like a monkey.

Buying A Pet Monkey Endangers The Species In The Wild

Wild monkeys have not been trapped and sold as pets in the United States for many years. Monkeys breed easily in captivity and there are plenty of people breeding them. There is an endless supply of potential breeder monkeys – the ones that didn’t turn out well as pets have no other value.

All Pet Monkeys Cary Deadly Diseases

Most domestically bred pet monkeys do not carry deadly diseases. Macaques need to come from sources that are certified to be free of Herpes-B virus and all monkeys need to he tested free of tuberculosis. Read about those problems here.

Pet Monkeys Bite Because You Treat Them Badly Or Provoke Them

It is natural for monkeys to bite. Healthy monkeys have great natural resistance to infection and heal quickly. Biting one another is a normal part of their social interaction. When they severely injure each other in captivity, it is because the loosing monkey is trapped in a cage or enclosure and cannot run away.

Pet Monkeys Can Be Taught Not To Bite

Monkeys cannot be trained to “behave”. Teaching a monkey not to bite is like teaching a monkey not to breath. If you are exceedingly cruel, you can make some monkeys terrified and submissive enough not to bite with physical force and unspeakably cruel electric shock collars. You can pull all its teeth out or you can place a tight chain permanently around its neck to intimidate it – but you wont train it to loose the desire to bite.

I Can Feed My Pet Monkey The Same Things I Eat

Your pet monkey will not live long if you do that. It will become obese, develop a wide range of health problems and die at an early age. Read about that problem here and here.

I Can Train My Monkey Not To Be Filthy

You cannot train a monkey to have any understand of the word clean. Clean will never mean anything to them. Most will eliminate right where they are – on your shoulder or on the kitchen table.

Pet Monkeys Can Be Happy In My Home

Monkeys With enough space, toys, and other monkeys for companionship, you can provide an environment in which your monkey will be happy. But it will not be happy in your home the way you are thinking of keeping it. It will know that it is dependent on you – but it will not be happy and well adjusted.  This  is the amount of space small captive monkeys need to be happy: Are you willing to build this?                  

If It Doesn’t Work Out , I’ll Just Find My Monkey Another Nice Home

Ethical zoos are not going take your monkey when it comes time to give it up. Unhappy pet monkeys are sold over and over again to new unsuspecting owners. The internet is full of these great deals on mature monkeys. These are all pets that were discarded once they matured. Monkey “sanctuaries” are here and there but they vary in their ethics. Some allow tourists in to gawk and bother their unhappy wards. Other use various gimmicks to drum up donations and sweep their animal’s problems under the rug. Most operate well beyond their financial resources, have little or no reserve capital and depend upon a single driven, fixated individual. When that person is no longer available, they go bankrupt and fold. What will happen to your monkey then ?

Keeping Exotic Pets Is Always A Bad Thing

I do not believe that there is anything inherently wrong with keeping exotic pets. If any creature remains content, healthy and happy living in the care of humans and the creature poses no threat to the community no harm has been done. Every animal that is now considered a “normal” or “traditional” pet was once considered an exotic wild animal. Today’s exotic pets are just the most recent arrivals.

But monkeys, as they exist today, are not exotic pets – they are wild animals with the inborn needs of social wild animal. The monkey you buy will never be your child, a close friend, your buddy, your baby etc. Consider if your happiness and pleasure should come at the cost of another creature’s sadness. I know monkeys. I have seen a few responsible captive monkey owners, primate scientists and zoo/show Biz acts – but I have never seen a happy monkey living in a home environment. Curious George was a fantasy – just as real as Tinker Bell.

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