There is something irresistible about an infant monkey. Baby monkeys, such as capuchins, appear so sweet and helpless and seem so much like a human infant in many ways. However, those sweet babies grow up into difficult adults and as a general rule, adult monkeys therefore do not make good pets. Since monkeys are so intelligent they can have some great attributes but ultimately their smarts makes them very challenging pets.
Note: This article was originally written about the problems with specifically keeping monkeys as pets, but the issues are equally as important when it comes to apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons). Monkeys are a group of animals belonging to the order primates (which of course, includes apes and humans) -- and the points made here can be applied to all non-human primates.
Monkeys Are a Big Commitment
Taking on a pet monkey is not like caring for most other pets. A well cared for monkey can live to be anywhere from 20 to 40 years old and needs your full commitment throughout their lives. A pet monkey cannot do without your attention when life gets busy or circumstances change. They do not grow up and mature like human children do - they are permanent toddlers.
Monkeys may not take well to new people in your life (including spouses and children) and make it hard to get away for vacations.
Finding a new home for a pet monkey is extremely difficult to do and psychologically and emotionally hard on the monkey which has bonded to its first owner.
Monkeys are expensive to house (you need a secure enclosure, proper permits and sometimes additional insurance on your homeowners policy) and feed and some require specialized diets that can be time consuming to prepare.
A significant time commitment is also needed just for routine care and cleaning up after a pet monkey but more importantly, a monkey needs a large amount of social interaction and attention from the owner. A pet monkey deprived of your time and attention will only develop severe behavior problems such as screaming and biting and psychological issues that can be difficult if not impossible to remedy.
Legal Issues With Pet Monkeys
Primates including monkeys may be illegal to keep as pets where you live. Many states prohibit keeping primates as pets, regardless of what kind it is. If a monkey is legal to own where you live permits may be required and sometimes permit holders are subject to home inspections to ensure proper facilities and care are being provided. Homeowners policies may require additional liability coverage or cancel your policy altogether if they find out you have a monkey but not having insurance puts you at risk if your monkey bites someone.
Medical Issues With Monkeys
A wide range of diseases can be passed from monkeys and other primates to humans and vice versa (these are called zoonotic diseases and are nothing to laugh about).
Finding a vet near you who is able and willing to treat a primate may also be challenging but considering how long monkeys live it is inevitable that you will need one at some time during their lives even if you don't feel routine check-ups are necessary. Diabetes is common in pet monkeys due to the poor diets many owners feed them and this is just one disease that requires constant monitoring by you and your vet.
Monkeys Can Be Aggressive
The sweet, dependent baby monkey will eventually grow up and become the wild animal it was meant to be. Unfortunately, raising a monkey around humans doesn't change the wild nature of monkey and in fact depriving a pet monkey of normal social relationships with other monkeys can create behavior problems and neuroses. Monkeys are not domesticated no matter how many of them you put in your home.
Pet monkeys also have a tendency to bite (and they have 32 teeth that deliver these nasty bites). They have different personalities so one cannot generalize but some monkeys will be very aggressive and others will be more docile. Nevertheless, monkeys are unpredictable and may turn aggressively on anyone including the person to whom they are the closest, especially during and after puberty.
Monkeys are not clean and tidy. They can't really be effectively toilet trained (many younger monkeys can be diapered or at least partly toilet trained but that is often lost at maturity) and sometimes engage in distasteful activities involving their feces and urine (such as throwing it and painting with it). Aside from the toileting messes, pet monkeys can be extremely mischievous and destructive, especially if bored.
Housing Pet Monkeys
Monkeys need a large, secure enclosure and should spend time outdoors too if possible. They must be provided with a wide variety of ever changing toys and exercise equipment to keep them challenged and stimulated or they will suffer from boredom. Some states require certain types of enclosures to fulfill permit regulations but you should always have a place to secure your monkey to keep them and the public safe when you aren't with them.
Overall, monkeys are not good pets. Yes, some can be quite sweet for a time and the appeal of having a furry baby want you to hold and feed them does linger for some time but the reality is that monkeys are capable of causing too much harm for an undomesticated animal and very few homes can provide the type of environment they truly need to thrive.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT