Some of us really love animals, and because of that love we want to have those animals close to us. Of course, lots of people buy or adopt dogs and cats, but if someone really loves sloths, is there a way for them to keep one at their home?
While normally we like to discuss things from all sides and we can probably guess what response you are hoping for, before we get into the reasons why and other aspects of this question, we need to give you a very clear and definitive answer:
No! You CANNOT buy a sloth!
Now, if you really love sloths, we can talk about some alternatives to owning sloths, but let’s first discuss why we can’t buy one:
Breeders and sellers are scarce
Given the complex legality of owning a sloth (something we’ll go into detail about below) it is very rare to find someone who breeds sloths, and thus hard to find someone who will sell them. You can’t just go to your local pet store and pick out the cutest sloth. Remember that many species of sloth are endangered and/or protected. Even if you do find a sloth for sale somehow, likely this is an illegally captured and smuggled animal that has not been treated in the nicest ways, to put things mildly. If you have seen the series “Tiger King” on Netflix you might have some doubts about what goes on with the breeding and sale of exotic animals. 😞
Many local governments prohibit the ownership of ‘exotic animals’ in general, and some may prohibit sloths specifically. That prohibition is likely based on some of the challenges in caring for a sloth that we detail below, but there are other reasons too. Some exotic animals can pose a danger to the community, such as when big cats escape and potentially attack people. Other exotic animals escape and end up breeding in the new habitat, affecting the local flora and fauna. (Florida now has invasive populations of iguanas, boa constrictors and pythons.)
Even if your local and state governments allow you to own a sloth, it may require a special permit. The process for obtaining that permit will vary by location, but likely you will have to show you have the means to provide all the care that a sloth needs, which as you will read below, might be difficult.
Money, money, money, money!
Even if you find a legal and ethical way to purchase a sloth, do you think it’s going to be cheap? No way! We are talking about at least $5,000 (USD). And ongoing care for your sloth will be difficult and expensive too.
Sloths are hard to care for
They have to live somewhere that replicates their natural habitat. Sloths are from the tropics, where it is warm and humid. Although they have long hair to keep warm, that is not resistance to the type of cold temperatures found in North America or Europe. Their normal habitat maintains a temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. Sloths are sensitive to the cold and if their body temperature goes too low, their highly specialized digestive system will not work.
Also, sloths spend almost their entire lives in trees, not in someone's living room. Even if you have a giant farm with trees for a sloth to roam in, you must keep in mind that this is where sloths are used to finding leaves to eat. If the leaves in your trees are not proper for a sloth’s diet (and most likely they are not) he/she could get sick trying to eat them.
Replicating a sloth’s diet will be very difficult. A three-toed sloth almost only eats the leaves and buds of a Cecropia tree, which isn’t found outside of the tropics. Although you could find substitute foods for a sloth, they would not be cheap, and the preparation of that food would be time consuming as sloths are not prone to eat one big meal, but instead tend to forage throughout the day.
Unlike, dogs, cats and many other animals that we can own as pets, sloths have not been domesticated. That means that they are still wild animals and act according to their instincts. A sloth will always assume you are a predator because that is how a wild sloth views humans, and so your presence will always inspire fear in them.
Also, since they can’t be housebroken, sloths will always poop on any spot they find on the ground/on your floor. That’s okay, you say, sloths only poop once a week. Sure, but keep in mind that they poop out about one-third their own body weight every time they do number two! How about finding that on your favorite rug or right outside your backdoor?
When your cat or dog gets sick or injured you can take it to a veterinarian. Likewise, your pets should see a vet for regular check-ups and vaccinations to prevent them from getting ill. This may surprise you but very few veterinarians are trained to treat sloths. Even if somehow you found a vet qualified and/or willing to provide medical care for your sloth, the likelihood that they would be close enough to your home to be available for convenient regular check up and for an emergency is not very high.
Although the fact that sloths are very strange animals is part of their charm, it does make care for them quite difficult. Humans, dogs, and even cats are more social creatures than sloths. Because of that, we and most of our pets have very outward ways of showing we are happy, sad, sick or other conditions by crying, yelling, purring or wagging our tails (respectively). Sloths do not express how they are feeling in a way we can detect. So if a sloth is scared, hungry or sick, you won’t be able to tell by how he/she looks or by sounds he/she is making, and keeping in mind that these guys eat, poop, sleep, and do everything in a way so different than what you are used to, it will be a real challenge to know how to care for a sloth.
So what can you do?
If you've made it this far, you must really love sloths and you probably would love to have an up-close-and-personal experience with a sloth? Well, we have some suggestions for you:
- You can visit zoos that have sloths. We have an article about that here.
- You can visit sloths in their natural habitat, which is discussed here.
- There are some really wonderful stuffed sloths (plush toys) that you can purchase at our Sloth Shop!
A lot of these guys are designed really well to look fairly realistic with soft fur, and even arms to hang from you or from your furniture. One place where you can get fantastic stuff sloths here lightautumn.com. Here is a link to their sloths: https://lightautumn.com/index.php/product-category/adults/
If we really love sloths we need to recognize that the proper place for them is in the rainforest or in a professional zoo where they can receive the best care. We can visit those places to get to know sloths in person, and if we want a sloth friend we can have at home, the best bet is to buy a plush version.