There is no shortage of cute sloth pictures and videos on social media. Although these posts often portray sloths as being laid-back, lazy, and low maintenance, owning a sloth is not an easy feat. There are necessary health and habitat requirements, and many private owners do not have the facilities to provide proper care. This article will look at what is needed to care for a sloth and if sloths make good pets.
Types of sloths and where they live
Sloths are tree-dwelling mammals that live in tropical forests of South and Central America. Sloths spend most of their lives hanging upside down in the treetops, resting or feedings on leaves, twigs, and buds. However, they will occasionally drop into the water for a quick swim.
Sloths get their name because of their laid-back nature. The term “sloth” is related to being slow and lazy, which is how most of their time is spent. Sloths have a very low metabolic rate, and only a tiny portion of their day is spent moving. On average, sloths move at a pace of about 40 yards daily and spend 15 to 20 hours a day sleeping. Their slowness allows for a low-energy diet and minimizes detection from predators that hunt by sight.
Sloths are classified in the Pilosa order and the Folivora suborder. There are currently six extant sloth species and two genera – three-toed sloths (Bradypus) and two-toed sloths (Choloepus). Despite the name, both genera have three toes on their rear limbs, but two-toed sloths only have two toes on each forelimb. The names of the species and where they are found are listed below:
- Pygmy three-toed sloth – Endemic to Isla Escudo de Veraguas (a small island off the coast of Panama)
- Maned sloth – Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil
- Pale-throated sloth – Tropical rainforests of northern South America
- Brown-throated sloth – Neotropical forests of South and Central America
- Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth - Venezuela, the Guianas, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil north of the Amazon River
- Hoffman’s two-toed sloth – There are two ranges:
- Eastern Honduras in the north to western Ecuador in the south
- Peru, western Brazil, and northern Bolivia
What is needed to care for a sloth?
To properly care for a sloth, owners must adhere to their dietary, habitat and lifestyle requirements. These are discussed below.
Sloth diets consist mainly of leaves, twigs, and buds from trees of Central and South America. They may also feed on fruits and insects for protein.
The digestive system of the sloth is also slow and requires food high in fibre and nutrients unique to their local food sources to function correctly. Therefore, leaves from a nearby oak or maple tree will not suffice, and any vegetation with chemicals or pesticides should be avoided.
In captivity, sloths are typically fed prepared high-fibre feed that may be available for purchase from zoological or exotic animal food retailers. In addition, foods like dandelion greens and vegetables that are in sugar, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, and squash, can be offered as an occasional treat or alongside prepared feed. However, continuous and in-depth research is necessary since the digestive system is fragile.
Additionally, although sloths do not require much food, feeding sloths can still be quite expensive, especially when purchasing prepared food. Sloth feed is specially formulated to meet nutritional requirements, often at a higher price tag. Sloth’s stomachs are also delicate, so it may take trial and error to determine which food is best.
Water is also an important thing to consider. In the wild, sloths mainly get their water from the dew on leaves or water in their diet. However, this may not be possible in an enclosure. Therefore, owners need to ensure water sources and feeding bowls are accessible high in the enclosure and on the ground.
Sloths spend most of their time in the canopy of trees, and it is challenging for them to move on land. Therefore, it is crucial for enclosures to have many trees and structures, such as branches and ropes, for sloths to hang from. If the trees are also to be used to supplement their diet, planting trees native to their habitat is vital. Sloths are also excellent swimmers, so providing an easily accessible pool is beneficial.
It is also essential to provide adequate temperature conditions. Sloths are native to the rainforests of Central and South America, so they are used to very hot and humid temperatures. Sloths cannot shiver to keep warm, so their body temperature depends on their surroundings. For example, if sloths get too cold, their digestive systems can shut down, which can be deadly. Therefore, proper climate conditions are essential for sloths to thrive.
Sloth enclosures are best kept in a temperature range of about 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 80 to 100 per cent humidity. Heaters and humidifiers can be used to keep enclosure hot and humid, but it requires consistent monitoring to ensure conditions remain optimal.
Sloths are naturally solitary and quiet animals. Therefore, noise complaints are unlikely to occur with pet sloths, except during mating season when female sloths will scream to let males know where she is. Sloths may also change their sleeping habits to stay awake during the day.
Sloths have a laid-back temperament and are not known for being aggressive. However, they generally do not like being petted, groomed, and bathed.
An unfortunate aspect of their temperament is that they do not show obvious signs of stress. When a sloth is scared or agitated, they react by remaining still, so it may be difficult to decipher when they are upset. If an individual is causing the sloth stress, they may use their sharp claws or teeth in retaliation.
Another critical aspect of a sloth’s lifestyle is their health. Proper diet and habitat are crucial to keep them healthy, but sloths also require specialized veterinary care. It will likely be challenging to find a vet with the qualifications and experience necessary to care for sloths adequately. It would be even more challenging to find one in your area. However, like other animals, sloths get sick and injured, and routine checkups are essential.
Do sloths make good pets?
Sloths do not make good pets. Care may not be as demanding as other exotic pets, but sloths are delicate and sensitive animals. Owners will need to spend a lot of money and have land and resources to accommodate diet, habitat, and lifestyle requirements. Sloths need specialized food, many trees and structures, specific climate conditions, specialized veterinary care, and more.
Sloths are also not a “typical” pet. Although many videos show sloths hugging and playing with humans, they prefer to be on their own, and much of their movement is at night. Therefore, owners should not expect them to be very social and interactive. Sloths also live for 20 to 30 years, so owning one is a long-term commitment.
Legality and ethics are also a concern. It is illegal to own sloths in many parts of the world. In areas where it is legal, many regulations are often involved in adopting one. Finding a reputable pet curator is also crucial, as many do not capture, care for, and sell animals ethically. Personal ethics are also important, as many wild animals like sloths do not fare well in captivity. Therefore, potential owners must take on the risk that owning a sloth will cause harm to their health and well-being.
Enjoy a sloth stuffed animal instead
If you want to give your children a sloth friend that is cheaper and easier to take care of, consider buying a sloth stuffed animal instead. Fluffy Stuffie has two sloth stuffed animals - Siggy the Three-toed Sloth and Sammy the Sloth.
Both toys are 12 inches long and made from soft, fluffy fur, perfect for cuddling. They are also good for imaginative play. Children can have these stuffed animals swinging across the living room like they would in the jungle or lounging on the bed like they would on a tree. Purchase Siggy or Sammy on our website.