With the increase in interest in owning exotic animals as pets, you may have heard of the kinkajou. You can't argue that this unusual animal isn't cute, but they may not be the best choice of pet.
What Is a Kinkajou?
A kinkajou is a small mammal in the raccoon family native to the forests of Mexico and Central and South America. They weigh about 4 to 7 pounds. They have a prehensile tail and long tongues and a thick wooly golden brown coat. They also have very sharp claws on their four legs. A kinkajou has a lifespan of about 20 to 25 years in captivity and up to 40 years in the wild.
The kinkajou's nickname is "honey bear," which refers to one of their favorite meals, the honey from bees' nests and nectar from trees and flowers. They use their long tongues for these feedings. They also naturally feed on insects, fruit, eggs, leaves, and flowers. Kinkajous kept as pets can be fed monkey biscuits and monkey chow as well as fresh fruits like apples, bananas, grapes, papaya, melons, and figs. Some fruits are toxic to them, such as any kind of citrus, avocados, and strawberries.
Kinkajou Temperament and Behavior
Kinkajous tend to live and hunt in the wild by themselves, although they do socialize with other kinkajous. They are nocturnal and are most active in the evening. They are known for being quite noisy, making barking and screeching sounds, and they tend to be noisiest at night.
Although there are kinkajous bred specifically for the pet trade, they are not domesticated animals and their behavior can range from affectionate and cuddly when young to aggressive and difficult to handle as adults. They are also very intelligent animals who will get into anything they can if unsupervised.
A kinkajou needs a fairly large cage of at least 4 by 8 by 6 feet. Some owners use an entire room of a home as their habitat, or an outdoor enclosure if you live in a warm climate. They naturally live in trees, so providing them with plenty of items to climb and hang from will be appreciated.
You can use tree branches and hammocks made for parrots and larger rodents or lizards, or wall perches and shelves made for cats, as well as cat trees. They also will need mental enrichment to keep them occupied, such as toys made for large birds. A kinkajou cannot be house trained so you'll need to either use a covering on the bottom of their cage, or room, to be removed for easier cleanup.
Pros and Cons of Kinkajou Pets
If you're thinking about getting a kinkajou, there are several pros and cons to think about, and what might be a negative for one person could be a positive for another. Because kinkajous can be quite expensive and live for up to 25 years, they're definitely a pet you need to give some serious consideration to before making the move to get one.
Owners of kinkajous who enjoy them will talk about how friendly and outgoing they are. They do enjoy being with people, but because you need to contain them in a cage or room when you're not able to supervise them, you will need to commit to spending a good two to three hours a day at least with them.
As a result, they're not a good pet to have if you have an active lifestyle with a lot of work and family demands. Another concern about a kinkajou is that they bond very strongly with one person or persons in a household, and will have difficulty going to a new home if their owner can no longer care for them. With a pet that lives for so many years, you should consider what will happen to the kinkajou if you can no longer care for them.
If you're a morning person, a kinkajou may not be a good choice as they'll be active right at the time you're likely to be getting ready to wind down for the day. Kinkajous are most active from dusk until around midnight, and since they need you to spend a few hours a day with them, this could be a complete lifestyle mismatch. On the other hand, if you're a night owl, their body clocks may work well with yours.
Since they can't be house trained, owning a kinkajou involves a lot of clean up on a daily basis. Since they can live up to 25 years, that's a lot of daily feces and urine clean up to handle. They do tend to urinate and defecate in the same spots which can help but it's still unpleasant work.
They also can be messy in general in their cages by throwing around food debris, as that's what they would normally do when eating and hanging in the trees in the wild. Another messy habit is the fact that they will mark their territory. Kinkajous are also very curious and clever animals, much like the related raccoon, and you can expect them to make messes in your home by digging into your household items, plants, and whatever they can get into.
Illegal to Own in Some States
State laws vary widely, so you should not only check with your state but also your city and county about laws governing exotic pets. They may be legal in your state, but your local municipality may require a permit or license to own one. If you rent, you may be prohibited from owning one by your lease, and homeowners may be blocked from owning one by their HOA guidelines.
Kinkajous can become aggressive as they get older and reach social maturity, even if they are cuddly and loving as youngsters. Neutering them before they reach adulthood can help with aggressive behavior, but because they are essentially wild animals, you cannot expect them to behave as a "tame" animal throughout their lives.
Wild animals can be unpredictable and kinkajous have been known to inflict some serious bites on their owners. They can also hurt their owners with their sharp claws. This can happen either from intentionally scratching or clawing people by accident, such as climbing up an owner's leg to interact.
Another issue with having a kinkajou is the possibility of contracting a disease from them. Some kinkajous have been found to have parasites in their feces. The parasite baylisascaris procyonis roundworm can be transmitted to people and cause neurological problems, although it's rare for this to happen. It's a cause for concern though, as the parasite can be fatal if passed on to a human.
Veterinary and Pet Care
Like any exotic animal, unless you have an exotic veterinarian near you, it will be difficult to find regular professional care for your kinkajou. This includes not only veterinary care, but you also won't be able to board your kinkajou if you need to travel, and finding a pet sitter may also be very difficult.
If you are able to find competent pet care professionals, the fees for caring for an exotic can be much higher than that of "regular" pets like cats and dogs. Regular veterinary care will include the cost of vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery.
Expense of Ownership
In addition to paying more for veterinary care, the expense of just obtaining a kinkajou is high. They sell for $3,000 or more, plus if you're using an out-of-state breeder you'll have to pay the cost of live animal shipping, which can be a few hundred dollars. If you live in a state that requires a permit, you will have to pay those fees, as well. You will also need to spend more for food if you have to purchase online as many local pet stores will not carry staples for kinkajous, such as monkey biscuits.
Considering a Kinkajou As a Pet
While kinkajous are intelligent and adorable animals, like many exotics, they require a lot of care and special dietary and housing needs. The everyday care workload and their nocturnal schedule, as well as lifespan, should all be serious considerations before you think about taking on a kinkajou as a pet. Consider as well the expense and difficulty of finding good exotic veterinary care and how you'll care for them if you need to go out of town or can no longer care for them after they've become bonded to you.