20 Sloth Facts: Care, Food, Breeds, Size, Behavior

by McKenny Joshua | Last Updated: February 15, 2021

Our ancestors domesticated animals some few hundred years back, most of these were park animals like the dog, used to haul sleds in snow, the cow, donkey, horses, domestic cats, and others.

These animals are known to be timid and have lost their wild nature due to their long-time interaction with humans.

In recent years, humans have crossed the border and are now into exotic pets, these are wild animals that are taken from their actual habitats either tropical forests, savannah, desert or oceans and are provided with partially the same conditions in the zoos or cages by their owners.

Animals like tigers, crocodiles, elephants, bears and most recently sloths, have been living in human-controlled environments, which does not work quite well with them because, they are not bred into captivity, neither are they calm in temperament nor adapted to be provided with anything by anyone.

They are bred to live and feed in nature.

For this article let’s talk about sloths, an animal that has recently come into the limelight as a pet.

Therefore, not much has been told about its requirements and needs, because they require much more attention than the other animals.

They are not pets to be bred by every tom, dick and harry, just because you saw that video of a cuddly lovable sloth, relax and get some information on their breeds, food, legal issues, how to own one that is if you can handle it.

What do sloths look like?

Sloths are slow arboreal animals of the south and Central America. They live on trees feeding on twigs that are high above the canopy coming down periodically to defecate.

They earned the name due to their slow nature.

Due to their long nails, they are unable to walk on land thus they prefer to cling on tree branches in an upside-down position. They can sleep in that position and are quite clingy to things that they hold even while asleep.

 Sloths show prowess in swimming and can even hold their breath underwater for more than 30 minutes. They have human-like ears and a bear like cute face.

Sloths unlike other animals do not like to be pet, washed and cuddled; they like to be left alone.

Due to their natural way of wanting to remain in the background and not get noticed as they have no other defense mechanism from enemies except, using their toenails, making them vulnerable, while on the ground.

Types of sloths

Sloths are xenarthrans, a name obtained due to their extended forelimbs, their closest of relatives being the armadillos and the anteaters.

These animals are known to have extended forelimbs that enable them to dig for ants and other insects.

Earlier species of sloths were known to  grow into giants, bigger like an elephant, but they became extinct due to climate change and deforestation.

There are two types of sloths:

1. Three toed sloth

They are of the species tridactylus, these types of sloths have a small body shape they resemble a big cat or a small dog; they have three toes on each limb thus their name.

These types of sloths do not thrive well in a restrained environment.

They dwell on trees, high up where they feed on twigs and come down to the ground to defecate.

2. Two-toed sloth

They are of the species Choloepus, they have a larger body shape as compared to the three-toed sloths, and they have two toes on their front limbs instead of three.

Apart from the toe differences, the two types of sloths are quite similar in characteristics, for example, their climate and habitats.

Despite their similarities, these animals have a very distinct evolutionary boundary that is they developed their arboreal characteristics differently based on reports, from archeological findings, and morphological studies.

Where do sloths live?

Sloths can be found in central and south America. Their habitats being the tropical rainforest, and mangrove forests, where they forage on twigs from canopy tops. Sloths prefer a humid environment for them to thrive well in their habitats.

How are sloths adapted to their environment?

1.    They have longer front limbs than their hind limbs to enable them to grasp tree branches and tree trunks.

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2.    They have long nails on their limbs, to tighten their grip on trees, thus they spend their time hanging upside down on trees sleeping for most of the day time. Sloths are more active at night as they like to lay low during the day to avoid predation.

3.    Sloths have extra bones on their neck that allows for the head to turn to 270 degrees, an adaptation that helps them to monitor their surrounding for predators while remaining intact, to avoid being noticed.

4.    Sloths inhabiting the forest have algae growing on their fur that serves gives them camouflage and also some nutrients when grooming themselves; as they tend to lick their fur. Pet sloths do not have algae on their body thus the additional nutrients need to be provided to them through food.

5.    Sloths are good swimmers although the three-toed sloth shows more prowess as compared to the two-toed counterparts. This adaptation helps them to survive during floods in the rainforest and mangroves.

6.    Sloths have complex stomachs, made up of different compartments that can digest the fibers and herbs from twigs a process that takes quite a while. They come down to the ground at intervals of about one week; an added advantage, as they tend to be helpless on the ground.

Are sloths an endangered specie?

Of the available six species of sloths, only one of them is critically endangered, the pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypuspygmaeus). Its habitat is the mangrove forest of the Panama coast.

 Destruction of their habitats has resulted in a reduction in the numbers of these animals. Inbreeding is another problem that caused the reduction in genetic properties of the offspring thus the species may be heading towards extinction.

The other sloth species are prone to poaching for game meat and dislocated from their habitat by pet sellers.

Is it legal to pet a sloth?

Different countries and states have their regulation on the keeping of exotic pets. They mostly do not charge you for owning an exotic animal but you can be sued for owning one illegally.

 Although some pets are completely illegal to keep in some states or may require a permit. To own a sloth it is a requirement to have a licensed veterinary officer nearby to treat your animal.

 Sloths do not show signs of sickness or discomfort during the early stages, if you are not observant of your animal’s smallest behavior, urgent medical care is needed. 

Where can I buy a pet sloth?

You can find websites like exotic animals for salewhere they offer platforms where sellers and buyers can meet, although you need to be cautious only to buy licensed animals top to avoid the struggle with authorities.

Other places you can purchase a sloth are pet houses or animal breeders in your state that are licensed to deal with exotic animals.

What do sloths eat?

 Sloths are mostly herbivores; they feed on plant twigs, leaves, fruits. Some species of sloths feed on insects and rodents. Due to their complex stomachs that can harbor enormous amounts of forage they do not require very high nutritive plants although the cecropia tree is their favorite.

They enjoy a symbiotic relationship with moths and algae where they shelter them and they get nutrients and camouflage in return.

For pet sloth, additional nutrients need to be provided, as grocery and vegetables found in vendor stores do not contain the same requirements, as they forage in the forest.

You can purchase already prepared food that is zoologically prepared for fiber eating animals, for example, Mazuri High Fiber Sticks. These can be offered to supplement vegetables and other edible fruits for the sloths.

How much does a sloth weigh?

According to its species, an adult sloth can weight an average of 3.5- 7.5 kilograms, although, part of that weight is attributed by poop, considering it takes a sloth a minimum of one week to defecate. Sloths lose about 1\3 of their body mass after defecating it is not a cause for alarm, considering the large amounts of poop. About 20-30% of their body mass is made up of muscles that help them to sleep in on clinging on trees, comfortably without any effort. They use their long nails which are about 5-6 cm long to grasp tree branches. They do not let go of things, even when they are asleep.

How long does it take for sloths to give birth?

The two types of sloths have different reproduction and gestation cycles although, in both the three-toed and two-toed sloths the mother has to take full responsibility of their young ones, as the males tend to prefer living a solitary life.

1.Mating, the females usually make noises to attract the attention of males while it is on heat. In cases where there are more than two male sloths in an area, they fight and the strongest one gets the prize though it does not last for long the only fast thing they do. Sloths have a good birth control mechanism where they only allow a maximum of one dependent at a time.

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2.    Pregnancy and birth, two-toed sloths have agestation period of about one yearreproducing at the start of the dry period, this is to take advantage of the plenty of food as they need larger energy reserves to feed their young ones. Three-toed sloths have a gestation period of about half a year they give birth to one offspring at a time. They are born toed where the infant clings on the mother’s belly for some weeks and later is carried on the back by the mother for the early stages of its young life.

3.    How do sloths nurture their young?  Sloths are mammals, thus they breastfeed their young ones on nutrient-rich milk. When the infant is several weeks old, it licks food remains on the mums’ lips, that way it learns the type of food they are supposed to eat. Young ones tend to remain with the mother for 1 1\2 years, after which they are left to fend for themselves. Sloths are not that territorial and the young spring can remain in its area of birth for the rest of its life. Mother sloths do not show motherly instinct as they tend to ignore young ones that have fallen from the treetop.

What eats sloths?

 Sloths can fall prey for large birds, jaguars, snakes, and humans. They are mostly at risk while on the ground because they cannot move fast and the only defense mechanism are their nails making them susceptible.

They are however not an appetizing meal for prey because 1\3 of their mass is made up of poop and have muscles covering only about 20- 30% of their body mass. By doing the math it is not worth the struggle they only fall prey when caught unaware or when they make the trip to the ground to defecate.

The algae on their bodies help camouflage them against the trees and leaves, they also move very slowly barely recognizable.

How much does a sloth cost?

Sloths need a complex and available budget to maintain, they are neither cheap to buy nor maintain. The price of a sloth ranges from $5500- $6000 depending on the seller. Most of the information on where to find sloths can be found online on websites like exotic animals for sale.

This is due to their fragile nature, they might need veterinary attention every once in a while, adding to your monthly budget an average of $200-$1000. Consider planning for rearing a pet sloth, like budgeting for a kid that stays in your house until they are 40, it is quite a decision to make based on your schedule and financial status.

Always consult your vet if any sign of discomfort is noted in sloths. Due to their adaptation, their response mechanism to any discomfort is lying low and acting normal. Though they may later succumb, to the effects of straining.

Are sloths aggressive, can sloths attack?

Sloths are not usually aggressive, they are cute, thick and cuddly animals, which is the impression you first get when you see one.

Sloths do not like to be petted and are sometimes aggressive when they feel that their boundaries have been overstepped. Bearing in mind that they cannot move fast, their basic mode of defense is using their toenails to scratch and warn away the intruder.

Most sloths sold on the market today are gotten from the wild by poachers, therefore, you need to determine the aggressiveness of your sloth before petting it, or leave it alone for more peace. Sloths tend to resist constant handling they may not show you but it amounts to stress that can be problematic later in life.

How often do sloths poop?

For an animal that spends most of its time eating complex leaves and twigs, it is a surprise that they only empty their bowel once a week. Due to their low metabolic rate, the food takes long to digest as it moves down the compacted digestive system.

Sloths come down from their sanctuary (the trees) once a week to poop. It is quite disturbing why they don’t prefer pooping from trees like monkeys and other arboreal animals. it is not clearly defined why.

A sloth is more susceptible to predators when on the ground, on average a half of all sloths predation occurs while on the ground. They slowly come to the ground, and make a dance kind of movement where they dig a hole in the process, poop into the hole, and then perform another dance to cover the hole up again, or as a sign of relief.

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You can see them smile after the activity. They then return to their sanctuary to eat and sleep some more. Females tend to visit the ground much moreoften, especially when on heat, to assist males in finding them.

How many hours do sloths sleep?

Sloths sleep for an average of 10 to 15 hours per day, owing to their slow life and to avoid detection they remain motionless under deep coverings on top of trees. They use the remaining hours to forage for food, as the two toes sloth chew on twigs, small insects and sometimes small rodents. The three-toed sloth is mostly herbivores eating only plants.

They also hide during the night to avoid detection by predators, in their natural environment. Their slow movement and metabolism assist them to conserve a lot of energy, they don’t move around so much compared to other animals.

They also spend a lot of time eating to increase the nourishment they get from the low-quality forages.

How long do sloths live

The life expectancy of sloths depends on their species. on average sloths live for about 15 — 25 years in the field and 30 to 40 years while held captive. This depends on the amount of care you give to your sloths.

A young sloth develops all its reproducing parts after about 4-5 years irrespective of whether it is male or female. Sloths tend to outlive other animals as they are protected from the externalities of nature like fights, prey and their ability to swim when the rainforest flood.

The life expectancy of most pets is about ten years, so if you need a longtime companion to age gracefully like old wine cuddled with, go for a sloth.

How do I house my sloth?

Sloths are adapted, or (from the millions of years of existence on earth) have evolved to live entirely on tree canopies dangling upside down. They only come back to the ground to defecate. Sloths move through the tree canopies using spreading plants and intertwining branches.

Most pet sellers will not sell you the pet house together with the sloth, thus it is an added bill to purchase or build one yourself.

The idea of a sloth house is a large caged house made of meshes where you can hang vegetables and imitate the forest atmosphere. You should tie ropes around the house to enable the animal to dangle freely.

If you cannot afford a sloths cage you can set a room aside for your sloth, they need a lot of room to do their things slowly. You don’t want your animal stuffed into some room making it uncomfortable.

You can house one inside your house considering you don’t have to deal with poop quite often as they are not random poopers.

Sloths also tend to poop in one place, the idea of poop on your carpet is no longer a problem, you just have to produce a basin filled with soil or sawdust or wood shavings and you are good to go.

What humidity and temperature are needed in a sloths house?

Sloths in their natural habitat are not affected by temperature or humidity changes, as they can easily change their position on treetops.

They can either, move to a place with sunlight or to a shaded canopy to escape the heat. The areas that sloths thrive in the wild have high humidity which is the requirements for sloths.

Caged sloths are affected by either weather changes extremes and more care should be taken when housing them.

Low temperature tends to stop their metabolic rate and may lead to, digestion shutting off completely, as it depends on microbes that ferment and break down the food.

Other animals tend to eat more when it is cold to help it to counteract the energy that is lost through heat, but sloths tend to behave differently, their response mechanism is lying down and minimizing the amount of activity. This reduces their metabolic rate and thus the rate of energy loss.

It will increase your electrical bill to install a powered temperature and humidity controller, which is necessary, especially if you live in cold areas.

How often should I have my sloth checked by the vet?

Sloths need urgent medical assistance when they show signs of illness; a distance of 45 minutes’ drive to the vet is a requirement for attaining a license to own a sloth in some states.

Due to their slow metabolism disease, symptoms may go unnoticed for several days, until when they have aggravated to fatal or nearly fatal. Care should be taken while handling a sloth to avoid injuring it or causing discomfort.

Conclusion

Owning an exotic pet, sloths, in particular, require massive consideration of time, space, attention and financial situation.

The financial situation being the first thing to consider, sloths are more expensive as compared to other common pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, and birds.

They also have a lot of upkeep fees as they need additional feeds to supplement the green leaves.

Deforestation and destruction of habitats is one thing that is reducing the sloth population, by making them vulnerable.

Animal rescue centers take care of injured or displaced sloths; they allow people to visit the centers to view the animals.

If you’re not ready to keep up with a sloth as an exotic pet, then endeavor to let it enjoy its life in the wild as it was primarily designed, but if you can handle the responsibility — get out here and buy yourself the best good boy sloth.