9 Monkey Breeds That People Keep as Pets

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: January 10, 2022
Image Credit subin pumsom/Shutterstock.com
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Monkeys are very diverse, intelligent, and interesting creatures, so it should be no small wonder that people like to keep them as pets. We’ve seen real and fictional people keep them as pets, like Michael Jackson or Ross from Friends. The creatures’ antics are often interesting to behold, but that does not mean these wild animals should be kept by pets by just anyone. In fact, the majority of people cannot own a monkey for numerous reasons including legality and the amount of space and care a monkey requires. Nevertheless, we want to look at the nine most popular monkey breeds people keep as pets to show you why certain breeds make the best companions.   

Are Monkeys Good Pets?

Coolest Animals: Slow Loris
Monkeys are curious animals that have many unique needs, so they are difficult pets to own.

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Monkeys are not good pets for people to own.

Before we answer this question more deeply, we have to consider what makes an animal a good pet. Generally, humans prefer companionship, obedience, and low maintenance as key qualities in their pets. That is why people love turtles, cats, dogs, fish, and other such animals.

Monkeys are great companions that have the potential to share a vast portion of a person’s life with them, but they’re terrible in one’s home. They are curious and intelligent animals that need a lot of attention and support.

Like many other animals, they are wild and difficult to tame. A pet monkey could attack its owner, and some species are remarkably more dangerous than others, like chimpanzees.

Monkey owners need to provide them with a lot of space and a unique diet that varies from species to species. Monkeys are not housebroken, and it’s not enough for them to simply use your backyard like a dog for their bathroom habits. That means they often need diapers.

Interestingly, a monkey’s need for diapers helps us draw a parallel to tell you what kind of creature you’re dealing with: monkeys are long-lived toddlers. They will get into things they should not, ruin their owner’s possessions, and make a mess with their bodily fluids. That doesn’t make them bad animals; it’s just in their nature.

Monkeys are a lot of work, and if you aren’t willing to perform that work for decades, then you should not own one.

How Much Does a Monkey Cost?

Chimpanzees can cost over $50,000.

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Depending on the species, the cost of owning a monkey alone could be between $4,000 and $75,000, and that number is likely to climb higher. That is a fair amount of investment that immediately disqualifies a lot of the population from having such a pet.

You must also factor in other costs to this equation, too. Monkeys need a specific habitat. You cannot expect your monkey to climb around your apartment in the middle of a busy city. A monkey would never thrive in that environment. Sorry, Ross. They’re loud, very smart, and sometimes mischievous creatures that need specific foods, temperate climates, hiding areas, and areas to climb.

Putting together a habitat for a monkey to live in will cost several thousand dollars more, especially if you opt for some of the bigger monkey species. We mustn’t understate how much of a space, time, and money investment these creatures represent to their potential owners.

You’ll also need special care guides for the breed, legal paperwork in many cases, and access to a specialty veterinarian that can handle exotic pet examinations.

In short, the total costs for a monkey can easily reach over $20,000, and that number will climb a great deal if you opt for a rare or large breed. This pet could be an $80,000+ investment.

The initial costs are significant, but the costs of upkeep are high, too. Just to recap, the costs of owning a monkey include:

  • Special diets
  • Specific temperature ranges in their enclosure
  • Large climbing areas
  • Initial examinations and ongoing checkups
  • Hygiene products
  • Training for the monkey and owner

These are non-negotiables. If you plan to own a monkey as a pet, then you must prepare for each of these costs.  

Can I Legally Own a Monkey as a Pet?

Owning an orangutan is illegal.

Alex East/Shutterstock.com

Monkeys are legal to own in 31 states in the United States, but some countries have an outright ban on the practice while others, like the UK, are moving toward a ban on owning these creatures.

Even the states that do not have an outright ban on owning pet monkeys might have a partial ban, though. Some limit the types of pet monkeys that a person can own, and others require the potential owner to volunteer with monkeys and pass a test to own them.

The short answer to this question is that you can own a monkey as a pet in many places, but not all monkeys are legal. For example, Indonesia has banned the trade of orangutans around the world to protect the species. Other species of monkeys are recognized as being too dangerous to own in certain places, like chimpanzees, a creature that can easily overpower a human owner.  

You have to be aware of local and international laws before obtaining a monkey to live as your pet.

9 Monkey Breeds That People Keep as Pets

Animal Groups – Barrel or Troop of Monkeys
Most people that own monkeys own one of these nine monkey breeds.

Leo_nik/Shutterstock.com

Generally speaking, there are nine common monkey breeds that people keep as pets. To be clear, the legality of owning these monkeys is dubious in some cases because of international rules on exotic pet trading and ownership.

For example, some monkeys are illegal to trade, but they may skirt the rules because they were bred in captivity by a pair of mates before the laws went into effect. Needless to say, owning an illegal pet is asking for trouble and contributes to the ongoing loss of these animals throughout the world.

Here are the nine monkey breeds that people keep as pets around the world.

1. Tarsier

Animals with large eyes – Horsfield's Tarsier
Tarsiers are small primates with eyes bigger than their brain.

Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock.com

The tarsier is a very small primate that weighs as little as 6 ounces and grows just about 7 inches tall. They are iconic monkeys because of their large, curious-looking eyes, and the appearance that they are hugging branches rather than hanging from them.

Although some people have kept this endangered monkey as a pet, it’s illegal to trade them these days. The reasons for this ban are numerous yet simple. For one thing, these monkeys require a special diet that most people cannot provide. Moreover, they are nocturnal creatures, so they do very little during the day, and that makes people discard them as pets because they’re not “interesting.”

Tarsiers are very cute animals, but they’re highly dependent upon humans when kept as pets, so it’s a bad idea to keep one. Tarsiers live for up to 20 years, meaning they are a serious time investment, too.

2. Tamarin

Smallest Monkeys: Cotton-top Tamarin
Tamarins are known for being cleaner than the average monkey.

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Tamarins are a good deal larger than the tarsier, reaching weights of 32 ounces and lengths up to 12 inches. They are a very popular choice for pets because they are clean animals that will not use their entire enclosure as a bathroom, preferring to use a single corner.

They are highly intelligent creatures that do not have as many unique dietary demands, so they make for better pets than a lot of the others on this list. They’re not strong enough to harm a human being, but they are noisy and tend to be destructive when bored.

It’s important to remember that these are social creatures, so keeping a single monkey as a pet would be depriving them of their basic drive to interact with others. Tamarins can live up to 15 years of age, so they’ll stick around for the same amount of time as a long-lived dog breed.

3. Chimpanzee

Aggressive Animal: Chimpanzee
A chimpanzee might be cute when it’s young, but it’s a dangerous, aggressive animal.

Afandi Teguh Afriyanto/Shutterstock.com

Chimpanzees are not monkeys; they are great apes. Yet, they are creatures that people often wish to keep as pets. They are probably the most dangerous primate that someone could keep as a pet. Chimpanzees regularly weigh over 150 pounds, stand over 5 feet tall, and are incredibly powerful compared to human beings.

They are highly territorial and take some somewhat normal human behaviors as insults. Several cases of chimpanzee attacks have been recorded over the years, with a few of them coming from pet chimps. They will savagely attack those that they feel have wronged them, and humans are powerless to stop an aggressive chimp.  

As we mentioned before, Michael Jackson owned a chimpanzee named Bubbles that he treated somewhat like a child. That was an extraordinary case and far from the reality that would come with owning a chimpanzee.

Aside from the outright danger of owning one of these pets, we must also consider the fact that they have a human-like lifespan of 50-60 years. You’d need someone to agree to take care of the pet because it’s likely to outlive you!

Chimpanzees are probably the worst pet that you could own, even if you managed to somehow get permission to own one.

4. Squirrel Monkey

Smallest Monkeys: Squirrel Monkey
The squirrel monkey is one of the smallest and most curious monkey breeds.

Ludmila Ruzickova/Shutterstock.com

Squirrel monkeys are not nearly as dangerous as chimpanzees, growing up to 14 inches tall and weighing just 2 pounds or slightly more as an adult. Like most other primates, they require a lot of attention and care if you want to keep them healthy.

These creatures are very intelligent, require a diverse diet, and need constant stimulation and entertainment from their owners. If you fail to provide any of that for them, the experience of owning them will turn miserable.

They will screech loudly when they need attention, and they have a habit of throwing their feces when upset. There is also the troublesome behavior where they spread urine on their hands and feet to leave a scent trail, and that can be a potent smell in your home. Although it may be tempting to keep one of these monkey breeds as pets, they’re very messy.

5. Macaque

Macaques have a human-like face that makes them expressive and interesting.

bryan… / Flickr

Another interesting monkey that is often kept as a pet is the macaque. They are fascinating creatures with faces that somewhat resemble human beings. The expressiveness of the monkey combined with its hearty nature makes it very popular as a pet.

Macaques can reach weights of over 30 pounds and grow over 3 feet tall. Needless to say, these monkeys require a lot of space as pets. They often live in large groups with other members of their species, and that can be a problem for a pet owner; they lack social interactions.

Another problem for owning macaques is that they are carriers for some rather severe ailments that humans can catch from them. Herpes B is just one transmissible disease that humans can catch from them, and many other potential infections are still being studied.

6. Capuchin

Favorite and Most Popular Animals: Monkeys
Capuchins are highly intelligent and potentially helpful pets for disabled people.

The capuchin is a highly desired pet monkey, combining a high level of intelligence with a relatively small size and more accessible diet than others. Their high weight-to-strength ratio also makes them more powerful than their 9 pounds of weight and 18 inches of height suggest.

Capuchins are the best monkey pets that people can have, and that is supported by their use as support animals for people that have suffered debilitating injuries. Capuchins have been used as service animals, helping people with spinal injuries live a more normal and independent life. They’re smart enough to help with opening drawers and retrieving items while also being strong enough to move human limbs!

That does not mean they’re without challenges as pets, though. They require just as much attention as other monkeys, and capuchins are expensive. Also, they live between 30 and 50 years in captivity, so they need a care continuance plan in place.

7. Marmoset

Animals with large eyes – Pygmy marmoset monkey
The marmoset is another small breed with large, expressive eyes.

donikz/Shutterstock.com

Marmosets are a small species of monkey, with the common version of this animal reaching just 7 inches in length and weighing about 9 ounces. They’re incredibly cute creatures, but they come with the drawback of being very loud when their needs are not being met.

Although you can learn what their calls mean in time, you may have no way of satisfying them because they may be calling to other monkeys that are not around to answer them back.

A marmoset will need a strong and large enclosure that has a lot of water and climbing features. They can live up to 20 years or more when properly care for, but that is harder to do than it sounds.

8. Spider Monkey

Longest Tail: The Black Spider Monkey
Spider monkeys are small and agile creatures.

Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com

Although their name makes them sound small, spider monkeys can weigh almost 30 pounds and grow over 2 feet long! If they are kept as pets, they need a vast enclosure in which to live.

Their diets aren’t hard to provide, at least. They prefer fleshy fruits. Their demeanor is troubling, though. A spider monkey can appear tame when young and then grow more aggressive in the future. Although they are small, they can hurt people with their sharp teeth and claws.

These are also highly social creatures, and they live up to 40 years in captivity. Nevertheless, they are one of the most popular monkey breeds kept as pets. 

9. Guenon

Guenon monkeys are called many things including red-tailed monkey and Mona’s monkey.

Mathae / Creative Commons

The guenon monkey is a common sight in zoos around the world due to its ability to be tamed. They can reach weights of 15 pounds and reach 22 inches of height, so they’re sizeable creatures that can cause harm to a human if they become aggressive.

They are very loud creatures that frequently call to others throughout the day, so they’re likely to make a significant amount of noise. Also, they can live upwards of 16 years, becoming more aggressive in the years following their sexual maturity.

Should I Keep any Monkey Breeds as a Pet?

animals with big noses: proboscis monkey
Most monkey breeds kept as pets are not good pets.

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Monkeys do not make good pets in the vast majority of cases. As we’ve shown here, monkeys can transmit diseases to people or brutally attack them. They are wild animals with diverse needs that are hard to satisfy.

Even if we ignore the feces throwing and outright danger, we also have to consider the intelligence of these creatures. Is it right to keep something this smart as a captive? That’s a moral dilemma that humans are exploring more frequently these days.

Of course, some of the tamer monkeys are not just pets, they’re also caretakers. Those animals can improve the quality of life for injured humans. In that case, it might be justifiable to keep a monkey as a pet. Otherwise, leave these animals be in the wild.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.