Do Primates Make Good Pets?

Primates are known to be social animals. Some of them are kept as household pets, but do primates make good pets? Here’s the straight-up truth.

Do your research before buying a primate as a pet. By: emifaulk

Primates have appeared in many films and television shows.

From sitting on shoulders to performing tricks, monkeys, chimpanzees and more have been shown as funny, endearing creatures.

Primates have also been made popular in circus shows, cartoons and stuffed animals.

Singers such as Justin Bieber buy them as pets, sending influence to millions of fans that primates are acceptable pets and can be obtained as easily as a dog or cat.

Eventually the cuteness wears off and the primates grow up, a change that sends many of them out of homes and into zoos and sanctuaries. How sad.

So it begs the question: Do primates make good pets?

Well, when they are small and cute, they probably do — but problems arise as they age. Below are a few concerns associated with having a primate as a pet.

Disease Transmission

Primates can carry diseases, specifically zoonotic diseases, some of which can be fatal to humans if transmitted. These viruses include:

  • Herpes B
  • Yellow fever
  • Monkeypox
  • Ebola virus
  • Marburg virus
  • Tuberculosis
  • Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Not only are these viruses harmful to humans, but we humans also pose a risk to primates. Conditions as minor as a cold sore can be fatal to some primates. Disease is usually spread through bites or scratches.


When primates reach sexual maturity, they can become aggressive. Destroying property and injuring their owners, people and other animals has been reported throughout the years. Below are examples of such reports.

  • 2009, Connecticut: A pet chimpanzee attacked his owner’s friend and caused critical injuries. The 200-pound chimp was 14 and had never shown signs of aggression until attacking the woman on sight. The woman was getting out of her vehicle when she was attacked by the roaming animal.
  • 2010, Virginia: A pet monkey‘s owner was attacked and was hospitalized because of injuries to his hands and a leg after accidentally stepping on the monkey’s tail. The man claimed the monkey was a service animal, although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes only dogs as service animals.
  • 2011, Tennessee: A snow monkey named Yoshi escaped the home he shared with four other monkeys and his owner. The monkey bit a woman in the neighborhood who was washing her vehicle, and later attacked responding officers so viciously that it took multiple shots from various weapons to stop the animal.
  • 2012, Florida: JayJay, a 3-foot macaque monkey, escaped his home. His owner tried catching him with a net and sustained serious injuries to his hand. The injury was so severe that the owner needed multiple surgeries to repair the damage.
  • 2013, Missouri: A 4-year-old macaque monkey attacked a 6-year-old boy at a public festival.

Laws vary by state, so it may not be illegal to keep a primate as a pet with the proper permit. It is, however, a dangerous decision that should not be made without careful consideration. In addition to the hefty price tags that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, many professionals agree on one aspect: It’s not a question of if you will get bitten — but when.

Harm to the Animal

Domestication of animals has occurred over thousands of years to reduce the aggression that animals show toward humans.

Primates may have a large amount of DNA in common with humans, but this does not mean they are domesticated animals. Social status among the primates is important and can cause aggression, injuries and even death at times. They also become depressed without adequate attention and care, and isolation or captivity can cause this same effect or increase aggression.

Some owners have their primate’s teeth removed to reduce the possibility of the animal causing harm. Even though primates can still eat without teeth, many people perceive this practice to be mutilation.

Some breeders will take the young primates from their mothers as early as days after their birth, and more often than not they are simply interested in making money. Breeders can fail to properly screen and educate buyers to the vast responsibility that comes with caring for a primate.

Given the issues listed above, it would be difficult for Petful to recommend having a primate as a pet.

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, has been researching dog and cat breeds for nearly a decade and has observed the animals up close at dog shows in both the United States and the United Kingdom. She is the author of the book One Unforgettable Journey, which was nominated for a Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. In addition, she was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. Kristine has researched and written about pet behaviors and care for many years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, another bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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