The Tamandua: A Unique Anteater and a Special Pet
Living with an insectivore houseguest is not an easy thing. With all of the interesting animals in the world, you may wonder, why go the effort to befriend an exotic pet like the tamandua, the smaller of the South American anteaters?
Why Do Tamanduas Make Nice Pets?
There are many reasons to host a tamandua. For one, the species is affectionate. You may discover that they like to nuzzle your neck as you read a book, hold on to you as you walk around, and snuggle up for a nap on a hot afternoon. Unlike some animals, they never bite—they have no teeth! In the wild, they depend on their sharp, front claws to defend themselves. Since their front legs are so strong, they have few enemies other than humans, and are as calm and confident as the greatest hunters of the rainforest.
Do those front claws ever hurt? Not on purpose. They are sharp, and if a young tamandua is taking a ride on your shoulders and feels off balance he/she is going to dig in to keep from falling. I keep the tips of my tamandua's front nails clipped. Although it does not hinder her ability to rip open a termite nest, it has saved the skin on my neck.
These animals are solitary in nature but they are playful, even as adults. When I stretch out on the couch to read a book, my tamandua likes to roll around until I am willing to play with her. Her tail is partly prehensile, so she wraps it around my wrist and pulls my hand down so that I will rub her belly, tickle her underarms, caress her chin, or just scratch her behind her ears.
What Do Tamanduas Eat?
Even though they are insectivores, tamanduas are not hard to feed. Their main diet is termites, and since I live in the rainforest, I have access to plenty of nests. Even so, I am not able to go out every day and find food for my tamandua. In the wild, tamanduas might also find fruit on the ground. Since they don't have teeth and eat with their sticky, barbed tongue, any food you provide should be a liquid or of similar consistency. My tamandua loves orange juice and fruit smoothies. At times, I may not give enough, so she will abandon her termites and dig through my compost pile to find some freshly squeezed fruit.
She also loves passion fruit, papaya, and almost all sweet fruits.
Some zoos make up a termite substitute diet, but other keepers feed eggs, ground beef, or a powdered milk mixed with cat food. You can ask your local zookeeper if you live in a city, but beware, you might run into someone who will tell you how terrible it is to keep an animal like this as a pet. Those kind of people are wrong.
My tamandua will lap up anything in a bowl, but I put her food in a child's sippy cup that she can sit and eat from it without spilling a thing. She holds the cup up with the claws of her front hands.
In the rainforest, the wild tamanduas are often hungry and have to search all night long for accessible termite nests. My little buddy has her pet human fetching her food, so she spends the day outside in the wooden fort/nest I built for her in the banana grove in front of my house. She is well fed and spends a lot of the time napping in the sun. In the afternoons when the sun is going down, my tamandua walks back to my house using her sense of smell; if I am out in the jungle or taking care of my livestock, she climbs up on my sofa and takes a nap while waiting for me to come home.
What Type of Housing Does a Tamandua Need?
This is not a big issue like with some exotics. A tamandua does not need much more than a house cat. I built an outside nest for my pet, but if you set up a small climbing area in your back yard, they will use it and then come back in the house using a small doggy door.
Do not forget that these are tropical animals, and if you live an area with cool weather, your tamandua will need to come into the house to stay warm. If you live in an area with temperatures in the upper nineties, your tamandua can suffer from heat stroke if it does not have a burrow available. Until your tamandua learns to use the doggy door, do not let her stay out in the backyard.
Are There Disadvantages to Keeping This Exotic Pet?
Of course. They are expensive, and not as easy to obtain as a puppy or kitten. My first tamandua was given to me as a baby after a hunter shot her mother, but if you find a pet for sale at one of the wild animal auctions in the US, a young animal will cost between $3000-8000.
The tamandua also has a distinctive odor. Although it is not a problem here, it will be much worse if you live in a cool climate and your house has to be closed up because of the weather. My tamandua is used to being bathed, but about once a month, I go into town to buy supplies and she spends the day on the couch. By the time I get home, the house smells strong. When it rains, she gets dirty and drags dirt in, but no worse than my dogs. If you are already used to having pets around the house, it is not much to get used to.
How Do You Housetrain a Tamandua?
Since I am such a fan of these little animals, I wish I could tell you that this is an easy area to deal with. My tamandua usually does her business outside, but sometimes, when she really has to go, she climbs off of my lap and does her business on my floor. Some tamandua owners use puppy pads.
Like most exotic animals, the tamandua is generally healthy. Skin conditions crop up occasionally, especially after being bit by a tick. If cleaned and disinfected, the skin should never require antibiotic therapy.
The skin on the nose is surprisingly delicate, and if they are bitten by ants they will suffer from local inflammation. You can use a mild anti-inflammatory cream but most animals will not need it.
Since the tamandua digs a lot in the dirt, they are going to pick up parasite eggs. A dewormer like pyrantel is safe when given at the cat dose, but is off-label so no testing has been done. Take a stool sample into your local vet before giving any meds.
In fact, no medicines are approved for this species. If you can find a veterinarian willing to treat exotic animals, this is your best bet. Be sure to take your tamandua in for a wellness pet visit as soon as you find a vet. Your vet can check the color of the mucus membranes and listen to her with a stethoscope so will know if anything is wrong on later visits.
Are Tamanduas Endangered?
Many wild animals die when harvested for the pet trade, and unless you really want an exotic pet, I think you should look for one of the dogs or cats that need a home. To find a young tamandua to sell in the exotic pet trade, hunters will usually kill the mother.
Unfortunately, both the adult males and females are often killed anyway. In some countries, tamanduas are hunted for their meat. Brazilian Indigenous tribes will often keep a pet tamandua in their huts since the animals are always searching for termites and will control an infestation. Most other people do not want these animals around for any reason.
Do Your Research
Whether sitting on the couch with my tamandua and playing “footsie," watching her long tongue searching for termites in her eucalyptus nest, or finding her stretched out on the floor and taking a nap, I often smile when around this creature. The tamandua is about the size of a miniature schnauzer, and about as active and mellow as a lazy house cat.
If you are thinking about getting a tamandua because you have ants, find another solution. (They really should be called termite-eater, since ants are rarely a part of their menu.)
If you are interested in these animals and willing to do what it takes to care for one, take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with everything you can. Watch all of the videos on Youtube, read everything available (which, unfortunately, is not much), and if you have the chance, speak to someone that keeps a tamandua at home.