Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Can Meerkats Be Kept as Pets?
Yes, you can technically own a meerkat as a pet. Actually, most species that are available and survive in captivity can be privately owned.
Depending on one’s definition of a "pet," however, some animals simply make horrendous pets, and meerkats are an example that fit this bill.
Do Meerkats Make Good Pets?
In my opinion, a "good" pet gives back as much as you give to it. The keeping of exotic mammals is controversial with people who perceive non-domesticated animals as independent and "too proud" for human care and confinement.
While it is true that exotic animals are infused with stronger instinctual behavior than most domesticated dogs, domestication has little to do with what makes a "good pet." Cats are very similar to their wild ancestors, and do not differ as strongly as many domesticated dogs do from wolves.
A "good pet" depends on the qualities inherent to an animal and its ease of adapting to whatever captive situation will be offered when raised in that environment since infancy. Meerkats are one exotic animal that doesn't adapt well to traditional pet care standards of average people, despite their appealing size.
Why Are Meerkats So Popular?
Meerkats are exceptionally popular due to the massive success of the film The Lion King and the later success of the Animal Planet show Meerkat Manor, a documentary highlighting the daily lives of the social animals.
Meerkats are rather drably colored but probably appeal to humans because of their ability to stand like a person when they are on the lookout for predators. This simple characteristic has given them a perceived charisma among humans, and the interest in them as pets has understandably increased.
Meerkats are small animals, and they have the word "cat" in their name, which may be deceptive to the true nature of these colonial carnivores.
- Meerkats are not cats: It should be understood that meerkats are not cat-like, nor do they possess common domesticated traits.
- Meerkats are social mongooses: Meerkats belong to the family Herpestidae and the order carnivora, which includes mongooses and kusimanses. They are more closely related to mustelids and viverrids. Once meerkats are understood to be mongooses, their behavior in captivity starts to make more sense. Actually, other mongoose species may make better pets.
Can You Legally Own a Meerkat?
Meerkats are a highly regulated species and are not available as pets in the United States. Captive-bred populations exist in Japan and parts of the United Kingdom.
Here is a list of The 12 Coolest Exotic Pets That You Can't Own that are rare or nonexistent in private captivity in the U.S.
Caring for a Meerkat
There are actually (at least) three different ways to care for any type of pet.
- Method 1: Free-range—"no cage"—such as with dogs and cats.
- Method 2: Partially caged—where they get play periods outside of the cage—such as what is done with most small animals like ferrets and birds.
- Method 3: Fully caged, which is done with animals that are either too dangerous or unsuitable for humans to interact with outside of the cage. This is what zoos do with most of their animals, and the enclosures must be large and stimulating enough to provide for an animal’s wellbeing for their entire lives.
Meerkats can only be kept with either method one or three, and are probably best suited for the latter.
Jack and Mila
Not much information about meerkats as pets exists online, however, outside of the comprehensive information offered by meerkat owners based in Hampshire, England. The meerkats are named Jack and Mila, and they have many videos posted on Youtube. Despite owning the animals, these owners do not believe anyone else should be getting them. According to meerkat owners, there are substantially negative traits of owning meerkats that need to be considered.
What Do Meerkats Eat?
Meerkats are mostly carnivorous/insectivorous, however, some plant material can be offered for variety and nutrition. Commonly available insects in the United States include crickets, mealworms, superworms, roaches, silkworms, and hornworms. With most insectivorous diets, variety is key, and more than one insect should be offered.
Some other meats can also be offered, including frozen-thawed rodents (mice and rats), chicks, and perhaps raw pieces of chicken and other human-grade meats (beef, venison, bison, rabbit, duck). Vegetable matter may include sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots—and most "dog-safe" fruits and veggies are also acceptable.
What are some potential ramifications of meerkat ownership regarding their welfare? Most people consider an animal to be a "pet" when it is kept in the same fashion as dogs and cats, i.e being a "companion" to humans and having most or all of its time free in the home.
Meerkats kept in this fashion—raised by humans since an early age—will see their caretakers as group members and exclude anyone else as a predator (see aggression).
This is important to consider, because this means that the animals will depend on you for their imperative socialization needs. Any disruption to this dynamic will result in emotional distress, which is a common issue with many exotic mammals when it comes to re-homing them. More importantly, a meerkat can be accustomed to human care and may not be able to reintegrate with other meerkats.
Sometimes situations that require re-homing will be out of the owner’s control (bans of exotic animals are common not only in rented households, but across whole states as well). Hence why this dynamic (of which Jack and Mila are kept) can be potentially tragic.
Aggression in Meerkats
This is the number one surprising aspect of owning the small animals. Apparently their stringent loyalty to their "pack"—which will consist of human family members—will cause them to attack and maim intruders (family outside the home, friends, new pets, and anyone else they weren’t raised with).
Many exotic mammals tend to strongly bond to their main caretakers, as this just makes survival sense. Therefore, showing your pet meerkat off to the public may pose a problem, and do not expect to have visitors while the animals are free-roaming.
Captivity vs. The Wild
Meerkats lead a hectic existence in the wild, as viewers of Meerkat Manor probably know. While they are capable of living up to 15 years old, most of them will see half this age in their natural environments. Their aforementioned aggression and tight social bonds have important purposes, as these animals are on the menu to falcons, snakes, and other larger mammalian predators—in addition to the natural diseases that will wear them out eventually.
Therefore, captivity provides meerkats with many benefits and comfort in comparison to the wild. However, the conditions must meet their excessive needs that are out of reach for the lifestyles of most people, unless they are kept in "zoo-like" enclosures. If any owner or zoo can provide a spacious enclosure with dig-able dirt and forging enrichment for at least a small group of animals, meerkats should be relatively easy to care for (and with few ethical qualms).
- Smells and elimination: Meerkats, like many feliforms, scent-mark by urination, and this substance may end up in a myriad of undesirable locations, including you and your clothes. They also have a musky odor similar to a ferret. Litter box training is not guaranteed.
- House destruction: House-dwelling meerkats may chew up computer wires and other expensive pieces of technology with vigor, as well as carpeting and bathroom sealant.
- Cost: Exotic animals require a highly experienced vet that has dealt with wildlife. This may yield a hefty bill in addition to general care costs. The purchase price of the animal (if you can find one) will be at least $1,000. Moreover, it is likely damaging to keep only one animal.
Some Interesting Meerkat Facts
- Meerkats only live in Southern Africa, including the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, the Namib Desert in Namibia, and southwestern Angola in South Africa.
- They live in colonies of up to 20–30 members.
- Meerkats can live twice as long in captivity as they can in the wild: 12–14 years vs. 3–7.
- They are immune to some venom that is dangerous to humans.
- Having no body fat stores, meerkats must constantly search for food.
- Meerkats have stable hierarchies. Groups usually consist of siblings and offspring of an alpha pair. Subordinates may babysit the young of this alpha pair.
- They have unique alarm calls that specify certain predators (like prairie dogs do).
'Adopt' and Visit a Meerkat
- Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center, Inc.
Meerkats Home Page: Meerkat vital statistics, 'adoption' info, books, T-shirts, and much more meerkat info!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can I buy a meerkat?
Answer: No, if you live in the U.S. they are not legal.
Allison on August 27, 2020:
Unless they are in a zoo setting Meerkats are not allowed to be purchased or owned in the USA. Though I am sure many have tried.
lizzie on August 10, 2020:
so they arent for sale in the usa, but can u still own them??????
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 21, 2020:
Jason Ricketts You can't have a pet meerkat in Australia.
shontae on June 22, 2020:
can i buy one from canada dryden
Jason Ricketts on June 21, 2020:
Can anyone plz suggest a breeder of meerkats in Australia , and any information about permits to own them
Thanks in advance
liza on June 01, 2020:
can i buy a meerkat in canada, quebec?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 26, 2020:
They won't even let you have Savannah cats in Australia.
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz on May 19, 2020:
Are you allowed to have a pet meerkat in Australia? i have searched it up but can never find my answer...
Ncisbond on April 09, 2020:
I want a pet meerkat
unknown on March 26, 2020:
do you sell them? and if so how much ?
Caitlin on February 09, 2020:
I really want one you guys are lucky
JZ on January 18, 2020:
I would love to have a meerkat but since i live in the us i can´t have one
thomas mc on November 11, 2019:
can i buy one plz
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on October 24, 2019:
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Person Person That's a good point!
Person Person on October 22, 2019:
I find it funny that people are quick to warn against exotic pets, but pressure you to have kids. There is no way a meerkat is as difficult and life-ruining as a kid.
lucas guerra on July 31, 2019:
meerkats are 1200 pounds and are available at jungle pets in ireland they provide meerkats for pets and for zoos
Charlie Bethell on December 18, 2018:
How much are they?
Jaylie Parker on November 21, 2018:
Meerkats are my favorite animal I would love to have one as a pet when I get older and you can have them as pets but you have to be careful with them and they aren’t cats actually asd
Rosalind on October 17, 2018:
Ive been watching Meerkat programs each and every time they are on any program. Several years ago there was a program on Meerkat families and i never missed one episode despite the fact that it came on at 5:00 am in the morning. I have always had and adore animals and even owned a cute little monkey as a child. If at all possible, i would absolutely despite the negatives absolutely love to have one and would give it a forever loving and healthy home!
asd on June 12, 2018:
MEERKATS ACTUALLY ARE CATS!!!!! get your facts straight
Charmaine on August 16, 2017:
Once one has a meerkat as a pet there will be no other choice of another type of pet to replace or match the meerkat. If you love your pet as much as the love you can give them, then the little damage they cause is worth it. If you cant afford or have not got a lot of patience then you should never consider getting a meerkat as a member of your family!
da on May 19, 2017:
meerkats actually make way better "pets " than mongoose (know this from prior experience)
candycane on March 07, 2017:
they are so cute
Zelda on February 27, 2017:
Would love to have one. I am from South Africa and have friends with a Meerkat for a pet and they are lovely to have ... will all the chewing of cables etc. :)
jan on October 28, 2016:
I thank you for the hub ... As a south african growing up around more rural areas i have seen a great deal of our native animal tied up to posts and worse , we know these animals and learn to love and respect them , i wish the people of the US can see how these african animals are caught and how many die to save the pups before one i caught you might think again about keeping one, we used to se lots of them but since they have become popular pets we have almost lost them completely and only find a clan here and there, it would hurt us very much not to be able to show the african children of tomorrow our african wild live that our ancestor has known for generations.
Jo Anne from Western Cape on February 23, 2016:
I have one named Milly and I would not part withy her ever.She was captured in the wild and kept in captivity by her capturer who for selfish reasons, a month later she gave birth to three pups and he advertised them for sale .A neighbor living on our farm bought the one pup and my husband took him to fetch her when they arrived home that afternoon they walked in with a tiny cage with two meekats in the mother and the pup..he kept the pup and we added Milly to our managery. The guy that captured her told my husband that she bit him and would not allow him to pick her up or pat her and this was his reason for giving her away and not selling her.It took me a lot of time to bond with her and get her used to me during this process I was the only person she saw each day and my husband also , we out her in a spare room where she could have some space to move around .Milly took to me after a few days and slowly she began to trust me and then my husband aswel as our dog .Milly know longer lives in captivity she comes and goes in and out the house in the day but prefers to be with me than the farm animals she has befriended unfortunatley when we know we having visitors we have to put her in our bedroom because she has attacked the DSTV technician when he came into our home she bit him so bad he needed stitches, she jumped into the car of a elderly lady visiting us bit her on the hand and foot, another visitor she just for know reason attacked her foot and her last victim was my grandaughter aged 2 that she bit on the nose. If i was not able to be at home during the day Milly would probably haver destroyed my entire household contents she could gain access to .A meerkat is not a friendly pet towards any outsiders they treat us as and those living in the home as part of her pack like they do in the wild and this is why Meerkats will never be people friendly.
Ryan from Manchester on June 14, 2015:
They are the cutest! Great Hub!:D
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 24, 2015:
Oh OK, thanks NMC.
NMC on May 22, 2015:
Meerkats aren't illegal because they're protected. They're illegal because they're mongooses. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service bans nineteen species of mongoose as potentially invasive. Of the handful of mongoose species _not_ banned by USFWS, only the common kusimanse can be found as a pet in the US, and it's still very hard to find.
The United Kingdom and Ireland both seem to allow pretty much everything as a pet with the right form of license. Japan seems to have no laws on what you can keep as a pet. Alas, they also seem to have no animal welfare laws, and don't seem to give a damn about illegal smuggling of wildlife.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on August 24, 2014:
You're right Kiwi, but what countries can we move to? The U.S. is criticized for having very lax exotic pet laws. They certainly are not in most states, but if the foreigners think we aren't banning enough I don't even want to see the situation in their country.
Kiwi on August 24, 2014:
I feel like all the problems listed here are only problems for people who do not want their lives to revolve around their pets, and who expect their pets' lives to revolve around them in the way that a dog's does.
If you can afford to own an exotic animal, you should be willing to make the commitment to simulate its natural habitat and diet, stay at home with it when it needs you, and protect it from things that cause it distress. If it is illegal to own it in the United States.... Move! Don't cause it the trauma of being torn away from you.
I think it would be worth it to provide them a life equivalent or better to the one they would have in the wild, in return for their love.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on August 12, 2014:
Thanks for your comment Bill. My research suggests they make terrible house pets, but they can be kept in the manner of at least a pair, with a spacious outdoor or indoor enclosure with places to burrow.
Mark Jones from South Africa on August 12, 2014:
Hi, thanks for the hub.
I deal with rehabilitation in South Africa and it is illegal to keep them as pets here. People do anyway. They make a terrible pet and, as people do with parrots, they are kept by themselves with humans as their bond. The problem with this is that we come and go and they cannot understand this movement and so we create an unnecessary stress in their lives. This will lead to problems down the line, virtually guaranteed. They are biters and scratches, males will scent mark religiously and leave their mark and smell all over your furniture.
We have had them come in being castrated, having their canines removed and obese due to human diets. This is extremely unfair on the animals and they do not belong in our homes.
Please do not be tempted to keep them as pets!
Unknown on March 30, 2014:
Ah, thanks for the info.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 30, 2014:
Not sure, some people keep them in Europe but they are pretty non-existent here in the states outside of accredited zoos. I've read that they are highly protected. It's likely that they can't be exported.
Unknown on March 30, 2014:
Although they may be hard to care for, what's stopping people from getting them? They aren't listed on CITES, and (forgive my ignorance of US law) but here in Canada I can't seem to find any law that prohibits they're importation. Or is it that no one will export them?
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on January 06, 2014:
I can't help but agree Rita. While it is sad that some unprepared people get exotic pets, the people who do it right should not be punished.
Rita on January 06, 2014:
I find Jack and Mila's owners hypocritical. You can't have meerkats, but we can because we're special! LOL
idigwebsites from United States on October 15, 2013:
It's Timon! Hehehehe.
Meerkats are cute, they're like humans in a way. I wish to have one as a pet. :)
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on September 18, 2013:
Thanks Eiddwen, you two,
Eiddwen from Wales on September 18, 2013:
My granddaughter Ellie is fascinated by Meerkats so I shall have to show her this hub. Wonderful and voted up. Here's wishing you a great day too.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on August 26, 2013:
Thanks for the comment epbooks, we can't get them in the U.S. anyway.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 26, 2013:
Very interesting hub. I never considered owning one, but enjoyed reading about them.
Alphapx from Philippines on August 25, 2013:
Yes. It is not common here so I am thrilled of this hub.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on August 25, 2013:
The Philippines? Thanks Alphapx.
Alphapx from Philippines on August 25, 2013:
It is not common in our country. I am glad you have shared this hub. Thanks.