Anteater Care Sheet - Exotic Pet
Tamandua Tetradactyla Care Sheet
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The Tamandua, sometimes referred to as the ant bear, is a medium sized anteater. They weight about 7-19 pounds. My experience is healthy adults average on the larger size over 10 pounds. They are about 2 feet long not counting the tail. The tail is roughly another 2 feet in length and is prehensile. Most are about the size of a large house cat or small dog. The standard coloring is tan with a black vest and is why they are often referred to as collard anteaters. However they also come in all blond, all black, all tan, gray and with faded vests when present. The color varies based on the region they live in the wild. The actual collared anteaters are hard to find now and most in captivity are non-vested or only partly vested.
Though considered arboreal it will spend time on the ground looking for termite mounds and traveling, unlike it's close cousin the pygmy or silky anteater (Cyclopes didactlus) who is strictly arboreal or the Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) who is fully terrestrial. Some even live in the savannas where there are few trees. Unfortunately because it will travel on the ground this leads to the most common sighting of tamanduas in the wild by the side of the road, hit by car. Considered a nuisance animal in their native lands they are also hunted for the tendons in their tails to make rope. They are also killed on site as many consider them a threat because they have been known to kill dogs. They are considered a threatened species.
In the wild they eat mostly termites, ants and some grubs and fruits but avoid any ants that have strong chemicals like the warrior fire ants but will eat the workers and eggs. They have been known to raid bee hives in the wild. They love honey and sweets but may well eat the bee larvae too. They may occasionally eat fallen fruits or flowers since they have a fondness for them in captivity. I often see it mentioned a person wants a tamandua or other anteater because they have ants. Tamanduas are not an effective form of pest control though some natives are said to keep them for that reason. First they will often not eat ants that are not native to where they live in the wild and much prefer to avoid the warrior ants. They also do not destroy any termite mounds they do feed from in the wild. Instead they eat from many nests always leaving enough behind for the nest to recover, making them a primitive sort of ant farmer. Though not tending the crop of ants they only harvest what they need and leave the rest to continue to grow. Also tamanduas held in captivity who were offered termite mounds from their native habitats fared quite poorly.(1) So anyone hoping to get an anteater to control their ants should not be thinking about getting one of these lovely creatures but instead call an exterminator.
When I first began looking for information on keeping Tamanduas in captivity very little information was readily available. I have a great love for these animals however so did not let this apparent road block stop me. I have talked with handlers, private owners, zoo vets and keepers and stud book keepers. I also managed to get my hands on several articles and studies on tamanduas and giant anteaters who have very similar requirements and health issues. I gained a great deal of knowledge about the care of these animals but also sadly realized many who already had these animals were not informed of how to properly care for them. This was not due to the owners not caring or trying to do right by them but simply a lack of readily available information like I myself was confronted with. The worst case I have come across was a business who regularly dealt with exotics. they were experienced and caring but when they acquired their tamandua believed the seller when he told them to feed it rotten eggs. The result was a very sickly animal that died very prematurely. Other problems are not so sever. Some seek answers but often seemingly small things like chronic loose and excessively smelly stools are all to often excepted as normal or unavoidable by owners. This is not the case however and many of the most common problems can be resolved with a proper diet. Seeing the need for a good easy to find source of information on captive tamandua husbandry I felt obliged to try and help with this care sheet.
Based on the stomach contents of wild Tamanduas their diet consists of about 51% crude protein, 11% fat, 14%ash(minerals) and 4.58 kcal/g (caloric content) on a dry matter basis(2). Thus it is said they have similar dietary needs to that of an obligate carnivore like a cat and in fact need taurine like a cat does for a healthy heart. This does not mean you can just feed them cat food. They need less calcium than most animals and they need only very little retinol(vit A). They do have some special requirements. They are hemophiliacs so need High vitamin K in their diets to aid in clotting. High B12 also helps. Supplementing vit E can be a problem but wheat germ oil is high in natural E and is good since their wild diet is high in E. They also require a good source of Potassium.
The most common diet is equal parts Leaf-Eater and cat food. The leaf-eater is high in Vitamin K and fiber to help maintain fecal consistency. Some feed higher Leaf eater than cat food ratio. Though animals do well enough on this diet I do not believe it is truly complete and is used more for convenience. In fact it has become fairly common for anteaters on a long term kibble diet to have a sort of MBD due to vitamin A toxisity and to much Calcium.The same holds true for insectivore kibbles.
They like and do well on diets that include raw beef but steps to ensure safety must be taken as they have been known to get Salmonella or choke to death when fibrous tissues from the meat becomes entangled around the tongue(3), though I've only seen this in reference to horse meat one needs to keep it in mind. I also had a friend with a tamandua that had a tongue problem. She could not lick and was drooling and making choking motions. It lasted a couple weeks and they had her to the vet examined under anesthesia. They could not see in far enough to see the cause but after manipulation the last time she woke up just fine, apparently having dialoged the obstruction.
While some anteaters can be gluttons and highly food motivated some are hard to get eating when newly acquired. They usually love the flavor of milk so a kitten milk replacer can be used for flavor short term. Vinegar is also palatable. Honey may also help. We tried anything and everything we could think of. The mixture ours finally ate was milk replacer, baby cereal, powdered oatmeal, yogurt, honey, and sugar. If yours wont eat you need to try anything and then wean them onto a healthier diet once they are accepting something. A good dealer will make sure yours is healthy and eating before you get it but you need to be prepared. Some remain picky. It could be a few days after arrival before a tamandua will first eat in a new home so you don't need to panic right away.
Raw Beef Diet
I was quite against the idea of raw meat being fed to anteaters till it happened to me. Many zoos do use raw meat in their mix. Based on my research it just seemed a bad idea so I was against it and avoided it too. Boy was I so very wrong!
One day I was giving the dogs beef bones and my girl was begging so held one out to her. Instead of giving a disgusted hiss and walking away as expected she grabbed it and dug in with her claws and did a pretty good job of stripping the bone of fat and meat, not as good as the dogs but good considering what she has to work with. She then went on a hunger strike refusing all food but beef. We came to a compromise of mixing raw beef up in place of kibble in my "simple diet" 3 cups beef instead of one cup kibble due to the water content. Not only have they done well they have thrived. Pua has even put on weight since her illness up to 13 pounds she's never been over ten since we got her and got her over her initial problems. The vet was impressed enough to ask what I was feeding to have them gain weight so well and look so good at their last visit. He never had any complaints. My vet is an X-zoo vet. Once I added beef heart Pua gained even more muscle and is 17 pounds but it's muscle not fat.
I at first tried to mix the kibble simple diet mix with the raw meat simple diet sometimes but to long doing that and they start to get more skunky again, especial stinky Stewie. Skunky pee smell also comes back if stressed or ill. Pua tends to get a bit skunky pee when in heat, because it does stress her body still gets that old bologna smell when she's ready for a mate.
The diet is
3 cups ground beef
3 cups feeder insects
1 cup beef heart
1 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup spinach or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme(a bit less dry thyme. Thyme is higher in K and iron than spinach)
3tbls black strap molasses(for iron)
2 tbls nutritional yeast(for iron and B vitamins)(They have very high iron needs)
Always add vinegar, cider preferred.
Reasons behind some of the ingredients
Spinach is very high in Vitamine K so can not be left out of this diet without supplementing another way.Thyme is a good alternative to spinach.
Insects: If bought in bulk some insects will work out to only a dollar a day in the amount of insects fed. And it's just a good idea for some insects to be in the diet of an insectivore mammal.You can also by 100% pure silkworm Pupae pellets on Ebay. These are great as their nutritional value is similar to ants.
Apple cider vinegar does a much better job of digesting things for them. It aids the digestion but is antimicrobial as well as an added defense against possible infection from the meat, but I've had no issues. Pua also drinks as much vinegar with her meals as she wants. Always add diatomaceous earth. DE and vinegar are best added to the mix. For my two a cottage cheese container is about a days worth so add a days dose of DE each and vinegar each to that amount of food roughly. They both will seek out and take sips of vinegar anyway. Aside from the spinach and flax it's similar to raw feeding a cat. I sometimes add natural minerals. I'll sometimes toss in a bit of something special like half an orange or tomato or something ground up. Some wheat germ oil or grape seed oil should be given for Vit E which also helps if to much retinol is given like you add cheese or give cheese for treats, it inhibits ratinol absorption.
The vit A content of the recipe is all Caratinoids which the body only converts into real vit A if it needs it so you wont get the toxicity seen with food high in retinol. To much retinol causes spinal problems. You can rotate types of insects but the best are silkworms and silkworm pupae as they are nutritionally very similar to ants. You can use some portabello mushroom in place of the molasses. You can use bee pollen in place of yeast. It's good to rotate some items so the diet is not to static.
The female has been the healthiest she's ever seen and her fur is even softer, her tail and ears don't need oiling any more either. It does 'sound bad' and seems a risk to feed raw meat to an anteater but it's proven the opposite for mine. My little girl has so much more energy and is so playful again. She even has decided she will expand her tastes and enjoys fruit baby foods and some juices, and she used to have kinda brittle claws when trimmed, but no more. Some times I've cheated and used nail clippers to nip the tips off. I still prefer filing.
I do not mix any water with it. I've never heard of anyone feeding a solid diet like this before either but that even proved good for them. They have to work at their food like they would in the wild. They claw little bits then pop it into their mouth and go for more. As I said a lot of the zoo diets I found do include raw meats and I had never liked the idea. When weaning wild tams onto food a common way to do it is sprinkle ground raw beef on termite nests as beef is most palatable to them. So I'm not the first to feed raw beef. I'm just the first to do it in this way. They never had any problems with sinew and the ribs either. I do tend to think part of the problem there is a random floating string of sinew in a gruel verses sinew firmly encased in a chunk of meat they know they are eating. If the female is in a lazy mood and wanting liquid food I will blend the beef mix above with water and a bit of juice then strain it but that takes a lot of the nutrition out of it too and she has recently refused this. She did need to go back to the gourmet soup food when convalescing from her illness however.
Other keepers have since used this and seen similar results with weight gain and over all better health and appetites, and even success with babies where none were before.
For animals who will only take a soup diet the meat or whole diet can be soaked for 2-3 days in vinegar then blended into a soup mix. The fibers become soft and mushy after soaking in vinegar and safe.
Treats can include melons whole sliced or mashed. Many love breaking apart the melons themselves for an enrichment activity. They then claw it to mush and lick it up. Stewie had fun with coconut parts. Other treats given include blue cheese, oranges, avocado, banana, crickets, yogurt, mealworms, applesauce, grapes, pumpkin, ants, termites, cucumber, grapefruit, papaya, baby food, honey, tomato, coconut, apple whole or sliced, molasses, frozen treats, other fruits, fruit juices, spray cheese and feeder insects. Mine loved KMR milk and would take meds mixed in this if needed but stopped liking it. I also occasionally trap termites for her to eat out of the woods and she finds ant nests for herself on walks. sometimes she will take crickets if ground up for her and likes cheese in a kong toy. Her tastes often change. She now wont touch milk she liked yogurt for awhile then stopped and likes spicy things like guacamole, tomato sauce, and V-8. She loves ketchup, bar-b-q sauce, and spray cheese and of course ants.
Do use sugary treats sparingly as they are prone to diabetes.
Housing of tamanduas varies widely. From fancy enclosures of 100'x100' to kennels in the home of 2x3x6 and free roam of the home during the day. I feel a minimum of 4x4x6 for one if they get free roam when awake but larger is preferred. If they are to be kept in the cage most of the time It should be closer to 10x10x6(feet). However they are housed they need things to climb on and some exercise. They need room to roam as well. mine loves to explore and gets weekly walks on woodland trails when weather allows. She loves to run the trails. The male loved to run circles in the living room each night. They need warm constant temperatures so if the enclosure is outside they need a portion of it enclosed and protected from the elements. Ideal temps for health is 65-80. The heat should never drop below 65f in the indoor portion and they should not be allowed outside on days with frost advisories in effect.They should be kept at temps below 90f. If temps reach or exceed 90f then measures should be taken to keep the animal cool. The male could get heat sick at 85 and seen both shiver at 65. 75F is the ideal.
Be sure there are no sharp edges on the caging or objects present in it for them to cut themselves on. They will reach out and claw at anything near their cage so be careful of anything they could get hurt on or get their claws stuck in or shred. They need den boxes or covered housing of some sort even hollowed out logs are appreciated. They need heat whether in the form of a heating pad or a heat lamp if the room is allowed to get cool. Mine also will wear sweaters but is not advised if not supervised. They are usually only on for walks or till she warms up at home. Mine love a pouched hammock I made them my female took to it the first night. Branches shelves and other layers for climbing on are important. Try to avoid wood walls directly to the outside of their enclosures as some have been known to claw their way out.
Contrary to most information you will find I will say Tamanduas are not solitary. They love attention and love to have a companion of their own species. They seem to be much healthier and happier in a home setting but if they must be housed separately like at a zoo they should have a friend. One simply needs to take the time to introduce them slowly. I will go so far as to say they are quite social. They may not live in family groups but they have been proven to share territory with multiple other tamanduas in the wild. They have their own instinctual social rituals, such as poking each others hands and feet with their claws as part of their bonding and love to play wrestle with each other. When I only had the female she suffered from separation anxiety and would cry for me. If one can not be a part of the family, I believe, they need their own family in the form of another tamandua companion. She has been more easily startled and upset since we lost the male but she is happy and plays with me a lot.
Health and life span
Healthy Tamanduas are thought to have a captive lifespan of about 9-11yrs, the oldest having reached 19. Tamandua mexican has a lifespan of 16 so tamandua tetradactyla could well be similar with real quality care as the info on life span is limited and based on cases before care and diet were improved with studies. Their normal temp is about 93.6F give or take a little. Tamanduas generally respond well to canine medications when needed. Try to find a good vet that can get information from a zoo vet. There are some medicines like certain antibiotics that should not be given.
Health problems include but are not limited too; abscesses, wounds that don't heal, bleeding, intestinal parasites, External parasites, ringworm, a condition called anteater pox that they usually recover from with no lasting effects and is not zoonic, respiratory conditions from nasal discharge to pneumonia, eye infections and irritations, heart problems, lethargy, kidney and liver disease, strokes, seizures, weight issues from obesity to anorexia, dry skin, dehydration, ear infections, mites, fleas, fungal infections, salmonella and other bacterial infections, intestinal obstructions, and foreign matter wrapped around the tongue. My female nearly died from Streptococcal Toxic Shock, so take care around anyone who has a sore throat that might be Strep. We don't know were she got it but it might have icubated from the time we visited a ranch. Cows can carry it.
My male died from an auto immune problem. This seems more common in bottle fed or young that were weaned to early. They really shoud ne be weaned till 8 month minium to a year. Mom will let them nurse some up to a year in the wild and definatly not wean them till at least a months. Many wean at 6 months because they can eat the liquid food but that does not mean it is good for them. However if one does need to be bottle fed for some reason getting them onto the beef diet above as soon as possible plus some colostrum till 8 months to a year would be ideal.
A proper diet , good hygiene, and a warm constant temperature of about 75f will help in the prevention of many of these concerns. But problems can still come out of nowhere like my female's illness and the male's passing from an auto-immune disorder, that cause him to bleed out. A female recently had a serious trauma when she could not use her tongue to eat and drink. We all came to the conclusion something was stuck in there but it never was seen but was luckily dislodged while under anesthesia the second time. Tamanduas are usually tolerant of bathing and grooming. It is possible and sometimes necessary to trim nails with dog nail clippers or file them. I prefer to file them with a hand held electric file to help maintain a proper shape. They use their claws as fingers and if they get to long it impairs the use. Just be cautious not to cut to deep. You need to avoid the quick and if the nails are to sort it effects their function. It's best to just take the tip regularly as needed rather than wait and have to trim a bunch which could be traumatic and stressful.
Bathing is usually tolerated and they can be given a bath as needed or monthly to every two weeks. I've had to bath more often due to a contact allergy. When I get to itchy it's bath time but have been able to go longer between baths. Their skin does get a rusty orange film that they rub onto things to mark them. In between bathing if not provided a pool they can be misted with a squirt bottle and let them groom the water out. Moisture is good for their skin. You may need to apply lotion, baby oil gel works well, to tails, feet and sometimes the ears. If you can keep the room they sleep in fairly humid. Mine sleeps in the clothes washer, when not being used and it keeps humid in there from her breath and I have a blanket for her to burrow in.
Most tamanduas love to tear things apart. Boxes, paper bags, or pinatas with treats inside are commonly considered great fun. Some might claw holes in your walls so providing appropriate things to destroy is a good idea. They also enjoy rotten logs that have evidence of insects.
A ball with a rattle inside might be tossed about and clawed. Other cat toys may be appropriate as well. Mine likes rubber dog toys and rubber boots some give them old shoes. A box of fresh dirt to dig in is enjoyed. Stewie, the male, has taken very well to training of simple tricks like stand and walk, hold a spoon, and even paints. They can be trained to come when called but do not rely on this being effective outside. They are easily distracted and very stubborn. Pua now pulls a rope up for a treat at the bottom.
Swings and hammocks are sometimes considered fun but mine never trusted swings and ropes, they move to much.
Ropes to walk across and hang from are good or use shelves and branches.
Insects and other treats can be used, see diet.
For an indoor tamandua a cat tree would be good. Mine does enjoy the cat condo from time to time. I would advise it not being allowed much unsupervised access as fiber can come loose from clawing and be hazardous.
Those housed in outdoor enclosures will appreciate tree limbs or jungle gyms with shelves for rest.
Some tamanduas are taken for walks on lead and harness. I find an H harness to be the best. If the belly is not to big you might add a belt for added safety till you both are confident. I recommend practicing in a fenced area.
Tame tamanduas enjoy wrestling and play fights with their caretakers and petting and cuddling. The cuddle time is done on their terms and they wont stay just because you ask. Some are more cuddly than others. My male is more independent but also more sociable with strangers. My female loves to sleep curled up inside my shirt, she enjoys being close so much. My male trusted me enough he loved for me to pick him up, lay him on my arm and fly him around on my arm making airplane sounds, just like a kid. Most exotics would freak out with that, even most domestics but he would beg me to do it.
They are good swimmers and like water so a child's wading pool on warm days would be good. Not all enjoy getting in water mine loves going to the river but usually avoids getting wet but if heated up she has waded in and even swims but it has to be just right.
They have a great sense of smell so using different scents about their environment could interest them and encourage them to move about. I had an anteater owning pal send us some used shavings with pee to sprinkle about the yard and Pua liked knowing she's not alone.
Durable toys with holes for their tongues to explore are good items especially with hidden treats inside, consider the Kong toys with a bit of honey or cheese inside.
The first thing one must know if they choose to breed these animals is what sex their animals are. How to tell the difference was one of the hardest thing for me to find out. People kept telling me that you can't tell but you can. Everyone had different explanations of the differences however. It appears there is no difference on the surface since the males gonads are internal and their sexual organs are small and very similar to the female. It's relatively simple however to tell the difference. When you look at the openings of their external sexual parts there is a marked difference. The male's opening will be a hole at the end and the female a slit down the middle but you need to get hands on as the males have a line that could appear to be a slit and the females have a clitoris which could be mistaken for the head of a penis. The males sexual mound tends to be more pointed and crescent shaped. The whole thing gets firm and the tip is inserted sideways into the female. I got a good look at one of their attempts to mate but no babies from it unfortunately.
Whether or not the male and female are housed together will depend on how well they get along. Mine have no problems and like to sleep together. Mating generally takes place in the fall but could occur at any time. Females cycle about every month or month and a half. There may be some spotting but care should be taken not to confuse this with a bleed out. Try keeping a log of when spotting occurs and have the vet look at a sample. Other signs are restlessness and genital licking. Their gestation is about 150 days on average. Females will need a private den like place to give birth. All other tamanduas should be kept away from mother and young. Females give birth to one young at a time. Rarely twins are born but the mother tamandua can not care for more than one young at a time in the wild so one is rejected. In the case of twins at least one young should be removed and bottled and the other watched closely. Rarely twins have been left with mom and survived with supplemental feeding of both but this would never happen in the wild and it's more common for mom to reject one or even both so it is risky to try leaving both with mom. It's a tricky decision since mom's milk is best.
Baby tamanduas can be successfully bottle raised with kitten milk replacer. Kitten bottles and nipples have been used others use a dropped or needless syringe and let baby lap it up. Other than the event of twins or other problem such as mother rejecting them I do not recommend pulling the young and bottle raising them. Even wild caught tamanduas tame down well and as long as they are handled regularly babies raised in captivity will be tame and loving to their owner. There is no need to pull and bottle. Tamanduas have a very specialized diet in the wild and it has been difficult to get a decent diet formulated for adults in captivity. We do not have a milk formula made for them. Kitten milk works but we don't know what vital things may be missing that will cause problems for them later in life due to missing out as babies. We do not know if there may be to much of something or other imbalances. They do keep getting antibodies(colostrum) in their milk the whole time they nurse, up to a year. Shown by one male born with no immunity of his own who only fell ill and died once weaned. For this reason since they will be tame anyway I truly feel they should not be pulled until strong, healthy and eating at least some food mix diet barring other reasons that may necessitate it. This means baby should stay with mom till 6-12 months of age. I personally think they should be left with mom till 8 months. They can start eating a diet mix by 6 months but still need mom for awhile. Mom does not wean them at 6 months but at 8 months to a year. My male was pulled at 6 months and suckled on my fingers as an adult. I got to fell first hand how that tongue works inside.
Tamanduas are hard to come by, hard to care for, but very rewarding and special. They can make very loving pets when raised from a young age with people. Even wild caught have become quite sociable with people given enough proper handling. Down sides are smell. Tamanduas do not have a noticeable odor under normal circumstances but their pee does smell skunky similar to a ferret. Most choose one place to pee and one place to poop and stick to it but they may mark and have accidents and they do dribble pee similar to a rat which they can not help. Mine trained relatively well to pee pads but it did take some time and a few accidents. Some may refuse to train and want to mark all over. She had many places she chose to go but have narrowed it down to two outside her cage. My female isn't destructive but some can be. My male went trough a phase of tearing holes in the walls. Mine are gentle but can play ruff at time and most say theirs don't learn to play with gentle claws. Accidents can still happen. There are many health concerns to worry about and the diet can be tricky and a lot of work. Please learn all you can about the good and the bad before getting an anteater.
For further info please join our group that discusses these animals and their close relations http://groups.yahoo.com/group/xenarthra_keepers/
References 1. Formulating Diets for Tamandua, A. Ward, S. Crissy, K. Cassaro, E. Frank 2. Nutrition of the Tamandua, S Oyarzun, G. Crawshaw, and E. Valdes 3. Health survey, S. Morford and M. Meyers.
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