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Tick Treatment For Slow Moe, The Sloth

Dr. Murray finds a safe product to use on a 2-toed sloth with ticks.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: February 9, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

2-toed sloth
Two species of two-toed sloth are in the genus Choloepus, the Hoffmann's and the Linnaeus. This is a Hoffmann's two-toed sloth.

What do you treat a 2-toed sloth with to get rid of ticks? It was a question that caught me by total surprise. I must have fallen asleep during the parasitology lecture that covered how to treat 2-toed sloths for ticks. This was a real question and not a prank call, so I had to find out about 2-toed sloths in general and what to use in this young sloth.

The 2-toed sloth is a fascinating animal from Central America and South America. Sloths are leaf-eaters (herbivores) and have a large, multi-chamber stomach similar to a cow’s. Bacteria in the stomach help to digest the leaves, but it takes a long time to digest the food (up to one month). Sloths typically only urinate and defecate one to two times a week due to an extremely slow metabolic rate. Sloths spend most of their time in a tree hanging upside-down, and they sleep roughly 16 to 18 hours a day. They have very sharp claws that are roughly 3 to 4 inches long to help hold onto the tree branches. 

Sloths are roughly 2 to 2.5 feet long and weight 10 to 20 pounds. They live from 10 to 15 years in the wild, but can live for 30 or more years in captivity. They do not become fully mature until about 2 to 5 years of age. In general female sloths mature slower than males. Sloths also have a very low muscle mass (only 25 percent of their body weight) compared to most mammals, so they cannot shiver when it becomes cold. Interestingly their normal body temperature can range from 74 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. They are very slow when they do move, but they are pretty good swimmers.

Because I had never worked on a sloth, I consulted with some zoo veterinarian friends to find out what is safe to use on sloths (thanks, Drs. Coke and Raines). Their slow metabolism can make some products too toxic to use on them. We decided to use Revolution to treat his ticks. Fortunately it was both safe and effective on this guy.

Needless to say sloths are not your typical pet, and they should only be kept in captivity by qualified people.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

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