Let's state as fact that, without exception, all monkeys bite. Big monkeys bite harder than small ones, but little bites can still be very serious. Getting the occasional bite is part of being a monkey parent but when it's a sign of aggression, it's important to know how to react decisively and quickly without giving your "child" the slightest hint of fear or timidity on your part. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that discipline overdo is just as bad as allowing them to get the upper hand. Every monkey has different types of bites and sometimes we have to allow them to be monkeys. I have the philosophy that "intent is everything". If I get a little too hard a nip during play, it requires just a light scolding, it doesn't ruin our day and we play on. If I get even the tiniest nip because he's mad... I come down hard and fast. It's not the bite that's the issue here so much as the disrespect shown to me as the alpha. I think it's important to know when to discipline and when to let it slide. Too much control makes a monkey apprehensive and fearful, and that can lead to aggression in it's own right. We have to let them be monkeys. Remember that monkeys bite for many reasons. To them it's a way of "tasting" and experiencing their environment and for every breed it's a component in playing. Here is a definition of different levels of biting exhibited primarily for smaller New World Monkeys.


Exploratory bite: A nibbling or soft biting of an object as if to test what it is. Can I eat this? Can I play with it? Can I make use of it somehow? Young infants, in particular, will do this to finger-tips and any soft objects they come in contact with to satisfy their endless curiosity. They also do it more when they are teething, much like a human infant. Discipline mildly only if it becomes aggressive or uncomfortable. They must be allowed to be monkeys and explore an unknown world with all the senses and resources they have.

Play bite: You must allow him to play bite . NHP's nibble and bite one another in play much as puppies or kittens do. This sort of activity is harmless and non-aggressive in intent and should not be punished unless it becomes painful or overly aggressive in nature. The monkey knows what is acceptable play biting and may at times just need a mild, but firm reminder to not get carried away. As with all discipline, the key here is consistency. Do not allow a hard bite one time and then get upset over it the next. This on-again/off-again response will confuse your monkey and lead to suspicion and mistrust. Decide what is or is not acceptable and then act accordingly. Your responses should be swift and totally predictable.

Snap bite: A quick deep bite, followed by retreat: A snap bite from an angry marmoset will be obvious. It will definitely HURT and it will more than likely draw blood. It is also unacceptable at any time for any reason. A snap bite is can be the first level of intentional bite and is a sign of escalating aggression and desire for dominance.

Repeat Snap Bite: This is a series of snap bits to the same area intended to cause damage and is a more aggressive form of snap bite. There is no retreat following the initial attack and is therefore a more serious sign of aggression. Totally unacceptable! Quick discipline and cage time out for a period of time.

Uninhibited bite: this is the most extreme and aggressive bite, generally preceded by a low chattering sound and consists of a deep intentionally severe bite and a clamping of the jaw (much like that of a pit bull). An uninhibited bite from a marmoset will result in broken and torn skin and can be quite serious, to the extent of needing stitches to close. If given to the face, ears or nose (their chosen areas for this attack) it can result in permanent scarring. An enraged marmoset or tamarin is not to be taken lightly and will require caution in handling. If your monkey has escalated to this level of aggressive biting, there are steps that can be taken to regain control, but it will take time and a lot of stamina on your part. I will take this issue up in greater detail under a different topic.

Subjecting any non-human primate to tooth extraction to prevent biting should never be an option. It is simply wrong to deform an animal for convenience, If this is the only way you can protect yourself from harm, I suggest you get a pet more in line with your parenting skills.

"Pullling of healthy teeth to prevent a non-human primate from biting is unethical and should not be considered appropriate for the health and well-being of the non-human primate"

Let's face it. Monkeys are uncommon and interesting and people are understandably fascinated when you go out in public. You have to learn to exercise extreme caution if you chose to do so. People will be clamoring to see and touch and it will be almost impossible to control the situation. The ensuing noise and commotion can quickly get out of hand. The monkey will become agitated and the situation is just a perfect storm for something to go horribly wrong. For your protection and the safety of your monkey I strongly suggest that you just avoid contact between your monkey and the general public. Laws in the U.S. regarding primates differs greatly from those regarding other domestic pets such as dogs and cats. Know this: If your primate so much as scratches a person, even by accident, with no aggressive intent, the quarantine restrictions are the same as if it had delivered a bite wound. Your monkey can be confiscated, quarantined and tested for rabies. From that point on, the fate of your companion is in the hands of whatever Animal Control bureaucrat seized him. Be aware that the state can arbitrarily choose to euthanize your pet for no other reason than quarantining was inconvenient and possible liabilities posed a risk. Neither his senseless death nor your unbearable pain of loss will be of any consequence. Although there has to date been not one reported case of rabies from a monkey to a human in the U.S., the attitude and ignorance on the part of those in charge will seal his fate. Even if you have written proof of health from a veterinarian stating that your animal does not have rabies, there is no FDA approved rabies vaccine for primates (ironic in that human rabies vaccine is tested on primates). Aside from the loss of your precious pet, litigation (however frivolous) can put your entire life on hold....someone can choose to sue you for everything you own. Please do yourself and your baby a favor. Do not allow contact with the general public and permit strangers, particularly children to play with your monkey. The most seemingly harmless incident can forever alter your life.... and very possibly end his.

​Saying that monkeys can be aggressive is a colossal understatement. In addition to the typical challenges that are expected with the onset of maturity, they can also be moody, unpredictable and given to tantrums. They have "bad" days just like people do and as a monkey parent, it's our responsibility to deal with these inevitable challenges constructively and appropriately. Losing our temper or inflicting harsh punishment to vent our own frustration will backfire...I guarantee it. Cruelty or inappropriate retaliation in any form will sever any remaining bond of trust and will do little to establish you in a position of respect. Do not mistake fear for respect. A monkey that fears you is only waiting for the opportunity to get even. They are intelligent and cunning and know to be patient when it comes to exacting revenge. This is certainly not the type of relationship you want with your companion. Appropriate discipline is firm and fair and immediate. The desired outcome is not to make your monkey afraid, but to respect your alpha position. For smaller New World monkeys like marmosets and tamarins, the best way to handle a show of aggression is to immediately restrain them and force them to look you in the eyes until they look away...followed by time out and restriction of privileges. On occasion they may have to be caged for a couple of days and fed only by hand. This dependency forces them to understand that they can trust you to care for them and meet their basic needs. They should be petted through the cage and spoken to and played with, but not allowed the freedom that they enjoyed previously. When let out, they should be on a leash and allowed to slowly earn the right to freedom and interaction on their own terms. They quickly learn that the freedom they desire has to be earned by respecting you and that you are kind and trustworthy, but will not under any circumstances allow disrespect for your alpha position. Consistency is the key. Don't allow a monkey to behave badly one day and then punish him the next. From day one, work at establishing your status and over time a bond of mutual affection and respect will evolve.

What I have discovered is that the more time invested in a monkey during its infancy, the less of a problem aggression will be later on. A successful relationship with a monkey is built on trust and security. There has to be a level of mutual respect for a bond to form and for the monkey to be comfortable looking to you as the alpha member of his "troop". It takes a lot of trust for a small monkey like a marmoset or tamarin to allow you to just pick it up. Remember that in the wild, anything that picks them up is most likely about to have him for dinner. Monkeys generally demonstrate aggression or bite for three reasons: (1) They are afraid (2) They feel territorial toward their person or an item they consider theirs. (3) They are attempting to establish dominance over a family member or other pet. We gain a whole new perspective when we take the time to see the world through their eyes. It takes time and patience to develop trust that overrides their instinctive reaction to bite.

It really is important that you have done your homework and feel secure enough to make your "alpha" status in the household clear. You can't show that you are hesitant or fearful in any way. There isn't time for you to be timid when facing down a primate that thinks it can win a challenge. Be clear and concise and leave no room for doubt that it's just not going to happen. There is very little room for error here and one lost battle means you will be challenged again, more aggressively the next time. Yes monkeys understand and appreciate your kindness. Yes they are grateful for the care you provide; however, when they are feeling full of themselves they respect only one thing: Strength. If you get a bite here and there, (and you will) as long as you won the battle, there are plenty of days for playing and cuddling.

I've found that if given a firm "NO" from the time they are little, they know that the word means that a line has been crossed. I can also say from experience that the times that my little guy thinks he can put one over on me, a firm, loud "Don't even think about it." seems to snap him right back to reality. When you parent a monkey, you just accept the fact that disagreements are going to happen. I just make sure the outcome is always the same. Monkey 0------Mom 1... end of story. You can't back down and you can't let it slide.."just this once". They sense fear and they sense weakness. Millions of years of evolution have developed keen instincts for survival and the ability to "read" a situation and to get the upper hand is what has guaranteed their survival.

Alpha that I am, I still have respect for his space. There are things I would never do, for instance: I would never startle him from sleep or try to hold him down if he was having a fear reaction to to a noise. I would wait for him to come to me for comfort. You also need to realize that when upset, monkeys act out at the first thing in their space, which is another reason to not allow them around strangers. If your monkey is sitting with someone they don't know well and something startles them, they will likely get upset at the person holding them. It was nothing personal... it was just monkey behavior.

A monkey that has been well cared for, appropriately disciplined and allowed to integrate into a family on his own terms, isn't likely to develop serious aggression issues. Give them a bit of space to make their own decisions and learn to pick your battles wisely. Decide early on what is and is not acceptable. If you constantly discipline them for every little thing, your discipline soon becomes meaningless. Constantly being told no or receiving time-outs and punishment for small infractions leads to frustration and fear. Trying to bite or acting up when getting a diaper changed should be reprimanded; but, please understand that getting in trouble for chewing on your expensive pen or destroying a concert ticket is not something he is capable of relating to. If you have something that isn't monkey resistant, keeping it in a safe place is your responsibility! A monkey is not capable of determining that one doo-dad is ok to play with but another doo-dad isn't. Resist the urge to scream or loose your temper. They can't understand what you are yelling about anyway, and all it does is add to the stress. and confusion. Monkeys require consistent, firm yet loving discipline that is administered without the infliction of serious pain or threat. It is in their nature to respect our alpha status. It is also in their nature to expect you to have rightfully earned the position.

It is important to know your companion well because early signs of illness or discomfort can be very subtle. Non-human primates have a well deserved reputation for concealing any sign or pain or illness. According to vets I've spoken with, NHP's are notorious for their stoicism in the face of physical distress. This behavioral adaption evolved to protect the animal from predators but also makes early diagnoses of illness very challenging. Recognizing even small, seemingly insignificant changes in your pet can be monumentally important for a successful recovery.
Here are a few things to look for:
a change in normal gait or posture
change in activity level (no longer playing with favorite toys...etc)
sudden change in attitude or personality
hyperactivity or restlessness
nervousness or altered facial expression
listlessness or unwillingness to move or get up
favoring a body part
excessive licking or salivation
reduced intake of food or water...ignoring even his favorite food
loss of body weight (why it is so important to weigh your baby regularly
change in skin or coat (greasy or dull)
excessive grooming or self-mutilation
watery eyes or a "sleepy" droopy look (a happy monkey has bright eyes)
Often when a primate is approached it will ignore it's pain in an effort to get away, so observation from a distance can often tell a better story
Get your baby accustomed to being groomed and bathed early on. This grooming time is the perfect opportunity to check for swelling or lumps.
 It also gives you time to check between little fingers and toes and into ears and noses. At the first sign of anything that seems curious or out of place... call your vet!