Do Exotic Big Cats Make Good Pets?

Ron Hines DVM PhD

The Question:

You must be thinking about buying an exotic big cat for a pet. They certainly are cute and cuddly when they are babies and they are so regal when they grow up. Do you think it will work out? Will it be happy living with you? If you give it only love and kindness will it learn to trust and love you too?”

The Answer:

I know big cats. For 10 years I cared for Ringling Brothers Circus lions and tigers. Over the years before and since then I have learned that the stories of ordinary people who purchase lions, tigers, leopards and other wild animals to make them into pets never have happy storybook endings.

This is why:

“They are sooo.. cute and cuddly as kittens”

Yes they are. But that stage will last only a few months to a year. That leaves you another 15 years with a dangerous, temperamental wild animal. It was born a wild animal and nothing you can do will change its instinctive nature. It will take constant care and vigilance, tie you down to home, upset your neighbors and the police and get you and your family into various forms of hot water.

When the honeymoon is over, these cute kittens always ends up housed in some “iffy” refuge or euthanized by State authorities. Zoos don’t want anything to do with them. I have seen this sad thing happen so often – and always, the owners were good people who meant well.

Confusing Show Biz With Reality

Perhaps you saw tigers and lions in the circus or, some trainer on TV showed one off or the sheriff’s mascot is a cougar. I have treated performing cats for 30 years. The image you saw was strictly show biz – not the reality that you and I live in. Do the women and men you see on TV look and act like your friends? Can your dog pull off the things you see in a Lassie episode?

Hollywood Fables

You might be thinking that through your love and affection you will change the temperament of a beast from the way God created it to be. You might think that it will show its gratitude to you for your loving care by reciprocating with love. It only works that way in novels, lions grow up to be lions and wolves grow up to be wolves – that’s just the way things happen.

A Deal You Just Couldn’t Pass Up

Perhaps it was an impulse purchase or a deal you couldn’t turn down or best, it was free! But it costs approximately $ 12,000/year to feed and house a large cat adequately – and it is messy ,grizzly business to feed them the diet they need. If you cut corners on your food bill and you will have a lame, arthritic, sad beast and law enforcement officials will come to claim your pet.

Well, If It Doesn’t Work Out There Are Plenty Of “Refuges” And “Sanctuaries” That Will Accept The Animal Right?

Perhaps you think you can re-release the pet in Africa or a Zoo will take it if things don’t work out. Well they won’t. Lions that have bred for two generations in captivity will starve to death in Africa. It has been tried. Your pet will likely end up in the canning plant in Colorado that sells to gourmet chiefs – or perhaps on a “canned hunt” in Texas. Desperate clients who didn’t take my advice offer me several big cats a year. Alternatively it will end up in some sleazy roadside zoo – turning a buck by billing itself and “eco center”.

The Thrill Of The Hunt

Perhaps you want a live cougar to train your walker hounds. You don’t need that – spoor and scent is what these dogs follow. The cougar is only a distraction. Your local zoo will give you all the spoor you will need.


Perhaps you want a really cool eye-catching pet that no one else has so you can impress your friends. But there is a very good reason none of your neighbors have big cats. You will loose your homeowners insurance, your neighbors will hate you and worry about their kids and the only folks you will “impress” are the local police, and federal and state wildlife officers when they are sure to come a calling. And they are going to hassle you severely – get ready to keep a wheelbarrow load of up-to-date paper work for them all, for even single exotic big cat.

So, If you’ve read this far and I haven’t been able to discouraged you , you will find articles on how to feed big cats on this website here , the vaccines they need here . Or you can just email me.

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