Ocelots As Pets – Everything You Need To Know

Ocelots As Pets: Everything You Need To Know

Originating from Mexico, Central and South America, as well as the southwestern regions of the U.S., ocelots are cats with beautiful black spots and stripes on them.

Known as Leopardus pardalis, ocelots are double the size of your house cat!

Although they’re more high maintenance as compared to the domestic cat, owning an ocelot is a rewarding, satisfying experience. 

Ocelot Facts Sheet

Scientific nameLeopardus pardalis
Other namesPainted Leopard
Ocelot lifespan8 to 12 years
DietCarnivore diet. Ocelots like to eat fish, frogs, rabbits, rodents, and iguanas.
SizeOcelots weigh between 24 to 35 pounds, and their size is between 28 and 35 inches.
Where are ocelots from?Many ocelots are found in South America where they thrive in rain forests. They can also be found in some regions of the U.S., such as Texas. They have been known to adapt to human habitats, as National Geographic reports, with some ocelots being found close to villages or other human settlements.
Ocelot legal statesOwning an ocelot is legal in some U.S. states. However, four states don’t have are pertaining to keeping wild animals as pets and these are Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada, and Alabama. There are also six states that don’t ban or even regulate big-cat possession, and these are Alabama, Oklahoma, Nevada, Wisconsin, Delaware, and North Carolina.
Price range A few thousand dollars

Can you own an ocelot as a pet?

Although wild cats are illegal to own in many U.S. states, it is possible to own an ocelot. However, it’s not always easy to find them as they’re quite rare in the pet trade.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at where to find ocelots as pets and how to look after them.

As with any big cat, you need to ensure you give your ocelot enough space to roam.

Keeping an ocelot indoors is never a good idea as these animals love to jump, dig, and climb, so they can destroy your possessions or hurt themselves by living indoors.

In addition, they’re sure to become frustrated or stressed in such situations. 

Taking Care Of Your Ocelot

Ocelot In The Box

Ocelots are cats that are crepuscular, meaning that they are active in the hours between dusk and dawn.

During this time, they like to hunt. When kept in captivity, ocelots can be a danger to domestic animals, such as chickens and dogs.

This is why they will need their own large outdoor enclosure.

In addition, some other types of animals can disturb and even harass ocelots, so they should not come into contact with these big cats.

These animals are not larger animals as you might expect but birds and monkeys!

The good news is that ocelots are very adaptable to different environments.

In the wild, they can live in coastal marshes, tropical forests, savanna grasslands, and thorn scrubs, as reported by Live Science.

Wherever they live, it’s worth bearing in mind that ocelots can be a bit smelly.

Their feces have a strong smell and they like to mark their territory – some even do this in the area where they sleep, which means you’ll have to ensure you clean out their enclosures very regularly, preferably on a daily basis, to keep your ocelot healthy and disease-free.

Ocelot Food Or Diet

When left in the wild, ocelots will hunt for a variety of different animals to eat, such as rodents, birds, fish, and more.

You should feed your pet ocelot meat but supplement it with calcium and taurine.

These are essential nutrients that cats, big and small, require in order to meet their nutritional needs.

Taurine, for instance, is responsible for giving cats healthy vision and a strong immune system, and it also ensures that your cat will have healthy digestion and heart muscle function.

Ocelots should be fed between 1.2 and 1.9 pounds of meat every day. This can take the form of ground meat and organs, such as beef heart.

If they don’t finish their meat in the wild, they tend to cover it in the ground so that they have food for the next day.

They might have the tendency to do this in captivity, so make sure that their enclosure has space for them to dig and bury their food.

You should also provide them with bones to chew on so that they can clean their teeth!

Reproduction Information

Male and Female Couple Cuddling

Male and female ocelots only interact when they breed.

When the female ocelot becomes pregnant, she will carry her infant for about two months before retreating to a secluded place in order to give birth.

She will choose a hollow tree, cave, or other hidden area, in which to do this.

This doesn’t only give her privacy but enables her to protect her kittens from predators.

When a female ocelot gives birth to her kittens, there will usually be one to three in a litter.

She will even move them to different dens to ward off predators.

After three months, the kittens will be able to leave their dens but they stay with their mother for two years.

Common Diseases Of Ocelots

These cats are prone to pathogens that are typically thought to be found in domestic animal reservoirs.

Examples of diseases include feline herpes virus, that can cause respiratory infections; feline calicivirus, which also causes respiratory problems; and panleukopenia virus, which is when red blood cells in the animal’s body are destroyed and this can lead to anemia. It’s sometimes a deadly disease.

To ensure that your wild cat remains safe and healthy, make sure you bring it for checkups to your local veterinarian who has experience with treating and looking after wild cats.

How To Take Care Of Ocelots

Holding Young Ocelot

Much attention must be paid to building a large enclosure for you ocelot.

They are very active and like to hide away, so set up some nice private areas in their enclosures.

This will also enable them to sleep during the day.

You can make your own types of dens for your ocelot, such as by using hollow logs, rock overhangs, or shrubs.

Here are other tips to follow when setting up your ocelot’s enclosure.

  • The enclosure for your ocelot should be at least 800 square meters in size. This is because if it’s too small and your pet ocelot can’t move around a lot, this can cause it stress. You can tell if your ocelot is stressed if it paces around its enclosure or engages in other repetitive behaviors.
  • Areas in which the ocelot can climb and jump can help to keep it active and stimulated. Your pet ocelot should have trees in their enclosure so that they can climb but also sharpen their claws.
  • Make sure that there is shelter in the enclosure to protect your ocelot from the elements.
  • Since ocelots, like other wild cats, love to dig, you should prevent them from being able to dig their way out of the enclosure. Pouring concrete underneath the fence to strengthen the ground is recommended.
  • Make sure there is a roof on the top of the enclosure to prevent the ocelot from being able to climb out of it.
  • Ocelots are solitary animals, so keeping more than one ocelot in an enclosure is probably not a good idea. They can become quite aggressive with each other in the wild, and have been known to fight each other to the death, usually over territories.
  • You should clean the enclosure daily as not doing so can cause it to become very smelly. This is because the ocelot’s feces are known to have a very strong smell.

Should You Keep Male Or Female Ocelots?

Grown Up Ocelots

Male ocelots tend to be very territorial so that is something to consider when purchasing an ocelot.

They are not friendly to other male ocelots and will mark their territory in a variety of ways, such as by clawing on logs, spraying their urine around, and even leaving their feces around to keep other males away.

Males also need larger areas in which to roam. In the wild, male ocelots travel further out than females.

They can cover up to distances of three to four square miles while female ocelots will cover one to two square miles. The females also tend to stay closer to home.

Is It Legal To Have An Ocelot As A Pet?

One of the biggest concerns you might have when it comes to owning an ocelot is if it’s dangerous.

Since it’s considered to be a wild cat, and by default dangerous, it is illegal in many U.S. states.

Often, the laws surrounding the possession of ocelots will be the same for wild animals in general.

For example, four states in the U.S. have no laws specifying the possession of wild animals, and these are Alabama, Nevada, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.

Therefore, in these states you can keep ocelots and other wild animals as pets.

Similarly, there are six U.S. states that don’t regulate the ownership of big cats, nor do they ban it.

They are Wisconsin, Alabama, North Carolina, Nevada, Delaware, and Oklahoma.

Therefore, in all of these states, it is possible for you to keep wild cats such as ocelots.

There are 35 U.S. states that ban the possession of big cats and keeping them as pets.

However, there are different rules and laws, and sometimes exceptions.

For example, as Big Cat Rescue states, in the state of Illinois no one is allowed to possess a dangerous animal such as an ocelot unless they are being kept at a properly maintained zoological park, veterinary hospital, animal refuge, and other similar places.

Therefore, it’s important to find out what the rules are in your specific state before you purchase an ocelot.

Ocelots For Sale

Ocelots In Hands

If your state allows you to purchase and keep an ocelot as a pet, you can purchase one from a variety of reputable ocelot breeders.

You can find ocelot kittens for sale, but be prepared to pay between $2,500 and $5,000 for one.

Animals Similar To Ocelots

When you think of ocelots and animals that are similar to them, you might not consider all of the ones mentioned below.

Let’s take a look at how they’re similar and different to ocelots!


A jaguar and ocelot might look the same because of their markings, but the jaguar is quite a bit larger than the ocelot.

While an ocelot will typically weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, a jaguar can weigh between 100 and 300 pounds!

They also hunt differently. Jaguars mainly hunt prey on the ground, while ocelots hide in vegetation during the hunt.


Similar in size to the ocelot, the serval also has black markings on its body.

One of the differences between these animals is that the serval is found in sub-Saharan Africa, whereas the ocelot is found in Central and South America, as well as some parts of North America.


Margay Standing On Stone

If you had to spot a margay in the wild, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an ocelot.

These animals are difficult to tell apart, but there are some differences to note.

The ocelot has a tail that’s shorter than its hind legs, but a margay’s tail is longer than its hind legs to help it to maintain balance when walking on tree branches.

The ocelot is also larger than the margay, weighing three times as much as it.


While similar in appearance, the caracal doesn’t have spots or markings that the ocelot does.

It’s also smaller than the ocelot, and has tufted ears similar to those of a lynx. However, both the caracal and ocelot are nocturnal, solitary animals.

Fascinating Facts About Ocelots

Did you know that ocelots have interesting teeth, a famous reputation, and a somewhat strange relationship with water as compared to other cats?

Here are some of the most fascinating facts to know about ocelots.

Ocelots Hunt By Scent

Ocelots have an excellent sense of smell. They hunt their prey by following its scent trail.

They use a pace of about 300 meters per hour during the hunt. They have been known to wait patiently for the right time to attack their prey, sometimes up to an hour.

An interesting fact regarding their hunting technique is that when they hunt birds, they remove their feathers before eating them.

Their Mouths Are Built For Eating Meat

Ocelot Eating Meat

Like other wild cats, ocelots obviously have sharp teeth. But there are some fascinating facts about their mouths.

They have sharp teeth that cut through meat like scissors. They also have fangs that they use to pierce their prey when caught.

Interestingly, they don’t have teeth that have been built to chew their food, which means that they cut up their food with their sharp teeth and then swallow it whole.

Finally, they also have rough tongues that help them to clean meat off the bone.

They Don’t Roar

Unlike other wild cats such as lions, ocelots don’t roar.

They are known to make “chuckling” sounds when they are excited and in the wild they can be heard muttering to each other when they communicate.

During their courtship phase, they make yowling noises.

They’re Not Afraid Of Water

If you’ve ever seen your domestic cat avoid water like the plague, you’ll be interested to know that ocelots actually like water. They are excellent swimmers. Since they’re a cat species that originates from warmer regions, like the tiger and leopard, ocelots enjoy cooling off in the water.

Salvador Dalí Had A Pet Ocelot!

Artist Salvador Dalí not only had a pet ocelot called but he used to travel with it.

He called it Babou and he famously even brought it with him aboard a luxury cruise liner called the SS France.

It was said Dalí would take his cat with him to dinner and once when a woman expressed fear of it, he said that the cat’s markings had been painted on and Babou was just a domesticated cat, as Time reports.

Ocelot Objects For Sale

Holding Mug

Take your love for these beautiful animals to the next level by purchasing ocelot objects for sale. Here’s a rundown of some of the best ones.

Ocelot Device Stand

When you need to rest your cell phone or device on something while chatting to friends or working on your device, you can do so with an ocelot device stand that has the words ‘Ocelot is my spirit animal’ on it.

Ocelot Mugs

Mugs with gorgeous pictures of ocelots on them are a must for your collection!

You can find ocelot mugs with a variety of artistic images of these animals, as well as mugs that have funny quotes on them.

Ocelot Sports Towel

Having an ocelot sports towel with the picture of a beautiful ocelot on it will make you want to take it to the gym every day and even use it at home.

Ocelot Clothing

There’s a variety of ocelot clothing you can purchase online, from ocelot sweatshirts to unisex ocelot t-shirts that come in a variety of colors to suit your mood.

Ocelot Emojis, Gifs, and Icons

It’s difficult to find ocelot emojis, gifs, and icons because usually there are just general cat ones on offer.

However, you can find ocelot clip art on websites such as Creazilla. You can also download black-and-white ocelot icons on The Noun Project.

For GIFs, visit Giphy where searching for “ocelot animal” will bring up lots of cute images.

However, you’ll have to sift through gifs of other cats because, again, they tend to be difficult to find online. 

Books About Ocelots

Cats of the Wild

It’s difficult to find ocelot books for adults, but there are some choices if you’re looking for books for kids.

Ocelots: Cats Of The Wild by Henry Randall

This book has some interesting facts about ocelots that young readers will enjoy learning about, and it also offers lovely pictures of these beautiful cats.

An introduction to The Ocelot and Margay and Other Rare Wild Cats by Colette Anderson

This book features information about a variety of cat species, but mainly focuses on the ocelot and margay.

Although children will love reading this book, it will probably be something you’ll enjoy, too.

Related Questions

Ocelots look a bit like leopards but are they related to them?

Both are wild cats, but leopards form part of the Pantherinae (roaring cats) subfamily while ocelots form part of the Felinae (small cats) subfamily, as Live Science reports.

Is an ocelot related to the oncilla?

They might have similar appearances, but the ocelot is larger.

These cats, along with the margay, were once thought to be members of the felis (domestic cat) genus, but DNA research has shown that they’re part of the Felidae cat family, as Britannica reports.

Felinae are a subfamily of Felidae.


Having a pet ocelot is an exciting prospect.

Although they’re not legal to own in many U.S. states, there are other states in which you can keep your very own ocelot.

If you’re lucky enough to do so, it’s important to ensure that you will be able to look after it.

In this article, we’ve featured important information every prospective ocelot owner needs to know about how to take care of ocelots so that they can thrive in captivity.

An ocelot is an interesting and unique type of wild cat to own, and if you’re up for the challenge it will be a highly rewarding experience.

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