Should You Keep a Tiger as a Pet?

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Woman feeding water to a tiger

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Tigers are not domesticated cats. None of the six surviving species of tiger (another three are extinct) should be kept as pets. A majority of states in the U.S. have instituted bans on keeping any of the big cat species as pets. Tigers are huge, strong, fanged predators that eat dozens of pounds of meat per day and need acres of expensive high-security enclosures. The risk of attack far outweighs any benefit, which makes tigers not suitable as pets at any age. However, if you are curious, here are some details about what it's like keeping these large cats living alongside humans.

Species Overview

COMMON NAME: Tiger

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Panthera tigris

ADULT SIZE: up to 10 feet long from head to tail

LIFESPAN: up to 20 years

Can You Own a Pet Tiger?

Legality

Most states have restrictions on owning many exotic pets including big cats, especially around heavily populated communities. Specifically, 35 states have bans on keeping big cats, while 21 states ban all dangerous exotic pets. Check the laws in your area before attempting to acquire a tiger or any other big cat; The Big Cat Public Safety Act is pending federal legislation aimed at prohibiting private citizens from owning big cats.

Ethics

Tigers belong in the wild, ideally. In captivity, tigers can fare well within spacious zoos or big cat rescue preserves, but they are not well adapted to be healthy or happy in a house with an ordinary yard.

Things to Consider

Pet enthusiasts cannot give a tiger the life it needs because it has adapted over eons to inhabit spacious wildlands in specific geographic regions. Keeping a tiger in a small space such as a house or yard can place the tiger's life, and its keepers' lives, in danger. It is a better idea to visit tigers in a zoo where you can observe and enjoy their presence in a safer and more natural setting.

Tiger Behavior and Temperament

Warning


Well before their first year, a tiger cub grows big enough to push down an adult human. Even their play bites can cause serious damage and potentially kill their owner or other people nearby.

Tigers are large, strong, and dangerous cats. They have the ability to take down a 500-pound running antelope, are strong swimmers, and are extremely territorial. In the wild, male tigers will cover a territory of up to almost 40 miles; females cover roughly a seven-mile territory. Males mark their territories by spraying urine and dropping feces in strategic locations. Tigers typically live solitary lives except for mating and periods of time when mothers are raising cubs.

Although tiger cubs are small and cute, in their first year alone they will grow to hundreds of pounds and have canine teeth and claws that are inches long. Tigers should never be declawed, as they use their claws for walking. Removing their large teeth would also prevent them from being able to effectively eat their food.

Many tigers are carefully and strategically trained to be around people and will go years without incident, but you cannot effectively predict the behavior of a tiger—they are still wild animals at heart. Famous trainers have been mauled and killed by their beloved tigers, even after working with them daily for years.

Many of the reported attacks from tigers in the United States have been severe attacks; non-lethal maulings happen less frequently. Approximately 260 exotic cat attacks that resulted in injuries were recorded as severe or fatal. Of all reported attacks from 16 non-domesticated feline species, spanning 1990 to 2014, roughly 50 percent of the attacks were from just one genus: tigers.

Statistics over the same time period show that most fatal attacks or injuries occurred at unaccredited facilities and private menageries. Attacks were also common at accredited institutions, coming from well-trained performing animals during a show or when taken for a walk in or near the public. Big cat safety issues in the United States have been sufficient to influence legislators around the country to create both state and federal laws banning the ownership of tigers.

Housing

Tigers need many acres of a highly secured landscape; they can and do jump, climb, and swim their way out of many enclosures constructed to be tiger-proof. Tigers have been known to escape from zoos and private properties and have killed people they come across. In the wild, they roam on several miles of land, so a large plot of fenced-in land with access to ponds or small lakes, trees, and shelters is what a captive tiger needs to be safe from the world—and to keep humans safe from them.

Even in a large enclosure, a tiger's owner must provide enrichment opportunities. Tigers need to use their predator brains to catch, play, jump, climb, and explore; a bored tiger will be an unhealthy tiger. Zoos often use large plastic balls that tigers will jump on in pools and offer hanging containers with food inside as well as large tree limb apparatus areas to climb in and on. Without complex enrichment regimes, tigers can and do get bored to the point of medical depression.

What Do Tigers Eat and Drink?

The amount of food needed for a tiger will vary with gender and age, but an adult tiger may consume up to 88 pounds of meat at one time—antelope, gazelle, water buffalo, deer, and fish comprise a tiger's diet. But, these opportunistic carnivores will eat just about any animal they can catch.

According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, their resident tigers eat mostly ground beef provided by keepers. These tigers' diet is supplemented with "enrichment items," such as knucklebones, cow femurs, and rabbit carcasses.

Common Health Problems

The Big Cat Rescue organization advises that in most areas it is difficult to find a veterinarian who is willing or even able to care for a tiger of any age. They further report that a full 98 percent of all wild big cat species die within two years of being taken into captivity. Tigers are vulnerable to many of the same life-threatening illnesses that affect house cats, such as feline distemper, rabies, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Therefore, captive tigers must be vaccinated against these diseases, just like domestic cats.

Exercise

Because tigers have evolved to inhabit and roam over large regions of land, they are an animal that needs a lot of exercise to stay healthy and happy. Tigers in small spaces will pace relentlessly to quell their instinctive urge to travel; they can suffer anxiety and depression as a result.

Grooming

Tigers groom themselves quite effectively with their rough tongues, much like house cats do. They also enjoy swimming, but it is more for cooling down than cleaning up.

Size Information

Body Weight: 200 to 575 pounds (male); 170 to 390 pounds (female)

Head and Body Length: 6 to 10 feet (male); 4 to 6 feet (female)

Tail Length: 3 to 4 feet (male); 2 to 3 feet (female)

Purchasing a Tiger

According to Big Cat Rescue, a tiger cub is at the top of the price range for exotic cats, at around $7,500. Big Cat Rescue also advises that owners should expect to spend up to $20,000 for a cage sufficient to house a full-grown tiger, let alone the cost of the wide landscape this large predator will require in order to thrive.

Domestic Cats Similar to the Tiger

If you're attracted to tigers but don't want to put yourself and those around you at risk of lethal accidents, you might consider other smaller cats that are more manageable. If you are looking for a unique feline pet, check out:

Otherwise, investigate other exotic animals that might make good pets.

FAQ
  • Where do tiger live in the wild?

    The few tigers that remain in the wild inhabit parts of India, Sumatra, and eastern Russia. They once ranged throughout Asia, Iran, Java, and Bali but are now extirpated from those areas.

  • What is the biggest tiger species?

    The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is the biggest cat of the species.

  • How many tigers are left in the wild?

    Fewer than 4,000 tigers exist in the wild worldwide.

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