Leopard vs. Puma All Differences Explained

leopard vs puma differences

Many people love the power and grace of large wild cats but can be confused by their similarities. The leopard and puma, while both big species of wild cats have several key differences. From where they live to their appearance and even their behavior, several distinctions can be drawn between these animals. 

9 Key Differences Between the Leopard and the Puma

1. The pattern of their fur. Adult leopards have spotted coats, while pumas start spotted but become a golden brown color as they mature.

2. Their ear shape. Leopards have more rounded ears, while most mountain lions have more tapered and pointed ears.

3. The shape of their body. Leopards are more often short and stocky, while pumas are taller and slimmer.

4. Their location. The leopard can be found most often on the continent of Africa, while the puma is native to North America.

5. Their prey. Leopards prefer to hunt antelopes and gazelles while pumas feast on deer.

6. Their sound. Leopards have a low, grunting call. Pumas, however, can produce a very high-pitched scream.

7. How they eat. Leopards will often drag their prey up a tree to eat it safely. Pumas, on the other hand, do not exhibit this behavior.

8. Their relationship with humans. Leopards are rarely seen and can be quite hard to spot. However, hikers frequently encounter pumas in the wilderness.

9. Their nicknames. While pumas and leopards can both be known as “panthers,” a puma can also be called a cougar or a mountain lion, depending on the region.


The easiest difference to spot between a leopard and a puma is that of their fur coats. Both pumas and leopards are born with spots and retain their spots while they are still cubs. However, as a puma grows older, it will lose its spots. At around six months of age, puma cubs will lose their camouflage pattern and learn to hunt. A puma’s adult coat can range from gray to golden brown and can even be reddish. Most often, a puma’s fur color will match that of its environment.

Leopards sport camouflage as well but keep their spots as they grow up. These spots, known as rosettes due to their shape, resemble roses in that they often have dark and broken outlines around a lighter brown patch of fur. Their spot patterns can even identify leopards. These are most distinctive on their cheeks. While leopards travel alone, their spot patterns can be very useful in telling individuals apart.

Their Ear Shapes are Different

While both leopards and pumas have rather rounded ears than domesticated cats, a puma’s ears taper to a point. Leopards have very rounded ears that may appear to sit lower on their head. It is believed that more rounded ears on animals can allow them to better filter out sound. It is easier for pointed ears to capture many different sounds. While a leopard has no natural enemies, pumas must often compete with other predators in their area, such as bears, wolves, and even other pumas.

They Have Different Body Types

Both pumas and leopards are very strong animals, but it is easy to tell them apart by their physique. Leopards appear shorter and heftier than pumas. While both are big solid cats that must take down large prey, the leopard can appear burly due to the large muscles in its neck. In addition to this, the leopard often hunts larger hooved prey than the puma, leading to bigger and stronger muscles in its head and jaw. These are used to assist the leopard in dragging its prey up into a tree, which the puma does not do. This gives the leopard’s head and faces a very thick appearance compared to the slimmer face of the puma.

They Live Oceans Apart

Pumas are native to the continent of North America. Their range includes the western United States and spans up into Canada. They often live in the more mountainous terrain of these locations, which gave them the nickname “mountain lion.” Leopards, however, are known to live in several regions of Africa. They can also be found in Central Asia, as well as parts of China and India. Leopards outside of Africa are extremely rare, however. Many populations are in danger of disappearing due to habitat loss as a result of deforestation. Pumas do not yet face the same level of risk as to the leopard.

What’s For Dinner?

As they live in different habitats, pumas and leopards have relatively different diets. The leopard’s typical meal includes antelopes, impalas, and gazelles. However, leopards are opportunistic hunters and will rarely pass up a chance to eat. Small animals such as rodents, birds, lizards, and fish can prey on the leopard. This big cat will even go after the cubs of other wild cat species, porcupines, and insects. Pumas prefer to hunt deer but will also go after larger animals such as elk or moose. They have also been known to target domesticated livestock such as sheep or cattle.

They Sound Different

The leopard and puma each have a long-distance call, and can growl, snarl, and hiss. There is, however, a noticeable difference in their long-distance calls. The leopard is a true big cat and produces a call that is lower in pitch. It sounds much like a grunt and can be compared to the sounds an African lion can make. The puma, on the other hand, is known for its eerie scream. This scream is very high-pitched and is said to sound much like a woman screaming. The female puma uses this scream while searching for a mate.

They Have Contrasting Table Manners

After they have made a kill, a leopard and puma display opposing behaviors, a leopard uses its strong and stocky body to drag its prey up into a tree, where it can eat in peace. This is more often observed when there are other predators or scavengers around. While a leopard has no natural predators, it often has to compete with other animals that steal its meal. A puma does things differently. It will often simply settle down and begin eating on the ground. The only exception to this comes when a puma’s prey requires some preparation. A puma, for instance, will often pluck a bird of its feathers before eating it.

Their Relationship With Humans Varies

Leopards are known for being very hard to spot in the wild. They can maneuver among humans and through settlements without being noticed, and even wildlife experts that search for them can have difficulties. Attacks by the leopard and puma are both uncommon and vary according to location and time. However, attacks by leopards on humans often occur at night, and many encounters with pumas happen during the day. This is often because a lone hiker is passing through puma territory. As mentioned above, human activity has also threatened leopard populations more than those of the puma.

Humans Have Given Them Different Nicknames

Both leopards and pumas can be known as “panthers,” but in addition to this nickname, the puma is known by several other names throughout different regions. A puma can be a mountain lion, a cougar, a catamount, a mountain screamer, and even a “ghost cat.” Of course, many people use the word “panther” to describe a large, black wild cat. This panther is the melanistic version of a leopard or jaguar. This unusual coloring is caused by an increase in an animal’s dark pigments and is referred to as melanism. Many are familiar with a similar condition, albinism, whose lack of pigments produces white fur, scales, or plumage. While many leopards are documented to have melanism and are known as “black panthers,” no melanistic puma sighting has ever been confirmed.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do leopards and pumas live together?

Answer: No, they live on different continents. The puma is native to North America, while most leopard populations can be found in Africa.

Question: Does a hybrid of a leopard and puma exist?

Answer: Yes. This animal is a Pumapard and can be produced from the mating between a male leopard and female puma and a male puma and female leopard.

Question: Are leopards and pumas both big cats?

Answer: No. A puma is more closely related to smaller wild cat species, while a leopard is considered a true big cat.

Question: Are leopards and pumas both panthers?

Answer: Yes. “Panther” is a nickname given to pumas, while “black panther” refers to a leopard or jaguar with an increase in dark pigments. This gives their fur its dark coloration.

Question: Do leopards and pumas get along?

Answer: While these animals do not live together naturally and would likely compete in the wild, hybrids of these big cats have been produced in captivity.

Question: Do leopards and pumas make good pets?

Answer: No. These are wild animals that have not been domesticated, like cats and dogs. They can be dangerous to humans and need a lot of space and care that would be difficult to provide.

Question: Leopard populations are often considered endangered. Are pumas at risk as well?

Answer: No. While puma populations are in decline, they are not considered endangered and are noted as one species with the “Least Concern” regarding endangered animals.

Question: Can leopards or pumas harm or kill a human?

Answer: Yes, although attacks on humans are uncommon. These are strong cats that can inflict severe injuries. This most often occurs when a leopard or puma becomes sick or injured and cannot go after its typical prey.

Question: Do pumas or leopards live alongside humans?

Answer: As the human activity progresses, cities and towns often expand into and overlap with the territories of both pumas and leopards. Despite this, most pumas and leopards will do their best to avoid humans.