Pet Ocelot Care, Traits and Legality

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pet ocelot

A pet ocelot is quite an uncommon sight. But, interest in this wild cat as a domestic pet is growing. Ocelots are not legal as pets in some parts of the world. So, it’s important to research local legislation before searching for a kitten. Ocelots also have very different care needs to domestic cat breeds. They won’t suit a lot of homes, given their high prey drives, nocturnal activity patterns, and potential for destructive and unwanted behaviors. Today we’ll share what sort of pet an ocelot makes, and help you decide whether you’re up to the challenge.

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Can You Have a Pet Ocelot?

An ocelot is a small wild cat. They are naturally found across central and South America, in a variety of different habitat types. Though these wild cats are listed as ‘least concern’, their numbers are declining. Many ocelots have been victims of illegal trade and hunting, particularly for their fur. And, given their small size, interest in ocelots as pets is growing.

The legality of a pet ocelot will vary depending on where you live in the world. In some parts of the world, ocelots are banned as pets altogether. Other parts may allow ocelots, as long as the owner has the correct licences, ability to care for the animal, and so on.

In some places, it’s completely legal to own an ocelot. But, given the complex care needs ocelots have, they are not considered a suitable pet for the majority of people. It’s more common to see ocelots kept in captivity by professional care organisations.

Since it depends so much on where you live in the world, it’s important to research local legislation thoroughly before trying to bring home and care for an ocelot. If it is legal where you live, make sure you complete all the necessary paperwork and that you become very familiar with the ocelot’s care needs and behaviors before committing. This is not a pet that will be easy to rehome if things start to become too much work.

What Do Ocelots Look Like?

The ocelot’s appearance is one of the main reasons why so many people are eager to obtain one as a pet. And, why this wild cat is so prone to being hunted.

Ocelots are small wild cats that grow to between 16 and 20 inches tall. As adults, they tend to weigh between 17 and 35 lbs. They have a large head, with big eyes, rounded ears, and a large pink nose. They have a long, slender tail, and quite short legs with large paws. But, their most popular feature is their soft fur coat. Ocelots have unique patterning. The majority of their body is covered with spotted/blotchy markings. Though, in some places, these markings can be more streaky.

On their stomach, underneath these markings, the fur is white, but it can vary from a light yellow to a reddish brown elsewhere on the body. Ocelots also have a black stripe down each cheek and a white spot on the back of each ear.

pet ocelto

Typical Ocelot Temperament

An ocelot’s temperament won’t suit most family home environments. These are wild cats, so they will be independent and territorial. They won’t be as cuddly and affectionate as a domestic can breed might be. Though, when raised from infancy, it’s possible to acclimatise an ocelot to affection. Any petting will need to be on their terms. Ocelots don’t suit homes with small children who aren’t able to read their body language and signals.

Ocelots have strong hunting instincts, so they also tend not to suit homes with other small pets. They’ll need a lot of mental stimulation, which is going to be harder in a traditional home setting. They do best when they have time outdoors every day. Without enough exercise and mental stimulation each day, they can display a higher amount of unwanted behaviors in an attempt to alleviate some of their stress and boredom.

Pet ocelots will show some traditional cat-like behaviors. But, on the most part, they are still more ‘wild’.

Pet Ocelot Care

Temperament is one area that ocelots differ from domestic cat breeds, but their care needs also differ. In the wild, ocelots have very large home ranges. So, they’ll need a lot of space in captivity. And, most homes won’t be able to provide as much space as an ocelot really needs. So, you’ll need to take them out every day, too. But, this will need to be in a safely enclosed area, or with your ocelot on a leash to avoid losing them.

Ocelots are capable of climbing and digging under fences. So, they’ll easily be able to escape from a typical yard. Ideally, they need a large enclosure with plenty of room to undertake natural activities like running, jumping, climbing, and pacing. An unenclosed ocelot won’t hesitate to take off if their chase instincts kick in.

When they’re younger, a pet ocelot will likely follow you around a lot. And, ocelots can be quite vocal cats. Like other wild cats, they thrive on a carnivorous diet. In the wild, ocelot diets vary depending on their location. But, many ocelots will feed on small mammals and other animals, even lizards and reptiles. Their active hours tend to vary depending on the active hours of their prey, but many studies observe nocturnal and crepuscular activity peaks.

Does an Ocelot Make a Good Pet?

Most standard homes will not be able to provide the space and enrichment that an ocelot needs to stay healthy and happy. This is not a pet for a novice owner. Without the right care, an ocelot can become overweight or sick. And, as a wild cat, some veterinarians might not have the expertise to deal with problems that arise.

Ocelots have strong jaws and can be quite ‘mouthy’ cats. Not only does this mean there is a higher risk of serious injury if an ocelot becomes aggressive, but it also puts the cat at higher risk of swallowing something they shouldn’t. This includes whole items (which can be a choking hazard), or pieces of toys that they chew off. In extreme cases, this can lead to internal blockages that require surgery to remove.

Ocelots are also generally more smelly than a domestic cat. Some people have success litter training an ocelot, but this can take a lot of work. Ocelots will mark their territory with spraying. So, this pet will spray furniture and walls around your home if kept indoors. This can lead to staining and strong smells that are tough to eliminate.

Many people see the cute appearance of an ocelot and desire this wild cat as a pet without considering its complex care needs. But, this cat won’t suit most homes, even in places where it is legal to keep one as a pet.

Where Can I Find a Pet Ocelot Kitten?

Pet ocelots are not at all common, so it could take a long time to find a breeder or someone selling kittens. Before starting your search, you must research the legality of ocelots as pets in your area. You may need to fill out paperwork and apply for various licences before getting this pet. But, in some areas, a pet ocelot is not legal at all.

It’s also worth noting the problems in the exotic pet trade. Demand for exotic pets is enormous, but trade in these animals has been shown to threaten species diversity and welfare. So, do plenty or research into your sources before purchasing an ocelot.

Ocelots are not cheap pets, either. The upfront cost of a kitten is likely to be tens of thousands of dollars. But, you must also consider the ongoing costs of keeping an ocelot. Their veterinary bills are likely to be much higher than those of a domestic cat, since they may require specialist care. They’ll need a nutritious, meat-based diet, and setting up and maintaining their enclosure can cost a lot more than you’d expect.

Since ocelots can be so hard to rehome, it’s important to make sure you’re able to commit to one financially before getting a pet ocelot.

Other Cat Breeds to Consider

A wild cat like the ocelot is not well-suited for most homes. But, there are plenty of domestic cats with a wild or exotic appearance that are better suited to modern homes. Here are some other cat breeds to consider:

  • Bengal
  • Savannah Cat
  • Abyssinian
  • Bombay
  • Egyptian Mau
  • Maine Coon

Do You Have a Pet Ocelot?

The pet ocelot won’t suit most homes, but that doesn’t mean that another wild-looking cat won’t be right for you! Ocelots are popular, beautiful, and charismatic cats. And, even if you aren’t able to keep one as a pet, there are plenty of reputable places where ocelots are cared for and bred in captivity, for you to go and see these wild cats in person.

If you already own this wild cat, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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