Top 10 Major Differences Between Cheetahs & Leopards

Author: Michael Theys

October 14, 2010

Author Has 207 Post(s)



– Leopards have rosette-shaped spots. Cheetahs have solid round, or oval, spots.

– Leopards have no “tear” line. Cheetahs have a black “tear” line running from the inside of the eye to the mouth.

– Leopards are bulkier and stronger. Cheetahs are lighter, but taller, than leopards.

– Leopards have a familiar “cat” shape. Cheetahs are lankier than the “cat” shape.

– Leopards hunt at night. Cheetahs hunt during the day.

– Leopards like to drag prey up trees. Cheetahs prefer grassy plains.

– Leopards rely on stealth. Cheetahs rely on speed (up to 113 km/hr) over short distances. They are the world’s fastest animal.

– Leopards have strong teeth and jaws and can crunch through thick bones.

– Cheetahs have smaller teeth and jaws, leaving a larger nasal cavity for rapid breathing. They cannot crunch large bones.

– Leopards live a solitary life while cheetahs are more social (mother and cubs; males sometimes form coalitions, yet they never mix with females; except during reproduction).

– Leopards climb trees for they have retractile claws while cheetahs don’t.

– The cheetah can run at a speed of 113 km/hr while leopards do 60 km/hr.

– The two black lines below the cheetah’s eyes are known as tear marks, and act as reflection absorbers while they are hunting during sunny days.

Cheetah vs Leopard: Top 10 Major Differences

1. Behavior

Cheetah: Females are solitary (except when raising cubs). Males sometimes form coalitions of 2-3 individuals. The species is generally not dangerous to man; flees when encountered on foot.

May be aggressive when raised under captive conditions. Should always be handled with care!

Leopard: Both sexes are shy and isolated creatures. Relatively aggressive, especially when cornered or disturbed.

2. Body

Tall and slender for the cheetah, more compact and muscular for the leopard. The cheetah is built for speed whereas the leopard needs more muscle power to drag its prey up into trees.

3. Claws

Cheetah: Semiretractable, which enables them to get a firmer grip on the ground (for speed).

Leopard: Retractable, like most cats. Ideal when climbing trees or catching prey.

4. Habitat

Cheetah: Mainly savannah grasslands and plains. Often sit on termite mounds or small hills from which they scan the horizon for potential prey.

Good places to see them include Serengeti NP, Etosha or the Masai Mara Reserve, where animal stock is abundant.

Leopard: The most widespread wild feline. It can be found in most habitats, from dense woodlands to savannahs, mountains and desert regions.

5. Head

Cheetah: Small and well-rounded, with distinctive “tear-stains” that run from the inner corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth.

Leopard: More elongated with dark spots on the muzzle.

6. Hunting Technique

The cheetah runs after its prey, tackles it from behind to knock it off balance, and goes for the throat.

Leopards prefer to ambush their prey from a shorter distance (5-20 yards). They pounce on their victim, taking it completely by surprise.

7. Legs

Cheetah: Long for effective acceleration.

Leopard: Short and muscular for agility and tree-climbing.

8. Speed

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 113 kph (70 mph). It uses its long tail as a rudder and for proper balance.

Leopards are not necessarily known for their speed, although they can accelerate to 37 mph (60 km/h) over short distances.

9. Spots

Cheetah: Small, solid black spots.

Leopard: Spots grouped in small rings (rosettes) on torso and upper limbs.

10. Voice

Cheetah: Chirps and yelps.

Leopard: Roars and growls.


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  • rich

    nice article Michael, very informative and I am sure helpful to a lot of people who want to understand the differences. Thank You.

  • yeow

    good for more imformation

  • Sadie

    I did my nails today. Thought it was cheetah print. Showed my cousin. She made me read this. Now she can’t correct me anymore. Thanks!! Haha it was leopard print!

  • Dolvin Paul

    I know only one difference , now i know nine other.
    thanks to Michael.

    • Africafreak

      Glad you enjoyed it Paul! ;)


    It was so good and I brought it for my teacher. thanks for your good article . My name is Fatemeh Kababi from Islamic Republic of Iran. THANKS

    • Africafreak

      Glad you enjoyed it Fatemeh! ;)

  • sujith

    Very informative. Thanks!

  • Surojit Bhattacharjee

    Now my confusion is cleared !! Informative article…Thanks!!

  • Aiden Cherniske

    Good comparisons

  • rico

    nice article man ;)

  • tobbie shuuya

    thanks for your good article,now my confusion is cleared,very informative,thanks