Mountain Lion vs Cheetah: Which Big Cat Wins in a Fight?

Written by Eliana Riley
Published: May 7, 2023
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Cheetahs and mountain lions are two big cats known for their incredible hunting skills. While the cheetah is native to Africa and parts of the Middle East, the mountain lion resides in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that the two would ever meet and engage in a fight. On the off chance they did, though, one of these predators maintains some incredible advantages over the other. Find out whether a cheetah or a mountain lion would win in a fight and discover characteristics of these predators that make them unique.

Background on Mountain Lions

Mountain lions go by several common names, including pumas, cougars, and panthers. Mountain lions have a brown or tan coloration. However, some mountain lions have gray, reddish brown, or even black fur. Although, black mountain lions are a rare encounter. Many mountain lions have color patterns on their faces, and their tails usually have a black tip at the end.

The species ranges from 3.25 to 5.25 feet in length, excluding their tail, which may measure up to 33.5 inches. The mountain lion has a similar stature and size to that of the jaguar. Jaguars and mountain lions are the only big cats native to the Western Hemisphere. One interesting fact about the mountain lion is that it can be found almost anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from southern Argentina up to southeastern Alaska. The mountain lion’s wide range makes it have the largest distribution of any mammal in this hemisphere.

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The habitat of the mountain lion is diverse, as these cats can adapt to a variety of climates. Some habitats where mountain lions reside include swamps, forests, desert scrub, and more. However, mountain lions do not prefer to live in regions with little vegetation or shade. Thus, the species is not found in flatlands or plains.

In addition, there are approximately six subspecies of mountain lions throughout the Western Hemisphere. Mountain lions that reside close to the Equator record smaller sizes than mountain lions in the north or south. North American mountain lion males typically weigh around 136 pounds. However, some may weigh up to 220 pounds, and females average a weight of 93 pounds.

Mountain lion on a rock
Mountain lions are stealthy creatures that stalk their prey.

©Holly Kuchera/

Dangers of Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are extremely dangerous predators with acute hunting skills. They can kill animals and humans, even if their prey is much larger than themselves. Mountain lions are stealthy creatures, allowing them to sneak up on prey undetected. By the time a prey recognizes that a mountain lion is near, it is already too late for them. The mountain lion’s ability to sneak up on prey is one of its most dangerous and most important characteristics.

In addition, mountain lions record high speeds, as they can attack at up to 50 miles per hour. They also camouflage well into their surroundings, allowing them to conceal themselves prior to an attack. The bite force of a mountain lion measures over 400 PSI, and its teeth are around two inches long. They also have extremely sharp and powerful claws that record a length of 2.5 inches.

When a mountain lion finds prey, it will stalk it carefully. Mountain lions might conceal themselves in nearby vegetation or camouflage into their surroundings. Mountain lions are quiet in their pursuit of prey, making them practically invisible. When a mountain lion attacks, it will pounce on its prey by wrapping its forelegs around it. This action forces the prey to the ground, immobilizing it.

Mountain lions can reach 50 mph in short bursts.
Mountain lions can reach 50 mph in short bursts.


Background on Cheetahs

Cheetahs are beautiful big cats native to the continent of Africa. The coloration of cheetahs is typically a light yellow featuring a white belly and black spots across their entire body. Like the mountain lion, cheetahs have a facial color pattern characterized by black lines that start at their eyes and reach down to their mouths.

Cheetahs record lengths around four feet, but their tails may add an extra two or three feet in length. Thus, cheetahs are approximately the same size as mountain lions. Unlike the mountain lion, though, cheetahs are largely reserved to the continent of Africa. This species’ distribution ranges from southwestern Africa up to Iran.

The habitat of cheetahs includes grasslands and open flatlands. In some cases, though, cheetahs can be encountered in areas with increased vegetation or rocky terrain. Cheetahs typically travel in small groups, including either a mother and her cubs or a group of male cheetahs, who are often siblings.

The weight of a cheetah ranges from 75 to 119 pounds, making it slightly lighter than the mountain lion. In addition, females are usually smaller than their male counterparts. Male and female cheetahs are unlikely to travel together or meet outside of mating. Females typically give birth to between two and eight young. Unfortunately, many cheetah cubs are in danger of being killed by predators. Mortality for cubs can measure up to 90% in some areas.

Female cheetah and her four tiny cubs sitting on a large termite mound with a smooth background with copy space in Serengeti Tanzania
Cheetahs may travel in groups, including a mother and her cubs.

©Stu Porter/

Dangers of Cheetahs

Like the mountain lion, cheetahs also stalk their prey before attacking. The species will stalk as close as they can to their prey before beginning to chase them. Cheetahs are extremely fast and able to sprint up to 71 miles per hour. When the cheetah catches up to their prey, it will trip them and strangle the prey.

Then, the cheetah will begin to eat their prey quickly, as other predators begin to flock toward the cheetah and its prey. These predators typically chase the cheetah away from its prey. However, the cheetah will not return to finish eating. Cheetahs only eat fresh meat. Thus, if a cheetah is unable to chase and kill prey due to disease or injury, it will starve.

In addition, cheetahs have a similar bite force to that of mountain lions, ranging between 400 and 500 PSI. However, cheetahs have shorter teeth that measure around one inch. Cheetah claws are semi-retractable. Their claws are much like cleats used in a variety of sports, allowing them traction when running at high speeds. Cheetah claws are not especially long, and they are not extremely sharp. However, cheetah teeth are sharp, like those of many big cat species.

Unlike mountain lions, cheetahs are non-threatening to humans or other predators. In fact, cheetahs are tranquil animals and will not begin conflicts with other predators. The species is more likely to flee than to engage in a fight. While cheetahs are not dangerous to humans, it does not mean that people should approach them. Cheetahs should be left alone for their safety and for the safety of humans.

Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Adult Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatas) begins running while chasing down Wildebeest calf on Ndutu Plains
Cheetahs can sprint up to 71 mph.

©Danita Delimont/

Which Big Cat Would Win in a Fight?

In a fight between a cheetah and a mountain lion, the mountain lion would come out victorious. Cheetahs are extremely fast creatures, so a cheetah could easily sprint away from a fight. If a cheetah could not escape, though, the mountain lion would easily win. Cheetahs are not aggressive creatures, and they tend to shy away from conflict. On the other hand, mountain lions are aggressive and able to take down animals and humans bigger than themselves.

In addition, mountain lions have longer teeth and longer claws than those of cheetahs, allowing them an advantage. Mountain lions are also incredible hunters, undetectable when stalking their prey. If a mountain lion were to stalk a cheetah, the cheetah would be unlikely to notice the mountain lion until it was too late. If a cheetah were to stalk a mountain lion and chase it, the mountain lion would overpower the cheetah with its strength.

Finally, the image of a cheetah stalking a mountain lion is relatively impossible. Cheetahs do not start conflict with nor hunt for other predators. However, mountain lions may hunt after other predators in the wild. Thus, the mountain lion’s advantages outnumber those of the cheetah significantly. In this big cat battle, the mountain lion would surely triumph over the cheetah.

Deadliest Animals in America
Mountain lions can easily attack and kill animals larger than themselves.


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About the Author

I'm Ellie, and I am a full-time college student at Miami University. I enjoy writing, copy editing, and being involved in journalism. I write for The Miami Student newspaper as an opinion columnist. My favorite animals are fish, rabbits, and cats.

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