Difference Between Cheetah and Leopard

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The main difference between cheetah and leopard is the print on their coats. Cheetahs have round or oval spots and leopards have rosettes or rose-like spots. 

Cheetahs and leopards look so similar that people often confuse the two. Have you ever seen a photo of a cheetah or a leopard and wondered which one is which? 

Let’s explore the differences between these two different species. 

Difference Between Cheetah and Leopard

Cheetahs and leopards are primarily found in Southern Africa and belong to the Felidae family. Despite various similarities, some characteristics and behavioral differences set the two apart. 

Cheetah vs Leopard

Cheetah vs Leopard
Acinonyx Jubatus  Binomial or Scientific name  Panthera Pardus 
Animalia Kingdom  Animalia
Chordata Phylum  Chordata
Mammalia  Class Mammalia 
Carnivora Order Carnivora
Felidae  Family Felidae 
Acinonyx Genus Panthera 
A Jubatus Species P Pardus 
Long body shape with a thin stomach, long legs, and high chest  Body shape Muscular, solid bulkier body shape 
Tan and black round spots  Coat Print and Color  Yellow and black rosette 
Cheetah’s tail is flatter  Tail Shape  Leopard’s tail is round or tubular 
3 to 5 Litter Size 2 to 4
Up to 75 mph Running Speed 36 mph
Diurnal Hunting Behavior Nocturnal
Carnivore Diet Carnivore
Vulnerable Conservation Status Near-threatened

Different Genus

Cheetahs are part of the Acinonyx genus. They also belong to the subspecies Felidae, which includes cats like cougars, ocelots, etc.

Leopards, on the other hand, belong to the Panthera genus. They are counted among the big cats like- jaguars, lions, tigers, and snow leopards.

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Cheetahs have small, round, black spots. They use their speed to capture their prey.


Leopards are smaller in size than cheetahs. Leopards are, in fact, the smallest member of these big cats. Still, they have muscular, solid, and bulkier bodies and are stronger. Their body structure has a lot to do with their hunting technique. Leopards are ambush predators. They don’t chase their prey.

Leopards are also expert tree climbers. Their muscular and short legs help them climb trees faster. The bigger muscles around their shoulders help them drag their prey up the trees.

Cheetahs have long bodies, high chests, thin stomachs, and long legs compared to the bulkier bodies of leopards. Cheetahs are the fastest land mammal, and their sleek body structure helps them cover more distance in less time. Cheetahs hunt by chasing their prey, and their lean bodies help them reach the top speed.


A male cheetah weighs about 54 kg, and a female cheetah weighs around 43 kg. But a male leopard weighs approximately 60 to 70 kg, and a female leopard weighs about 30 to 40 kg.

Facial Features

We can distinguish between a cheetah and a leopard by looking at their facial features. Cheetahs have black straight tear marks that start from the corner of their eyes to the sides of their mouth. But leopards don’t have such tear lines.

Cheetahs and leopards have different head shapes. Cheetahs have round and small heads, whereas leopards have a more elongated head shape with blackish spots on the muzzle. Cheetahs also have smaller teeth, but leopards have stronger jaws that help them maintain a firmer grip on their prey and drag them.

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The eye color of these two animals also varies from each other. Leopard’s eyes are green-blue, but cheetahs have more amber-colored eyes.

Coat Color/ Print

Coat color or print is one of the key differences between these animals. Cheetahs have solid round or oval black spots all over their bodies. Leopards have rose-like prints or rosettes, which don’t have a fixed pattern.

The coat colors of these two animals are also different. Cheetah has a tan-colored coat, while leopards have a more yellowish coat.


Although not a significant difference, tail shape and length are other differentiating factors. Leopards have round or tubular-shaped tails, which help maintain balance while climbing and getting down from trees. They also have long tails, up to 40 inches, which are longer than their bodies.

Cheetahs have flatter tails that act as a rudder. These round tails help them steer and maintain balance while running at high speed. Cheetahs comparatively have shorter tails, up to 31 inches long.


Cheetahs have giant feet that help them run at higher speeds. They also have non-retractable claws, again helping with acceleration and speed. Leopards have bigger front feet and retractable claws, helping them climb trees.

Behavior/ Habitat

Cheetahs and leopards have distinct behaviors related to their habitats. Leopards are nocturnal animals, so they hunt or move during the night. Cheetahs, on the other hand, are diurnal animals, meaning they move or hunt mainly during the day.

Cheetahs prefer savannas, open grassland, and dense vegetation for hunting. But both these big cats prefer a solitary life, but male cheetahs are sometimes seen to be forming groups of two or three.

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Plus, both female cheetahs and female leopards prefer to live alone but except while raising the cubs.

Leopards have rosette-shaped spots. They use camouflage for hunting their prey.


Cheetahs are the fastest land animal, making them cursory hunters. Cheetahs can run up to 75 mph (120km/ hour). When they see their prey within striking distance, they strike it with their front paw and bite at the throat to kill the prey.

But, leopards are ambush hunters. They don’t chase their prey. Instead, they use the camouflage technique to get closer to the prey, and when they reach the striking distance, they pounce on it. If they can’t catch it within a few tries, they give up and will look somewhere else.

At first glance, leopards and cheetahs look the same. Still, as you can see from the above points, these cats have very distinct physical and behavioral characteristics. Hopefully, now you’ll be able to distinguish between the two if you spot them.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our post contrasting lynx and bobcats.


Vanessa is passionate about written communication, especially after beginning her career as a middle school English teacher. She’s an experienced content marketer as well. Vanessa loves to analyze, compare, and contrast, which is why she writes for ContrastHub. Besides writing, Vanessa is a wife, mom, entrepreneur, spicy food enthusiast, comedy nerd and lifelong learner.

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