Tigers are the largest big cats in the world. Cougars are the second-largest big cats in the Americas.
These two species typically live in different geographic ranges and have little chance of coming across one another in the wild. Should they meet, though, who would win a fight?
Tigers are larger and stronger physically than cougars. Cougars are three times lighter than tigers and have a weaker bite force – 890 PSI compared to 1,050 PSI for the tiger. Both cats can reach similar speeds and jump up to similar heights. Cougars have no real advantage and would stand no chance in a fight against a tiger.
The table below shows a quick comparison between cougars and tigers*:
|Classification||Panthera tigris||Puma concolor|
|Body size||8.5 to 10 feet||3.25 to 5.25 feet|
|Paw size||6.8 inches across||4.25 inches across|
|Weight||200 to 660 pounds||90 to 175 pounds|
|Speed||50 mph||50 mph|
|Jumping abilities (vertically)||20 feet||18 feet|
|Teeth length||3.6 inches||1.2 to 2 inches|
|Bite force||1,050 PSI||890 PSI|
|Strike force||33,500 lb.-ft./s||Up to 8,750 lb.-ft./s|
|Diet||Strict carnivore||Strict carnivore|
|Geographic range||Asia||North, Central, & South America|
|Habitat||Grasslands, swamps, rainforests, taiga||Montane forests, grasslands, lowlands, dense underbrush, swamps, tropical forests|
|Conservation status||Endangered||Least concern|
*Tiger data in the table includes averages and facts for all tiger species. Actual facts may vary from one subspecies to another. Data for both compared mammals was gathered from research papers, scientific journals, wildlife magazines, and other official sources cited throughout the article.
Due to a lack of scientific data regarding the actual strike forces of tigers and mountain lions, we calculated the impact force based on the top speed, multiplying it by the heaviest weight for each species.
Table of Contents
Tiger Vs. Cougar: 14 Key Differences And Comparison
Tigers and cougars are two big cat species in the Felidae family, but they are distant cousins in the same way tigers are distant relatives of house cats.
Tigers belong to the Pantherinae subfamily and the genus Panthera. The scientific name of the species is Panthera tigris.
Cougars belong to the Felinae subfamily and are more closely related to domestic cats than tigers. Their genus is Puma, and their scientific name is Puma concolor.
Both tigers and pumas are further divided into different subspecies.
Tiger subspecies present more morphological differences between them compared to pumas.
All pumas are similar in size and morphology, and terms like puma, mountain lion, cougar, catamount, and even panther are used interchangeably to describe individuals of all subspecies in North, Central, and South America.
2. Body Size
The most striking difference between tigers and cougars is their size.
Cougars generally measure between 3.25 and 5.5 feet in length. Some males can be larger and grow up to eight feet long, but this is rare.
Tigers are about two times larger, typically measuring between 8.5 and 10 feet in length.
Even Malayan tigers, which are the smallest extant species, are visibly larger than cougars, measuring between 7.5 and 8.6 feet in length on average. Larger males typically measure around 9.5 feet.
Size gives tigers an important advantage in a fight, increasing their strength and helping them take down the opponent.
3. Paw Size
Considering the difference in size, it doesn’t come as a surprise that tigers have larger paws than cougars.
Both cat species leave rounder rather than oval tracks with no visible claw marks – as all cats, tigers, and cougars have retractable claws.
Tiger tracks measure around 6.8 inches across. Cougar tracks are smaller, only measuring around 4.25 inches across.
To put things into perspective, tiger paws are about the same length as the average female hand – but they are a lot wider.
Puma tracks are about the same length as the hand of a 6-year-old child, but they are twice as wide.
Bigger size typically means higher body mass, and things are no different with tigers and cougars.
Tigers are not only larger; they are also heavier. The actual weight difference varies, though, depending on the species of the tiger the cougar is compared with.
Amur tigers, for instance, weigh about 660 pounds on average. Malayan tigers weigh between 220 and 300 pounds. They are noticeably lighter than Amur tigers but heavier than cougars.
In fact, cougars typically weigh between 90 and 175 pounds. Some large males can be heavier, but the largest male ever reported only weighed 197 pounds. That’s still lighter – and weaker – than the smallest tigers.
Something tigers and cougars have in common is speed – both species can sprint at top speeds up to 50 miles per hour. However, they can only sustain this performance for short distances.
On longer tracks, cougars run at about 43.5 miles per hour. Tigers are a bit slower, only being able to maintain speeds between 35 and 40 miles per hour for long distances.
While tigers and pumas are unlikely to meet in the wild, the latter could outrun the bigger predator if necessary.
6. Jumping Abilities
Big cats – and most felines, really – don’t rely on speed alone to catch prey or fight off intruders. They can also jump and leap.
Similar to their speed, a tiger’s and a cougar’s jumping abilities are similar.
Cougars can usually jump up to 18 feet in the air. Tigers have similar performances, even if some of the largest males could jump up to 20 feet high.
Interestingly, though, tigers can only leap about 33 feet forward in one jump. A cougar can cover about 40 feet in one leap – another thing that can help cougars run for their lives should it come to a fight.
Another advantage that cougars have is their ability to climb trees effortlessly. Meanwhile, tigers are mostly terrestrial and struggle to climb trees – even though they can – due to their size and weight.
7. Teeth Length
Cougars may be more agile athletes than tigers, but tigers win in everything size and force related, including the size of their fangs.
Both tigers and cougars have a similar skull and jaw morphology. They have sharp canines that serve as weapons in fights (severing arteries or crushing the prey’s windpipe), but also to tear the flesh off bones.
However, due to their larger size, tigers have longer canines – about 3.6 inches in length.
Cougar canine teeth are about two inches long, and that extra length of tigers can make the difference when two apex predators fight.
8. Bite Force
Tigers not only have longer teeth than cougars; they also have stronger jaws that can bite with a force of up to 1,050 PSI.
Cougars also have a strong bite compared to other apex predators – including lions. However, their bite force of around 890 PSI is weaker than that of tigers.
Interestingly, though, cougars have a stronger bite than tigers when compared pound-per-pound.
In a study comparing the bite forces of various felid species, scientists concluded that cougars have a bite force quotient (BFQ) of 110. Tigers have a BFQ of 101, whereas lions have an even weaker bite pound-per-pound of only 91.
The BFQ represents the jaw force of an animal based on factors like size and weight.
9. Strike Force
While specific measurements of bite forces in various felid species exist, researchers haven’t yet measured the actual strike forces of carnivores, tigers and cougars included.
However, the force of impact can be calculated by multiplying the weight by speed.
For comparison purposes, we considered the top speed of 50 miles per hour for each species and the heaviest weight for cougars and Siberian (Amur) tigers.
According to these parameters, tigers are almost four times stronger than cougars. The smallest tigers are still two times stronger (15,000 lb.-ft./s of power for Malayan tigers vs. 8,750 lb.-ft./s for the largest cougars).
Cougars and tigers have similar behaviors, both species being solitary and aggressive if threatened or when hunting.
Both cougars and tigers establish themselves in independent home ranges. Adults only associate with one another for short periods during mating. The only groups are formed by females and their dependent cubs.
Tigers and cougars are polygamous species, and males are not involved in raising the young.
Home ranges vary in size from species to species. Cougar home ranges are typically 10 to 293 square miles wide.
Females have smaller territories that can overlap extensively. Males have larger home ranges that overlap with the territories of several females. However, male territories don’t overlap with one another.
Female tiger home ranges vary in size between 200 and 386 square miles. Male tiger home ranges are up to 15 times larger.
While tigers typically establish exclusive home ranges, they are known for peacefully sharing overlapping territories regardless of their gender.
Some tigers may even choose to wander without establishing a permanent home range.
As cats, tigers and cougars are strict carnivores. They prefer hunting and eating fresh prey, but both species can become scavengers in periods of scarce
Depending on species and prey availability, tigers can eat anything from insects to elephants. Typically, they prefer large-bodied prey.
Cougars also prefer larger ungulates, such as deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. However, they also hunt smaller prey.
12. Geographic Range
Tigers and cougars don’t – or, at least, shouldn’t – live in the same geographic ranges.
Cougars are native to the Americas. Their geographic range stretches from Canada to South America, even though they mostly inhabit the eastern side of the United States rather than the west.
Tigers live in Asia, their geographic range covering India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, as well as parts of Russia – more precisely, the Siberia region.
While their geographic ranges don’t intersect, both cougars and tigers can live in a variety of habitats, depending on the territory.
Both cat species can live in rainforests, forests, deserts, grasslands, and mountains.
However, tigers can also live in very cold areas, such as the taiga. Cougars don’t typically live in such cold climates.
14. Conservation Status
Cougars are one of the most common species of wild cats in North and South America. The conservation status is marked as least concerned by IUCN; however, the population number is declining.
Tigers have various conservation statuses, ranging from endangered to critically endangered, based on species.
The table below shows the conservation status and estimated population of all extant tiger species*:
|Species||Conservation status||Adults left in the wild|
|Siberian tiger||Endangered||Approx. 500|
|Bengal tiger||Endangered||Approx. 5,500|
|Indochinese tiger||Endangered||Approx. 250|
|South China tiger||Critically endangered||Approx. 30|
|Sumatran tiger||Critically endangered||Approx. 400|
|Malayan tiger||Critically endangered||Approx. 150|
*Data in the table was sourced from IUCN, WWF, National Geographic, and other official sources and is correct as of August 2022.
Who Would Win A Fight?
Based on their historic geographic ranges, tigers and cougars should never meet in the wild.
Yet, sightings of both tigers and mountain lions have been reported in Alaska.
Apparently, a Siberian tiger was caught on a game camera feeding on a carcass. Even though Siberian tigers shouldn’t live in Alaska, experts explained that these tigers are agile swimmers, and they are also adept on pack ice. So, they can sometimes cross the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska.
Similarly, sightings of cougars have been reported in southern Alaska.
However, if these two big cats crossed paths, the cougar wouldn’t stand a chance.
Siberian tigers are the largest wild cats in the world, weighing over three times more than cougars. They are also larger and almost four times stronger.
Tigers also have a stronger bite force and longer canines than cougars. The only hope pumas have is that of running fast enough to escape the opponent.