Dangerous wild animals: species guidance

Individual species guidance on the keeping of dangerous wild animals.

Ocelots and Asian leopard cats

Species names

Leopardus pardalis - ocelot
Prionailurus bengalensis - Asian leopard cat

Conservation status

Some species are classified as Annex A species under EC Regulation 338/97 (relating to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)).  

Special permits must be obtained to buy, sell, breed or use Annex A species for any commercial purpose.

Housing overview

Ocelots and Asian leopard cats are tropical species, and in the wild live both on the ground and in trees. If kept outdoors, they will require a heated shelter in cold weather, and an enclosure that allows them room to exercise on the ground and to climb.

Keeping experience

In order to protect the welfare of these animals, keepers must be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of husbandry and handling of the species they wish to keep.  

There should be a second named person on the licence who is competent to care for the animals should the owner be absent or incapacitated.

Housing recommendations


As these cats are excellent climbers, outdoor enclosures should have a roof. Enclosures are normally made from wooden posts and wire mesh. 

Any concrete or artificial flooring should be non-slip.

It is recommended that the floor of outdoor enclosures is covered in a mulch-type substrate such as bark chips or wood chippings to provide interest for the cats.


Fencing for enclosures must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the cats climbing on it, and the mesh size used must be small enough to prevent the animals becoming entangled. If the enclosure fencing is the only means of separation from visitors, it is strongly recommended that the mesh size is small enough to prevent people putting their fingers through it.

The fencing should ideally be set into concrete foundations to prevent the cats digging underneath. All fencing should be well maintained.


The minimum recommended space requirements are:

  • ocelots - 4m length x 2m width x 2.5m high for a single animal
  • Asian leopard cats - 2m length x 2m width x 2.5m high for a single animal

Additional animals will require a further 50% increase in floor space. Also see the sections on social dynamics and behavioural considerations and exercise and enrichment when designing the animals’ enclosure.

Temperature and shelter

The cats should be provided with a heated den if temperatures drop below 10°C. Heat in dens may be provided using heat mats. Whichever heating method is used care should be taken to avoid the possibility of burns, and there should be sufficient space in the den for the cats to move away from the heat if they wish.  

All cats in outdoor enclosures should be provided with at least one draught-free den with sufficient clean bedding in which to sleep, hide, and shelter from extreme weather. 


Whilst small tropical cats are usually active during the night, they must be provided with some form of natural lighting during the day. The light should be sufficient to allow the keeper to clean and maintain the enclosure easily.  

The hours of daylight influences the breeding cycle of many cats, and so naturalistic lighting regimes (i.e. the natural lengthening and shortening of daylight hours through the year) are recommended for cats intended for breeding.


Indoor enclosures must have suitable ventilation.


The drainage of the outdoor enclosures must be capable of rapidly removing all excess water. Drains should be designed to avoid injury to the animals. Any open drains, other than those carrying surface water, should be outside the enclosure. Any faecal material must be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

For indoor enclosures the floor covering should be changeable or easily cleaned.


Outdoor enclosures should be maintained in a clean state, with faeces, food debris and litter being removed on a regular basis. Since cats “scent mark” by rubbing their cheeks and head and urinating on their enclosures, thorough disinfection of the outdoor enclosures should be done sparingly.

Social dynamics and behavioural considerations

All species of small wild cats are solitary in nature, and are intolerant of adults of the same sex, however breeding pairs may live together. It is therefore recommended that ocelots and Asian leopard cats are not kept together in large groups.

If a group of animals is kept together, there should be several visual barriers to allow the animals to hide from one another.

Ocelots and Asian leopard cats enjoy climbing and may swim if water is provided. It is recommended that provision be made for the cats to express these normal behaviours.

If more than one animal is kept, provision should be made to separate them if necessary. 

Prevention of escape

A double door with a space of approximately 2m² separating the two gates should be erected at the entrance to outdoor enclosures, allowing the keeper to enter without a risk of the animals escaping. Both gates should be padlocked.  

If an outdoor enclosure is accessible by the public, for example, adjoining a public highway, steps should be taken to prevent the possibility of the public gaining access to, or being injured by, the animals. This may require the erection of a secondary fence (a stand-off barrier), or a solid wall on the accessible sides of the enclosure. Warning signs may also be required.

Food, drink and bedding

In general, small exotic cats share the same food requirements as domestic cats. A high quality complete cat food, or a varied meat diet, including some whole prey items such as rabbits or day-old chicks, may be provided. The feeding of live vertebrate prey is prohibited. The feeding exclusively of moist cat food will lead to dental problems.

Fresh drinking water must be provided at all times.

Bedding material in the dens can include wood chips, wood wool, or straw. 

Visiting interval

The animals must be monitored at appropriate intervals, normally at least once every 24 hours.

Exercise and enrichment

The provision of enrichment items to provide interest and opportunity to exercise is extremely important for cats. These species all enjoy climbing, and there should be plenty of opportunity to express this behaviour within the enclosure. This may be achieved by the use of trees, logs, platforms, suspended walkways or commercially available “cat gyms”.

Some individuals may enjoy running water within the enclosure or an opportunity to swim. Other suitable enrichment would include the use of novel feeding methods (hiding the food around the enclosure or using different food items) and by including plants (which may be eaten) into the enclosure.

Provision for capture and transportation

Cats may be transported to a veterinary surgeon in a locked cat or dog cage. A licence issued by the local authority for the keeping of these cats may specify restrictions on the movement of these animals and procedures to be followed.

Emergency planning

There should be a written contingency plan in place to be used in the event of an emergency, for example fire, flood, animal escape or injury to the keeper.

Notification requirements

The licence may also specify procedures to be followed in the event of an escape and on the provision of information to the emergency services.

You are required to notify the Local Authority of any intentions to breed the animals.

Prevention and control of spread of infectious disease

Provision should be made to allow the separation of sick or injured animals if a group is kept. Temporary isolation can be achieved using a large, lockable plastic dog crate or similar.

The keeper should provide details of their veterinary arrangements with a practice prepared to treat these cats. A schedule of veterinary care, including vaccination and routine parasite control is required and the keeping of records of veterinary attention is essential.

Animals acquired from outside the UK may be subject to rabies quarantine regulations. Anyone requiring further information should contact APHA.

There are no transmissible diseases carried by these animals that pose a risk to the general public as long as there is no direct contact, and visitors are not allowed to handle the animals or their by-products. Keepers should be aware of the risks of toxoplasmosis, a potentially harmful parasite that may be transmitted to humans through cat faeces. For this reason, good hygiene practices should be always observed when handling cats, or cleaning their enclosures.





Back to top