Tigers are not domesticated cats, nor should they be kept as pets, but many people still care for them as such (find out if your state allows tigers to be kept as pets). This article does not condone the keeping of tigers or any big cat as pets (thousands are currently kept as pets, more than are left in the wild) but instead is meant to simply present the facts on keeping tigers as pets.
Tigers are large, strong, and dangerous cats. They have the ability to take down a 500 lb. antelope, are strong swimmers, and are very territorial. Male tigers will cover a territory up to almost 40 miles and females territories of about 7 miles. Males mark their territories by spraying urine and feces and do not do well with other males.
Although tiger cubs are small and cute they will quickly grow up to be hundreds of pounds with several inch long canine teeth and claws that you'd rather not get scratched by. You cannot declaw a tiger like you would a house cat (since they use their claws to walk on) and removing their large teeth is not only in-humane but it prevents them from tearing apart their food.
Tigers need a lot of secure space. They can jump, climb and swim their way out of most enclosures. In the wild they roam on several miles of land, something most people don't have access to.
A large plot (several acres) of fenced in property with access to ponds or small lakes, trees, and shelters is what a tiger needs to be safe from the world (and to keep us safe from them). They have been known to escape from zoos and private properties and have killed people since in captivity they associate humans with food. An escaped tiger is scared and dangerous, something no one wants roaming the streets.
I'm sure you can imagine how much food a several hundred pound cat will eat. Of course the amount will vary with the species of tiger, but regardless, even a 300 lb. tiger will eat much more than you and your house cat combined.
Tigers eat meat, and a lot of it. Antelope, gazelle, water buffalo, deer, fish and really anything else they can get their opportunistic paws on makes up a tiger's diet. This obviously gets expensive considering they will eat about 10-15 pounds of meat, or 5000-6000 kcal, a day for over 20 years. That's a lot of meat and money, not to mention the vitamins and supplements that are needed to add to the diet.
In addition to the meat, vitamins and other supplements, a commercially prepared meat mix (usually containing primarily horse meat) and bones are offered to aid in nutrition and natural chewing, but studies have shown these commercial diets alone are not really what a tiger in captivity needs. They are usually deficient in taurine and have too much Vit. A and other ingredients but each food varies, as do the requirements of individual tigers (depending on the season, activity, species, and other factors). You can see how it can be difficult to properly manage a tiger's diet in captivity.
One reason you need such a large enclosure is to provide enrichment opportunities. Tigers need to use their brains to catch things, play with things, jump, climb and explore. A bored tiger is an unhealthy tiger.
Zoos often use large plastic balls that tigers will jump on in pools, offer hanging containers with food inside, or areas to climb in and on. Tigers can and do get depressed and bored without enrichment.
Once a tiger cub gets big enough to push you over it's probably a bad idea to be wrestling with them. Even their "play" bites can cause serious damage to us or kill a person. Many tigers are trained to be around people and will go years without incident but you can't predict the behavior of a tiger. They are still wild animals at heart. Famous trainers have been mauled by their beloved tigers, even after working with them daily and for years. They are unpredictable and it is a huge risk to be handling a mature tiger whether you are a professional or not.
If you have a pet tiger or are seriously considering getting one, please remember the huge commitment of space, time, and money that they require. If you are unable to properly care for your pet tiger finding a new home for them can be extremely difficult.