While handling large kills, mesocarnivores are particularly vulnerable to kleptoparasitism and predation from larger predators. We used 35 years of observational data on cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) hunts in Serengeti National Park to investigate whether cheetahs’ prey handling behavior varied in response to threats from lions (Panthera leo) and spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). Male cheetahs and single females, whose main threat was kleptoparasitism, minimized time on the kill by being less vigilant and eating quickly, thereby shortening their handling times. Mothers with cubs showed a different strategy that prioritized vigilance over speed of eating, which increased time spent handling prey. Vigilance allowed them to minimize the risk of their cubs being killed while giving cubs the time they need to eat at the carcass. Flexible behavioral strategies that minimize individual risk while handling prey likely allow mesocarnivores to coexist with numerous and widespread apex predators.