The mesowear method evaluates the wear patterns of herbivore cheek teeth by visually evaluating the facet development of the occlusal surfaces. It thus allows classification of most herbivorous ungulates into browsers, grazers or intermediate feeders, due to the fact that in grazers, tooth wear is characterized by a comparatively high degree of abrasion, most probably due to the presence of silicacious phytoliths in grasses, a higher amount of dust and grit adhering to their forage, or both. It has been suggested that excessive tooth wear could be a particularly limiting factor in the husbandry of captive large browsing species, and major tooth wear was demonstrated in captive as compared to free-ranging giraffe. If this increased tooth wear in captivity was an effect of feeding type and diets fed, then it would be expected that other browsing species are affected in a similar manner. In order to test this hypothesis, we investigated the dental mesowear pattern in captive individuals of 19 ruminant species and compared the results to data on free-ranging animals. Compared to free-ranging populations, captive browsers show a significantly more abrasion-dominated tooth wear signal. The reverse applies to captive grazers, which tend to show a less abrasion-dominated wear in captivity. Captive ruminants were generally more homogenous in their wear signature than free-ranging ruminants. If grit contamination in the natural habitat is a major cause of dental wear in grazers, then diets in captivity, although similar in botanical composition, most likely contain less abrasives due to feeding hygiene. If dental wear is one of the major factors limiting longevity, then captive grazers should achieve longer lifespans than both captive browsers and free-ranging grazers. In particular with respect to browsers, the results suggest that captive feeding regimes could be improved.