Cats are born predators. Anybody with a feline will be aware of how much cats love to hunt. Unfortunately, although they are born hunters, cats are not apex predators. There is always the risk of something bigger coming along and injuring or killing your pet.
Animals that may actively hunt and attack your cat include birds of prey, coyotes, and cougars. Additionally, many animals are afraid of cats, but will aggressively defend themselves if provoked. Keep your cat away from snakes, raccoons and even the humble squirrel.
This guide discusses the wild animals that could harm your pet. If where you live has any of these animals, you’ll need to keep your cat safe. We’ll offer advice as to how you can do just that.
Cat Predator’s List
On paper, a cat is safe from predators. By this, we mean that a housecat will not be the first-choice snack for any wildlife. Animals are smart, and driven by survival instinct. They know full well that cats can fight for their lives, if necessary. Feline teeth and claws can do serious damage.
Unfortunately, facts on paper are different from reality. Five animals will hunt and chase a cat. If you live in a territory that hosts any of these species, take additional care.
Of all the predatory animals that hunt cats, foxes are the least dangerous. Foxes like to hunt cats, and to give chase. However, a fox will quickly back down if your cat fights back.
That doesn’t mean that foxes are harmless, however. They carry disease, and a rabid fox will be aggressive. It’s also possible that a fox will attack through excitement. What starts as a chase for sport can get the animal’s blood up. If they strike at the right point, they can kill a cat.
More often than not, however, cats and foxes will ignore each other. They seek the same food sources after dark, after all, and have thus learned to coexist.
At the opposite end of the canine family to foxes, we have coyotes. These animals are found all over the country, and will attack a cat on-sight. Sadly, coyotes do not mess around either. They attack with one intention – killing and eating smaller pets.
Coyotes are nocturnal hunters, particularly active at dawn and dusk. If you know there are coyotes in your area, keep your cat home at these times.
It also pays to arrange an informal ‘coyote watch’ with your neighbors, whereby any sightings are reported. This will help you all remain vigilant, and keep multiple pets safe.
Of course, deterring coyotes from approaching your property is even better. The Humane Society of the United States offers a fact sheet on Preventing Coyote Conflicts. Always take the presence of these predators seriously. They will not think twice about attacking your cat.
Birds of Prey
Birds of prey usually hunt smaller animals, such as rodents or snakes. Some larger hawks, however, may swoop for a housecat.
A rule to remember is that no bird of prey will attempt to carry something heavier than it’s own body weight. This means that you will rarely need to worry about owls.
It pays to know your cat’s enemy when it comes to raptors, however. Hawk Mountain offers helpful advice on differentiating between any birds of prey in your area.
It’s difficult, to the point of impossibility, to protect outdoor cats from a bird of prey. These avian hunters swoop quickly and efficiently. If you do know that such birds patrol the skies, supervise your cat’s outdoor time. Better yet, consider keeping indoors.
Once upon a time, cougars – aka mountain lions, or pumas – were virtually extinct in the USA. This is no longer the case, however. Sightings of these big cats are now commonplace in the southwest and west of the country.
Cougars are largely nocturnal, and they love to ambush prey. Prey includes domestic animals and pets. If you live in an area populated by these animals, keep your cat home at night.
Also be careful not to attract other wildlife to your property, such as feral cats. If a cougar finds a reliable food source, they won’t leave. Seeing as these wild animals will also tangle with a human, that’s not a good thing.
Other Animals That Could Harm a Cat
Just because an animal will not hunt a cat, it doesn’t mean your pet is safe. As felines are curious and territorial, they may come across other animals in their natural habitat. Many of these will be natural enemies to felines.
Thousands of years of instinct cannot be repressed or undone. As a result, your cat may hunt these creatures. Below, you’ll find a list of animals that your pet is likely to encounter.
These animals will rarely choose to attack a feline. If they feel backed into a corner, however, they will defend themselves – often with dangerous consequences.
Cats and dogs at war have been a staple of pop culture since time immemorial. These two species can often be ambivalent toward each other. It’s also likely that they’ll go to battle at some point.
It’s complete pot luck as to whether a feline or canine is the aggressor in this scenario. It depends entirely on the individual personas of the animals in question. Some dogs will chase cats on sight, following their evolutionary instincts. In other cases, however, a cat will hiss and swipe at a dog.
The problem here is a language barrier. Cats and dogs use body language to communicate friendly intentions, or fear and intimidation, in radically different ways. This can lead to misunderstanding. Cats, being territorial by nature, will rarely want to back down. This can lead to a fight.
In such an instance, it’s hard to say who will come out on top. Dogs are typically larger and more powerful than cats. Pound-for-pound, however, felines tend to be more aggressive and plucky.
If your cat has a run-in with a dog, separate the two animals as quickly as possible and check them both for injuries. Eventually, they’ll learn to ignore each other – or even forge an unlikely friendship.
Raccoons are little black-eyed bandits that pose a serious risk to a cat’s health. This is not because they actively hunt cats. However, if they feel under threat, a raccoon will fight tooth and claw to defend themselves.
Your cat is most likely to encounter a raccoon rooting through your garbage after dark. If the raccoon feels that your cat is stealing their food source, or means them harm, they’ll attack. This means they’ll use their sharp claws – but more dangerously, raccoons often carry disease.
Rabies is the extreme and most concerning example. Raccoons, more than any other animal, carry this disease. They often host any number of bacterial infections, however, and parasites such as roundworm.
Don’t lose track of the fact that raccoons eat out of your trash. This means that it’s hardly surprising that they carry disease. Do whatever you can to keep your cat safe from these critters.
Many people live in fear of snakes, but these reptiles are terrified of us. Snakes are fearful and secretive animals, and they prefer to stay out of sight. If your cat encounters a snake, the reptile will flee and hide. If they feel backed into a corner, however, they will bite in self-defense.
This is usually harmless. Most snakes native to the U.S. are non-venomous, and will cause nothing more than minor pain. There are, however, several breeds of venomous snake found in the United States. Members of the rattlesnake and pit viper families are the most common.
If your cat tangles with a venomous of these snakes, they’ll need medical attention. The small stature of a cat’s body means that the venom will act quickly. If you stay calm and act fast, it’s rarely fatal.
Many cats enjoy chasing and hunting squirrels. They may even take this further, climbing trees in an attempt to capture their quarry.
The fact is, however, squirrels are feisty animals. They show little fear, and will meet your cat head-on. This can lead to bites and clawing, which may leave a feline injured. This is especially likely if your pet is complacent, expecting an easy hunt due to the size discrepancy between the species.
There is also the slim chance that a squirrel will carry rabies, or other diseases. It may be safer for all concerned if your cat just watches squirrels through the window.
Stinging and Poisonous Insects
Insects are sometimes irresistible to cats, but some need to handled with care. The most dangerous examples of insects and arachnids include:
- Scorpions. Native to arid and desert territories, scorpions have powerful claws and a toxic sting.
- Spiders. There aren’t many dangerous spiders in the U.S., but there is a handful. VenomByte lists the species to be mindful of.
- Bees and Wasps. A bee or wasp sting can be dangerous to a cat, especially around the throat. Some felines are also allergic to bee and wasp stings.
If your cat is acting out of sorts after an insect encounter, see a vet. They may need treatment for toxicity, or be experiencing an allergic reaction.
Groundhogs are members of the rodent family, so your cat may look to hunt them. This will only apply if your cat is highly predatory, as groundhogs are quite large. To some felines, however, this represents an exciting challenge rather than an intimidating threat.
A groundhog will not actively hunt your cat, or start a physical altercation. If they feel threatened, however, these rodents will fight back. They have powerful claws and large front teeth.
Groundhogs live all over the USA, so you’re likely close to one at any given time. If you notice your cat digging at a warren, supervise them carefully. If they get too close for a groundhog’s comfort, they could get hurt.
It’s unlikely that your cat will encounter a porcupine, unless they wander in the woods. Occasionally, if you live in a rural area, porcupines may visit your land.
Like many of the animals on this particular list, porcupines are reactive rather than predatory. They will not hunt your cat down and attack them. If your cat gets too close, however, a porcupine may release their sharp, painful quills.
Porcupine quills are not poisonous, but they’re very painful. Also, they are tipped with barbs. This means that you should never attempt to remove them yourself.
This could cause more distress to an already uncomfortable cat. Take your cat to a vet. They will administer an anesthetic, and do what needs to be done.
If your cat has a run-in with a skunk, you’ll know about it. Anybody that has ever encountered these animals will be familiar with their infamous defense mechanism.
Skunks will not actively hunt cats. They are, however, their physical equal. If you have a particularly brave cat, they may test their mettle against a skunk. In addition to their potent stench, skunks have very sharp claws. This means that your cat may end up bleeding and smelly.
In addition to this, skunks can carry rabies and other infectious diseases. If you know there is a skunk population to your home, tread carefully.
Some cats will contentedly hunt mice all day, every day. These two species were seemingly assigned their roles as predator and prey from birth. A small and comparatively harmless field mouse is a very different animal to a rat, however.
Cats that dwell in the city are particularly cautious of rats. This is according to a study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. A mature, adult rat is a nasty piece of work.
Cats and rats will often ignore each other and live side-by-side. Don’t judge your cat for this. Tangling with a rat can result in some very nasty bites, and any number of infectious diseases. As a result, felines tend to save their hunting energy for easier prey.
If provoked, however, rats can do some severe damage to cats. If you have a rat problem, it’s better to rely on pest control than your pet.
Keep an eye out for colonies of feral cats. These felines will never have been socialized, and they can be aggressive. If they consider your cat to be a rival for their territory, they can turn nasty.
Alley Cat Allies offers some helpful advice on how to recognize feral cats. These animals enjoy the same rights to life and protection as their domesticated brethren.
However, be cautious if a feral cat follows your pet home. It will be difficult to resist feeding and caring for them. This could backfire if more stray and feral friends arrive expecting VIP treatment.
Another thing to remember is that a feral cat will often carry diseases. Ensure that your cat is vaccinated against any possible conditions, and take them for regular veterinary check-ups. If your pet does end up in conflict with a feral cat, they should also be checked out.
What Should I Do if My Cat is Attacked by a Wild Animal?
Give them a thorough inspection, and clean and disinfect any wounds. Stay calm through this process, though. If you start to panic, your cat will become stressed.
Your cat will also need reassurance during this time. They may not have been expecting a physical altercation, and shock is a possibility. Symptoms of shock in a cat include:
- Pale, discolored gums
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Lethargy and depression
- Low body temperature
- Irregular breathing, either fast or slow
- Seizures, convulsions, and loss of consciousness
You should always take your cat to a vet after a run-in with another animal. Even if you cannot find any signs of physical harm, they should be assessed. Vets will check for any diseases, or signs of internal bleeding. If any damage has been done, a vet can prevent it from getting any worse.
How to Keep a Cat Safe from Predators
It seems obvious, but the easiest way to protect your cat is to keep them inside. Unless you are extremely unlucky, you won’t find coyotes or cougars wandering around your living room. Indeed, indoor cats are likely to live much longer than their outdoor counterparts.
This may not always be an option, however. If you struggle to keep your cat home all the time, consider these safety steps:
- Make your backyard as secure as possible with fences and barriers. If your cat is happy to limit their outdoor time to the yard, they’ll be much safer.
- Do not encourage any local wildlife by providing food.
- Do not place a belled collar on your cat. This will act like a dinner bell for a hungry coyote.
- Learn when predatory animals hunt, and restrict your cat’s outdoor time during these hours.
- Ensure that your cat has everything they need in the house. This means plenty of water bowls, litter trays, scratching posts and entertainment.
It can sometimes be impossible to keep a roaming cat home 24/7. Some felines are born with a natural wanderlust that just cannot be contained.
It’s part of your responsibility to keep them safe, though. Learn what natural enemies to your cat live nearby, and take the appropriate action. Your pet will likely be fearless and adventurous, which is admirable – but could be their undoing.
It’s important to help your cat strike a balance between being the hunter and the hunted. Attempting to restrict your cat from doing what comes naturally will leave them frustrated. Giving a feline too much freedom, however, could see them injured or contracting a severe illness.
Investigate the wildlife local to your home, and assess how safe your pet will be. Your cat will be capable of holding their own if they meet a predator.
However, as popular wisdom dictates, just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should. Let your cat embrace their predator instincts, without becoming a snack themselves. Balance is the key to a happy and contented feline.