There are many animals that prey upon cats and many more animals that can hurt a cat, perhaps even mortally. Owners that allow their cats to free-roam should be aware of the risks it entails. Potential predators are a wide and varied list that changes between locations and urban densities.
There are many large predatory animals that live in the U.S. This includes cougars, wolves, and coyotes. All of these animals have been confirmed to have hunted domestic cats. Additionally, many comparatively smaller animals will also consider cats a viable meal. Large eagles, snakes (venomous and constrictors), hawks, and owls are all capable of, and have been known to, hunt cats for food. Dogs can also hunt cats, although domestic dogs do not always do so for food.
Not all animal attacks on cats are due to predators’ endless hunt for food. Animals act defensively. These defense mechanisms and behaviors can have painful, and lethal, results for a cat. For example, venomous creatures, like snakes, scorpions, and spiders, can bite cats out of self-defense.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Are The Different Types of Predator?
- 2 Animals That Can Harm Cats
What Are The Different Types of Predator?
Predators eat other organisms. This is the most basic definition of what a predator is. The different types of predators are defined by what the predator eats, and how it harvests that food. The four main types of predators are carnivorous, herbivorous, parasitic, and mutualistic.
A carnivorous predator must hunt and kill its prey. Carnivorous predators are broken up into an additional two types: those that primarily scavenge carcasses, and those that primarily hunt and kill prey on their own.
There are many carnivorous predators in the world, including wolves, cougars, owls, and snakes. Herbivorous predators, like krill, horses, and porcupines, consume autotrophs. Meaning plants and algae. A harvested plant does not always die. Some plants actually benefit from being eaten when the predator unknowingly disperses the digested (but still intact) seeds when it excretes waste.
The final two types of predators involve a small, sometimes microscopic, organism living within another animal. Flatworms living within a domestic cat, for example. Mutualism is when this smaller organism lives in harmony with its host and causes no harm. An example is the bacteria that live in your own digestive tract. Parasitism, however, can impact (and even kill) the host. Meaning that the parasite deprives the host of essential nutrients to the point where its health declines. Cats can be protected from many of these little predators through regular preventative medication.
Each of the above types of predator can be further broken down into more detailed and specific categories. For examples, insectivores (animals that primarily prey on and eat insects) are a sub-type of carnivore. Also omnivores, which practice predation on plants and animals. The predators list below is primarily made up of strict carnivores.
Snakes That Prey On Cats
Snakes are prevalent throughout the U.S. Encounters with snakes are common. The majority of snake species wouldn’t consider an adult cat a meal. The few that would, however, are listed below.
Pythons and Boas
Even though pythons are non-venomous, the Pythonidae family still poses danger to a cat. Any snake large enough to prey upon small mammals will consider a cat as a meal. There are only two species of python native to the U.S.: the rubber boa and the rosy boa. However, the invasive Burmese python is an ever-increasing threat in the Florida area. This snake can grow large enough to devour cats, dogs, and even children and small adults.
Of these three snakes, all of which belong to the Boidae family, only the Burmese python will prey upon a cat. Research published in Biological Invasions notes that the Burmese python is well-established in Florida. Encounters with this snake are not uncommon in the area, and there are concerns about the snake population spreading beyond the Everglades.
Pythons are ambush predators. A python will lay in wait for a potential meal to cross its path. Using its fine sense of smell and heat-sensing pits, it targets its meal. It will then bite latch onto its prey before wrapping the animal in its powerful coils. Constriction can kill in a matter of minutes.
A diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake found in the U.S. There are dozens of reported cases where a cat has been bitten by one of these deadly pit vipers. Comparatively, there is little evidence of rattlesnakes actively preying upon cats. However this may be due to the lack of evidence left behind, as a snake will devour its prey whole. Eastern and western diamondbacks are certainly large enough to consider smaller cats, or juvenile and sub-adult cats, as prey.
A curious cat may antagonize a rattlesnake, triggering a defensive response. If the snake is hungry and the cat is small enough, the snake may follow the ‘waste not, want not’ principle. Large adult eastern and western diamondbacks will eat fully grown rabbits. A small domestic cat isn’t far off in size.
Rattlesnakes are a part of the Viperidae family. As an ambush predator, it will remain motionless and silent until a prey animal wanders too close. Eastern and western diamondbacks both have hemotoxic venom that causes tissue damage and attacks red blood cells. A bite can kill a full-grown human. As such, a cat can quickly succumb to an envenomation.
Dogs, both feral and domestic, will occasionally prey upon cats. An outdoor cat is exposed to both of these parties. How an interaction might go between a cat and a dog will depend on both their individual personalities and upbringings. A cat and dog may be completely ambivalent towards one another. Conversely, they may attack one another, just as cartoons often portrayed them doing.
A dog may chase a cat upon sight. This can be out of genuine aggression, territorial instincts, or the desire to play. A cat may also attack on sight, although it is more likely to puff up in a threat display first. Aggressive dogs and feral dogs may actively hunt a cat.
Coyotes are a part of the Canidae family and are prevalent throughout the U.S. Coyotes live in packs and as individuals. The Journal of Wildlife Management found that coyotes would actively prey upon cats, especially during the pup-rearing season. This study also found that both packs and individuals would successfully attack and kill cats.
Coyotes hunt using their olfactory senses and keen eyesight. Coyotes will hunt in pairs or packs to take down larger prey, such as deer. Individuals will prey upon smaller animals, such as squirrels, rodents, birds, and even domestic cats. As an opportunistic predator, a coyote will generally prey upon whatever it comes across. It will also scavenge carrion.
Wolves are the largest surviving member of the Canidae family. As noted in the Journal of Forestry Research, wolves were almost driven to extinction through habitat loss and hunting. Before total extinction, it was recognized that wolves were an essential part of the ecosystem for prey population control.
As such, repopulation and conservation efforts were put into place. This included wolves being protected in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. Due to this, and human populations encroaching on their natural habitats, wolf-human interactions are becoming more common. This includes wolf-pet cat interactions.
Wolves have evolved to hunt in packs, specifically to take down prey animals far larger than themselves. This includes caribou, elk, bison, and deer. However, wolves are still opportunistic in nature. A wolf will prey upon a cat if it has the chance. This is a more likely scenario during colder months, when other prey is scarce, or while the pack is rearing young pups.
In 2016, a camera was set up to monitor a nest captured footage of a cat being eaten by a family of bald eagles. Experts have said, previously and since this event, that eagles preying upon cats is uncommon.
It is thought that only large eagles have the ability and strength to prey upon a cat. The Bureau of Land Management notes that the bald eagle is the second largest bird of prey found in North America. It is followed closely in size by the Steller’s sea eagle, the wedge-tailed eagle, and the golden eagle.
Eagles hunt during the day, and will swoop down and latch onto their prey. This prey consists of fish, birds, small mammals, and rodents.
In some parts of the world, eagles are trained specifically to hunt foxes. Large eagles are certainly capable of preying upon cats. Whether one would naturally is another matter.
Cougars are also known as pumas and mountain lions. Cougars were once found all over the U.S. Hunters and farmers decimated many cougar populations, to the point where cougars are no longer found in the Midwest or Eastern states. A study in The Journal of Wildlife Management was conducted in response to reports of a supposed increase in human-cougar interactions. Researchers found that this was not due to population growth, which was actually in a slow decline.
Cougars primarily hunt deer, coyotes, porcupines, elk, and raccoons. Livestock herds are also a temptation for cougars, which is why farmers hunted the species so aggressively. Cougars are opportunistic, nocturnal hunters. Usually, hunting will occur between dusk and dawn. Much like the domestic cat, a cougar will stealthily sneak up on its prey. At the right moment, it will lunge and aim a deadly bite for the back of its prey’s neck.
Cougars have been known to prey upon pets. Especially pets that are allowed to roam outside at night.
Cats are nocturnal. Naturally, a cat’s predators would also largely be nocturnal. Large owls can prey upon cats. This includes the great horned owl, which is thought to have the most diverse diet of all raptors, and the snowy owl.
Owls hunt from above. One will usually identify its prey while perched at a height. It will then swoop down silently. An owl will latch onto its prey using its incredibly sharp talons. Prey is usually killed by being crushed by this powerful grip, trauma caused by the talons, or a quick bite to the neck.
Snowy owls can be found in the northern U.S. when food is scarce. The great horned owl is the largest owl species found in North America. Both prey upon a variety of rodents and larger mammals, including raccoons. Given that cats are similar in size to raccoons and nocturnal in nature, it naturally puts them at risk of being preyed upon by an owl.
Owls are able to fly silently. A cat may not know it is being hunted until it is too late.
Of all the hawk species found in the U.S., only the red-tailed hawk is capable of truly preying upon cats.
The red-tailed hawk is the most common hawk found in the U.S. This raptor hunts small animals, and it won’t make a distinction between wild mammals and a small cat. As such, smaller cats and kittens can be preyed upon by hawks. This is not a common occurrence, and reported cases seem to revolve around when pets are left outside unsupervised.
Hawks will seek out prey by using their incredibly fine eyesight. A hawk will coast along in the air and scan the ground for prey. It may also find a comfortable perch and simply wait for a suitable animal to cross its field of vision.
Wolverines are powerful omnivores. Although a wolverine may look like a small bear, it actually belongs to the weasel family. A wolverine will happily forage upon vegetation and berries. Its diet is primarily meat, however.
Wolverines have been known to attack and subdue prey many times their size. They have also been blamed for missing cats. Only a certain portion of missing cat cases (where wolverines live) are due to wolverine attacks.
Perhaps, somewhat, undeservedly, wolverines are known as gluttons for how voraciously food is devoured.
Animals That Can Harm Cats
Even if they do not actively prey upon cats, there are many animals that will aggressively defend themselves. If a cat preys upon, tries to play with, or even just startles one of these animals, it may trigger a fight. The results of which can be lethal.
Mother animals caring for their young can also fight with unprecedented ferocity.
Feral and other free-roaming domestic cats will regularly fight over territorial disputes. These fights rarely end with fatal wounds. However, the resulting wounds can easily fester, which can be fatal if left untreated.
A cat can be quite territorial, especially if it isn’t neutered. Mother cats can be extremely aggressive while rearing young, especially to other cats.
Historically, cats were used to control rodent populations on farms. Anthrozoös states that there are several cases throughout history of cats being domesticated by farmers in the Old World. This happened at different moments in time all around the globe.
Prior to thousands of years of selective breeding, cats were quite effective at hunting even large rodents like rats. Most species of modern domestic cat are smaller than their ancient ancestors.
Rats are large and will fight back if attacked by a cat. A rat’s teeth can inflict quite a bit of damage, and a desperate rat isn’t shy of using them. One bite in the wrong place can hit an artery. Rats are also carriers of disease and parasites.
Raccoons are common in urban areas. These pesky, little thieves have learned well that there is an abundance of food to be found where humans live. As such, the chances of a free-roaming cat encountering a raccoon are quite high.
A raccoon can overpower an adult cat during territorial disputes or fights over food. As a nocturnal mammal, raccoons can cross paths with cats while searching for food. Depending on the abundance or scarcity of food available, the two animals may have a tussle.
As a wild animal, the raccoon may have the natural advantage of lived experiences. A raccoon will usually also have a bit of size and weight on a cat. Larger breeds of cat, such as a male Norwegian forest cat or male Maine coon, are a more even match for a raccoon.
Raccoons aren’t particularly adept hunters. However, if one can catch a small animal, like a mouse or kitten, it will kill and devour it.
The U.S. is home to a number of scorpion species. Not all are dangerous. However, some are quite deadly. Scorpions that can be found in the U.S. include:
- Bark scorpions
- Stripe-tailed scorpions
- Arizona hairy scorpions
Of these three, only the bark scorpion is considered deadly to humans. A cat is far smaller than human, however, and can be more affected by scorpion venom. In some cases, an envenomation can be lethal. This is a worst case scenario. Beyond an allergic reaction, usually only a sting from a bark scorpion has the potential for being a mortal wound.
Scorpions will use their venom for two purposes: hunting and defense. No scorpion will consider a cat, of any size, as prey. Stings are usually a result of the cat trying to play with or attack the scorpion. You’ve seen how cats bat at toys; imagine a giant, furry animal did the same to you.
Over 3000 species of spider are known to live in Northern America. Of these, only 3 are considered dangerous. The black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo spider. These spiders are highly toxic.
Spider bites aren’t always fatal. However, venom can cause reactions local to the bite, creating internal and open wounds. These wounds are liable to further infection. Spider venom can also cause other symptoms to emerge as the body fights a toxic substance.
Cats are likely to encounter spiders largely through the cat curiosity investigating the spider or its web.
Foxes are considered pests by many. Unlike some animals, foxes have adapted to urban environments. This increases the chances for cat-fox interactions. Largely, this comes down to fights. Usually both participants come off worse for wear, and rarely do the injuries prove fatal.
Foxes are quite similar in size to adult cats. As such, foxes will not actively hunt adult cats. The same cannot be said for small kittens. A starving fox that is desperate for food may attack an older cat, although we cannot say this for certain. A fox will also aggressively defend its cubs if a cat wanders too close.
Foxes are also scavengers. If one stumbles across a dead cat, it will eat the carcass. It may also drag the carcass to a safer place to eat. All of that said, cats and foxes will usually go their separate ways without fuss.
Porcupines are large rodents, and few predators are willing to risk a face full of those spines. As such, porcupines have few natural predators. A curious or aggressive cat may make the mistake of approaching a porcupine.
Porcupines are ground and tree dwelling and found in spots all over the U.S. This animal is not aggressive in nature. It will act defensively if approached by what it deems to be a threat.
A porcupine will swing its tail around at an aggressor, stabbing it with dozens of quills. These quills are tipped with bards, allowing them to pierce flesh and remain lodged within. Although rarely fatal, unless lodged in the throat, porcupine quills cause extreme discomfort. A quill to the eye can cause blindness.
Beyond diamondbacks, there are many species of venomous snake that live in the U.S. Any one of these snakes can kill or seriously harm your cat. Just a few of the venomous snakes that can be found in the U.S. include:
- Coral snakes
- Timber rattlesnake
- Mojave rattlesnake
- Tiger rattlesnake
- Massasauga rattlesnake
The venom of these snakes varies in potency and lethality. If you suspect that your cat has been bitten by a snake, take it to the vet immediately. Even if you don’t know what kind of snake has bitten it, clinics can offer supportive therapy. They may also have a venom detection kit, which Toxicon notes as being a means of identifying the type of venom inflicted.
Not to be confused with the harmless milk snake, coral snakes are highly venomous. Coral snakes can be found throughout North America and are considered one of the most toxic snakes in the area. Powerful neurotoxic venom is delivered through short fangs.
These snakes are slim and small enough that a cat, even a young one, wouldn’t be considered a meal. It will defend itself, though, with a deadly bite. With venom that causes paralysis and respiratory failure, a lack of treatment is a death sentence for a cat.
A common snake in North America with a mild bite, for a pit viper. Copperheads have adapted well to urban living, and can commonly be found near human dwellings.
Copperhead bites are usually non-fatal in adult humans. Cats may not be so lucky. A copperhead’s hemotoxic venom typically causes damage local to the bite area. It has been noted that copperheads inject little venom when biting defensively. Adult cats are too large to be considered a meal. Kittens are another story.
Copperheads usually grip onto small prey until it dies. If a copperhead decides to make a meal of a kitten or small cat, it likely won’t be able to escape.
The U.S. is home to many types of rattlesnake. All of which are venomous and capable of killing a cat. None but the largest rattlesnakes would consider an adult cat prey, as discussed above. All rattlesnakes will defend themselves if threatened by a cat. Small kittens would be considered a meal. As noted by BMC Genomics, snake venom composition can change not only between species, but within species. As an example, a population in one area may have purely hemotoxic venom, and a population the next state over may have hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom.
The tiger rattlesnake inhabits a relatively small area between Arizona and Mexico. Due to its highly potent hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom, it is considered the most toxic of all rattlesnakes. Also, one of the most dangerous snakes in the Western Hemisphere.
Massasauga rattlesnakes are a smaller rattlesnake with hemolytic venom. As a shy snake, it avoids humans and settlements as much as it can. Although its venom is quite potent, it injects less venom than other pit vipers per bite.
The Mojave rattlesnake has neurotoxic venom and is one of the world’s most venomous snakes. Undeservedly, this snake is thought to be overly aggressive. This is not true. Mojave rattlesnakes act defensively, and will strike more enthusiastically than other snakes. This snake lives in the southwestern states and central Mexico.
Timber rattlesnakes have venom that destroys tissue. Depending on the geographic location of the snake, it may have neurotoxic venom, hemotoxic venom, or a combination of the two. This snake can grow quite large, with adults easily hitting 5 feet in length, but its diet is comprised of small mammals, birds, frogs, and even other snakes. Small cats may be considered a meal.
There are many animals that prey upon cats, and many more that can hurt cats. This article has been a list of predators that will attack cats. Alongside animals that your cat is likely to encounter that can cause harm.