Do Owls Eat Cats?


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Have you ever spotted an owl in your yard? These magnificent birds are truly a sight to behold, and they’re wonderful to have around because they eat rodents and snakes. But owls are predators, so many animals are their potential prey. This can be a cause for concern. Should you be worried about your pets? Do owls eat cats?

Yes, owls do sometimes eat cats. However, cats may not be an ideal food source for owls. If your cats spend a lot of time outdoors, keeping them in an enclosed area can protect them from these large birds of prey. 

What makes an owl decide to attack a cat?

You’re probably wondering what would make an owl want to eat a cat in the first place. Why choose a cat instead of, say, a squirrel or a rabbit? To answer this question, you’ve got to see things from an owl’s perspective. 

To begin with, owls are nocturnal. They’re most active in the late evening and at night. This also happens to be the time that most cats do their hunting. So one of the reasons why owls eat cats is because they’re both on the prowl at the same time.

On occasion, owls will attack cats that have caught rats, voles, or other small animals, in an effort to steal the cat’s prey for themselves. Owls are also incredibly serious about protecting their young. So if they catch a cat trying to take one of their owlets, they won’t hesitate to defend them.

Another reason why an owl might want to eat a cat is if it doesn’t have many other prey options available. During dry spells or periods of over-grazing when food is limited, animals farther down on the food chain may die. If there aren’t enough of these small mammals around to eat, this forces the owl to prey on animals it normally wouldn’t consider a good meal. 

While you might think cats would be an easy target for owls, they really aren’t. Squirrels and rabbits are about the largest animals owls will eat. While squirrels and rabbits may try to escape, the owls that prey on them are usually much larger than they are, so the owls can subdue them easily. But cats will often fight back. Big time. And, like most predators, owls don’t like to mess with animals that can do them harm.

Kittens, senior cats, cats with limited mobility, and cats that are ill are more likely to be targeted by owls. If an owl thinks a cat will be an easy meal, it’s more likely to try to catch it. Owls have also been known to prey on small dogs. In fact, they might even be more willing to do so because small dogs don’t have sharp claws like cats. Their inability to defend themselves efficiently makes them potential targets for owls, too.

Do all owls like to eat cats?

Some owls are more likely to eat cats than others. Usually, it’s only the larger owl breeds that target felines. Barred owls, Northern hawk owls, great grey owls, and great horned owls are among the bigger owl breeds that will eat cats. Not only are these species large, but they’re also capable of carrying prey weighing three to four times more than themselves. 

Smaller owls, like Northern saw-whet owls, Northern pygmy owls, and barn owls generally won’t consider cats as prey. They’re just too big for them to tangle with. But other small owls, like the Western screech owl, may not be intimidated. These little owls have been spotted attacking prey much larger than they are. And while they may not win a fight with a cat, they can still do some serious damage. 

Ultimately, whether or not an owl will try to eat a cat comes down to that owl’s determination. Larger owls are more likely to attack cats than smaller owls. But, really, nothing is set in stone. 

What other animals do owls eat?

Owls are excellent for keeping pest levels down. They’ll prey on insects, rats, mice, voles, gophers, bats, birds, fish, frogs, toads, rabbits, and squirrels. Smaller owls tend to target the smaller prey, bigger owls tend to target the bigger prey. But it’s important to remember that owls are opportunistic predators. They’ll feed on whatever is available to them, even roadkill

Owls swallow their prey whole, digest what they can, and vomit up the rest — hey, nobody said birds of prey had to have good table manners! It’s for this reason that they prefer to eat smaller prey that goes down easily. Of course, the bigger the owl, the bigger their version of “small” is. 

Under normal circumstances, most owls have plenty of their preferred prey to keep them busy. But it’s not unheard of for an owl to swoop down and leave with a domestic feline. If you have a lot of owls in your region, it’s important to take extra precautions to protect your cats.

How can you protect your cat from owls?

Now that you understand why owls eat cats, you’ll be better able to protect your furry feline friends. The simplest way to do that is to keep them inside. In fact, bringing your cats indoors has a number of benefits. They won’t be susceptible to other predators, they won’t be in danger of getting into busy roadways. And when you keep your cats indoors, they won’t be able to wander off and pick up dangerous transferrable diseases

Of course, keeping your cat inside isn’t always an option. You may have a family member who is allergic to cats. And, the fact is, many cats simply prefer to live outside. If you want to allow your cat to stay outside, there are things you can do to protect them from potential predators.

Provide your cats with a safe space to explore the great outdoors with a cat patio, or “catio”. These enclosures allow cats to have access to the outside world while keeping them restrained and safe from other animals. With catios, the sky’s the limit. You can make your whole backyard a fenced-in paradise for your kitty pals, with cat-friendly plants, fountains to drink from, and different levels to climb around on. But, if cost is an issue, screening in your back porch is a great alternative.

If you want your cats to maintain the same level of freedom they’re used to, try switching out their old collars for new ones with strobe lights. These lights confuse owls, so they won’t be inclined to attack your pets.

How can you scare owls away?

Owls are picky about the way they hunt. They don’t like lots of noise and commotion. So hang up some wind chimes to catch the breeze. Owls don’t care for the sound. Lawn decorations that move, like whirligigs, are another great choice because owls don’t like the random movement.

If you’re really serious about keeping owls away, you can try setting up a bird deterrent sound system. These speakers play predator calls and bird distress signals every ten minutes or so. Often, this is more than enough to keep owls and other birds away from your cat’s playground.

Owls prefer to hunt in the dark. They actively avoid well-lit areas, so keeping your porch lights on at night will help deter them. Keep owls away during the day by eliminating potential nesting sites. Install a mesh covering over your chimney and fill in any large holes in your home to prevent local owls from getting into them. 

Yes, owls eat cats, as do other birds of prey. But by taking measures to keep these birds away from your backyard, and by creating a designated space for your cat to enjoy the outdoors, you can keep your furry friend safe from these fearsome predators. 

About The Author
Michelle Sanders is an outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about teaching others how to observe and support their local wildlife. She enjoys gardening, birdwatching, and trying (in vain) to get butterflies to land on her.

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