Domestic cats have been valued members of families around the world for centuries.
According to Owl Pages, there are approximately two hundred and forty-four breeds of owls in the world who have also been valued members of ecosystems for centuries. Many small breeds of owls successfully coexist with felines.
Though these mysterious birds of prey are interesting to see, large owls are naturally a cause for concern to owners of small companion animals, such as cats.
When the larger members of the owl family are seen flying over a cat’s yard, they evoke emotions of awe and terror; they are beautiful birds, but it is no secret that owls are skilled hunters and fierce predators.
As a responsible cat owner, you must know what predators are in your area that could injure or kill your cat before allowing them to roam freely outdoors.
So, if you see an owl scanning your yard while Fluffy is sunbathing, is your feline friend truly in trouble? Can an owl eat a cat? The answer is yes, owls do eat cats.
The International Owl Center states that while owls tend to be connoisseurs of rodent fare if their go-to favorites are unavailable, they will widen their menu to what is available to hunt.
If your cat is out on a night when there are fewer mice and squirrels available, they might become that night’s special.
What do owls usually eat?
The World of Owls states that the breed of the owl and the availability of food determines what prey they seek. Larger owls may pursue prey as large as rabbits, young foxes, ducks, and other game birds.
Most varieties of owls are opportunistic hunters and will hunt whatever is available to them, which is how cats end up on their menu often.
These birds of prey will most often eat small animals, such as mice, rats, squirrels, shrews, voles, chipmunks, etc. They also frequent bird feeders, but not for bird seed; to snack on small birds.
Owls also eat earthworms, spiders, snails, amphibians, snakes, and other reptiles. There are breeds of owls who enjoy fishing for a meal of seafood such as fish, crayfish, and crabs.
Whoo’s your neighbor?
The Owl Pages state that most owls have a hunting territory and a roosting territory. If you see an owl flying near your home, your home is either near their nest or in their hunting territory.
He or she is probably your neighbor and is likely aware that your feline friend has outdoor time. Since owls must hunt for food and do not enjoy the luxury that you and your cats do of picking up food at the store, they must always be aware of what food sources are available to them.
According to The Owl Research Institute, most owls are nocturnal, hunting only at night. However, some owls are diurnal, hunting during the day too.
Some owls who are usually nocturnal will hunt during the day if they have baby owls to feed and are not finding enough food for their family hunting at night. Unless you see a parliament of owls, you will not be able to know if your local owls have babies to feed.
As such, there is no sure way to know their hunting schedule. This means that the best way for your cats to coexist with your neighborhood owls is to keep your cats indoors exclusively.
What should you do if your cat is attacked by an owl and dies?
You may contact your local animal control agency to report the death.
Your initial instinct may be to kill the owl. However, as a result of their role in our natural ecosystem, owls are protected under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
If you are determined to attempt to kill the owl, you must apply for a hunting permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to The Washington Times, Killing an owl or other bird of prey without a permit is illegal and results in criminal charges and Court-ordered fines, probation, and community service.
What should you do if your cat is attacked by an owl and survives?
Some particularly tough cats, like Francis of Maine, are able to use one of their nine lives to survive an owl attack.
In his case, he survived a mid-air scuffle, was unable to be located briefly, and then reappeared, scratching at the door to his house to come back inside. He sustained some cuts and scratches from the owl’s talons, but other than that he appeared to be okay.
Even if your cat only sustains a few scratches from their tussle with an owl, they should still receive veterinary care. Since an owl’s talons act as their dinner knives on a variety of animals, the risk of infection from their cut is high.
As owls often attempt to carry a cat in the air, even if the cat survives the initial trauma of their sharp talons catching them and digging in to tighten their grip as they fly away if they manage to break free while in the air, the fall to the ground may cause further injuries.
Your cat may appear to be okay initially, but after the adrenaline wears off, they will likely feel the full extent of their injuries. Even if your cat seems okay, always arrange for veterinary treatment as soon as possible after the attack occurs.
How can you protect your cat?
The best way to protect your cat from owls and other large predators is to keep them exclusively indoors.
If you allow your cat outdoors, only allowing them to be outside when they are supervised while helps keep them safe.
The presence of humans often deters owls and other birds of prey. However, birds of prey living in more populated areas may become acclimated to people and still attempt to eat a cat in the presence of humans.
If your cat enjoys being outside, there are still ways to allow them to enjoy the outdoors while keeping them safe:
- Leash training your cat allows you to supervise them during the time they spend outside. To learn how to train your cat to walk on a leash, check out this how-to article by Dr. Becker. There are many cat harnesses available for purchase on Amazon, such as this escape-proof harness.
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- Some cat owners build a “catio”, which is a covered patio attached to their house. The enclosure is usually built around a window, allowing cats free access to go outdoors whenever they please. If you enjoy building or know a great handyman, there are DIY catio plans available for instant download purchase on Etsy.
- Other cat owners utilize an outdoor cat enclosure.
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According to The National Wildlife Federation, an “invasive species” is any living creature that is not native to the area’s ecosystem and causes harm to local wildlife.
Before deciding that it is inhumane to keep your cat exclusively indoors, know that they are considered an “invasive species”.
When cats are allowed to roam freely outdoors, they have a negative impact on the smaller members of your local ecosystem. Our feline friends are adept hunters. According to The Wildlife Center of Virginia, cats kill billions of wild animals yearly.
Allowing cats to roam freely also inserts them into the ecosystem as prey. When cats are added to the menu of local predators such as owls, their naturally intended prey may overpopulate, again negatively impacting your local ecosystem.
Can an owl eat a cat? Yes, owls have eaten cats before and they will again. Cats are not in their top five favorite meals but will be considered if their favorite prey is not available for that evening’s meal.
You can take steps to protect your cat from owls by keeping them indoors, and if you want to allow them outdoors, utilize a catio or an outdoor cat cage.