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3 Types of Wild Cats in Washington State (With Pictures)

Washington is well known for its evergreens, ruggedly beautiful countryside, snow-capped mountains, and an assortment of wildlife. While you might not see much evidence of wild cats or other wild animals in the urban areas, the suburbs and countryside are perfect places for these big cats to wander to their heart’s content.

Although you might have only heard of one or two wild cats in Washington, three species live in the state. This guide will introduce you to all three and give you tips on how to stay safe while you’re living in the country or camping.

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The 3 Types of Wild Cats in Washington State

1. Bobcat

Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Lynx rufus
Other Names: Bay Lynx, Wildcat
Habitat: Suburban areas, forests, coastal swamps, deserts, scrubland

The smallest of the three wild cats found in Washington is the Bobcat. Distinguished by their bobbed tail, tufted ears, and spotted coat, the Bobcat is also the wild cat more likely to venture into suburban areas in search of food. They’re nocturnal, and you’re not likely to see them sunbathing in your backyard like a domestic cat, but you might see signs of their presence, like scratches on fence posts.

Although they’re close relatives of the Canadian Lynx, the Bobcat prefers to stay in low areas so they can avoid deep snow in the colder months. They’re also more common than their larger wild cat cousins, with an ability to adapt to a wide variety of habitats, from the forest to coastal swamps and even deserts.

The Bobcat is sometimes hunted for their fur and in some areas, is valued for their ability to manage the rabbit and rodent population.

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2. Canada Lynx

Canada Lynx
Image Credit: GenDesilets, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Lynx canadensis
Other Names: None
Habitat: Mountains, forests

Out of all three wild cat species in Washington, the Canada Lynx is the one that you’re least likely to hear of. This is due to two reasons. The first is their preference for higher elevations and avoidance of humans, and the second is how low in number the population is in Washington.

While they used to be found more commonly in the northern states, these days, they’re mostly found throughout Canada and Alaska. Their presence in Washington is limited to high altitudes, particularly in Okanogan County.

The Canada Lynx is similar to the Bobcat in appearance with tufted ears and long fur on their cheeks. However, they’re much larger, and their coats are a solid gray color. Unlike the Bobcat, the Canada Lynx is built for hunting in snowy areas. Their large paws and thick coats help them maneuver and stay warm in cold temperatures.

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3. Cougar

Image Credit: villagequirks, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Puma concolor
Other Names: Mountain lion, puma
Habitat: Steep canyons, forests, rocky areas

As the most well-known wild cat in Washington, the Cougar is also called mountain lion, puma, and panther. Their coat ranges from gray to reddish brown but is always a solid color. They’re the biggest wild cat in Washington.

Although they’re more widespread than the Canada Lynx, Cougars aren’t as likely to wander into suburban areas as Bobcats are, but their territory often overlaps with those of their smaller feline cousins.

Cougars are solitary unless a mother is raising young, but you’re not likely to see them at all because they prefer to stay out of the way. They’ll often drag their kill — usually deer — to secluded, covered areas to eat their fill and then bury it to save for later. These cats will stay in the vicinity of their food cache for several days before leaving to hunt for more food.


How to Stay Safe Around Wild Cats

Wild cats are hunters, and while humans aren’t their first source of food, there are occasional reports of cougars attacking people, particularly children or pets. Due to this, it’s important to consider how to keep children, livestock, pets, and even yourself safe when you’re at home or out on a nature hike in the country. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to stay safe.

Don’t Walk Alone

Image Credit: Unexpected_Images, Shutterstock

When anyone thinks about wild cats, the Cougar is always the first one that comes to mind. They also favor larger prey than the Canada Lynx and the Bobcat do, which prefer rabbits and rodents.

If you read reports about Cougar attacks, you might notice that the victim is often alone and usually a child. While Cougars have been known to attack adults, they prefer to choose weaker targets and will always favor prey that doesn’t put up a fight.

This is where walking in a group or with a friend will help. Cougars hunt alone and are unlikely to pick on a group of people that outnumbers them.

Don’t Run

Most predators are naturally inclined to chase down their prey, and this is why it’s important not to turn tail and run away if you encounter a Cougar. Stay calm, move slowly, and don’t turn your back to avoid setting off their hunting instincts. Back away slowly, or scare the Cougar off by shouting and waving your arms.

Get a Dog

dog barink teeth, angry dog, dog teeth
Image Credit: Bokeh Blur Background

It might seem counter-intuitive to get a dog, particularly when small dogs can be attractive prey to some wild cats. However, the right breed can be a good early warning system to alert you to the presence of nearby predators. Dogs are more likely to smell or hear the wild cat before you even know that they’re there.

This doesn’t mean you should leave your dog or children unsupervised, however, and you shouldn’t leave either unattended if there’s a Cougar in your area.

Livestock Guardians

Many people keep livestock like sheep and chickens, which can be enticing to a Cougar that’s passing through. This is why livestock guardians are the most popular deterrents to wild cats. Many large dog breeds are perfect for guarding livestock, but you can also get a donkey or a llama.

Make Noise

Wild cats are silent hunters, and the more noise that you make, the warier they’ll be. While it can be nice to go on a quiet walk, you should make an effort to make your presence known. This is another way that walking with a friend or in a group can help.

If you do find yourself facing down a wild cat, make yourself look bigger and make more noise. By doing so, you’ll ward off the cat simply because you’re presenting yourself as a more difficult target than they’ll want to deal with.

Remove Hiding Spots

bobcat in the forest
Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay

Having covered areas close to your livestock pen or garden might make the landscaping look pretty, but it’s also a prime spot for a wild cat to lie in wait. Cougars especially love covered areas, and they’ll sit and watch their chosen prey for hours without you knowing that they’re there.

Make sure your livestock pens aren’t right next to forested land or surrounded by dense shrubs. You want open space between covered areas and your barn or house to deter predators.

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Although you might expect wolves, coyotes, and bears to be the only predators in Washington, the state is also home to three species of wild cats. You might recognize the Bobtail and Cougar from frequent appearances in the news or comments through your countryside community. They’re widespread and often venture into each other’s territories. The Canada Lynx, on the other hand, is a rarer sight, with only a few present in Okanogan County.

All three can be found in different areas in Washington, and we hope that this guide has helped you identify which one you’re likely to find nearby.

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Featured Image: Linzmeier1, Pixabay