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3 Types of Wild Cats in Wisconsin (With Pictures)

When you hear “wild cats,” you might automatically think of a lion or tiger. However, there are several breeds of wild cats in North America. Although they’re not as abundant as they were before the dawn of the 20th century, some species’ numbers are rebounding. Three have a presence in Wisconsin: bobcats, Canada lynx, and cougars. Learn more about these felines, what to do if you encounter one, and how to keep your pets safe.

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The 3 Types of Wild Cats in Wisconsin

1. Bobcat

bobcat in the forest
Image by: milesz, Pixabay
Weight: 11 to 30+ pounds
Length: 26 to 41 inches
Scientific Name: Lynx rufus

If you spot a large feline in the distance, you might ask yourself, “Is that a bobcat or someone’s pet cat?” Bobcats are often mistaken for larger domesticated cats like the Maine coon. The most distinguishing physical feature is the bobcat’s tail, which is shorter than a pet cat’s tail.

Most bobcats are bigger than a pet cat and can weigh over 30 pounds. Adult females are generally smaller and shorter than their male counterparts. In the northern part of the state, bobcats live in forested, swampy areas. In the southern portion, they live in higher, hillier regions. Bobcats hunt smaller game like rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. The wild cats have a permanent home in Wisconsin.

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2. Canada lynx

Canada lynx winter_Warren Metcalf_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Warren Metcalf, Shutterstock
Weight: 15 to 30 pounds
Length: 30 to 35 inches
Scientific Name: Lynx canadensis

Canada lynx travel across the northern third of the state. They don’t breed in Wisconsin but travel to the state to pursue snowshoe hares. You can also see the wild cats in northern Minnesota and Michigan’s upper peninsula. The average Canada lynx is slightly smaller than a bobcat but has a longer tail.

Lynx also have a longer tuft on the top of their ears. As with bobcats, male lynx are slightly bigger than females. The lynx population is stable and widespread in Canada, but their coverage range in the U.S. is shrinking.

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3. Cougar

Image Credit: Evgeniyqw, Shutterstock
Weight: 75 to 190 pounds
Length: 72 to 95 inches
Scientific Name: Puma concolor

While confirmed cougar sightings in Wisconsin make the news, they are rare. Many suspected cougars caught on trail cameras turn out to be other animals.  Sightings confirmed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have occurred throughout the state, except for the far eastern and southern counties.

The cougar is by far the largest wild cat on our list. Adult males are noticeably larger than females. If you spot a cougar in real life, it’s unlikely that you’ll mistake them for a pet cat! Like the Canada lynx, cougars don’t breed in Wisconsin. The cougar is also called a mountain lion, panther, puma, and catamount.



Learn what to do if you encounter one of Wisconsin’s wild cats and how to keep you and your pets safe.

How Do I Report a Wild Cat Sighting in Wisconsin?

The state’s DNR wants to know about possible cougar or Canada lynx sightings. You can report sightings online at Large Mammal Observation Form.

Bobcats breed in Wisconsin and call the state home. While seeing a bobcat is exciting, it’s not unusual or a cause for concern. You don’t need to report uneventful sightings. However, you can contact the DNR if a bobcat exhibits unusual behavior, like coming close to a residential area during the daytime.

How Many Cougars Are in Wisconsin?

The WI DNR does not believe that cougars currently breed in the state. Experts think that cougar sightings here are transient males originating from South Dakota.

The DNR reported 18 confirmed sightings in 2021. However, it’s possible that one cat was responsible for multiple sightings. Wildlife experts don’t know precisely how many cougars are present in the state, but they are considered rare.

Will a Bobcat, Lynx, or Cougar Eat a House Cat?

The unfortunate answer is “Yes.” All three species of Wisconsin wild cats are carnivores, and pet cats are easy prey. Keep your inside or in an enclosed pet playpen or “catio.”

What Should I Do if I See a Wild Cat?

A wild cat sighting in Wisconsin is rare. Bobcats, cougars, and Canada lynx are solitary animals. You likely won’t see one during the day since the wild felines are more active during twilight hours and at night.

If you see a wild cat, stay calm. Your first instinct might be to run, but the cat will likely chase you. Stand tall and face the cat. Wave your arms and yell. Then, slowly back away while still facing the cat.

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The three wild cats in Wisconsin today are the bobcat, Canada lynx, and cougar. The only cat wildlife experts believe still breeds in the state are bobcats. The cougars and Canada lynx spotted in Wisconsin are transient and most likely searching for food. Wild cats are active during the twilight hours and at night. You can keep your pets safe by keeping them indoors during the cats’ prime hunting hours.

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Featured Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash