Are Owls Dangerous To Dogs And Cats? (Read This First!)


Owls can be seen as symbols of wisdom or bad omens. They can be found nesting in barns or swooping in the night at cemeteries full of little critters to prey upon. 

While the attack of an owl is low and rare, it can and does happen.

Owls are dangerous to cats and dogs because they attack with curved talons and beaks. They will attack any size of animal if it feels their territory or family is threatened. In particular, smaller breeds of dogs and kittens are at risk of being caught as prey. Small pets, generally under 10 pounds, should be supervised outdoors for protection from predators, such as owls. 

This article will provide facts and more information about the dangers that owls pose to dogs and cats.

Are Owls Dangerous To Dogs?

Owls can be dangerous, but the risks of injury or lethal attack on a dog are very rare.

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Owls generally attack for two reasons:

  1. They are defending territory, nests, mates, or offspring.
  2. They are hunting.

Therefore, if a dog, hiker, or jogger moves too close to an owl’s territory they may be attacked.

Owls have sharp curved talons and beaks that can cause painful and deep wounds that could require medical attention. 

Owls are not considered significant carriers of diseases that negatively impact domestic animals or people. 

However, Salmonella infections can occur after handling bird feathers, droppings, or owl pellets. Symptoms in dogs could include lethargy, bloody or mucus-like diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. 

When And Where Owls Attack: Day & Night

Owls may attack a dog during the day if it ventures too close to its territory. However, dogs are less likely to be attacked by an owl if they stay inside a shelter during the night.

This is because owls are primarily nocturnal hunters that move silently and stealthily in the night as they search for prey. 

They are far-sighted, with better night-than-day vision, capable of seeing distances up to 1 mile away. Owls also have an excellent hearing to locate the sounds of moving prey.

Owls can be found in various habitats such as coniferous forests, deserts, mountains, and plains. They live in barns as well as raise their young in the nests of other birds (hawk or squirrel), ground holes, and caves.

Owls are quiet and elusive and are more commonly found in quiet areas. 

However, owls also live in urban areas, especially if there are abundant food sources. Owls eat prey such as rats, rabbits, opossums, skunks, ducks, hawks, lizards, frogs, and insects.

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Strength Of An Owl

There are over 240 species of owls globally, split into 2 families: Tytonidae and Strigidae

The facial features, ear tufts, plumage, and size will vary among these birds, but they are all raptors. This means that they are carnivorous, birds of prey that hunt meat sources with powerful curved talons and bills.

Depending upon the species and gender, mature owls can have the following ranges in size:

  • Length: 5 to 28 inches
  • Wingspan: 1 to 6.6 feet
  • Weight: 0.09 pounds (1.4 ounces) to 10.1 pounds

Please note that females are bigger than males.

The bone structure within an owl’s foot is short and durable, allowing it to grab and lift prey. When they grab prey, the talons spread wide to give the owl a firm, successful grip.

Their large wings allow them to glide in silence through the air up to 40 miles per hour (mph). An owl’s powerful grip, strong feet, and expansive wingspan allow it to lift more than it weighs. 

For example, the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) weighs approximately 3 pounds, yet can lift prey that weighs up to 9 pounds.

While rare, if an owl can attack a dog and its talons pierce a vital organ, it can be lethal. In many cases, lethal attacks or serious injuries are more likely in smaller dogs.

Do Owls Eat Small Dogs?

Owls can eat small dogs if they are small enough. Owls are opportunistic and carnivorous hunters. 

An owl is capable of killing and lifting prey that is heavier than its body weight. 

However, it depends upon the species of owl. For example, a 1 pound owl will not be able to lift a small dog.  

Keep in mind that small dogs are at risk from attack from other animals as well such as hawks, bald eagles, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and bears. 

Small dogs that are 10 pounds or less should be supervised outside. Any dog that has a kennel outside should have a completely enclosed area with a roof for their protection.

Are Dogs Afraid Of Owls?

Dogs may not be naturally afraid of owls unless they have developed a phobia due to a previous issue with a bird. Negative experiences can cause fear in dogs.  

If a dog is afraid of something it will exhibit signs such as the following:

  • Cowering or trembling
  • Drooling
  • Barking
  • Destructive behavior
  • Aggression

Dogs also have innate instincts to hunt prey, and conversely can see owls as a food source. 

If a dog has chased and successfully caught a bird (especially without personal injury from the bird), it may be more likely to attack an owl rather than flee from it.

Are Owls Dangerous To Cats?

Owls can be dangerous to cats. Much like small dogs, in particular, cats, and even more so kittens, are seen as prey to owls. 

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Small cats are similar in size to other prey of owls, such as squirrels and rabbits.

Kittens do not yet have fully developed claws to defend themselves against an owl’s attack either. Kittens can weigh 2 to 3 pounds and most species of mature cats weigh around 10 pounds. 

Even though it is unlikely that an owl will pick up a 10-pound cat that will fight back, it can still sustain injury.

Cats compete with owls for prey that is outdoors, such as mice, lizards, other birds, and so on. 

Conversely, cats have a predatory instinct for hunting creatures such as birds. Therefore they can kill owl fledglings and as a result, are dangerous to owls.

How To Keep Owls Away From Cats

It is best to prevent owls and cats from interacting. 

This can be difficult if a cat is an outdoor-only pet. By supervising your cat, you protect both your pet and the owl.

If there is a feral cat in your yard, call wildlife control.

Consider doing the following:

  • Indoor-only cat: Your cat should be an indoor-only pet. This eliminates any owl and cat interactions.
    • Kittens especially should not be left unattended outdoors. 
  • Provide supervision: Cats outdoors should be supervised. 
    • Don’t let it climb near nesting sites. 
    • Consider using a cat harness to “walk” the cat and keep it close and restrained.
  • Install an enclosure: Create a “catio”, or cat patio, that has a roof and 4 sides. 
    • This allows a cat to enjoy the outdoors safely.
  • Install noisy and lighted features: Put in noisy items, such as wind chimes or sound machines, and motion-activated strobe lights in your yard. 
    • These can be annoying to an owl since they have sensitive vision and hearing. This may keep an owl away from your yard because it reduces its ability to hunt in that area. 
    • Keep in mind that noise and bright lights can also bother your cat and your neighbors.

It is against the law to harm a bird, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

However, if there is a threat of an owl attack, do the following:

  1. Face the owl. Do not turn your back to it.
  2. Calmly pick up your cat (or dog).
    • Or, hold the collar of a bigger dog.
  3. Make loud noises and wave any free arm.
  4. Be prepared to push the owl away to deter repeated attacks. 
    • Avoid killing or trapping the bird, as this is illegal.
  5. If wounds incur, seek medical and veterinary assistance immediately.

If an owl attack occurs on a cat, contact your veterinarian right away. Your cat may have lung or other organ punctures, contusions, or head trauma which may not be apparent right away.

What Kind Of Owls Eat Cats?

Larger species of owls are more likely to see cats as prey. As a reminder, owls are capable of killing and carrying prey several pounds heavier than themselves. 

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Newborn kittens weigh a mere 0.22 pounds ( 3.5 ounces) on average at birth and weigh only 2 or 3 pounds in their first few months of life.

The weight of the owls is included below to demonstrate that despite their weight they have the potential to kill and pick up cats. 

This includes, but is not limited to, the following: 

  • Barred owls (Strix varia): 1.4 to 1.8 pounds
  • Northern hawk owls (Surnia ulula): 0.66 pounds (10.5 ounces)
  • Great gray owls (Strix nebulosa): 2.5 pounds
  • Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus): 3.2 pounds

However, while smaller owls do not generally see cats as prey, if a cat is ill, injured, or small enough (kitten) they may see it as an opportunity to attack.

For example, the Western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii) weighing 0.36 to 0.41 pounds (5.8 to 6.5 ounces) will attack prey much larger than itself.

Can Owls Be Dangerous For Other Pets?

Owls can be dangerous to other pets, as well as livestock and wild native species of animals. 

If the owl views it as a carnivorous meat source and it is small enough to attack, it will swoop in.

This includes the following:

  • Chicks
  • Ducklings
  • Poults (baby turkeys)
  • Baby goats
  • Rabbits

Pet mice, hamsters, snakes, and guinea pigs would also be at risk if left outside in a cage.

Conversely, despite the size, other pets may be attacked if they get too close to an owl’s territory or nesting site.

In Conclusion

Smaller breeds of dogs, cats, and kittens can be easily harmed and killed by owls. This is because owls see them as sources of food.  

Owls will also attack larger animals, including humans if they come too close to their territory, mates, offspring, or nest.

Humans and pets can get sick from salmonella exposure from an owl’s feathers, droppings, or nesting materials. 

If in contact with owls, or if injured from their sharp talons or beaks, wash your hands and seek medical care for any injuries.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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