Keeping your pet dog or cat outdoors is a good way to make sure that they get enrichment and exercise, but it also means living side by side with potential predators, like birds of prey such as owls.
Are dogs and cats too large for owls to carry? Or should you worry if your feline or canine buddy is outdoors around owls?
Owls are dangerous to dogs and cats. The Great Horned Owl is large enough to carry away small pets, and although attacks are rare, they can cause serious injury and even death. But other owls, like the Barn Owl, are too small to pose a threat to pet canines and felines.
Why Some Owls Are Dangerous to Dogs and Cats
Owls have impressive hunting instincts, as they use their hearing to locate small prey in total darkness.
They also have sharp talons that they can use to pick up or tear into their prey. If an owl chose to attack a pet, it could almost certainly cause serious injuries and even kill a cat or a dog.
However, an owl will typically only attack animals that are small enough to carry away.
Are Owls Dangerous to Pets?
Some owls, like the Great Horned Owl, are large enough to be dangerous to pets and will sometimes attack small dogs and chickens if they’re left outside unattended and without shelter.
However, these attacks are rare.
A Great Horned Owl prefers to hunt the following creatures:
- Small owls
These predators are found across North and South America in forests, near streams, and in the open country.
They nest 20 to 60 feet (6.09 to 18.28 m) above the ground and are recognizable by their deep, distinctive nighttime hoots.
These and other owls hunt mainly at night, so your pet is especially at risk of being hunted or attacked during this time.
Are Barn Owls Dangerous to Dogs?
Barn Owls are not dangerous to dogs, as they only weigh about a pound (453.59 g), and cannot attack or kill animals that are larger than them.
They only hunt small rodents like mice, not larger mammals like dogs or cats. Even small dogs are too big for a barn owl to hunt.
How To Keep Pets Safe From Birds of Prey
In addition to large owls, large hawks and eagles may prey upon small pets.
If you have chickens or other small animals that spend time outside, you should protect them from these birds of prey.
The following are strategies you can use to keep your pets safe:
- Place large bird decoys in your yard.
- Use shiny objects like reflective tape or pie pans to discourage birds from coming into your lawn.
- Use sound machines to scare away birds.
- Build a covered patio or run for your outdoor pets.
- Accompany your pet outside.
- Don’t leave your pet outside alone overnight.
What To Do if a Bird of Prey Attacks Your Pet
If a hawk, owl, or other bird of prey attacks your pet, you should see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Some injuries happen without symptoms at first, only to grow into very serious problems within a few hours or days.
Common injuries resulting from bird attacks include lung contusions, head trauma, and puncture wounds.
Will a Barn Owl Attack a Human?
Barn Owls are generally shy creatures and will fly away when they sense human activity.
A Barn Owl will attack humans, however, in rare cases out of self-defense.
If a barn owl feels threatened enough to attack, it will let out a raspy hissing sound first to warn you of the coming attack and scare you away.
If you want to avoid an attack from a Barn Owl, keep a good distance.
Why Barn Owls Are Considered Bad Omens
Despite the low risk of attack from a Barn Owl, these birds have a reputation for being fearsome and threatening.
Many consider owls as bad omens, perhaps because they often live near cemeteries, where there’s plenty of open hunting ground.
Other Predators of Outdoor Pets
Hawks, eagles, coyotes, and mountain lions are all common predators known to attack small pets outdoors.
A sturdy fence works to keep some of these predators away, but it’s also important to make sure your pet has a shelter to retreat to and avoid letting your pet near any potential nesting sites.
You can discourage predators from hunting in your yard by removing debris and brush where they could hide.
It’s also a good idea to bring your pet inside at night.
There is less risk if you have a large dog or other pet with good self-defense skills, but even these animals can pick up diseases like rabies from encounters with wild predators.
Although they are not commonly thought of as predators, raccoons can also pose a threat to outdoor pets.
They will fight dogs and other animals over food, so be careful not to leave leftover food outside unattended.
What To Do if You Encounter a Predator
If you’re out for a walk or playing with your pet in the backyard, it can be quite alarming to come across a predator like a coyote.
If this happens, follow these steps:
- Remain face-to-face. Don’t turn your back on the predator.
- Calmly pick up your dog or cat, or hold onto the collar or leash of a bigger dog.
- Make loud noises to scare the predator away.
- Be prepared to fight with sticks or rocks if the predator attacks.
- If your pet is attacked, seek veterinary help immediately.
Remember that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all owls in the United States, prohibiting the capture or killing of these birds in any case unless you have a permit.
You should only attack an owl as a last resort if it’s already made itself a threat to you or your pet.