Owls are mysterious creatures of the night that capture our imagination. Their large, forward-facing eyes and sharp talons make them skilled nocturnal hunters. If you’ve ever wondered whether owls prey on small animals like cats, you’re not alone.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: While large owls like the Eurasian eagle owl are capable of killing small cats and kittens, most owls do not typically hunt cats due to their size and defensiveness. Only the very largest owl species would attempt to prey on domestic cats.

In this nearly 3000 word guide, we will explore the topic of owls preying on cats in depth. We’ll learn which owl species have the size and strength to overpower feline prey. We’ll look at real-world examples and dive into the available research.

And we’ll find out how common cat predation is among different owl species.

The Largest Owl Species Capable of Killing Cats

Eurasian Eagle Owls

With a wingspan reaching over 6 feet, the Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo) is considered the largest owl in the world. These powerful raptors can take down prey as large as foxes and young deer, so a house cat would not pose much of a challenge.

Eurasian eagle owls have tremendously strong talons that can exert 500 psi – easily enough to crush a cat’s skull or spine.

Though they prefer small mammals like rats or hares, Eurasian eagle owls are opportunistic hunters. If a cat wanders into their territory, particularly during nesting season when they are feeding owlets, the owls may view them as easy pickings.

Cases of pet cats being attacked or carried off by Eurasian eagle owls have been documented in regions where the two species overlap.

Great Horned Owls

The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is another extremely powerful raptor capable of killing domestic cats. Though smaller than the Eurasian eagle owl with around a 4.5 foot wingspan, great horned owls can take down surprisingly large prey.

Their diets consist mainly of rabbits and hares, but skunks, foxes, ducks, and even racoons have been recorded as great horned owl kills.

With razor-sharp talons exerting several hundred psi of pressure, a great horned owl could easily crush a cat’s bones. There are anecdotal reports of pet cats being attacked by great horned owls, likely when wandering into their territory around dawn or dusk when these predators do most of their hunting.

Snowy Owls

The snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large Arctic species with a wingspan approaching 5 feet. Though they mainly subsist on small rodents like lemmings, snowy owls are opportunistic predators that will also hunt hares, ducks, seabirds and even weasels and foxes.

With their sizable talons and powerful grip, snowy owls are certainly capable of killing cats, especially kittens. However, interactions between snowy owls and felines are rare as the owls reside in remote northern regions of Canada, Alaska and Eurasia that house cats do not typically inhabit.

Great Gray Owls

Another very large owl species, the great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) can attain a 4.5 foot wingspan. It mainly preys on small voles and pocket gophers, swooping low over fields in search of signs of movement.

Though theretofore docile around humans, great gray owls can be aggressive defenders of their nests.

There are no documented cases of great gray owls targeting domestic cats as prey. However, with their sizable talons they could likely overpower an unwary house cat, particularly a kitten, if defending a nest site.

Generally though great grays reside in remote northern boreal forests away from human settlements where run-ins with cats would be rare.

Documented Examples of Owls Preying on Cats

Owls are impressive hunters that can take down surprisingly large prey. While cats are not a typical part of an owl’s diet, there are documented cases of owls preying on domestic cats.

Great Horned Owls

The powerful great horned owl is perhaps the most likely owl species to go after a cat. There are several reports of great horned owls attacking cats, especially in areas where urban development is encroaching on the owl’s territory.

In one well-known incident, a great horned owl in Boulder, Colorado was photographed in 2012 carrying a domestic cat in its talons. The owl likely snatched the cat from a residential backyard. Great horned owls have also been known to take feral cats and small kittens.

Eurasian Eagle Owls

The Eurasian eagle owl is one of the larger owl species, with a wingspan up to 6 feet wide. These massive birds have been documented attacking domestic cats, especially in parts of Europe where the owls’ range overlaps with human settlements.

There are reports from residents in villages in northern and eastern Europe losing cats to Eurasian eagle owl predation. In one case, a Swedish cat owner captured footage of a Eurasian eagle owl entering their home and snatching their sleeping cat off a chair!

Barn Owls

Barn owls are medium-sized owls common in many agricultural areas. While barn owls mainly feed on small rodents like mice and voles, they have also been known to prey on kittens and young cats in rural settings.

One report described a barn owl in France carrying off three 6-week old kittens in one night from a rural homestead. Barn owls likely only take juvenile, small or weak cats that pose little resistance.

Other Owl Species

Most other owl species are too small to seriously threaten an adult cat. However, small owl species like eastern screech owls may prey on very young, small kittens. Larger owls like barred owls, spotted owls and great grey owls could also potentially take a cat, given the right circumstances.

How Owls Hunt Cats

Typical Hunting Behaviors

Owls are ingenious and patient hunters that use a variety of tactics to catch their prey, including cats. Here are some typical owl hunting behaviors when targeting feline quarry:

  • Perching and waiting – Owls will often perch on a high vantage point like a tree branch and wait motionless for cats to come into view.
  • Silent flight – Owls have evolved near-silent flight feathers that allow them to swoop down on prey undetected.
  • Surprise attacks – Owls rely on stealth and their nocturnal nature to launch surprise aerial attacks on unsuspecting cats.
  • Talon strikes – Sharp, powerful talons allow owls to seize and grasp cat prey firmly.

Killing Method

When owls manage to ambush a cat, they have a very effective killing method. Here are some details on how owls kill cat prey:

  • Vice-like talons – An owl latches onto the cat with its strong talons, immediately piercing vital areas like the neck or head.
  • Constriction – By constricting tightly around the cat’s chest with its feet, the owl quickly suffocates the animal.
  • Snapping the spine – The immense gripping force of an owl can snap the delicate vertebrae in a cat’s neck and back.
  • Crushing the skull – An owl may smash the cat’s skull in its talons or even decapitate it.

What They Eat

While owls are capable hunters, cats are not a typical prey item. Here is some information on owls that do eat cats:

  • Larger owl species – Powerful owls like the Eurasian eagle-owl or great horned owl are the most likely to attack cats.
  • Opportunistic predators – Owls are opportunists and may eat cats when abundant, easy to catch, or easier prey is scarce.
  • Typically eat kittens and small cats – Full-grown cats are large for most owl species to hunt but kittens and small cats may be taken.
  • Eat cat remains – Scavenging owls like barn owls may eat remains of cats killed by other predators.

While not unheard of, most owls do not routinely hunt cats as prey. However, their stealthy ambush hunting style makes owls dangerous predators capable of taking feline quarry when the opportunity arises.

Are Cats Common Prey for Owls?

When it comes to owls and cats, it’s understandable that cat owners may be concerned about the safety of their feline friends. After all, owls are impressive predators that can take down prey much larger than themselves. However, the incidence of owls preying on domestic cats is actually quite low.

Here’s an overview of the facts surrounding owls and cats:

Owl Hunting Habits

Owls are opportunistic hunters that prey on small mammals like mice, voles, rats, and rabbits. They also eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Generally, owls hunt prey that is proportionate to their size – a small owl like a screech owl would not attempt to take down a large house cat.

That said, large owls like great horned owls have been known to prey on somewhat heavier animals, including skunks, raccoons, small dogs, and feral cats. Overall though, domestic cats are not a routine part of any owl’s diet.

Documented Owl Attacks on Cats

There are a handful of documented cases of owls preying on domestic cats. Often these involve feral cats that spend a lot of time roaming outdoors at night when owls are active. There is also some evidence that owls may prey on kittens more often than full-grown cats.

In one study conducted over 7 years in Ontario, Canada, researchers found records of 16 domestic cats being attacked by owls. Of these, 5 attacks were fatal. Great horned owls and barred owls were the two species most often implicated.

The study concluded owl predation on owned cats was a rare occurrence overall.

Mitigating Risk

The risk of an owl attack can be minimized by keeping cats indoors, especially at night when owls hunt. Indoor cats are safe from owls as well as other predators like coyotes. Outdoor enclosures also help limit a cat’s exposure.

Eliminating rodent habitat around the home and securing potential nesting spots may also discourage owls from hunting too close to a home with cats. However, completely owl-proofing a yard may not be realistic or necessary given the rarity of attacks.

In the end, while it’s understandable for cat owners to be concerned, owl attacks on domestic cats are quite uncommon. With some basic precautions, owners can have peace of mind knowing their felines are safe.

Protecting Cats from Owl Predation

Keep Cats Indoors

One of the best ways to protect cats from owls and other predators is to keep them indoors, especially at night when owls are most active. Indoor cats live on average 10-15 years longer than outdoor cats.

According to the American Humane Society, indoor cats are also safer from diseases, parasites, accidents, and attacks from other animals. If you want to give your cat outdoor time, use an enclosed “catio” or take them outside on a leash and harness.

Install Scare Owls

Owl effigies or scarecrows can help deter owls from hunting near your home. Position fake owls near areas owls frequent or where your cats go outside. Move the effigies every few days so they don’t become meaningless to real owls.

Scarecrows or noisy deterrents like bells, clappers, and ultrasonic devices may also help startle and scare off owls.According to the American Bird Conservancy, “Owls are very territorial, and they don’t tolerate other owls in their territory.

So by placing a fake owl in your yard, you can trick real owls into thinking another owl is invading their turf, and they’ll take off.” Just be sure the fake owl looks realistic.

Trim Vegetation

Owls rely on the element of surprise to ambush their prey. Trimming trees, bushes, and dense vegetation around your home eliminates places where owls can secretly perch and wait to attack. This forces them to hunt elsewhere.

Keeping areas near feeding stations, nesting spots, and favored napping places clean and open is important.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Owls with talon injuries may have difficulty catching prey. Place feeders close to or on the ground until the owl fully recovers.” Providing easy access to food can help injured cats survive.


While owl attacks on cats do occasionally happen, the vast majority of owls pose no threat. Only the very largest species like Eurasian eagle owls prey regularly on slightly smaller animals. By understanding owl behavior and capabilities, cat owners can take reasonable precautions to protect their feline companions.

Similar Posts