Mountain lion head.
 
Photograph of mountain lion atop a cliff.

Domestic cats and dogs are easy prey for wild and feral animals. Your pets are much more likely to be vulnerable to coyotes and wild domestic dogs than to mountain lions, but the actions you can take to protect them are the same.

  • Keep your pets indoors.

    Dogs are social pack animals that need to be a part of your family, and den animals that appreciate a quiet and secure retreat in your home. Cats, although not so social, also appreciate a safe haven. Indoor pets live longer, are less likely to contract disease, be hit by a car, abused by people, injured in fights with other pets, or taken by a predator. The average outdoor cat lives to two years of age, while the average indoor cat lives 15 years.

  • Safeguard pets in your yard.

    If you do allow pets outside unaccompanied, keep them within a completely enclosed run, or in a well-fenced yard with a clear view. Dog runs are available from home supply stores, or you can create your own with cheap chain link fence. Provide pets with an access door into the house or a safe place to hide if they are threatened. Pets are safer outdoors in bright daylight rather than at dusk or dawn when predators are actively hunting, so bring pets inside in the early evening. Once pets are inside for the night, lock access doors.

  • Never chain.

    People often tie out a dog as a guard animal or tether a goat or sheep to keep down grass or brush. Tethered animals are an invitation to predators, and are unable to move freely to flee or to protect themselves. If you make this decision despite this warning, please consider that a periodic loss of the domestic animal is an expected cost, and that wild animals should not be killed for behaving naturally as a result of your action. Tethered animals put not only the pet or livestock at risk, but people too, as predators are enticed into the neighborhood.

  • Feed animals indoors.

    Predators have a highly developed sense of smell, and may pick up the scent of cat or dog food from a distance. Feeding cats and dogs outdoors invites skunks, opossums and raccoons to lunch, and larger predators like lions and coyotes may follow. Similarly, water can be an attractant in arid climates. Decorative ponds may also draw in predators, particularly raccoons. Pet food should also be stored in the home or a secure outdoor location. Dogs should be discouraged from burying bones in the yard.

  • Keep your yard clean.

    Picking up dog droppings daily will help keep wildlife in the woods where they belong. Dog droppings may smell like rich food to raccoons, coyotes, skunks and foxes. For the same reason, garbage cans should be closed and secured against scavengers. Remember that small wildlife will eventually attract larger predators, and that wild animals of all sizes can be dangerous to your pets.

  • Think Seasonally

    Seasonal changes disrupt a habits and force lions out of normal patterns of movement in order to seek out prey. Because they are opportunistic hunters, lions will take any animal that looks and smells like food and that does not appear to present an immediate danger. It appears that mountain lions are most likely to be tempted by domestic animals when deer herds are migrating. Unfortunately, this is also the time when many domestic animals are born, and therefore most vulnerable. Heavy snow, orchard windfalls, and mating seasons will also affect wildlife behavior.

  • Keep Wildlife at a Distance

    Clearing brush and shrubs from a bsckyard and establishing a limit line between wild areas and domestic operations can keep wildlife from having a place to hide. Smaller wild animals draw in larger wildlife and carry their own risks, too. Look over your yard for places that raccoons, skunks, oppossums and rodents might take up residence.

  • Discourage deer from entering your yard.

    Deer are beautiful, but they are also dangerous. Attracting deer to your yard creates several risks for your pets. Pets are vulnerable to hooves, antlers and teeth. Deer are the natural prey of mountain lions, which may follow a herd along the edge of wildlands and into your yard. Deer have plenty of food out in the wild, and feeding them hay, grain, or salt only diminishes their natural fear and places them at greater risk. Whenever deer are visible in the area, take extra precautions, as mountain lions are likely to be present as well. Secure your pets indoors or in enclosures when deer herds are likely to move through your area.

  • Walk Pets on a Leash.

    Out on the trail, keep dogs on a leash. Wide-roaming pets face all kinds of danger, not least of which is rousing a sleeping predator, which may chase the pet right back to his owner. Attaching bear bells to your dog's collar will alert wild animals to your pet's presence long before he is visible, and protect the wildlife as well as the dog. If your animal does encounter wildlife, and appears to be at risk, intervene only from a safe distance, by shouting for help, throwing rocks and sticks, but keeping your own safety the primary concern.

  • Fences (click here to read more)

    Fences may help to prevent both deer and mountain lions from choosing your backyard or pasture over your neighbor's. Unlike bears, mountain lions will not tear most fences apart, and unlike coyotes, foxes, skunks and dogs, mountain lions won't dig beneath a fence. But a lion's ability to climb and to jump means that a barn or covered pen is always a better choice for protection. Fences designed to deter mountain lions should be very high, deep and well-constructed. Electric fencing can be used, and temporary fencing can help to increase the efficacy of guard animals.

  • Install Frightening Devices (read more)

    Mountain lions depend on surprise to catch their prey, and, like most wild animals, avoid dangers that they don't understand. Installing motion or timer-activated devices around your animal enclosures may help keep predators away. Remember that it is as important to scare away the lion's potential wildlife prey as it is to scare away the lion. Alternating simple devices using water, sound, light can provide non-lethal methods for habituating wildlife to stay far from your backyard.

Mountain lions are crepuscular,most active in times of low light, at dusk and dawn.  Bring pets indoors at these times.

Choices

Sometimes the choices one makes can have far reaching ramifications. This has never been truer than with what happened a few weeks ago to a young mountain lion mother and her two "teenage" cubs in South Dakota.

Apparently the mother lion and her two cubs denned up for a short time near a typically large-acreage suburban/rural style housing development. This particular spot would have been especially enticing to them because of the abundant food supply: keep in mind teenagers eat a lot!

Then while behaving naturally and killing a deer (their natural prey source), an unprotected goat was spotted just on the other side of a backyard fence, and it too was added to the menu.

What happened then is a tale of choices... and consequences.

The American Lion:
Biology and Behavior

Spend just eight minutes and learn little known facts about the fascinating mountain lion. Get a glimpse of how a mountain lion thinks, feels, and senses. What makes the mountain lion so adaptable to a wide variety of habitats? How does their hunting differ from that of wolves and bears? What is their relationship to the ecosystem?

Cougar Family Visits Colorado Backyard

12/01/2010

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has seen an increase in reports of mountain lion sightings, which they say is primarily due to more people moving into lion habitat and also the cats following deer (a lion's favorite food) as they migrate down to lower elevations for the winter. Lynn Thomas was delighted to see cougar kittens up close but rightfully a bit wary of their protective mother. Her home-video footage shows the two playful kittens curiously exploring her back porch, while the mother lion keeps a watchful eye on Lynn to be sure she won't harm her babies.

ON AIR: Steve Pavlik on Cognitive Ethology

05/17/11 An Audio Interview with Julie West, MLF Broadcaster

In this edition of ON AIR, MLF broadcaster Julie West interviews Steve Pavlik about the Native American view of large carnivores, explore the field of cognitive ethology, and the idea that animals have rational thoughts and emotions not unlike people.