The term “wild cat” makes most people think of the lion, tiger, or cheetah. All three of these big cats, among others, are probably the most easy-to-recognize felines. But with their homeland being so far away for many people in the U.S.A. — excluding the ones in captivity — believing that there are wild cats on your doorstep is difficult. However, in Washington state alone, there are at least three species of wild cats.

Whether you’ve caught sight of them with a trail cam, found their footprints, or want to protect your pets, this guide will discuss the three wild cat species that you can find in Washington.

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The 3 Types of Wild Cats in Washington State

Part of what makes cats such great hunters is their ability to disappear into whatever foliage is around them. Their patience for lying in wait also makes it incredibly difficult to spot them. With all the mountains and forested areas in Washington, it can be nigh impossible to spot a wild cat in person.

Knowing that they’re out there and their habits will help you keep yourself, your pets, and your children safe, especially if you live far away from cities and towns.

1. Bobcat

close up of a bobcat
Image Credit: xivic, Pixabay
Scientific Name:Lynx rufus
Other Names:Bay Lynx, Wildcat
Habitat:Suburban areas, forests, coastal swamps, deserts, scrubland

Unlike the other two wild cats found in Washington, the Bobcat is the most widespread and the most likely to venture into suburban areas in search of food. While they’re happy enough sneaking into your suburban garden, they’re unlikely to show themselves around people, and you’ll probably only see trace evidence of their presence.


Out of the three wild cats, Bobcats are the ones with a more exotic appearance, with dark-brown spots and stripes on their brown coats. Their coloring also differs slightly depending on what side of the state they’re in. Western Washington Bobcats tend to be a much darker brown color than those in the east, although both variations appear on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains.

They have tufts of fur on their ears and the sides of their head. Bobcats also have much shorter tails than most other cats, although it’s longer than that of the Canadian Lynx.


These cats favor rocky cliffs, ledges, log piles, and hollow trees, where they can shelter and raise their young. The Bobcat is the smallest wild cat in the state, and their size gives them a disadvantage in snowier areas, so they’re likely to be less prominent in areas that receive heavy snowfall.


The Bobcat has similar eating habits as the Cougar, with their tendency to bury half-eaten carcasses and return to them later. Their short reach as they rake dirt over their meal and their small paw prints are clues as to the owner of a food cache.

Although they’re smaller than Cougars and Canadian Lynxes, Bobcats are still much larger than domestic cats. This fact is most evident in their scratching to mark their territory. While domesticated cats can reach about 1½–2 feet off the ground, Bobcats can reach anywhere between 2 and 3 feet high.

2. Canadian Lynx

Canadian Lynx standing on rock
Image Credit: Reimar, Shutterstock
Scientific Name:Lynx canadensis
Other Names:None
Habitat:Mountains, forests

As the rarest wild cat in Washington state, you’re unlikely to spot the Canadian Lynx anywhere in the wild. They’re an endangered species, with only a small population of 50 present in Okanogan County.

Before trapping, wildfires, and habitat loss damaged their numbers, the Canadian Lynx could be found in Chelan, Ferry, Steven, and Pend Oreille counties, along with parts of Idaho. To protect the species, Lynx trapping was made illegal in Washington in 1991.


The rarity of the Canadian Lynx often means they’re mistaken for the more common Bobcat. Their appearance, however, greatly differs from their smaller wild cat cousins. Larger than the Bobcat but still smaller than the Cougar, the Canadian Lynx has long ear tufts and long legs, although their tails are quite short. They also have an arched back, which is particularly apparent on their rear end.

Overall, the Canadian Lynx is primarily gray with few distinguishable markings, unlike the Bobcat’s dark-spotted brown coat.


Unlike the Bobcat, which prefers areas with less snowfall, the Canadian Lynx makes their home in areas higher than 4,600 feet. While they prefer forested areas with plenty of coverage — particularly Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and subalpine forests — they usually choose areas that receive a large amount of snowfall. Their large paws give them a keen advantage over Bobcats and coyotes when it comes to hunting in deep snow.

3. Cougar

cougar on a rock in a zoo
Image Credit: villagequirks, Pixabay
Scientific Name:Puma concolor
Other Names:Mountain lion, puma
Habitat:Steep canyons, forests, rocky areas

The largest wild cat in Washington state is the Cougar. Also known as the Puma or Mountain Lion, Cougars are generally solitary and prefer to stay well out of the way of humans. They’re so adept at staying out of sight that you’re not likely to see one in person at all.

Cougars mostly feed on deer and elk but have been known to hunt mountain goats, wild sheep, coyotes, and rabbits, along with other small prey animals.


A cougar is usually a solid color that varies between reddish brown, tawny, and gray. Kittens, however, share the same spotted appearance as the Bobcat until they’re 4–5 months old. Unlike the two other wild cats in Washington, the Cougar has a long tail and doesn’t have ear tufts.


Provided that there is plenty of coverage for them to hide in, Cougars can be found throughout Washington. Compared to the Bobcat, however, Cougars rarely venture anywhere near urban areas. They prefer hunting in areas that provide plenty of hiding places, such as canyons, boulders, dense brush, and forests. The male’s home range can cover anywhere between 50 and 150 square miles.


Like Bobcats, Cougars bury any leftovers of their kills to return to later. Once they’ve made their food cache, they’ll linger in the area for several days until they’ve finished with the carcass. They’ll often drag their prey to secluded, well-covered areas.

Their scratch marks to mark their territory are at least 4–8 feet above the ground and are much deeper and more pronounced than those of their Bobcat cousins.

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How to Keep Animals and Children Safe From Wild Cats

While animals like livestock and pets are more at risk from wild cats, Cougars have been known to attack children and the occasional adult. These cats generally prefer to hunt deer, however, and would much rather stay out of humans’ paths. Still, you can take steps to ensure the safety of you, your family, and your pets.

Don’t Walk Alone

Cougars and any other predator will choose the easiest target. Children and adults who are on their own are both more at risk than groups. If you live in an area where a Cougar has been sighted, take precautions by not hiking alone and by supervising children when they play outside.

Fenced Play Areas

Cats can jump quite high, and not much can stop them from getting somewhere they want to be. However, a good fence does pose enough of an obstacle that it might deter a Cougar or other wild cats from intruding on where your children are playing.

White cat behind a fence
Image Credit: sontung57, Pixabay

Guardian Animals

Many farmers use livestock guardians to watch over their livestock for them. These animals can be donkeys, llamas, or dogs, and they have been known to greatly cut down on the number of predator attacks.

A properly trained dog is also one of the best early-warning systems if a Cougar does wander too close to your home. They’ll be able to smell and hear the threat long before you can and will sound the alarm.

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There are three wild cat species in Washington. The Bobcat and Cougar are the most widespread, while the endangered Canadian Lynx is much less common. Even if you never see these cats out in the wild, knowing that they’re out there will help you take precautions and keep your family safe.

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Featured Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay