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5 min read

How to Protect Your Dog from Mountain Lions


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Sometimes referred to as “the cat of many names,” mountain lions are also known as cougars, panthers, pumas, and more. It is estimated that the current population of these big cats in the United States is between 20,000 and 40,000. While encounters are rare and the chance of an attack is small, mountain lions are powerful creatures that can weigh up to 180 pounds and could cause serious injury to a person or a dog. Hence, it’s important to know how to protect yourself and your canine companion from these animals, especially if you’re visiting or residing in mountain lion country.

a leashed Golden Retriever is hiking on a mountain trail

Where do mountain lions live?

green spruce trees with a far off view of grey mountains - hiking with dogs

Mountain lions have the widest range of any living mammal in the Americas and can be found from the Yukon in Canada to the Strait of Magellan in Chile. These big cats used to roam throughout the United States, but populations have declined drastically over the decades due to hunting, habitat loss, and other threats. Today, mountain lions in the US are only found in 15 western states and Florida in the east. For California specifically, about half of the state is prime mountain lion country. 

Mountain lions are highly adaptable animals, inhabiting any environment that provides shelter and prey, including mountains, deserts, forests, and wetlands. Solitary and territorial, they have naturally low population densities, requiring large areas of habitat to thrive.

Do mountain lions attack dogs?

yellow mountain lion prowling in a trail

While it is possible for mountain lions to attack dogs, it is not a common occurrence. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), it is “not typical” for the agency to receive reports of lions attacking dogs. However, it does “occur occasionally” when canines are left outside at night or if a dog is aggressive towards a mountain lion, in which case it is normal for the latter to defend themselves. 

The CDFW also states that mountain lions generally try to avoid people. A study in Southern California found that lions in the vicinity of a heavily used park did not approach or exhibit aggressive behaviors towards people, and that park goers were unaware of the lions’ presence despite them being only a few feet away.

Vet costs for mountain lion attack injuries

If your dog gets into a fight with a mountain lion, they will likely sustain bite injuries that may require stitches or surgery, depending on the severity of the attack. Mountain lions usually target the head and neck, but other parts of the body can also get injured. 

In early November, a Pit Bull mix from La Verne, California, suffered multiple puncture wounds all over his body after chasing a mountain lion away from his family’s property and had to get 30 stitches.

The vet bill for a mountain lion attack depends on the treatment your dog will need as well as  your location. Stitches typically cost $100 to $300, while surgery can set you back around $2,000.

Protecting your dog from mountain lions on the trail

dog with a fanny pack is hiking on a hiking trail

Though it’s unlikely that you and your pup will encounter a mountain lion while hiking, it’s always a good idea to be prepared before you set off. Here are some tips for staying safe on the trail.

  • Schedule your hike. Mountain lions like to hunt when deer are active, usually at dusk and dawn. Avoid hitting the trail in low-light conditions when in mountain lion habitat.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Ask park or trail personnel if there have been any recent lion sightings. Don’t forget the basics of hiking as well: bring a map, don’t go off trail, pay attention to signs and postings, and don’t wear headphones. 

  • Avoid looking like prey. Mountain lions aren’t able to see in sharp focus, so they identify their prey by shape and movement. Be vigilant when crouching or bending down; look around and make some noise first. Also wear brightly contrasting clothing and avoid woodsy colors that can make you look like a deer. 

  • Keep your pooch close.  Keep Fido on a short leash at all times and don’t allow them to approach any wild animal, including deer. 

  • Watch for clues. Learn how to identify mountain lion tracks. Mountain lion paw prints have no claw marks and look like an “M” with three lobes on the back of the heel, whereas dogs have two. A dead animal in the brush is also a possible sign of a lion, as they cache their prey for weeks at a time. 

  • Don’t panic. In case of an encounter with a mountain lion, the best way to ensure your and your dog’s safety is to back away slowly while trying to look as big as possible—raise your arms or open your jacket over your head. Make noise by yelling, banging your water bottle, or blowing a whistle. If you have a small dog, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the lion. At the same time, make sure that the lion does not feel cornered and you’re not standing in between them and their cubs or a cached kill. Do not run, as they will chase and outrun you. Give them a way to escape; most lions prefer to avoid a confrontation. 

  • Fight back if needed. In the very rare event that you or your dog are attacked by a mountain lion, fight back in any way you can. People have used rocks, sticks, fanny packs, baseball caps, and even their bare hands to stop attacks.

Protecting your dog from mountain lions at home

If you live in or around mountain lion habitat, here’s what you can do to keep your canine companion safe at home. 

  • Keep your dog indoors. Mountain lions can jump 18 feet, so most fences aren’t enough to protect pets in the yard. In addition to keeping your pup indoors, always walk them on a 6-foot leash and supervise them when outside, especially from dusk to dawn when lions are most active. 
  • Make your property as unattractive to wildlife as possible. Keep mountain lions away by not attracting their prey, which include deer, raccoons, and feral cats. Don’t leave pet food outside, secure your garbage cans, and don’t feed deer or other wildlife. Moreover, brush can serve as hiding places for lions waiting to ambush their prey, so trim any vegetation around your house. Installing lighting in dark areas can deter lions and other wildlife as well. 

  • Ask your neighbors to do the same. A mountain lion’s territory can cover 20 square miles. They spend most of their time moving across their territory, so a neighbor’s actions can still bring unwanted visitors to your backyard. When everyone takes the same precautions, the entire community benefits. 

Killing mountain lions does not prevent attacks, but disrupts their social structure and may exacerbate conflicts with humans. Changing human behavior is the best way to prevent conflicts with mountain lions. 

Paying for the treatment of injuries caused by a mountain lion out of pocket can be a major financial burden. Fortunately, most pet insurance companies reimburse claims within 3 days, putting 90% of the bill back in your pocket. Compare leading pet insurance companies to find the right plan for your pet before you and Fido travel to mountain lion country.

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