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Are There Wild Cats in Iowa? What to Know!

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

bobcat in the forest

Iowa is the Hawkeye State and is famous for growing corn — it produces more corn than any other state in the U.S.! While Iowa is comprised mainly of plains and cornfields, it has its fair share of wilderness and wildlife. The most common wildlife in Iowa are white-tailed deer, foxes, weasels, and squirrels, but does Iowa have any wild cats?

Iowa does indeed have wild cats! Iowa is home to three wild cats, which are the Mountain Lion, Lynx, and Bobcat. However, while these three are all native to Iowa, only the Bobcat remains in the state.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Bobcat and why the Lynx and the Mountain Lion can no longer be found in Iowa, we’ll cover these topics and more.

What Happened to the Lynx and Mountain Lion?

The Bobcat was always the most commonly found wild cat in Iowa, compared to the Lynx and Mountain Lion.

Early settlers indiscriminately eliminated the Lynx and Bobcat to protect their livestock, even though these cats don’t typically go after domesticated animals. The Lynx eventually disappeared in the state around the 1880s but is still commonly found in the nearby areas of Canada and northern Minnesota.

The Mountain Lion, also called the Cougar and the Puma, is typically found around Nebraska and South Dakota. Mountain Lions do wander into Iowa from time to time, but there aren’t any known breeding cats located there.

close up of a bobcat
Image By: xivic, Pixabay

The Bobcat in Iowa

The Bobcat was once considered endangered by the Department of Natural Resources in 1977. This was primarily due to the loss of habitat and overhunting.

However, the Bobcat population turned around, and they were considered threatened in 2001, then a protected species in 2003. By 2007, their numbers were sustainable enough that Iowa issued a limited Bobcat season for bowhunters. This is sometimes necessary to prevent predators from overhunting prey.

Bobcats found in Iowa are estimated at 5,000–8,000 in habitats in the southern parts of Iowa.

The Bobcat

How do you know if the larger-than-normal cat that walks through your backyard is a Bobcat? First, they have short, stubby, or “bobbed” tails, which is where they get their name. Their tails are tipped in black, accompanied by a few black stripes.

They are medium sized and have long legs and large paws. An adult Bobcat can weigh 13 to 30 pounds and stand almost 2 feet tall and be about 2.5 to 4 feet long.

Their ears are lightly tufted, and they have a ruff of fur along the sides of their faces. Their coats are yellow brown, buff brown, light gray, or brownish red, and their underbellies tend to be white. Some Bobcats are spotted, while others might only show spots on their undersides or legs.

Their faces tend to look closer to a domestic cat’s face compared to most other wild cats.

Are Bobcats Dangerous?

Bobcats are quite elusive and solitary, so they aren’t typically seen by humans. They will go out of their way to avoid us but will attack if left with no other choice.

The most common prey for the Bobcat are rabbits, squirrels, mice, and voles, but they will also hunt based on opportunity. They don’t typically go after game birds but will catch one if the opportunity arose.

Since Bobcats try to avoid humans, it’s rare to see one, and they are more likely to run away when they see us, so there’s no reason to be afraid of them.

Bobcats also prefer small prey, with rabbits being the favorite, so they aren’t typically a danger to pet cats and dogs either. However, they do their hunting at dawn and dusk, so it’s best to keep your pets inside at these times, particularly if you’ve seen Bobcats in your neighborhood.

Bobcat hunting in Arizona
Image By: G. Parekh, Shutterstock

How to Handle a Bobcat Encounter

Bobcats aren’t likely to attack and will be more interested in running away. But if you encounter a Bobcat and they aren’t running away, you need to keep your distance and slowly back away without turning your back. If you turn your back or run from a wild cat, it could trigger an attack.

You can also try spraying it with water or making a great deal of noise, like banging pans or anything that you have on your person. Since Bobcat attacks on humans are rare, it could be a sign that they’re sick or possibly rabid.

Safety Measure for Your Pets

Keep your pets indoors all night but especially at dawn and dusk. Consider only letting your cat outside while on a harness and leash or setting up an outdoor cat enclosure so your cat can safely enjoy the outdoors.

Always keep your dog on a leash, and keep them away from bushes and underbrush while out walking to avoid any potential ambushes. All these measures are important if there are Bobcats around, but they’re also good if other common predators are around, like coyotes.

Finally, don’t keep any kind of food outside. If you put out your dog’s food bowl on a nice summer night, you’ll need to bring it back indoors. Any food left outside can bring predators to your yard.


If you’ve recently seen a Bobcat around your home, just leave them alone and ensure that you have your pets under supervision. While the Lynx and the Mountain Lion aren’t typically found in Iowa, they live close enough that it’s always a possibility that you might spot one. The rules for an encounter with the Bobcat also work for these two.

Bobcats have the potential to be dangerous, but if they run away at the sight of you, they are probably healthy and nothing to worry about. All wildlife deserves our respect, and now you have a better idea of how to deal with a wild cat while outdoors.

Featured Image Credit: milesz, Pixabay

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