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Are There Wild Cats in Virginia? What You Need to Know!

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Cougar walking on stone pebbles

The bobcat is currently the most established wildcat in Virginia. These animals are extremely secretive. Therefore, we don’t really know their population or density. One estimate is that there is one bobcat for every four square miles. However, they are very stealthy and masters at blending in, so you probably won’t ever see one. Plus, they are nocturnal.

Bobcats aren’t much larger than domestic cats so they are not a threat to people. They avoid people as much as possible, though they do hold territory near populated areas. They may even be in your own backyard, and you’d likely never know! Rabies is very uncommon in this animal, which is another reason they are generally considered harmless.

Cougars are not currently established in Virginia. The last animal is said to have been killed in 1882. However, sightings are not rare. Cougars are known for their wanderlust and even if they don’t live in Virginia, they may wander in from an established population, stay for a while, and then leave. Males do this most commonly, as they must wander to find new territory.

Females follow the males slower, so it takes a bit after the males for breeding to be established.

Therefore, just because the population is not established in Virginia (which means that cougars are not breeding in the area), doesn’t mean that you won’t ever see them. There is an established deer population in Virginia, which is their main food source.

Cougars are also not commonly dangerous to people. They tend to be very secretive, viewing people more as threats than anything so they tend to avoid people. Most sightings are of cougars slinking back into the underbrush.

How Big do Bobcats Get?

Bobcat crouching on top of boulder
Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay

Bobcats are one of the most common cats in Virginia so people are often worried about their potential threat to people and livestock. However, bobcats stay relatively small. They usually measure 24–40 inches tall—which is smaller than some domestic felines. They kill by jumping on the back of their prey, which fractures the spinal cord.

They hunt very small animals, like rats and squirrels and their hunting techniques do not usually bring them in contact with people. They don’t view people as a food source, so attacks are very rare. People are far larger than bobcats, so they are not usually threats.

However, bobcats can threaten domestic cats and some small livestock. They may prey on chickens, for instance. With that said, they usually do not prey on any animals larger than this. They rarely come up against domestic felines but when they do, they may see them as a territorial threat. Therefore, it is best to keep cats indoors to avoid these predators.

Even if you don’t see bobcats near you, they likely exist. While they don’t like people, they can live near populated areas. Some may live in parks, for instance. They are potentially in your area even if you don’t regularly see them.

Do Cougars Exist in Virginia?

female cougar
Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock

This is a bit complicated as there is no established population in Virginia. An established population is one that involves mated pears. In other words, cougars would have to stay and breed in the area for their population to be established.

However, cougars do not tend to stay in one area. Males have very large ranges. When they mature, younger males have to leave their mother’s range to establish their own range. Usually, they travel many miles for territory that is currently lacking a male.

In some cases they may travel so far that they end up outside of the usual range of the species but many won’t stay in this area. Once they realize there are no females, they will leave.

Eventually, females will be close enough for them to expand their range in their area. Because cougars’ population is growing, they will likely eventually expand their range into Virginia, so while cougars do not live there currently, they likely will in the future.

Are Black Panthers in Virginia?

Black panther lying down the stone steps
Image Credit: SilviaP_Design, Pixabay

This is a common misconception. While there may be some cougars occasionally in Virginia, this species cannot be black—ever. There is no black gene ever reported in this species, unlike other big cat species.

There are some big cats that can be black. Typically, this is caused by a genetic mutation and can often be passed onto the offspring of the affected cat. The exact mode of inheritance does differ, though, depending on the species. Usually, it is recessive, which is why they are so rare.

For instance, panthers and jaguars can be black. However, these cats are not native to Virginia and are not seen there.

The only occasion that a wild cat could potentially be black is if a pet black serval or similar cat was released. Of course, this is illegal, but that doesn’t prevent some people from doing it. These cats do not have an established population, so it would be only a single individual.

Where Do Bobcats Live in Virginia?

Bobcats live throughout Virginia. They are extremely common, existing almost everywhere. However, because they are so secretive, they are very difficult to spot. In most cases, you won’t actually see them, even if they live very close by.

Therefore, you should likely assume that they are close, even if you don’t see them. They’re quite adaptable, so they will even live near populated areas but will try to avoid human contact whenever they can.


Virginia is home to a single type of wild cat: the bobcat. For the most part, this is the only feline that lives in and around Virginia. They are extremely secretive and not seen all that often, despite being very common.

Virginia sometimes gets visited by cougars. These large cats are not technically living in the area, as there is not a breeding population. However, it is completely popular for a wanderlust male to enter the state and hang out for a bit before retreating closer to where the females are. Many believe the cougars will eventually set up a breeding population within the state.

These are the only two cats that you’ll likely see in the area. They are both not considered threats to people, as they are very shy. You won’t find these cats attacking people or anything of that sort. Usually, you’re lucky if you even see one.

Featured Image Credit: camselo, Pixabay

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