You probably know that cougars, like most cats, are meat eaters. But have you ever wondered what their typical diet looks like? What does a cougar eat, and how much does it eat during the day? Can it go for long periods of time without eating? What happens when a cougar’s food sources are scarce? In this article, we’ll explore the answers to all of these questions.
What You'll Learn Today
What Do Cougars Eat?
Cougars are carnivores, and they aren’t picky about their meat. They will eat a wide variety of prey animals depending on what is available in their region.
If food is plentiful and they can eat whatever they want, they will most often choose deer or elk. They also frequently eat mountain goats, moose, wild sheep, raccoons, beavers, coyotes, and even livestock.
Cougars hunt by stalking their prey then ambushing it, biting down on its neck to kill it. A cougar may stalk an animal for over an hour before moving in for the kill.
Check out this video of a mother cougar hunting prey while one of her kittens looks on:
Cougars rarely scavenge, but if they are starving, they may eat the leftover carcass of another animal’s hunt. They prefer larger prey animals but will eat small creatures such as rabbits, rodents, and pets if food is scarce.
Cougars will also eat birds and fish, though usually only during periods of hunger. It takes a lot of effort to find and kill these creatures, and the effort is not usually worth the amount of meat they provide.
Hungry cougars may also eat less-than-desirable prey animals, including armadillos, squirrels, porcupines, skunks, and even large insects.
According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, a desperate cougar may even stoop to eating pet food if it can’t find anything better. If you live in cougar country, it’s best to keep your pets and their food inside to avoid attracting cougars to your property.
Is There Anything a Cougar Won’t Eat?
Cougars hardly ever eat dead remains that other animals have hunted, but they will do what they have to in times of starvation.
Though cougars occasionally stalk and attack humans, they almost never eat them. A human-eating cougar would be considered highly abnormal and dangerous and would, in turn, have to be killed so it wouldn’t hurt any more people.
Being carnivores, cougars don’t eat fruits, vegetables, or other plants. They may occasionally chew on grass to help with digestion, much as a housecat might do.
How Much Does a Cougar Eat Per Day?
The amount of food a cougar eats in a day varies based on several factors:
- Size: generally, the larger the cat, the more it will eat.
- Sex: male cougars tend to eat more than females.
- Age: cougar kittens eat less than adults
- Food availability: cougars eat more when food is plentiful.
An average adult cougar usually eats 8 to 10 pounds of meat per day, but a large male may eat up to 20 pounds at once if he’s gone a few days without food.
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, cougars will kill one large prey animal every 9 to 12 days or so.
When a cougar is done eating, it will bury what’s left of the prey under snow, grass, or sticks. The cougar will continue eating the kill over the next several days, until all the meat is gone or the leftovers have spoiled.
How Often Do Cougars Need to Eat?
Cougars prefer to eat every day. When food is plentiful, they may eat more than once during the same day.
That said, during times when food is scarce, cougars can go for a few days without food. The longer they are without food, the more aggressive they will be as they grow desperate for food.
Cougars tend to eat more than usual after periods of fasting. If they’ve been without food for a while, they will gorge themselves when their next meal comes, both to make up for lost food and to strengthen themselves in case of future food shortages.
Are Cougars Nocturnal Animals?
Cougars are most active at night, but they are not strictly nocturnal. They are opportunistic eaters, meaning they will eat whatever they can, whenever they can.
Cougars tend to do the majority of their hunting between dusk and dawn, as they have fantastic night vision and can easily sneak up on sleeping or less active prey.
During the day, they will choose temporary resting places called “daybeds.” These daybeds may be found in caves or rocky areas, thickets, or under large tree roots.
Cougars do not travel in groups and rarely stay in one place for long, with the exception of mothers and kittens. The mother will usually keep her kittens in one daybed for up to six weeks, and she will continue to care for them until they are between 1 ½ and 2 years old.
If food is scarce or they didn’t get enough to eat on the last hunt, cougars may also hunt during the daytime. They may also find it necessary to hunt during the day if their previous kill was stolen by other predators.
Cougars prefer eating deer and elk, but they will eat just about any kind of meat if they are hungry. They prefer eating on a daily basis, but they can go several days without food if necessary. Here is our guide on what to do if you see a cougar.