Friday, March 27, 2009

Cougar Track vs Canine Track

Photos from "Hunter" in Coeburn, VA
One of the most difficult evidence for mountain lion research can be discerning a feline track from a canine track. Me included, I have looked at the different tracks and always wondered if the toes and pads were right for a feline, because in almost all cases the track is probably not going to be quintessential and perfect.

To start, when determining the animal which created the track, look at the number of toes. Both cat and canine should have four toes. If it has more, you are not looking at a feline/canine track.

1) Observe the shape and size of the track, a feline track is usually wider or rounded, where a canine track is usually oval (longer in length than in width).

2) Next, look at the shape of the heal pad (the large imprint behind the toes). Canines have a heal pad which is reminicent of a triangle or upside down heart. The lobes (or rounded edges of the back of the pad) of a canine are two on the edge of the pad, but a feline will have 3 lobes on the back of the heal pad. If this is confusing, the picture will help.

3) With felines, the toes are usually spaced around the heal pad. The toes are more like teardrops, and lack indication of claw marks. In tracks of canines, the toes are aligned with two in the front, and two somewhat behind the first two. The claw marks are visible in canine track.

4) ways to test the difference:

- Can you draw a X between the heal pad and the toes, without the pad or toes disrupting the lines? - If you can than it is probably canine

-If the X cannot be properly drawn, then are the toes arranged around the heal pad so you can draw an upside down U and touch the back of each toe?
-it may be a feline track

Take this example of a print that was taken in Virginia, where they believed it to be a cougar. It has the wide shape, and the toes which look like you cannot exactly draw the X for a dog print. The track actually is a dog track of some sorts. This was especially difficult to rule determine whether it was canine of feline. This is what happens when a track is not perfect, leaving it difficult to identify between the two. 1) notice the nail prints, dogs have the nails present in the tracks, although very rarely felines do too. 2) I can draw the x, although it is a little warped from the mud. 3) the back marks of the pad are missing in the track, here I drew what a pad of a cougar could look like. 4) overall, notice the track is symmetrical, feline tracks are not, so this is a dog track.

5) Size. Tracks of animals can be determined which species of a Canine/feline by the overall size of a track. Once you have determined the track family, the size can tell the genus/species.
If it is a canine track: a coyote has a print that is 2.5 to 3.5" long. a fox will have a track 2.3 to 3.1" long.
If it is a feline track: a mountain lion will have a print which is average of 3.75 inches long and 4 inches wide. A bobcat track is 2 to 2.5" long.

TO be completely sure if the track is canine or feline, it is best to go to a expert in distinguishing the tracks. (


Anonymous said...

hi I have seen a black cougar and want to prove it i have pictures of paw prints and a tree that is torn to shreds possibly because of marking territory I believe it was a young male I hope you find more evidence!!! PS I live in warrenton VA

- clark - said...

I am very interested in your sighting. I hope that the post can help you decide if it is a cougar or not. you can email me the pictures if you want at

Artist Tree said...

I enjoyed this post a great deal as I was reminded of a hike my husband & took with our dogs a few years back. We lived in Washington State & were walking a wooded trail behind a baseball field. We were enjoying comparing the footprints of our newly grown bullmastiff to our sheperds' when we noticed an extra set of tracks. They were cougar, we know, because it followed us back to our car! It was cool to live, but cool to compare the prints in the fine dirt of a ballfield -- excellent detail! Our bullmastiff's print looked like the one in your photos -- very close to the size of the cat.

- clark - said...

How lucky you were to be in the presence of the mountain lion, and as usual it is an encounter with peaceful resolve. I am always amused by stories about the curiosity of the felines, which are just as curious of us, as we seem to be about them. Look up next time, sometimes they will climb. Love the story, thanks.