Bob Bowles, who writes about tracking animals by snowshoe in the 2016 Winter issue of Lake Simcoe Living, says dog and cat tracks are the hardest to identify. Click "Read More" for some tips.
Mammals that have four toes on each foot, the dogs and cats are the hardest to identify. Cats (domestic cat, bobcat, lynx, cougar) and dogs (domestic dog, fox, coyote, wolf) appear similar at first glance but are very different when you study the tracks. I have included illustrations with numbered notes which show how these tracks differ.
1/ Dogs usually show claw marks while cats retract their claws so do not make claw marks. However, when a cat is running or pouncing it may show claw marks.
2/ The alignment of the front two toes in dogs is side by side when walking straight on level ground while in cats one toe is slightly in front of the other. (ILLUSTRATION A) The alignment of these toes in cats tells you if it was made by the left or right foot. This is analogous to the human index finger so if the left front toe is in front this is the right foot while if the right front toe is in front it is the left foot and is true for both the front and hind feet. (ILLUSTRATIONS B & C)
3/ The rear edge of the foot pad in dogs lack the third lobe or if it appears it is higher and not aligned with the other two lobes as it is in cats.
4/ The leading edge of the foot pad in dogs is a single lobe while in cats it has two lobes or parts.
5/ The outer two toes in dogs are triangular in shape while the outer two toes in cats are not triangular but more teardrop shaped as are the inner two toes in cats.
6/ Both dogs and cats have a little point where the foot pad turns.
7/ Front tracks are usually larger than hind tracks in both dogs and cats. In cats the side edge of the foot pad of the front foot is relatively straight while that of the hind foot is curved inward.
The final test to identify a dog track from a cat track is that you can draw an “x” between the two toes on either side along the edges of the foot pad. There is no way that you can draw an “x” between the toes of a cat track.
The front two toes of a coyote/wolf are closer together and point forward more than those of a domestic dog. Cat paws range in size from a domestic cat to a bobcat, lynx and cougar. Lynx can have prints larger than cougar.
ARTICLE AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOB BOWLES