How to Identify Animal Prints

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There are many circumstances in which you may need to tell what an animal is, based on the footprints it leaves behind. Perhaps you go camping and want to know what type of animal has been roaming around. Or maybe you have a garden that is being destroyed by some type of animal. It takes just a few steps to figure out what animal belongs to the print you find.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Count the number of toes in the footprint. Footprints that have four toes probably belong to either a cat, a dog or a rabbit. Footprints that have five toes could be raccoons or bears. Footprints with two toes belong to deer. You might also come across an animal that has footprints with four toes and five toes. That is because some animals, such as squirrels, mice, chipmunks and woodchucks have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet.

  2. 2

    Check the size of the footprints. You should have a general idea how big a footprint should be. A rabbit's footprint or a raccoon footprint might be bigger than you expect; they are small animals, but they have long feet.
    Different cats have different size feet. A regular cat has a footprint the size of a small coin. More dangerous cats, like a bobcat or cougar, have footprints that are 2 inches long or maybe a little bit bigger. Then, something like a mountain lion has much bigger footprints, around 4 inches.
    When taking into consideration size alone, it is hard to tell a coyote's footprint from a dog or a wolf. A wolf's footprint can be as large as 6 inches in diameter, and a regular dog is much smaller. A small coyote could be the same size as a dog, but a large coyote could be the same size of a wolf. Fortunately, you can tell coyote tracks apart from their size. Also when determining the size of the footprint, take into consideration the terrain. If you are looking at tracks in the mud or in the snow, then the footprint could look larger than the actual animal's foot because the footprint will extend in the mud or melting snow.

  3. 3

    Check to see if the footprint has markings that look like claws. Cats can retract their claws, so their claws will usually not show up in their footprint. Dogs do not retract their claws, so if you see a footprint with four toes and claws, it is a dog print.

  4. 4

    Check the footprint for the shape. Most animals have round footprints, but you can easily tell a rabbit apart from the other four-toed footprints because its footprint is shaped like a Y. Also a coyote's footprint shape is a little bit different than other dogs. Most dogs have a circular footprint, while a coyote's footprint is more of an oval shape.

  5. 5

    Check the placement of the footprints. Most animals walk like humans and will leave the right footprint and then the left footprint a little bit farther ahead and then the right footprint again and so on. Rodents such as squirrels, mice, woodchucks and chipmunks hop, not run. Their footprints will be side by side.

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