VANCOUVER -- Conservation officers are warning people to keep pets leashed or indoors following a cougar attack on a small dog in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday night.

In an online post, the Conservation Officer Service said there have been multiple reports of cougar sightings and confrontations with domestic animals in Coquitlam, Port Moody, and Anmore.

Officer Chris Miller said the latest incident happened in the backyard of a home on Nash Drive, which has a forested area nearby.

“They had taken their three small dogs out for a pee at night, “ Miller said. “The cougar had come and taken one of the dogs.”

Miller said the owner chased after the animal and was able to get it to drop the family pet.

“The dog, from what we understand, is doing OK,” Miller said. “It went to the vet with just some external injuries.”

Miller added the cougar’s reaction to the owner approaching indicated it still displayed a fear of people, "which is good."

Miller said there was also a dog on a trail at Buntzen Lake this past weekend that was attacked by a cougar.

“Every year at this time, we do tend to get a couple cougar reports,” he said, and added he’s not sure why they seem to get more calls in January and February. “The big thing is the cougars are out at dawn and dusk typically, they are more active at night, so if you are taking your pets for walks, make sure they’re leashed.”

Local resident Claudia Comrie spotted a cougar earlier in the day on Tuesday, while out walking her mother-in-law’s small dog, not far from where attack occurred that evening.

“I was thinking to myself, what would I do if I ran into one? And just when I was thinking that, I looked up and this thing ran across,” she said, and added the cougar stopped and stared at her at the side of the road. “It was huge, and it looked very healthy.”

Comrie said it’s the first time she’s seen a cougar in the neighbourhood where she’s lived for 26 years, and she’s choosing a different route for walks for the time being.

“It’s pretty scary,” she said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do...they’re supposed to not come after humans, but you don’t know.”

Miller said cougars use local green spaces to travel along, like “wildlife highways," and adds small dogs can look like natural prey to them.

He said people who live near these areas should keep a close eye on their pets.

Warning signs have gone up in neighbourhood, but Miller warned cougars are active year round.

“While those signs are up now, you can always expect that there’s a cougar not too far away if you’re living in Coquitlam.”

Miller said so far they have no reason to believe the cougars will attack people, and added those kind of attacks are very rare.

“It’s natural behaviour for them to target animals as prey,” he said. “I always say, don’t be fearful, just be vigilant.”

However, Miller said in a situation where a cougar is showing aggression towards a person, the best advice is to be aggressive in return, including yelling and fighting back in the case of an attack.

“Direct eye contact, throw sticks, rocks, whatever you can do, that cougar should take off,” he said.

Miller added pet food and birdseed left outside can also attract smaller animals that are prey for cougars, including raccoons and squirrels.

WildSafeBC provincial co-ordinator Vanessa Isnardy said though cougars are typically more elusive, anyone living along a green space should expect to encounter wildlife.

“The primary prey of cougars is deer. It’s a fairly large animal, that’s what they’re used to chasing down,” she said. “However when there’s juvenile cougars in an area, or an older cougar that maybe not as adept at hunting, sometimes we do see an increase in conflicts because they’re going after easier prey (smaller mammals).”

Isnardy echoed Miller’s advice in the case of a cougar encounter: don’t run, act assertive, and back away without turning your back.

“Stay calm. If you have a small pet, pick it up, or a small child,” she said.

“Use a very loud voice and let that cougar know that you’re not easy prey. If you have a jacket, open up your jacket. If you’re mountain-biking, you can pick up your mountain bike and hold it in front of you. You want to look threatening to that cougar.”

She also reiterated cougar attacks on people are extremely uncommon.

“We’re not their primary prey, that’s not what they’re geared to chase and hunt,” she said, and added in the last century, there have been less than 10 fatalities caused by cougars. “There are a lot more other dangers out there. But taking the right precautions, you’ll stay out of trouble.”

The Conservation Officer Service said they are monitoring the situation in Coquitlam and encouraging people to contact them if there is a sighting.

“It’s not necessarily going to mean that we’re going to do anything,” Miller said. “We’ll determine if there’s a public safety risk present based on the does give us the knowledge to be able to track their activity.”

People who wish to report a sighting can call 1-877-952-7277.