Coyotes and your pets
Coyotes are survivors. While many species have paid a price for their intersection with humans, coyotes are among the few that have found a way to survive and even thrive right under our noses.
Some people have an excessive and unwarranted fear of coyotes, but the wily animals help to keep the ecosystem in balance. Golf courses and other spaces benefit from their rodent control work, particularly in urban areas. While dogs should depend on a vaccine to prevent leptospirosis, coyote control of the rat population can help to limit the incidence of leptospirosis in a community. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria in the genus Leptospira and spreads through the urine of infected animals. Rats are common carriers of the infection. Leptospirosis not only can be fatal to dogs, but it is also zoonotic, meaning it can be passed to humans.
Coyote numbers are increasing in many urban areas. In New York City’s Central Park, they are glimpsed only rarely on camera traps. In Chicago, it is another story. There a coyote actually walked into a convenience store on a hot day, standing next to the cooler filled with beer. Also in the Windy City, on a summer Friday night, in the busy bar area near Wrigley Field, a pair of coyotes walked nonchalantly alongside patrons before dashing off. No one paid any attention. In urban Arizona, coyotes are common, as they are in many parts of the U.S.
Still, many people panic and call police or animal control when they even see a coyote or seek retribution after a coyote kills a pet dog or cat. And while the outrage is understandable – pets are after all family members – nearly all the coyote attacks could have been avoided. It’s exceedingly rare for coyotes to attack humans but they will take mid-size or small dogs or cats or attack geriatric large dogs. These attacks can nearly always be prevented.
Coyotes do not have keys to homes. Indoors, pets are safe.
It’s true that cats who are used to living outdoors may be difficult to persuade to live life indoors only. Still, many times this transition can be accomplished by making the adjustment gradually and simultaneously enriching the indoor environment, so life indoors is as interesting as life outdoors.
It’s easier to allow your pup to roam your yard without supervision, but where there are coyotes this comes with inherent risks. The secret to protecting dogs is pretty simple: being on a leash with an adult on the other end.
If a bold coyote approaches as you’re walking the dog, holler “Go away!” Carry citronella spray, which is effective in deterring loose dogs and wildlife without scaring or harming your own pet.
With good fencing, it’s possible to prevent coyotes from entering your yard. Coyote-proof fences are either at least 8 feet tall and made of a material that coyotes cannot climb or at least 6 feet tall with a protective device on top, such as a coyote roller, which rolls off any coyotes trying to scramble over the fence.
Do-it-yourself piping or chicken wire placed at the top of your fence also can prevent coyotes from getting the foothold they need to make it over. To prevent coyotes from digging under a fence, make sure the fence extends at least 12 inches underground.
Coyotes will be less motivated to enter yards if people don’t attract them by leaving out pet food. Securing trash cans with tight-fitting coyote-proof lids also reduces the availability of potential dinners. Synthetic wolf urine may further deter coyotes. Spray it around the perimeter of the yard (reapply after a rain).
Remember, coyotes are only trying to survive; they are not scheming and planning the demise of our pets. It’s better to coexist with them than to carelessly attract them and then try to kill them.
Below is a chart of Coyote behavior and risk responses.
How to Avoid conflicts with Coyotes
1. Do not feed coyotes
The number one most effective way to prevent coyote attacks in your neighborhood is to eliminate wildlife feeding. Coyotes that are fed in residential neighborhoods can lose their fear of people and may eventually test humans (and pets) as possible prey. Intentional feeding, such as bait stations in yards or parks, should be strictly avoided. However, many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or having large bird feeders. Coyotes are usually not interested in bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes.
If you are seeing an increase in coyotes, you should additionally review your own actions to ensure compost piles and trash bins are not allowed to be a source of food. Although coyotes seem to have a natural inclination to avoid human-related food, this can change when prey populations are low, or if the coyotes are young and haven’t yet learned to hunt effectively.
2. Do not let pets run loose
Coyotes probably live nearby, even if you don't know it, so do not let pets run loose. When hiking in parks, keep dogs on leashes. Pets left outside, even with fencing, remain at risk for predation and unnecessary conflict. Do not leave your pets unattended outside, not even for a second. Remember, electric fences may keep your pets contained but do not keep other animals away. Free-ranging domestic cats and feral cat colonies may also serve to attract coyotes; it is important that domestic cats be kept indoors and that feral cats be spayed or neutered to control this population. Bringing food inside when outdoor cats are not feeding might alleviate part of this coyote attractant.
3. Do not run from a coyote
When you encounter a coyote, shout or throw something in its direction. Do not run away. Do not play the victim if you can help it. If a coyote seems intent on defending a certain area, particularly around pupping season (May), your best bet may be to alter your route to avoid conflict with a normally calm animal; understand that there may be seasonal patterns of behavioral changes and act accordingly (see Coyote 748's story). We recommend if you are out walking that you carry some sort of noisemaker with you (some have reported success scaring off coyotes by shaking a can of rocks).
If you see a coyote during the daytime, you should exhibit caution, as that coyote may have become habituated to humans (and maybe more likely to attack). If you are approached by a coyote, you should yell, wave your arms, and/or throw something at the coyote (do not run away).
4. Repellents or fencing may help
Some repellents may work in keeping coyotes out of small areas such as yards, although these have not been tested thoroughly for coyotes. Repellents may involve remotely activated lights or sound-making devices. Fencing may keep coyotes out of a yard, particularly if it is more than six feet in height with a roll bar across the top. Spray repellents (pepper spray, etc) that you can carry with you have been reported with only moderate to no success.
5. Do not create conflict where it does not exist
If a coyote is acting as a coyote should by avoiding humans and pets, do not seek out opportunities to haze or otherwise aggravate the animal. Embracing communal respect is key.
6. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
When a coyote fails to exhibit fear of humans or acts aggressively, the animal should be reported as soon as possible to the appropriate officials. It is recommended that towns have a procedure in place to handle these reports. Signs of aggression are similar to those shown by domestic dogs and include agitated barking (unprovoked), raised hackles, snarling, growling, and lunging. These behaviors are usually preceded by other indications as shown in the chart below, though may change seasonally (see "suggestion 3" above). Wondering who to call with your coyote concerns? If you are having a conflict with a coyote, you may need to contact your individual town's animal control or police department to learn about their protocols for handling coyote issues since each municipality and agency may respond differently. You may also contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for further guidance. In most instances, the removal of a non-dangerous coyote (i.e., one that is simply present but not causing harm) will be the responsibility of the individual homeowner. In this case, you will need to contract with a licensed wildlife trapper. Wildlife handling of any type should always be provided by a professional. In non-threatening situations, our research indicates that often it is best to leave coyotes where they are since the removal of one animal does not ensure removal of coyotes from your area in general. Most municipalities have adopted this belief.
When Should I Be Concerned?
A list of signs indicating an increase in threat from coyotes is presented in the picture above. It is important to note, however, that coyotes are highly variable in their behavior and this sequence may not always be predictive. Still, management programs for urban coyotes should begin with public education and untangling facts from myths. People should understand the differences between true threats and coexistence.
Trapping Coyotes or Relocate Coyote?
Coyotes are intelligent animals and are difficult to catch. Even a skilled trapper or sharpshooter, at a hefty price tag, will need many hours to catch a targeted coyote.
The most common devices used to capture coyotes are leg-hold traps and neck snares. Both can cause severe injuries, pain, and suffering. Pets become unintended victims of traps set for coyotes. An informal search of media reports suggests thousands of unintended incidents have occurred, causing heartbreak for the families affected.
Non-target wild animals are also caught in traps, and many sustain injuries so severe that they die or must be killed. If you are faced with an unwanted Coyote that is causing trouble