In 2009 Grubbs and Krausman published a study on “Observations of Coyote-Cat Interactions,” which was then dubbed “Coyotes Eat Cats!” by the media. This is a very interesting study since it is the only published research on direct observations of coyote-cat interactions. However, I’m skeptical that this high level of coyote predation on cats is typical of coyotes in general.
The full article is available on Harris Environmental Group Inc., and I have posted a summary of their results: Summary of Observations of Coyote-Cat Interactions.
The research study was conducted from December 2005 to November 2006 in two residential neighborhoods and a golf course in Tuscan, Arizona. Grubbs and Krausman observed 36 coyote–cat interactions, 19 of which resulted in coyotes killing cats. Most cats were killed in residential areas from 10pm to 5am during the pup-rearing season (May – August). In interactions where the coyote(s) did not kill the cat, most resulted in the coyote(s) chasing the cat. They also found that one coyote was as likely to kill a cat as a pack of coyotes, and coyotes frequently (at least partially) consumed the cats that they killed. They observed 45 instances of coyotes consuming prey and fruit composed of 42% cats, 33.3% rodents, 17.8% lagamorphs (rabbits), 2.2% birds, and 6.6% dates.
At first glance this study presents a grim picture for any cat lost or living in potential coyote habitat. Cats in this study had a 53% chance of being killed during each interaction with a coyote, and they had about a 10% chance of encountering a coyote on any given day. However, before we all give up hope on lost cats and assume they were eaten by coyotes, we need to look at this study in more detail and also at the bigger picture. One major limitation of this study is the very small sample size. Grubbs and Krausman only radio-collared 8 coyotes and 6 of these belonged to a single pack. One coyote, the alpha male of the pack, was involved in 14 coyote-cat interactions and 12 of these resulted in kills. That means the alpha male alone (or with other pack members) was responsible for 63% of cat kills, and a cat had an 86% chance of being killed if s/he encountered the alpha male compared to a 32% chance with the other pack members.
Predation by wolves and coyotes on other domestic (farm) animals is usually a learned behavior, and targeted removal of offending animals is more effective than general population reduction (for more information, check out the publication Coyotes in our Midst by Project Coyote). Jonathan Way (2007), founder of Eastern Coyote Research, believes that individual coyotes may become adept at or even specialize at catching a particular prey species where they are locally abundant. The fact that the alpha male coyote of the pack in this study was involved in such a high percentage of cat kills, suggests that this coyote may have specialized in cat predation and taught the rest of the pack as well.
There is also some indication that coyotes in Arizona and California may be bolder than coyotes in many other regions of North America. White and Gehrt (2009) conducted an analysis of coyote attacks on humans in the US and Canada from 1960-2006 and found that nearly half (49%) of 142 recorded attacks occurred in California followed by 13% in Arizona.
In contrast to this study, the majority of research on coyote food habits has found that the occurrence of domestic cat in coyote diets was only 1%-2% (Gehrt and Riley 2010). Quinn (1997) has published the highest occurrence of cats in coyote diets and that was only 13% for an urban area in Washington state. In a future blog post, I intend to look at these food habit studies in more detail along with their usefulness and limitations.
When I counsel my own clients who have lost their cat in potential coyote habitat, I advise them not to give up hope unless they find remains that they can positively identify as their lost cat. I am only really concerned about coyote predation when numerous cats go missing from the same general area and especially if the client also finds partially consumed remains of other cats in their search for their own cat. Sure, coyotes do kill cats, but I believe that many more cats are never found because their owners’ assume they are dead and give up searching much too soon.
Gehrt, Stanley and Seth P.D. Riley. 2010. “Coyotes (Canis latrans)” in Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation. Gehrt, Stanley, D., Seth P.D. Riley, and Brian L. Cypher, editors. The John Hopkins University Press.
Grubbs, Shannon E. and Paul R. Krausman. 2009. Observations of Coyote – Cat Interactions. Journal of Wildlife Management 73(5): 683-685.
Quinn, Timothy. 1997. Coyote Food Habits in Three Urban Habitat Types of Western Washington. Northwest Science 71(1): 1-5.
Way, Jonathan G. and Marc Bekoff. 2007. Suburban Howls: Tracking the Eastern Coyote in Urban Massachusetts. Dog Ear Publishing, LLC.
White, Lynsey A. and Stanley D. Gehrt. 2009. Coyote Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14: 419-32.