Coyotes Don’t Eat Cats Very Often

Most studies of urban/suburban coyotes have found that coyotes in these areas relied predominantly on natural food sources rather than human generated food such as trash, domestic animals, pet food, and domestic fruit (Gerht and Riley 2010; Morey et al. 2007).  The most common food items were leporids (rabbits) and rodents and occasionally deer or fruit.  However, coyotes in more urbanized areas, did consume more human generated food than their rural counterparts (2% to 35%: Gerht and Riley 2010).  Of particular concern to owners’ of lost or outdoor-access cats is how frequently coyotes eat cats.  Based on observations of coyotes in Tuscan, Arizona, Grubbs and Krausman (2009) reported the alarming find that cats constituted 42% of coyote diets.  However, the majority of studies of urban coyotes have found that cats occurred in only 1%- 2% or less of coyote diets (Gerht 2006; Gerht and Riley 2010; Morey et al. 2007).  In a few studies, cat remains were found in larger frequencies.  Morey et al. (2007) found that  6.7% of scats contained cat in the site with the most urban development.  Quinn’s (1997) study in western Washington found a higher percentage of cat remains in coyote scat with an average of 7.8%.  In the residential study area, cat was the most abundant mammalian food item at 13.1% though fruit was considerably more common for all items (42.6%).  However, Quinn (1997) only recorded the “dominant” prey item for each scat, which would lead to greater representation for those items (i.e. if a scat contained mostly cat hair and only one mouse, he only recorded the cat remains for that scat).  In the highest incidence of coyote predation on cats, Crooks and Soule (1999) found that 21% of 219 coyote scats contained cat remains.  This study took place in southern California were attacks on cats may be the highest in the US.

The difference between Grubbs and Krausman’s (2009) study and the other research studies is that their estimates were based on a small number of observations (45) of coyotes consuming prey or fruit while the majority of food habits studies assess coyote diets by analyzing scat (feces).  Scat analysis is most commonly reported as percent occurrence, which can be measured with one of several methods.  The most common methods (a) measure percent occurrence as the number of occurrences of a diet item/ total number of occurrences of all diet items or (b) measure occurrence as the number of scats with an item/ total number of scats analyzed.  In the case of (b), the percentages will often not add up to 100% because some scats contain more than one diet item.  For example, if the percent occurrence of rodents was 30%, then either (a) 30% of the total items consumed by coyotes were rodents or (b) 30% of all scats analyzed contained rodent remains.

Although scat analysis is a convenient way to study dietary habits, it does have some well known errors.  Percent occurrence is biased by the size of the prey consumed such that larger prey items are overrepresented.  For example, if a coyote eats a mouse, the entire mouse will be present in one scat, but when a coyote eats a deer, the same deer may be present in several scats resulting in a higher percent occurrence for deer even though the same number of mice and deer were consumed.  It is also not possible to determine whether prey items consumed were killed by the predator or scavenged from an already dead animal.  Lastly, if coyotes are killing cats but not consuming them (as might occur in interspecific competition), then scat analysis would under-represent the number of cats being killed.  However, Grubbs and Krausman (2009) found that coyotes consumed cats in 18 out of 19 observed kills, and the coyote only left the one cat uneaten because it was disturbed by a person.  Given my personal experience studying coyotes in Yellowstone National Park, I also find it hard to believe that coyotes would not consume any animal that they killed or found dead.  In contrast, wolves would frequently kill coyotes but not consume them.

For more information on coyote predation on cats, check out these articles “Observations of Coyote Predation on Cats” and “More Observations on Coyote – Cat Interactions: what can we learn?”  I have also created a file that contains this discussion and the diet analysis research tables from several studies.

Review of Coyote Predation on Cats Based on Diet Analysis Studies

If you find yourself strongly disagreeing with this article, then you may live in an area where coyotes do indeed eat more cats.  If you are concerned that your cat may have been killed by a coyote, then you should read this article: “Understanding Coyote Behavior in Urban/Suburban Areas and Assessing Risk to Cats.”

Literature Cited

Crooks, K.R. and M.E. Soule.  1999.  Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system.  Nature 400: 563-566.

Grubbs, Shannon E. and Paul R. Krausman.  2009.  Observations of Coyote – Cat Interactions.  Journal of Wildlife Management 73(5): 683-685.

Morey, Paul S. , Eric M. Gese, and Stanley Gehrt.  2007.  Spatial and Temporal Variation in the Diet of Coyotes in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.   American Midland Naturalist 158: 147-161.

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.

Gehrt, Stanley D.  2006.  Urban Coyote Ecology and ManagementOhio State University Extension Bulletin 929. 32 pp.

Quinn, Timothy.  1997.  Coyote Food Habits in Three Urban Habitat Types of Western Washington.  Northwest Science 71(1): 1-5.

12 thoughts on “Coyotes Don’t Eat Cats Very Often”

  1. In nothern California, Oregon and Washington, coyotes have begun teaching their pups to hunt cats and small dogs in resdential neighborhoods. They often hunt alone but it is not unusual for packs of coyotes to run through neighborhhoods at night, making a great deal of noise as thet chase someine’s pet.

    In Tuolme County, Ca. a woman walking two small dogs on leash fought a pack of coyotes a couple of years ago, but the coyotes were able to drag both coyotes away.

    The ROSSMOOR PREDATOR MANAGEMENT TEAM in Southern California a woman was attacked by a coyote in her back yard when she tried to stop the coyote from eating her small dog. More than 40 pets have been eaten in the Rossmoor neibohood recently.

    This is an article in the Los Angeles Times about a coyote eating a dog.

    A couple of months ago a friend of mine watched from her kitchen window in Bolinas as a pack of coyotes came down a hill, into her barn and killed her barn dog. One of the saddest stories told to me was that of a family searching for their beloved cat, only to find the missing cat’s leg and tail, the remains left by the coyote that ate her. Others report finding only the collar, the inedible part of the cat taken by a coyote. We have a coyote problem in Marin. To repeat something I have heard from several people, “Do they have to take a child before something is done to get them to move away from residential areas?”

    For informatin on increased likelihood of attacks on humans but coyotes I would like to refer you to:

    Robert M. Timm
    Center Director and Extension Wildlife Specialist
    UC Hopland Research & Extension Center
    4070 University Rd., Hopland CA 95449-9717

    According to Robert Timm ,Center Director and Extension Wildlife Specialist at UC Hopland, once coyoyes begin feeding on food from garbage cans and pets, they associate humans with food. When that happens, they are highly likely to attack a human. Robert Timm has done a lot of research on coyotes and attacks on humans.

    There are two papers you should read. I will email them if you can’t find them on the internet:

    1. Coyote attacks on pets and humans in the United States by Linsey A.White and Stanley D.Gehrt

    2.Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings collection
    Proceedings of the Twenty-First Vertebrate
    Pest Conference (2004)
    University of Nebraska – Lincoln Year 2004

    1. Thank your for the information. I have read White and Gehrt’s paper, but I was not aware of Robert Timm’s research. I have found the research articles and look forward to reading them.

      Update: Having read three of Timm’s research articles, I may have to write a follow-up article to this one. Perhaps I’ll call it “Coyotes in California Eat More Cats.”

  2. Daniel R. Jenkins

    Also my daughter’s name. Her cat Thumbs, who lives with me recently disappeared so we contacted the local shelter, he was micro chipped. After 5 days and no cat, I posted notices. The next day (today) I got a call from a neighbor lady walking her dogs, she had found remains that appeared to be our cat. There was not much left, one of two limbs was fortunately a front and after examination I saw he was ours, he had an extra appendage on each front paw, hence the name Thumbs. I am not sure but I suspect a Coyote but it is possible it was a Raccoon. Your website was very helpful, better than the dozen or so I looked at first. His remains were found about 200 feet from our back yard, in a park next to a tree. There condition leads me to believe he was killed last Sunday night or early Monday morning. Based on your website I believe the rest of his remains were carried off. I am going out to see if I can locate the area he was taken to, hopefully I will find what wasn’t eaten so I can bury as much of him as I can. I hope some of this information is helpful to you, you may post it as you please. Thank you for your website.

  3. On Wednesday our cat was killed in a neighbors back yard by a coyote. He was not eaten, badly bitten on the face and head, plus bites after death. Why didn’t the coyote eat him? This was a very sad day, he was a special cat.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that your cat was killed by a coyote. Unfortunately, sometimes larger predators will opportunistically kill smaller predators but not eat them. Biologists theorize they do this to reduce competition over food because the smaller predator may eat some of the same foods that they do. This is known as interspecific competition. For example, when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, they killed over 50% of the coyote population. The natural world can be a very cruel place and it is sad when our beloved pets meet with this type of fate. My step-mother’s cat was also killed by a coyote.

  4. I think you should consider researching California separately. I live in Ventura County and have lost 5 cats to coyotes in 7 years, and I know I am not the only one in the neighborhood. At least two of mine went missing during daylight hours. The last one was let out after 8 a.m. and was missing by 3 p.m. He wasn’t seen again until I hired a pet detective and had her scent hounds brought in. They were able to track him to both the kill site and the site where he was apparently eat. With the exceptions of some very small trace remnants of fur along the path, and a larger amount, although still quite a little, nothing else was found, including his collar. I strongly suggest ANYONE who lives in an area where there are ANY coyotes to put up cat fencing if they are going to allow their pets outside.

    1. I definitely agree with you there, and I have an article in the works tentatively titled “Coyotes in California Eat More Cats.” White and Gehrt (2009) did a study on “Coyote Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada” and they found that CA had 70 recorded attacks on humans followed by AZ at around 20 and Alberta at around 15. All other states and provinces where pretty minimal. Timm et al. (2004) also did a study on “Coyote Attacks: an Increasing Suburban Problem,” and they found a predictable sequence of seven observed changes in coyote behavior that indicated an increased risk to human safety. #4 is “Daylight observance of coyotes chasing or taking pets, and #5 is “Coyotes attacking and taking pets on leash or in close proximity to their owners.” With the relatively high rate of coyote attacks on humans in CA, there is predicatively a very high rate of coyotes killing cats and small dogs in that state. I am still looking for some up-to-date diet studies on coyotes in CA, but I definitely wouldn’t let my cats out if I lived there unless they were protected such as with coyote fencing. Based on stories that I have heard, southern California seems the most dangerous for cats.

      1. My cat has been missing for 16 days. I believe my neighbors dog initially chased him out of the yard. He was an outdoor access cat, restless but rarely left our yard except for the couple of times he’s been chased by that dog, who likes my own dog and comes up the street to visit. I live in an extremely off-the-grid location in Central Utah–Hanksville. Its an incorporated town smack dab in the middle of the open desert. There are coyotes here but I always assumed that they had enough mice and cotton tails to be satisfied. They are very rarely seen in our tiny town but sometimes heard howling on the outskirts. They have an annual coyote calling contest each November but this year were not able to kill very many. (Up until now, I greatly opposed this hunt.) Some of my neighbors who live in the center have lots of outdoor cats and claim that the coyotes don’t usually bother them. I live on the edge of town. Since my cat has been missing, I have followed your advise and searched in a radius of 500 feet from my house. Nothing. There is a wash that runs by my house, about 70 yards across the road from me, and out to the desert. Today, I decided to follow the wash out that direction rather than towards town. (I’ve searched the wash daily, but not going that direction.) About 300 yards down the wash, I found one little random puff of cat hair–it matched my cat’s coloring. It was stuck together with dried saliva. Nothing else, no other clues. I hiked about another half mile up and down either side of the wash and found nothing. My dog, a blue tick coonhound with great scenting abilities, is out there everyday chasing rabbits and I thought she might have hit on something in the way of cat carcasses but she hasn’t. I am wondering if the neighbor’s dog might have been the party that had snatched that chunk of fur? I wish I knew, and my question is: Is there a DNA test that could compare the fur i found with the fur in my cat’s bed, and could recognize the saliva on it as coyote, as opposed to dog–or whatever? At this point, I am so burnt out and emotionally destroyed by all of this. I have been searching for 16 days, non stop, all around my community. No trace of my pet.
        An interesting note: Another neighbor who lives by river bottoms about three miles across town, a place known somewhat for coyote activity, had her cat go missing at the same time mine disappeared. The rascally cat chasing dog was brought down with its owner for a visit at her house, and it chased that cat. Yesterday, that cat was found a mile and a half beyond my house at a little farm, which meant that it had traveled a total of about 4 miles in a week, across a busy highway and across town, and then up that very same wash and way beyond where I found the puff of cat hair. The difference is that it had no bell on its collar, as my cat did. My cat wore a bell to keep him from hunting birds. There was no way to protect himself from predators wearing the bell, I realize sadly.
        Since the temps have been in the teens at night and 50s during the day (typical desert weather) I would have assumed my cat would have headed for shelter rather out in the brush. I’m devasted.

        1. I’m sorry to hear that your cat is missing. Fur matted with saliva is often not a good sign, but usually you find a large quantity of fur for a coyote attack. If you can, I would certainly want to have the fur examined to see if it is your cat. You can find the different forensic tests available here: A fur analysis test would tell you if the fur you found matches your cat’s fur. I don’t think fur alone would be sufficient for a DNA test, but you could certainly ask.

  5. Pingback: What Do Coyotes Eat? - All About Their Favorite Food

  6. Thanks for the article. Here’s the situation on the Front Range of Colorado between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins regarding coyotes, cats, small dogs, and humans:

    First, over the last decade there have been a small number of attacks on children and small dogs off-leash by single coyotes, fortunately none fatal. Adults were able to drive the coyotes off. There have also been a small number of attacks by coyote packs on adults when they were jogging, again none fatal. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife department posts the following sign all over the Front Range Trails now (their pdf link below, or search “Colorado Parks and Wildlife coyote sign” ):
    (By the way, like some of the other states we now also have grey wolves in the northern mountain areas that are increasing in population and regularly kill smaller cattle.)

    I have read several of the studies mentioned regarding predation of coyotes on cats and small dogs, and of course they vary widlely in the estimated percentage of diet, but the closer the coyotes are to urban areas obviously the percentage will go up significantly compared to their regular diet of mice, rabbits, birds, squirrels, etc. (which may be harder to catch than unwary domestic cats). However, I can tell you from personal experience that any cats (and small dogs) roaming freely in our Colorado residential neighborhoods near forested foothills, open space, or farm/ranch fields will likely eventually be attacked and eaten by coyotes. Coyote vision (day or night) and sense of smell is far better than that of humans, so they can probably easily locate a cat in the open within a hundred yard radius. The many newer Colorado residents who are not aware of this regularly post “missing cat” signs, until someone fills them in on the situation.

    Now that so many people have motion-activated security cameras we regularly have videos posted of coyotes entering residential neighborhoods to hunt cats (or eat any food garbage left out) as soon as the sun goes down. However, I have also seen them right in front of a middle school before dusk, with no fear of people at all (unless you confront them and chase them off).

    Some people are now carrying pepper spray (the kind with a wider “cone” pattern) and either a walking stick or a small-size collapsible police baton. You need to be especially cautious in any coyote area with letting small children walk on the trails ahead or behind you where you cannot see them. Some children were attacked in Broomfield, Colorado (northwest of Denver) several years ago. State wildlife officers had to kill several coyotes there to stop it, but the attacks on small dogs and cats have continued.
    Broomfield coyote incidents info here:

    1. Thanks for the info on Colorado coyotes. I hope that you also had a chance to read some of my other articles on coyotes and pets ( I have to admit that I’m definitely overdue on checking for new research articles on coyote predation on cats. In my experience in my state, MA, frequency of attacks on pets seems to be regional such that some towns have a high rate of attacks and others have very few. There is always a risk of outdoor-access cats being taken by coyotes, but surprisingly escaped indoor-only cats often survive days or even weeks in areas with coyotes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart