Regional Risk of Coyote Attacks on Pets

I have written several articles on coyotes killing cats and one on coyotes attacking dogs.

Coyote Pack in Yellowstone National Park
Coyote Pack in Yellowstone National Park in a parking lot near Tower Ranger Station

Most of these articles dispute the pervasive belief that the majority of missing cats and small dogs have become food for a coyote.  I believe that far more pets, especially cats, are never found because their owners do not know how to effectively search or give up too soon (often because their friends and neighbors convince them that their cat was killed by a predator).  In many locations a missing cat is much more likely to have become displaced (wandered or scared away from its home), become trapped (such as in a crawl space) or be hit by a car.  For more information see:

This is not to say that I believe that coyotes never kill cats.  Coyotes are an opportunistic and highly adaptable predator, and they will certainly kill cats on occasion.  In fact, in some parts of their geographic range, coyotes kill and probably eat a lot of cats.  

There is unfortunately very little research available on the occurrence of coyote attacks on pets, especially on a national level.  However, there is a fair amount of research on coyote attacks on humans, and the results from these studies suggest that far more cats and dogs are killed by coyotes in California than in any other state/province (Baker and Timm 1998; Timm et al. 2004; Timm 2006; White and Gehrt 2009).  The largest number of incidents occurred in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties.  Other states/provinces that may show higher rates of coyote attacks on pets include Arizona, Nevada, British Columbia and Alberta.

The results from several studies suggest that far more cats and dogs are killed by coyotes in California than in any other state/province.  Other states/provinces that may show higher rates of coyote attacks on pets include Arizona, Nevada, British Columbia and Alberta.

Baker and Timm (1998) found that there is a predictable sequence of observed changes in coyote behavior that indicate an increasing risk to human safety.  Based on additional research, Timm et al. (2004) defined these changes in order of their pattern of occurrence as follows:

  1. An increase in observing coyotes on streets and in yards at night.
  2. An increase in coyotes approaching adults and/or taking pets at night.
  3. Early morning and late afternoon daylight observance of coyotes on streets and in parks and yards.
  4. Daylight observance of coyotes chasing or taking pets.
  5. Coyotes attacking and taking pets on leash or in close proximity to their owners; coyotes chasing joggers, bicyclists, and other adults.
  6. Coyotes seen in and around children’s play areas, school grounds, and parks in mid-day.
  7. Coyotes acting aggressively towards adults during mid-day.

Since several of these predictors of coyote attacks on humans include attacks on pets, we should be able to safely conclude that states/provinces with more attacks on humans will likely have many more attacks on pets.  For example, Baker and Timm (1998) found that the following incidents preceded attacks on humans in southern California.

  • In the three weeks prior to three children being approached and bitten by coyotes (in separate incidents), USDA-ADC personnel received 30-40 complaints of coyotes attacking or killing household pets, or approaching people during daylight hours.  (San Diego County 1998)
  • Prior to an attack on a poodle snatched from his owner’s arms, coyotes had been seen in early and late mornings chasing and killing cats and rabbits in the neighborhood.  (Orange County 1991)
  • The attack on a child was preceded by 3-4 weeks of coyote attacks on two dogs and six house cats as reported to animal control.  (Orange County 1992)
  • Two to three months prior to the first attack on children, cat remains were found numerous times on the college campus.  Coyotes were also seen chasing and carrying off cats at night and early in the morning.  (Riverside County 1995)

There is some disagreement on what constitutes a coyote attack (Fox 2006; Webster 2007), so data from different studies do not report the same number of attacks per location, but all studies found high numbers of attacks in California. White and Gehrt (2009) found reports of 70 (49%) attacks in California followed distantly by 18 attacks (13%) in Arizona from 1960-2006 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Geographic distribution of coyote attacks in the United States and Canada during 1960-2006. White and Gehrt. 2009. Coyote Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14: 419-432.
Figure 1. Geographic distribution of coyote attacks in the United States and Canada during 1960-2006. (White and Gehrt. 2009. Coyote Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14: 419-432.)
Table 1. Number of coyote attacks by state or province, in which physical contact occurred from 1988-2006. (Timm. 2006. Coyotes Nipping At Our Heels: A New Suburban Dilemma. 11th Triennial National Wildlife & Fisheries Extension Specialists Conference. University of Nebraska - Lincoln. 139-145.
Table 1. Number of coyote attacks by state or province, in which physical contact occurred from 1988-2006. (Adapted from Timm. 2006. Coyotes Nipping At Our Heels: A New Suburban Dilemma. 11th Triennial National Wildlife & Fisheries Extension Specialists Conference. University of Nebraska – Lincoln. 139-145.

Timm and Baker (2004) reported 89 coyote incidents in California from 1978-2003, and Timm (2006) reported more than 160 human safety incidents in California involving coyotes since the early 1970s (Table 1).  Incidents of coyotes with rabies were excluded from this analysis.  Like White and Gehrt (2009), Timm (2006) also found that Arizona had a higher incidence of attacks, but found that Nevada and British Columbia were higher rather than Alberta.

One study on coyote predation on cats in southern California also supports a higher incidence of attacks on cats in this region of the country (Crooks and Soule 1999).  They found that 21% of 219 coyote scats contained cat remains.  Most studies on coyote diets found that cat remains were only present in 1-2% of coyote scats (including other studies in southern California and Arizona), with some as high as 6.7% (Schaumburg, Illinois) to 13.1% (western Washington) (see “Coyotes Don’t Eat Cats Very Often“).  Crooks and Soule (1999) also found that 25% of radio-collared cats in the study were killed by coyotes, and 42% of cat owners reported that coyotes had attacked or killed their cats.  Another study in Arizona found that cats constituted 42% of the diet of one pack of coyotes (Grubbs and Krausman 2009).

Even in states that don’t show a large number of human attacks (and therefore pet attacks), there may be smaller regions (e.g. even a single section of a town) where more cats and/or small dogs are being attacked by coyotes.  You may be able to determine the prevalence of coyote attacks in your area by doing an internet search for news reports or police logs of coyote attacks on pets or by calling your local Animal Control Officer or even talking to your neighbors.  However, be skeptical of all reports where a coyote attack is assumed just because a cat or small dog went missing and the event wasn’t witnessed and no remains were found.  According to Timm’s et al. (2004) sequence of changes in coyote behavior that indicate an increased risk to human safety, frequent reports of daylight observations of coyotes may be another warning sign.  See  “Understanding Coyote Behavior in Urban/Suburban Areas and Assessing Risks to Cats” to assess the risk of a missing cat being killed by coyotes.

Baker and Timm (1998) speculate that the coyotes’ “recent adaptation to urban and suburban habitats in places such as southern California has taken place over several generations, and such adaptation may involve learned behaviors passed from parent to offspring.” Based on dietary studies of coyotes, cats are not generally a common prey item, and preying on cats may be a specialized or learned behavior.  If this were the case, then we would only expect to see high rates of attacks on cats in certain regions.  In a small area such as town, this could be the result of a single coyote that has learned to specialize in killing cats.  However, it is possible for a solitary coyote or pack to have a home range that encompasses several towns (Fox 2006), which could lead to a larger area of attacks by a single coyote.  This type of issue would be similar to “problem individuals” of wolves or coyotes killing livestock (Linnell et al. 1999).  When seen in a larger area such as regions of southern California, the cat killing behavior is likely an adaption to urban life and is probably being taught to successive generations of coyotes.

Literature Researched

Baker, R.O. and R.M. Timm.  1998.  Management of Conflicts Between Urban Coyotes and Humans in Southern California.  Proceedings of the 18th Annual Vertebrate Pest Conference.  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  299-312.

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

Fox, C.H.  2006.  Coyotes and Humans: Can We Coexist?  Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Vertebrate Pest Conference.  University of California – Davis.  287-293.

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, S.D., C. Anchor, and L.A. White.  2009.  Home Range and Landscape Use of Coyotes in a Metropolitan Landscape: Conflict or Coexistence?  Journal of Mammalogy 90(5): 1045-1057.

Gehrt, Stanley.  2006.  Urban coyote ecology and management – The Cook County,Illinois coyote project.  Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 929.  32 pp.

Gompper, M.E.  2002.   Top Carnivores in the Suburbs?  Ecological and Conservation Issues Raised by the Colonization of North-eastern North America by Coyotes.  BioScience 52(2): 185-190.

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

Howell, R.G.  1982.  The Urban Coyote Problem in Los Angeles County.  Proceedings of the 10th Annual Vertebrate Pest Conference.  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  21-23.

Linnell, J.D.C., J. Odden, M.E. Smith, R. Aanes, and J.E. Swenson.  1999.  Large carnivores that kill livestock: do “problem individuals” really exist?  Wildlife Society Bulletin 27(3): 698-705.

Timm, R.M.  2006.  Coyotes Nipping At Our Heels: A New Suburban Dilemma.  11th Triennial National Wildlife & Fisheries Extension Specialists Conference.  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  139-145.

Timm, R.M. and R.O. Baker.  2004.  Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem.  Proceedings of the 21st Vertebrate Pest Conference.  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  47-57.

Webster, J.C.  2007.  Missing Cats, Stray Coyotes: One Citizen’s Perspective.  Wildlife Damage Management Conferences Proceedings.  University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  74-116.

White, L.A. and S.D. Gehrt.  2009.  Coyote Attacks on Humans in the United States and Canada.  Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14: 419-432.

Leave a comment

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

2 thoughts on “Regional Risk of Coyote Attacks on Pets”