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March 9, 2011

Coyotes, Pets, and Feral Cats

What to know about protecting your pets from coyotes

Adapted from the book Wild Neighbors

  • Coyotes are valuable in urban ecosystems as major predators of mice, rats, and Canada geese (species considered by some to be “pests”). Dawn Macheca.

Many people assume that coyotes don't live in suburban or urban neighborhoods because they don't see them. But that assumption can be dangerous for your animal companions.

Coyotes typically hunt small mammals such as mice, voles, and rabbits. If given the opportunity, they will also make a meal of a cat, tame or feral.

Dogs, especially smaller breeds, are also at risk, although attacks on them are more rare.

The best way to protect your pets is to let them outside only when you are with them—especially at night—and to keep pet food and water inside.

Protecting your pet cat

Coyotes aren't the only threat cats face when they go outside—there are far greater dangers. When you allow your cat to roam freely outdoors, even for short periods of time, you expose her to perils such as cars, dogs, diseases, coyotes, poisons, and cruel people. If you want your cat to be safe, keep her indoors.

Some people let their cats outside because they mistakenly believe it's cruel to keep cats indoors. The truth is that cats who are protected from the dangers outside live longer, happier lives. (You'll be helping your neighboring wildlife stay safer and happier as well.) We've got guidelines to help you keep your indoor cat happy.

Protecting feral cat colonies

People who feed feral cats are often concerned that coyotes might prey on the cats. These concerns are well founded, as coyotes will be attracted to both the outdoor pet food and the cats themselves as prey. Here are some general suggestions for keeping such cats safer:

  • Feed cats only during the day and at a set time—and pick up any leftovers immediately
  • Provide escape routes for cats
  • In treeless or open areas, erect "cat posts"—long pieces of wood (four inches by four inches or corner posts) that stand out of the ground at least ten to twelve feet. These can be climbed by cats but not by coyotes
  • Elevate feeding stations beyond coyotes’—but not the cats’—reach
  • Discourage/harass coyotes seen on the property. Go after them aggressively, using the techniques described in our coyote hazing guidelines. Making them feel uncomfortable will encourage them to stay out of the area.

Protecting dogs

Dogs (especially small dogs) are also vulnerable to coyote confrontations. These incidents generally involve coyotes who are accustomed or habituated to people (usually due to wildlife feeding), or coyotes who are protecting their territory and pups (usually during breeding season). 

Dogs (especially small dogs) should not be left outside unattended, should never be chained and should always be kept on a leash in public areas. It is important to never let your dog interact or play with a coyote. Pet food and water should be kept indoors to avoid attracting coyotes to your yard.

Although “attacks” on larger dogs are rarer, coyotes will sometimes go after a large dog when they feel that their territory is threatened. This generally occurs during the coyote breeding season, which takes place from January through March. During this time, it is especially important not to let dogs outside unattended and to keep them on leashes when in public areas.

Fencing can be used to keep coyotes out of residential yards, but it must be at least six feet tall and should extend underground at least six inches or be parallel to the ground at least 12 inches and secured with landscaping staples.  Devices such as the "coyote roller,” which “rolls off” coyotes that try to scramble over the fence, can enhance the effectiveness of a fence. Do-it-yourself options also include adding PVC piping or chicken wire to the top of your fence to prevent coyotes from jumping over, and retrofitting a mesh apron to the bottom of the fence (extending at least 12 inches out and secured with landscaping staples) to keep coyotes from digging under.

Resources

» Preventing Coyote Conflicts Fact Sheet
» Schedule a Coyote Hazing Training workshop in your community.
» Living with Wild Neighbors in Urban and Suburban Communities: A Guide for Local Leaders gives elected officials and other decision-makers the tools to implement long-lasting, nonlethal solutions to community wildlife conflicts.
» Visit Project Coyote: promoting an educated coexistence between people and coyotes.

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