Author shares tips on how to protect pets from coyotes

In response to a Milford Mirror article last month about an an increase in the number of coyotes spotted in town, an author sent in the following advice on how to keep pets safe. (To read last month's article, click here)

How to Protect Your Pets from Coyotes

By Carol Cartaino

Author of Myths and Truths About Coyotes

“Yip, yip, yip, yieee!” We hear coyote howls in the dark somewhere nearby, and our heart races. Where is our pet right now, and is he or she safe?

Since coyotes have made themselves at home now in every state except Hawaii, and every city, town, and county of most of those states, this is a question that comes up more and more.

Coyotes have many remarkable and even admirable qualities, but their threat to our pets — from the point of view of a pet owner — is not one of them.

Coyotes have an astoundingly varied diet, but cats and dogs are definitely part of the very long list of things they eat. The risk to pets is greater in urban and suburban areas than in rural ones, where coyotes have a fuller range of their natural prey such as rabbit and rodents available. In towns and cities, we offer coyotes an attractive and convenient array of food sources, and our furry friends are just one of them. (More about this later.)

Cats are the most at risk. Whether to remove the competition of a smaller predator, or as some have claimed, because they are particularly attracted by cats, coyotes target cats often. Estimates of what percent of the diet of urban coyotes is made up by cats — a hotly contested subject — range from 13% or less to more than 40%, but there is no doubt that coyotes prey on cats.

True, cats have sharp claws, can be feisty, and are able to climb trees, but many of our pet cats are also used to soft living. They are no match for the forty miles an hour coyotes can run, or for two or more coyotes hunting together.

Coyote attacks on dogs are not uncommon either. Small and medium-size dogs are the most at risk, but coyotes have attacked dogs as large as pit bulls and rottweilers, and have sometimes attacked dogs even while the owner is walking them.

So what are the best ways to protect your pets from coyotes? This, like all coyote control topics, is a hard subject, since coyotes are smart, have keen senses, and are everywhere, whether you see them or not. And if you removed every one of them within ten miles of you today, new ones would replace them within a very short time, and they might be ones more dangerous to your pets than the ones you had before.

For cats, the best protection is those three words that have a big meaning: keep them in. We may not like the idea of cutting them off from the whole world of experiences out there, even if this is what the humane organizations recommend and is much easier on songbirds and other small wildlife. But it beats the alternative of searching and calling endlessly for a missing cat, and wondering what happened to it.

I live on a small farm and have more than 20 cats. The ones that don't run free are the ones I love the most. Cats can live pretty happy and well-adjusted lives entirely indoors, although if you can manage it, build them a fully enclosed (top and all!) piece of the outdoors, accessed by a cat door from the house, and filled with goodies like things to climb and hide in, scratch on, and play with. Use sturdy wire like 2 x 4 welded wire, covered with vinyl-coated chicken wire, which will last much longer than ordinary chicken wire.

If your cats must go out, keep them in during the times when coyotes do most of their hunting, from early evening through early morning. Bring them back into the house then, or into a garage, shed, barn, or other secure place. This will also help protect them from cars, great horned owls, and other dangers that seem to be the greatest menace at night.

The keep-them-in rule might be modified, for small and medium dogs, to “keep them close and keep an eye on them.” If coyotes have been spotted or been a problem in the area, do not leave dogs outside, even in the backyard, unattended for long periods. Don't leave a dog tied out all night, even on a porch. Don't count on any of the ordinary kinds of home fencing to keep out coyotes. They can leap fences shorter than seven feet, climb deftly, and are masters of finding holes under a fence or gate. To have a chance of really keeping coyotes out you need tall, sturdy fencing with a wire apron at the bottom to prevent digging, and a wire overhang at the top to prevent leaping or climbing. Or a strong, tall fence that is electrified at top and bottom.

Even if your dog is a larger one, don't let him or her run loose in natural areas like parks, or play with coyotes. Keep dogs on a short leash when walking in areas frequented by coyotes, and carry something that could be used as a weapon should your dog be threatened. This could be a walking stick, cane, golf club, or can of the kind of pepper spray postal carriers use, such as Mace Muzzle.

If coyotes have been bothering dogwalkers in your area, arm yourself and walk with someone else. Avoid walking at peak coyote hunting times, at the same time every day or night, and avoid areas with tall or dense vegetation. Should coyotes accost you and your pet, throw rocks or branches or anything at hand, and wave your coyote discourager to try and chase them away. Make yourself look big and tall, and act confident and aggressive. If your pet is small, pick it up — don't crouch down to it. Try to stay calm and quiet and move slowly toward other people, or a car, building, or other shelter.

Other ways to help protect your pets from coyotes

•  Even if you love coyotes, when they appear on your property do not act indifferent to them. Shout, throw things, brandish a broom, or whatever to make them feel they are not welcome. Coyotes are getting bolder, especially in urban and suburban areas where there are few threats to them, and only by keeping them afraid of humans can we prevent this from going too far.

• Never feed coyotes — it causes them to associate us with food. Attacks on humans have even resulted from feeding coyotes. Don't feed them indirectly, either — such as leaving food out for raccoons, feral cats, squirrels, and the like. Both the food and the animals it brings will attract coyotes. Fallen fruit from trees and shrubs can lure coyotes, too.

• Don't feed pets outside, or store their food outside. If you must feed outside, take away any uneaten food as soon as the pet is finished. Even water bowls left outside can encourage coyotes in some areas.

• Keep trash cans and compost piles well sealed or securely covered.

• Remove coyote cover in the pet area, such as tall vegetation and piles of stumps or junk.

• Light things up. Lights on at night have proved to discourage coyotes from occupied livestock corrals, for instance.

• Noises can repel coyotes, and there are devices made for this, such as sirens and propane cannons, or even a radio left playing loud in the area. A recording of a cougar call might even do it (yes, such things are available on the internet). But to stay effective noises must be varied. If those coyotes keep hearing the same old thing, they are not going to stay away.

• Scent marking. Wolf urine, should you be able to lay your hands on it, sprinkled about is supposed to discourage coyotes, and a number of reliable people have told me that human scent marking (use your imagination) around a property has a deterring effect, too.

Finally, if you should have the heartbreak of losing a pet to a coyote, tell the neighbors, because their pets are definitely at risk, too. And don't assume that because you have lost one pet to them, you couldn't lose another. Take precautions!