Are Coyotes Dangerous?
The coyote is one of the most widespread wild animals in North America, and yet these creatures are often misunderstood. Some cities have even launched coyote management plans in response to an uptick of coyotes in cities and neighborhoods.
So, how dangerous are coyotes, really? Before you panic, here's what you should know about coyotes before you run into one.
What Are Coyotes, Anyway?
We're assuming you know roughly what a coyote is, but if you've never seen one in person, they may remain a bit of a mystery. Coyotes are medium-sized canines that belong to the same group of animals as wolves and foxes. They have long, pointed snouts as well as pointed ears and bushy tails that make them look like smaller German shepherds. They're mostly greyish in color, and they have yellow eyes rather than brown.
Adult coyotes usually weigh between 25 and 35 pounds. They most commonly eat small rodents, like rats and mice, rabbits and fruit. If they come across dead deer or other larger animals, they might take the opportunity for an easy meal and nibble on their remains. They can live up to 15 years in captivity but usually die before the age of three in the wild.
In areas with few people, coyotes hunt during the day or around the clock if they have hungry pups to feed. In areas with more human development, coyotes switch to a nocturnal schedule, hunting around dawn and dusk when fewer people are around.
Where Do Coyotes Live?
A better question might be, "Where don't coyotes live?"
Coyotes have a widespread territory, living throughout the vast majority of North America and some of Central America. They're incredibly hardy and adaptable, even thriving in extreme temperatures. Coyotes can be found living in deserts, swamps, woods and frozen tundras, but they've also adapted to living in urban environments.
Just because you live in a city or suburb doesn't mean you'll never spot a coyote. In fact, the reduced amount of natural foliage around might make it more likely to spot a coyote in a suburb than in a rural setting.
Are Coyotes Dangerous to Pets?
Any small pets, including small- and medium-sized dogs and all cats, can be taken out by a coyote. If it's small enough to eat, a coyote will try. They primarily eat rabbits and other small mammals, but they're opportunistic hunters that will grab whatever prey is available, including your beloved Chihuahua or toy poodle. Even large, senior dogs who appear weak can be targets for coyotes.
Basically, coyotes are a threat to any outdoor pets that look edible. If food is scarce, they might be bold enough to go after dogs on leashes, even with people present.
How Can I Protect My Pets From Coyotes?
To protect pets from coyotes, don't feed them outside. This will likely attract wildlife, including coyotes. If you have a small dog, avoid walking them during twilight hours, and consider investing in an anti-coyote vest for them.
They're not cheap, but the protective spikes just might save your pet if a coyote or other predator decides they look like a tasty snack.
Are Coyotes Dangerous to People?
The short answer: no, not really. Coyote attacks on humans are few and far between. Between 1977 and 2015, only 367 coyote attacks were documented. That's less than 10 attacks per year. For comparison, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. alone. Coyotes are naturally shy, solitary creatures. Humans are much too large to look like food to a coyote, and coyotes would prefer to avoid conflict and flee rather than pick a fight.
Children, especially toddlers, are at a higher risk of getting a serious injury from a coyote attack, but it's still extremely unlikely. If you know coyotes live in your area, just keep an eye out and don't leave young children playing in the yard without supervision. (As if you'd do that anyway!)
What Should I Do If I Run Into a Coyote?
On the off chance you do have a close encounter with a coyote, stay calm. Remember, coyotes very rarely attack people, and they're usually much more afraid of you than you are of them. Instead of running in the opposite direction, make it obvious that you're a threat. Yell, throw items in their direction, or wave your arms to appear more intimidating. The shy creatures will most likely slink off and leave you be.
If the coyote appears to be guarding an area, especially around May when they're likely to have pups around, you need to move away slowly to give the territorial new mom space. She's not likely to attack you unless you approach her, which she'll perceive as a threat to her babies. Can you blame her?
The only coyotes that should raise red flags are ones that are out in broad daylight and seem undeterred by humans. These may be habituated to humans, which means they've lost their natural fear of people and are more likely to become aggressive in hopes of getting ahold of food.
Do Coyotes Carry Rabies?
Coyotes don't always carry rabies, but they definitely can. Any mammal can, but in North America, 99 percent of rabies cases are found in wildlife rather than domesticated animals. The most common carriers are raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes and, you guessed it, coyotes. Most coyotes do not have rabies.
You won't come across a wild pack of coyotes that all have rabies for a few reasons. Firstly, the strain of rabies most commonly found in dogs, coyotes and wolves was eradicated in the 1990s. Secondly, the type of rabies coyotes contract now is quickly fatal, and they don't carry the disease for long without exhibiting symptoms. If you notice a coyote behaving aggressively or erratically, give them a wide berth, and let animal control deal with it.
If a Coyote Attack Does Occur, What Should I Do Next?
Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare. If one does happen, firstly, fight back. Don't play dead. There's almost zero risk of a fatal coyote attack (only two on record), but the faster you scare the coyote off, the fewer injuries you'll have to recover from. Make sure children, who are more likely to be bitten, know what to do if they encounter a coyote, too.
If you, your kids or your pets fall victim to a coyote bite, seek medical treatment immediately. Even if a bite wound is minor, it's important to get a rabies shot right away to protect yourself from a potentially fatal infection. By the time symptoms of rabies appear, it's too late to treat. Better safe than sorry!
Bottom Line: Coyotes Are Mostly Harmless, but Precautions Are Wise
Unless you're a cat or a Maltese, coyotes are almost zero threat to your safety. If you happen to have a similarly sized small mammal (or a similarly sized human toddler), taking a few precautions can easily help you avoid an unpleasant coyote encounter.
Yes, coyotes can run off with small dogs, but keeping pets inside and putting a protective vest on them while walking in areas known to have a high density of coyotes is enough to keep you and your pets safe.