Purdue veterinarian: Pet owners should be aware of possibility of coyotes

November 7, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two coyote attacks on pets over the last week in the Lafayette area have prompted a Purdue University veterinarian to urge pet owners to be aware of coyotes as a potential problem.

"We've had at least two cases (of coyote attacks) in the last few days come to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital," says Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at the College of Veterinary Medicine. "They are not that uncommon in the rural areas. Coyotes have been there a while and established themselves. The two recent early-morning attacks in a city location are somewhat unusual and a potential concern. When they move into the city and residential areas to hunt, it increases the possibility of attacks on pets that are in their own yard for maybe 15-20 minutes for exercise and to relieve themselves."

One of the pet owners witnessed a coyote attacking their small dog in their home's backyard. The dog was taken to the veterinary hospital at Purdue and later euthanized due to its injuries.

According to news media reports late last month, there were more than a dozen reports of coyotes attacking pets in the Indianapolis area.

Pet owners need to be alert to the possibility of coyotes being in areas where they have not previously been seen, Thompson says.

"The biggest thing is to be aware in city and suburban areas," he says. "Coyotes are fairly effective hunting carnivores. Small cats and small dogs fit right into the type of prey they seek and are probably just as easy to hunt as rabbits, which are more standard prey for them."

Dean Zimmerman, a wildlife biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources based at Prophetstown State Park in West Lafayette, agrees.

"If they see a coyote in their area, pet owners need to be careful about putting pets out in the yard," Zimmerman says. "If you have a cat that goes outside and is missing for an extended period, that could be the sign of a coyote in the area. Other signs might include tracks, scat (dog sized with lots of hair), or even howling after dark."

Thompson said the time of year is one reason more coyotes find their way into urban and suburban areas.

"The coyote population continues to expand, and what is occurring now is the dispersal phase of that population," he says. "Young coyotes who have relied on their parents for food are being kicked out of their litter or pack, so they have to find new territory. It's after summer and before winter and you have young males looking for new hunting areas. Coyotes have adjusted well to Indiana. We're seeing fewer foxes because the coyotes are pushing them out."

Zimmerman says he thinks there are more coyotes in the area.

 "There was a lull in the coyote population a few years ago, but it's back and as strong as ever from what I've seen and heard," he says. "With crops harvested there is less area to hide. They could be moving into the suburban areas to look for shelter and food."

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, gmcclure@purdue.edu

Sources: Steve Thompson, 765-494-1107, drt@purdue.edu

Dean Zimmerman, 765-567-2152, dzimmerman@dnr.in.gov

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