With coyotes increasingly moving into contemporary communities, homeowners should be aware that something might be in danger: their cat.
Essentially, cats are a food source for coyotes, and this appears to be true not only in the case of feral cats but also for free-roaming cats and inside-outside cats. From the coyote’s standpoint, cats are not much different from many of the prey found in its regular diet – small mammals such as rabbits, rodents and woodchucks, as well as birds, insects and the occasional deer are common prey for coyotes. Some accounts suggest cats may be a much easier prey animal.
A coyote reporting system used in Orange County shed some light on the connection between coyotes and cats. This online reporting process was created to help monitor and manage coyotes as they increasingly became an issue.
In 2014, 22 cats were reported missing as a perceived result of coyotes – more than twice as many as the five dogs and four chickens combined. While not scientifically confirmed, these losses were typically associated with the increasing presence of coyotes as indicated by visual or auditory observations.
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Residents of different neighborhoods reported that indoor-outdoor cats had all but disappeared over a period of months. These losses were initially considered unrelated, but through social networks – virtual and real alike – people learned that others had experienced similar losses. One neighborhood lost cats in double digits, and another nearly reached that mark.
An important step in protecting cats and other pets from coyote predation is getting the word out. Coyotes may well be heard by a discerning ear, but they are seldom seen, because of their stealth and wily ways. This predator is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on our continent. Adaptations honed by their evolution continue to serve them well not only in rural settings, but also in the urban and suburban communities in which they are now found.
As wildlife experts commonly observe, coyotes are carnivores that are no less interested in cats than in other prey species because they are opportunistic feeders. What this means is that they will feed on a variety of food sources, depending on what is most readily available and easy to obtain. It is incumbent on cat owners and caretakers to ensure their safety in settings in which coyotes are known to exist.
Yet it does not appear to be widely understood that cats are prey as well as predator. In the Orange County reports made by residents who believed coyotes were responsible for the disappearance of their own and others’ cats, they nearly all indicated there was not a food source for coyotes. It appears that even when outdoor cats are believed to have been consumed by coyotes, owners are still not fully connecting that a cat is a readily available food source if left outside.
Perhaps there is no safer solution in the long run than keeping cats indoors. An alternative is a secure outside enclosure, such as a “catio,” which has become increasingly fashionable. They can refashion the very meaning of indoor-outdoor cat and, in doing so, protect our feline friends from the assorted threats they face outside, including coyotes. That might help alleviate the negative effects coyotes cause to cats as well as the detrimental impacts cats have on our native wildlife.
Jason M. Allen is a wildlife biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. Robert A. Marotto is Animal Services Director for Orange County.