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Coyotes: How to deal with them in Kentucky

Dangerous encounters, some images are graphic.

Coyotes will attack your pets!

The coyote is a native wild canine found throughout North America, even in our most urban areas. Their color, size and appearance varies across the range, but they are usually light gray to brownish-yellow with a light gray to cream-colored belly. Adult males in the northeastern U.S. typically weigh 40-45 pounds and females average 30-35 pounds. Coyotes are social animals and commonly yip, bark, and howl to communicate; however, urban dwelling coyotes tend to be quieter. They are most active at night and in early morning. They use sheltered areas, burrows, hollow trees, rock crevices, and thick underbrush, as well under sheds and decks, as dens and resting areas. 

Coyotes are primarily carnivorous, but also opportunistic. Their diet tends to reflect the most abundant prey species in their area and commonly includes small rodents, rabbits, carrion, deer, waterfowl, livestock, poultry and free-ranging pets. Seasonally they eat fruit and berries. In populated areas they also eat garbage and pet food. Attacks on small dogs and cats are common; attacks on people are rare but increasing. Coyotes can carry rabies. Vaccinate pets and contact your veterinarian if your pet is attacked by coyotes. Report any suspected rabid coyote to local police and report any bites, scratches or other exposure to a health professional for treatment advice.

Coyotes fed in campgrounds or parks pose the greatest risk of attacking people. Coyotes living in populated areas get used to people, and are drawn to yards by pets, pet food, garbage and potential denning sites. This proximity causes occasional attacks on humans – including predatory attacks on small children. Preventing conflicts requires increasing awareness of local coyote activity, protecting pets, eliminating food and habitat and, whenever possible, hazing coyotes that encroach into yards and parks in an attempt to aversively condition them.

How to avoid conflicts with coyotes:

  • Do not feed coyotes
  • Do not let pets run loose or unattended
  • Do not run from a coyote
  • Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
  • Do not create conflict – If a coyote is acting as a coyote should by avoiding humans and pets, do not seek out opportunities to haze or aggravate the animal

What to do with an animal that is behaving strangely or aggressively

Most wild animals keep their distance from people — and you should keep your distance from wildlife. Wild animals can be unpredictable. While actual attacks by wildlife are unlikely, they most often occur when animals are startled, sick or habituated to people, or if they feel threatened.

If an animal appears sick, it will likely die soon. It is often best to leave it alone. If there has been no contact with humans or pets and the animal is not threatening or aggressive, no further action is needed. Since there may be other infected animals in the area, stay on guard.

If a wild animal is in your yard behaving aggressively and there has been no contact with people or pets, contact local animal control or your wildlife agency immediately. They will assess the threat and take appropriate action to deal with the offending animal.

If you have been attacked, bitten or scratched by a wild animal that was behaving aggressively, immediately clean the area with soap and water for several minutes then see your doctor as soon as possible (ideally within 24 hours). Even if no obvious injuries are sustained, but you have had direct contact with an aggressive wild animal, you should consult your doctor for advice and treatment.

If your pet has had direct contact with a wild animal that was behaving aggressively (i.e., it was bitten or scratched), call your veterinarian for advice. If the aggressive animal was potentially rabid, it is best not to touch your pet during this time since the rabies virus can remain alive on the hair and skin for up to two hours. If you must handle your pet, protect yourself by wearing gloves and protective clothing. If you have handled your pet without protection, consult your doctor for advice.

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