Can Cats and Coyotes Co-Exist?

What happens when cats and coyotes inhabit the same area?

Two cats with bright yellow Fall trees behind
Photo: taviphoto/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

In parts of north America, some people keep their cats indoors because of the risk of predation by coyotes. Outdoors cats must co-exist with them, if they can. Yet very little is known about the risk to cats from coyotes, and the extent to which populations overlap. A fascinating study of free-roaming cats in Chicago (Gehrt et al 2013) provides answers to these questions.

Chicago is one of the largest cities in north America with a human population of over 8 million. The study took place from 2008 to 2010 at various locations in the northwestern suburbs, including public parks, conservation areas, and a private wildlife reserve. The research team were already collecting data on coyotes in this area, making it the perfect location for a study of how cats manage to co-exist with coyotes.

Free-roaming cats, rather than pet cats, were the focus. Traps, baited with canned cat food, were set up at the study locations and checked at least once, usually twice, a day. One of the sites was close to a cat colony, where a local Trap Neuter and Return group kept an eye on the cats. Any cats that appeared to be owned – for example, because they were in excellent condition, or wearing a collar – were released and excluded from the study.

This page contains affiliate links.

Cats that were considered ‘feral’ were sedated, weighed, measured, and blood samples were taken to test for four infectious diseases: feline leukaemia (FeLV), FIV, feline heartworm, and toxoplasma gondii. Then they were fitted with radio collars and released in the evening, after they had come round from the sedative.

The scientists tracked the cats at night using the radio-collars. This is the time of day that free-ranging cats are most active (although we know that owned cats adapt their routines to those of their owners). 

Forty-three cats were captured for the study, almost all of them adults, and an equal number of males and females. 

Most of the cats were of reproductive status, with five of the females being pregnant or lactating, and three other females having recently had kittens.  21% of male and 28% of female cats were sterilized, and these were mostly found near the site where the TNR group maintained a colony. The researchers did not sterilize any of the cats themselves, just in case any turned out to be owned cats. 

Tests for disease found the cats were very healthy, with few getting positive results for the four infections. However, more than half had been exposed to Toxoplasma gondii at some point. This is higher than found in studies in other parts of the US. Other wildlife in the Chicago area was also found to have a high rate of T gondii exposure, including raccoons, skunks and coyotes.

Thirty-nine of the cats were fitted with radio-collars. It is sad to note that 20% of them (eight cats) died during the course of the study, although this is actually a much better survival rate than the scientists expected. Three were apparently killed by coyotes, two died after being hit by a vehicle, one died of disease, and it wasn’t possible to determine the cause of death of the other two deceased cats.

Another surprising finding is that almost a quarter of the cats were kidnapped, “removed from the system by cat advocates” who were opposed to the study. It is not clear what happened to these cats. Another 28% were legally adopted or removed, the transmitters expired for 13% of the cats, and there was no data on the remaining ten per cent.

Data showing the range of cats and coyotes is fascinating. In general the cats avoided the areas where the coyotes lived. While coyotes were mainly found in woods and natural landscapes, the cats lived mostly in urban landscapes. One single cat lived in an area surrounded by coyote habitat, and this was one of the cats that was sadly predated by a coyote.

One important finding to be drawn from this is that studies that estimate predation by feral cats probably overestimate it significantly if they fail to take account of coyote distribution. This is because the coyotes were living in the areas with most wildlife and the cats tended to stay in the more urban areas, around people.

This study suggests that coyotes are the reason cats tended to stay in urban landscapes, but it does not prove this is the reason. However, the authors note that other studies in areas without coyotes, do find free-roaming cats in natural landscapes.

This study shows that free-roaming cats are at risk from predation by coyotes, and owned cats would also be at risk. Are your cats indoors-only or allowed outside, and do you have coyotes where you live?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:
Gehrt, Stanley D., Wilson, Evan C., Brown, Justin L., & Anchor, Chris (2013). Population ecology of free-roaming cats and interference competition by coyotes in urban parks PLoS ONE, 8 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075718

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. As an Etsy affiliate, I earn from qualifying Etsy purchases.


  1. We're pretty sure we lost one of our cats to a coyote a few weeks ago. It's a risk we take by letting them out in our rural area where the coyotes are. Apparently there are about 12 other cats in our area that have gone missing within the last few months as well. We know there are coyotes around because we can hear them. I sure hope our other cat that is allowed to go outside stays safe. If he doesn't get to go outside, he's a royal pain. We do try to get them in at night but obviously that didn't happen a few weeks ago.

    1. if you want to ensure your cat (s) stay safe and aren't eaten by coyotes, hit by cars or die of some horrible disease they get from other outdoor cats or wildlife, simply keep them indoors. Only cats that have been let outside will howl or wine to get out. So, if you adopt a kitty, never let it out, even once and you shouldn't have to worry about howling or them trying to escape. If you truly love your cat keep it indoors or at least put up fencing that prevents the cat from jumping over your fence. There are several companies that make this product including 'cat in Fence'. I'm tried of hearing people make excuses as to why they allow their cats outside. Would you allow your 1 year old child to run wild outside unsupervised? Pets should be treated like people - like family and protected from horrible preventable deaths.

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your cat, that's very sad. I hope your other cat stays safe. We have coyotes here too.

  3. This is an interesting study. I kind of knew the answer to the question before I started reading but I am surprised about some of the findings. I've had 2 cats eaten by coyotes.

  4. It's ridiculous (and goes against nature) to keep cats (basically, creatures of the wild - domesticated or not) indoors at all times. It's even more ridiculous to compare letting a young child outside to letting an adult cat (equipped for the outdoors by nature) outside. Unfortunately, we humans have altered the natural world in such a way that our domesticated pets can be prey for (undomesticated) wild animals - like coyotes. But nobody can justify imprisoning an animal whose ancestors roamed this earth long before our ugly mugs ever rose up to the sun.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Don't Punish Your Dog for Peeing in the House

What Is Positive Punishment in Dog Training?

What is Negative Reinforcement in Dog Training?