Minnesota’s urban coyote population is growing, but pet attacks remain rare

A coyote.
The urban coyote population is growing, but the animals generally pose little risk — and there are ways pet owners can keep their animals safe.
Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mr. Moose was outside for his morning bathroom routine one recent Saturday when the band of four coyotes appeared.

The 12-year-old Labrador retriever’s family has a partially wooded backyard at their Inver Grove Heights home and they often see coyotes twice a week, said Moose’s owner Vanessa Frankot Miller. But they’ve never bothered Moose before or any or Frankot Miller’s three kids.

This time, they went for Moose’s jugular — a “kill shot,” the vets told Frankot Miller.

Moose is recovering well two weeks after the attack. He’s an old dog with “lots of double chins,” which is likely what saved his life, Frankot Miller said.

But as the Twin Cities metro area’s coyote population continues growing, Frankot Miller wants pet owners to be aware of the risks the animals pose.

Coyote attacks on pets are rare, especially on a large dog like Moose, said Nick McCann, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota. But there are cases of attacks on pets in Minnesota annually.

A dog sits on the floor with cuts on his face, neck and arm.
Mr. Moose is recovering after being attacked by a band of coyotes.
Courtesy of Vanessa Frankot Miller

“They're more common with smaller dogs,” he said. “Smaller breeds obviously would have less of a chance to defend themselves.

There’s little research on coyotes in the metro area despite their increasing population. While there aren’t hard numbers estimating the coyote population, McCann said, anecdotal reports have increased in frequency.

A new U of M project aims to bring some clarity to the urban coyote population, as well as red and grey foxes living in the Twin Cities. Researchers will examine coyote and fox populations from the Twin Cities downtowns outward to where the urban areas become rural.

They’ll look at how the animals look throughout the metro, what they eat, which habitats they like and what diseases they carry.

Tips for pet owners to keep coyotes at bay

If a coyote is threatening your pet, McCann said there are a few ways to keep them away before an attack.

  • Make loud noises and yell if they approach a yard, or chase them away (an average male is 30 lbs when fully grown, so they’re not massive animals).

  • Remove any food sources from your yard — pick up trash and take out bird feeders.

  • Cover your trash, as that could also be a potential food source for a wild animal.

While attacks like the one on Moose are traumatic, McCann said it’s important to remember they’re rare.

“From the science perspective, when you start crunching numbers,” he said, “coyotes generally don't cause a lot of problems.”

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