Coyotes certainly could kill cats if they wanted to. A predator the size of a large dog, which is basically exactly what a coyote is, can easily overpower a cat. Bad coyote-cat encounters don’t occur that often, but they do happen.
The Coyote Diet
Although they are very closely related to wolves -- so closely that coyotes, wolves and indeed dogs can interbreed to produce fertile offspring -- coyotes occupy a slightly different ecological niche. Their prey consists mostly of pretty small animals, such as rodents, lizards and rabbits, carrion, insects and even vegetation. Small carnivores, such as weasels, bobcats or roaming house cats, don’t feature much in the coyote diet; although they are about the right size for a meal, they aren’t usually worth the effort.
Because they are intelligent and adaptable, coyotes view human habitats less as a threat and more as an opportunity. Coyotes have taken readily to an urban or suburban existence. They don’t mind living next to humans, and associated pets, and take full advantage of the food available. Urban coyotes eat a varied, and rather revolting diet, of rodents, food scraps and, occasionally, pets. Pet chickens or rabbits are the most at risk, but coyotes may attack any pet up to their own size, and sometimes bigger.
Coyotes and Cats
Cats, especially large, aggressive ones, might end up in a confrontation with a coyote. Given their relative sizes, a cat is not likely to win such an encounter. Cats do have the ability to escape as they are far better climbers, but don’t always have the opportunity. Cats are also small enough that a coyote might view them as a possible meal. This especially applies if the coyote is unusually hungry, perhaps from having lost another food source, or the cat is elderly, ill or overweight.
Keeping Your Cat Safe
The only guaranteed way to protect a cat from coyotes is to keep him as an entirely indoor cat, perhaps with access to a very secure outdoor run. If your cat does go outside, call him indoors well before dusk and don’t let him out again until morning. Coyotes are mostly, although not entirely, nocturnal. Female coyotes are especially defensive during the breeding season, which runs from mid-spring to early summer, depending on the region and food supply. If coyotes are prevalent in your area, it would be wise to keep all pets inside during this time, only allowing them out under supervision. Also, avoid attracting coyotes by ensuring garbage is animal-proof and that no pet or bird food is left lying around overnight.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.