Coyotes present disease risk to domestic pets and people

Coyotes can carry diseases that can affect pets and humans. Anza Valley Outlook/Micheal Ireland photo

The coyote is perpetually on the hunt, and pet owners need to be aware that interaction between their pet canine and a coyote may result in their dog becoming sick.

Like them, hate them or despise them, coyotes can and do live in just about habitat. They have also succeeded in living in suburbs and cities like Los Angeles. These predators are very common in the mountain communities of the Anza Valley.

The howling and yipping of these wild canines can be heard most evenings, and it is the sound of the West. But it also signals coyotes on the hunt or celebrating a kill of prey.

The coyotes typically prey on rabbits, rodents, birds and reptiles, and they will feed on carrion and road kill. They will hunt larger prey such as deer, focusing on the sick, young, weak or wounded animals.

Reports of dog-coyote interactions have increased in recent weeks. The wild canines are preparing for their breeding season and becoming bold when considering prey. Chickens, lambs, goats, piglets, cats and dogs are on the menu.

Livestock guardian dogs that protect the farms are increasingly coming into contact with these hunters. Owners need to be aware that their dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations for diseases, as coyotes carry illnesses that can easily be transmitted to working dogs or family pets and people.

“Coyotes carry rabies,” Jill Holt, longtime dog expert and trainer, said. “They’re getting very bold and aggressive. Make sure your animals are vaccinated and report any interaction with coyotes to Animal Services. They’re letting people get very close now before they run off.”

Part of the aggression may be lack of wild food and breeding season angst. Nonetheless, animal owners need to be prepared, she said.

“If there is any chance that your dogs may come into contact with coyotes, please, please, make sure their distemper, rabies and other vaccinations are up-to-date. Coyotes carry diseases,” Holt said.

Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. The virus is found in wildlife such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and ferrets.

Canine rabies is an acute and fatal viral illness of the animal’s central nervous system. The infection is transmitted when one infected animal bites another. Skunks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and bats are important sources of infection. Rabies can also be spread through scratching, making it easily transmittable to people or pets.

The canine parvo virus is spread by the stool or vomit of an infected animal. Dogs are the primary victims affected by this often-fatal disease, but other wild canids such as coyotes can carry and spread the virus.

The coyote population can also carry and transmit toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, canine hepatitis and leptospirosis. Coyotes also carry parasites such as mites, ticks, fleas, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and flukes.

Dogs can become infected with deadly liver flukes when they consume the parasite’s eggs in coyote, fox and wolf scat.

Hydatid disease, caused by the tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus, can be passed to both humans and animals. It is fatal to people and carried by coyotes. The Center for Disease Control lists it as a life-threatening disease in humans.

Sarcoptic mange has been seen in coyotes and can be transmitted to pets. The parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei burrows into the skin and causes fur to fall out. Constant scratching compounds the problem and leads to open lesions and sores, allowing infections to develop. Coyotes are a host for these mites, and if they are living and traveling around homes, they can infect pets and livestock. Research has shown generally less than 10% of infected coyotes survive a bout with sarcoptic mange.

A diseased coyote may also be uncharacteristically aggressive toward people and dogs.

The diseases that coyotes carry can be dangerous to people and their pets, so avoiding interaction and discouraging the wild canines from the property is imperative.

Never feed coyotes – even throwing a dead chicken over the fence will attract them to a home. Discard dead animals properly.

Pick up and securely dispose of garbage. Canine-proof containers are advised.

Keep pets inside at night, and do not leave pet food and water outside to attract the opportunistic hunters.

Deploy net-wire or electric fencing to keep coyotes away from livestock such as lambs and birds. These hunters can rip through chain link and climb 6-foot fences with ease.

Protect livestock in coyote-proof pens or shelters at night when coyotes are most likely to be on the hunt.

Remove rabbit and rodent habitat that provides homes to the natural prey of coyotes.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at