Siblings Watch Out For One Another, Starting With Bugs

Coyote siblings provide companionship, affection, rivalry and . . .  health care, as seen here by these grooming activities. It’s a bad year for bugs: ticks and fleas. The coyote is pulling off ticks. The activity is mutual — sometimes one is the groomer, and sometimes the other. Shortly after I took the video, the groomer, guy to the right in this case, snapped at a bug in the air — see photo below. The bugs are on them and around them! Must be extremely annoying for them. I’ve never seen coyotes scratch this much in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s constant. When they’re not scratching themselves, they are helping a sibling! Pretty altruistic, I would say!

By the way, coyotes are also shedding their winter coats at this time of year, which adds to the irritations they feel. Scratching, in fact, helps with the shedding process.


Two Wounds in Less Than A Week

Yearling Male with prominent wound on his hip

Yearling male with bright red inflamed wound on his hip with loss of fur

I don’t know if this wound to the hip, above, is due to a skin ailment or a wound from a fight, possibly with a raccoon, possibly with another coyote? It looks like it’s about 3″ in diameter. It appeared about a week ago. And now, just as the inflammation and and bright red color are subsiding, I discovered  a bright red gash at the ankle joint of the left leg, while the other leg, too, seems to have been scraped-up or punctured — all on the same coyote. What could have caused these?

We tend to forget that wild animals sustain injuries constantly, and their bodies must heal themselves without the aid of antibiotics or other medications that we humans and our pets take for granted.

Photo shows deep wound to left ankle area, and puncture wounds to the right leg.

Wound to left ankle area, and scraped up right leg.

Nursing the wound throughout the day

Tall Bunch-Grass Scratcher

These native California bunch grasses seem to be useful for something! This coyote stopped for a scratching session, using the plant as a tool to thoroughly scratch all over!  He scooted through the stiff rough blades on his belly, on his back and on his sides. I guess that covers everything. He then shook himself out and walked on.


Fur, Bugs

I’m seeing big fat ticks these days, and I’ve suspected that fleas also are rampant because of all the scratching and the resulting loss of fur. But, it turns out that all the scratching may have less to do with bugs than I thought!

constant scratching causes hair loss

constant scratching causes hair loss

The veterinarian suspects the loss of fur may be due not only to the pesky bugs which cause a lot of itching and therefore scratching, but also may be due to the coyote’s helping with the seasonal shed — it appears that coyotes have been using their hind paws — scratching often — in order to get all that itchy dead fur out.

it's not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

it’s not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

Coyotes are approaching the time of year when their coats are at their thinnest. But the fur is exceptionally sparse just where those hind legs can reach on the back at the shoulder blades and behind the ears. That is where almost all the scratching is occurring! The rest of the fur is coming off more naturally and at its own pace.

hair loss behind ears

hair loss behind ears

The scratched spots looks mangy, but I’m told that mange is systemic and would not appear just where they can reach with their hind legs. So it’s other things: ticks, fleas and seasonal shed, but no mange. That was a relief to find out!


She kept scratching and scratching. She’d get up to move on, and then immediately again be on her haunches, scratching.

She kept it up for over 20 minutes, with that leg boing, boinging up and down for that length of time. The scratching has been particularly intense over the last few days. I’m hoping that it’s just a bug that she hasn’t been able to get, or maybe it’s just that there are a lot of them: ticks or fleas.

I don’t know if she’s trying to ease an itch or an irritation. Her coat is extremely thick, which impedes the claws from reaching whatever it is that is bothering her. Shedding has begun and will continue through June, so maybe the scratching is helping to remove some of the loose fur.

My one worry with constant scratching of this sort is the possibility of mange — a killer. Mange results from a mite that buries itself into the skin, causing severe discomfort which the coyote attempts to relieve through such intense scratching that the fur is slowly removed, leaving the skin exposed with lesions. This is a prime killer of coyotes. Apparently all canines, including domestic dogs, carry the mites which are transferred from mother to pups via cuddling during the first few days of life. Most canines live in harmony with their mites — but things could get out of balance when the immune system is compromised or if there are other underlying health issues.

There are no bare patches of skin, so, I’m hoping it’s just fleas or ticks. I’m monitoring this one.

Left Back Leg: New Injury or Old Injury Acting Up?

holding up the back left leg

holding up the back left leg

She’s been limping for several days now. It was barely perceptible at first, and I questioned myself as to if it really was a limp. But now it has gotten worse — a definite limp.

I’ve not yet trained myself to recognize, by the stride, if the injury is in a paw, wrist, knee, hip or shoulder — veterinarians apparently can do this. But even I can tell that it’s the back left leg because she holds it up regularly, not wanting to put her weight on it, and her gait is not smooth.

It doesn’t seem to hamper her ability to move. I still see her climbing steep inclines and rocks — but it might be hampering her speed. And the injury might be the reason she keeps much further away from people and dogs, all the time lately.

I wonder how much it hurts. I know it hurts because she’s holding it up. Pain serves a purpose — it tells her “don’t use this appendage”.

Is this a new injury, or is it an old injury coming back to haunt its victim? Four years ago, this same coyote sustained a severe injury on her hind back left leg after being hit by a car, the same leg she is now holding up. That leg retains large black scars from that incident. Is this that injury acting up, or is it a new injury? No way to know. I’ll keep tabs on it.

Anyway, life is short in the wild. Every injury or disease takes its toll. A coyote can live 14 years in captivity — but what a horrible worthless life that would be. In the wild, the average life expectancy of a coyote is about five years. Do we even know how long coyotes live in the urban wild? Many urban coyotes are killed by cars. In some areas of the country, coyotes are trapped and killed in urban/suburban areas. Most coyotes everywhere endure all sorts of diseases and injuries. Whenever there is an injury, I think about it specifically and globally.


Abscess on lower throat area defined by white puffy fur ball

Wound revealed as coyote howls

This little coyote has been plagued with an abscess on her lower throat area for months and months. Finally, it looks like nature did its work — the infection looks like it has drained and it looks like the wound is a clean one.

I wonder what might have caused the infection and why it lasted so long? My first guess is that this resulted from a tick or another insect, but there is no way for me to really know.

Few of us think about the health of our wild animals, but they suffer the same range of infirmities that we do, along with the attendant pain and fatigue. It’s something to think about.

Oh, No! An Injury!

When coyotes are injured, they tend to lay low — I wondered why I hadn’t seen this one, and now I know.

Injuries are not uncommon in our wild animals. Although wild critters are pretty resilient, if an injury impairs an animal’s ability to get away from danger, or if it interferes with effective hunting, it could spell the end.

This injury, affecting the left front leg, could be an injury to the elbow, shoulder, wrist or paw. Coyotes can twist their “ankles” like the rest of us, when they hit a hole in the ground going full speed. Of course, normally they are not going full speed — unless they need to get away from a dog which is chasing it, or possibly from a car on the road.

Hopefully it will heal quickly. Three years ago, this same coyote sustained a back-leg injury which caused severe limping for over a month. She was hit by a car. It was June and she was a single mom with two young pups. We knew that nature would take care of her, and we knew that any interference on our part would make matters worse. We watched, and sure enough, she healed, and her pups grew up!


Ticks seem to be out now. My last posting showed a coyote grooming another — it looked as though ticks were being removed. Here is a coyote photo I’ve blown up — the ticks are very visible on the ears. Since we don’t have deer in the city of San Francisco, there is no risk of Lyme Disease. The ticks eventually fall off of coyotes with healthy immune systems. However, I have seen an unhealthy deer which the ticks clung to — it’s entire neck was literally covered with this blood-sucking insect.

Bug-In-Ear Attack

Imagine having something super irritating lodge in your ear and not be able to get it out. I watched this young coyote work on it for 20 minutes. I could feel when the distress got excruciating: the coyote ran towards bushes to dislodge whatever was in there, he ran towards another coyote to ask for help but didn’t get any response, he shook, he scratched, he galloped about, rubbed on bushes, he moped forlornly with his ears down, he tilted is head in all directions. He ultimately resorted to eating grass which coyotes do when they have an upset stomach — of course this didn’t work. I was not able to see that he solved the problem.  I really felt for the little guy.

We humans have our own worries, so we forget that even wild creatures, too, have many seemingly mundane things to cope with. I’ve seen thorns in foot pads, eye infections, ears infestated with mites, limping, skin ailments, wounds, etc. These things occur regularly in our wildlife. This series of photos, over a long twenty minute period, show how distressing it can be for animals to deal with these seemingly petty annoyances.

Selective Limping

Today I was observing the coyote with the recently injured leg. I was happy to see that he walked well, even if a little stiffly at times. He did hold his right hind leg up when he ran and when he twisted himself to move. So I thought that, although the leg has not gotten worse, neither did it look like it has improved much.

And then. . . .  the noise of a squirrel caught my attention, as it did the coyote’s. Within a few seconds that coyote was off in a flash, leg in full use. Ahhh. It turns out to have been only a “selective” limp!!

Actually, my source at the humane society told me that this is normal behavior for a coyote with a leg injury. A coyote will nurse an injured leg when it can, stressing it as little as possible, allowing it time to heal — but when a situation comes up that demands the use of that leg, it will be made to work. This is exactly what I saw going on with this coyote.


Zooming into one of my photos allowed me to see the sores and bugs that inhabit a coyote’s behind area. There are some ticks and some red, wettish skin which looks like it has been scratched and licked. Too bad a paw can’t reach this area for scratching. What ends up happening is that the coyote bites at it to help reduce its distress.

I’ve seen coyotes practically trip over themselves in their need to take care of the “itch” on their behinds right away — it must be an intense annoyance. Intense scratching and scooting are signs of intestinal parasites.

Coyotes Sneeze

Yesterday and today I heard a coyote sneeze, three times in a row. It is a gentle sneeze with a little and soft expulsion of air — almost sweet sounding! I wondered if the coyote might have allergies, or if it might have caught a cold?

Health Problems

Until now, our coyotes have always appeared extremely healthy.

Now, however, a coyote in one of our parks has mange and intestinal parasites as indicated by bare patches on its neck and continual scooting on the ground.

I know of one mother coyote who has had litters for the past two years, but not this year.

And another coyote is looking extremely thin irregardless of seasonal shedding. Please note the alarming difference between the second photo above, and the last two photos. These photos are of the same coyote. I’ve heard you can identify a coyote by its tail — these photos show that you cannot necessarily do so. The difference in lighting conditions accounts for some of the variation in hue — but not for the look of emaciation. The second photo was taken within the last few days — this is how this coyote appears now. The last two photos were taken 7 and 5 months ago. Of course, maybe the extreme healthiness of this coyote half a year ago is what should be alarming to us: I’ve never seen such a healthy looking wild coyote! It was not until I noticed such a drastic change  that health questions have come to my mind.

What is going on here? Are these normal health problems for urban coyotes? Can they recover on their own? Could humans be causing them? I was wondering if the poisons — those used by our Parks and Rec Department to control and destroy plants they don’t want — have been compromising the immune systems of these animals? I know that our park service uses poisons routinely, and I know that park volunteers have been handed bottles of Round-Up which they use at their own discretion and without supervision. Might poisons be affecting our coyotes either directly or indirectly? For instance, what is the effect of these poisons on the voles and gophers and even snails, all of which coyotes eat. It would be helpful to find out what health problems we humans are causing, and what we can prevent. The scat I’m finding seems to be plentiful and very furry — this is what it should be. I’m hoping to find out more.