Injuries and Ailments: A Coyote’s Life is Hard and Short

12 years old is old for a coyote in the city

Life is not easy for a coyote. Among their strifes with each other, humans, and dogs, there are injuries and ailments, and environmental hazards, a few of which I’ll address here.

Lifespan in captivity for a coyote is about 14 to 16 years — it’s about the equivalent of what it is for a dog of that size. But in the wild-wild, I’ve been told, the average lifespan is only 3-5 years — much of that is caused by human predation. Here in the city I’ve known a number of coyotes who reached the age of 12 and almost 12, but, in fact, few actually reach that milestone.

Cars are their biggest killers

Of course cars kill and might be considered their chief “predator” in a city: twenty-four dead coyotes were picked up in 2021 in San Francisco from roadways. There were probably more coyotes hit by cars that were able to scramble under some bushes where they perished but were not counted. And then there were those who survived their car hits. The most notable I knew of happened many years ago: a single mother (her mate had been killed by rat poison) with two very young pups. This coyote managed to drag herself along for months, feeding herself and her youngsters all by herself. After two full months she was again using that leg, gingerly, but she was using it. Over time she did recover: but you can imagine how difficult life was for her during her healing time.

Rat poison has kills

Another coyote killer in the City is rat poison: I’ve picked up several dead coyotes showing no body traumas which could indicate poisoning was involved. Only one was necropsied, but that animal’s body was found to be riddled with four different kinds of rat poison. Rat poison works by causing internal bleeding, so before it kills, it weakens the animal tremendously — and probably hurts unbearably. Some survive milder doses, but their reactions are slowed and subjecting them to further injury. Those with heavy doses die pretty horrible deaths.

Dogs chasing him broke his ankle

Leg injuries are pretty common in coyotes: I regularly see them limping. Although dogs aren’t the cause of all their limping, I have seen plenty of coyotes end up limping after having been chased by a dog. In the uneven terrain, and woodsie areas which they run into in order to escape a dog, the sticks and holes are little booby traps for their fine limbs, and they get injured.

I’ve seen an actual broken ankle — so diagnosed by a wildlife vet from a video I sent her — caused by running from a dog. That ankle eventually, over many months, healed, but it came back to haunt him three years later, when I again saw him limping on the same back leg: he had just lost his mate who had been hit by a car and now he needed to defend his territory and pups from takeover, but he could not do so without his mate. The weakened and then re-injured ankle may have resulted from him trying to defend his turf. He was driven out and I have not seen him for a year.

Dogs chase coyotes constantly in San Francisco
This fella’s left front arm was broken and healed crooked.

I saw a broken forearm (either the radius or the ulna) — I have no idea how it came about. That was an 18 month old during his dispersal time. He returned to one of the territories he had passed through earlier and was lucky enough to hide in the yard of some good Samaritans who nursed him along. Today, at four years of age (he was born in 2019), he maintains his limp — not a huge one, but a limp nonetheless. In spite of his condition, he is the alpha male of his own family — so he’s a real survivor.

Skin lesions from all sorts of pathogens & injuries exist.

I have not seen any cases of mange in the city, but I’ve seen plenty of skin lesions. Below is a case that looked like the result of a mite/flea infestation which then was licked and worked over by the coyote, causing more hair loss than anything else. The wound itself could initially be seen as fiery red, so it must have been painful. I again sent photos of this five-year-old lactating mother here to the vet. The vet replied — this is after the furious red had died down — that the coyote was healing well, that she (the coyote) did a good job of cleaning up the wound, that it could have been a puncture or foxtail wound, and that coyotes seem better at healing on their own than dogs. I don’t usually see skin lesions that are that big — most appear substantially smaller than this one and there are usually many such lesions on an animal.

Bulbous ear growths

Worms and intestinal parasites obviously exist as shown by my regularly seeing diarrhea and seeing “scooting” behavior, which almost always signifies worms, the same as with dogs.

Coyotes are in fact constantly grooming each other to prevent insect infestations. Here are two youngster siblings removing ticks from each other.
Tag caused an ear infection and deformed ear; radio collar did self-release so she’s stuck with it

Scientists wanting to study these animals — besides harassing and terrifying the animals by capturing them — use gadgets that they staple or buckle onto the animals. I’ve seen tagging that resulted in a permanently flopped-over ear, and radio-collars which were supposed to be automatically self-released but malfunctioned so that after five years, these cumbersome objects are still attached to the animals.

Other human injuries are caused by sporting paintguns which can cause internal injuries and even the loss of an eye. We almost never discover the extent of any injury because we hope for minimal human intervention and, besides, nature is one of the best healers.

An injured eye
A lost eye could have been caused by hunting.

Here’s a coyote without an eye. I don’t know what caused this injury. I can just hope it wasn’t caused by a human. This is one of the Golden Gate Park coyote pups born last year who dispersed to Lake Merced before disappearing completely. The coyote was much, much smaller than his siblings, possibly due to his inability to get enough food. Hardship again. And here’s another coyote who only two days earlier was perfectly fine, but now she’s squinting severely with her right eye — again, I hope it wasn’t caused by humans.

These are wounds from a territorial battle. She was driven away from her home, but eventually got it back.

Wounds from territorial battles are not so uncommon. I’ve seen a 4 year old limping home from such a battle. The worst I’ve seen is a five year old father who had part of his lip torn off. And then there was Scout whose flight from her territorial battler I documented extensively on this blog.

Gophers can fight back by biting hard.

But wounds also occur from just simply everyday life. For example, in hunting for gophers, the gopher often, if it can, fights back. This may be one of the reasons a coyote *toys* with its prey: to keep that gopher away from its eyes. I had a friend with a pet python snake who had lost an eye to prey: the owner saw it happen.

Infant mortality is always high in coyotes. Last summer a pup was found dead at the Presidio about ten days after it died — it was too late to perform a necropsy.

And at West Portal last year, one of the four pups was either born with a birth defect or acquired an injury early on to his spine because — he was lame and much smaller than his siblings The vet told me it’s very likely the result of distemper, and the case in the Presidio may be the same: distemper causes neurological compromises that can result in lameness. I saw a cheetah abandon such a pup in the wild — that did not happen here. This fella was not abandoned or ditched. He was allowed to grow up with his siblings who prodded him on. And, miraculously, he improved! He began walking regularly, albeit with a bit of a wobble which over time subsided. At this stage, I don’t know what the effect will be on him as an adult.

You know that there’s an ear problem when they continue to shake their heads. There’s no vet to take care of the infection or remove the foxtail. They learn to cope.

What I have depicted here are the visible injuries and afflictions that I myself could identify. Those diseases that aren’t so readily visible or identifiable, include rabies of which we’ve had no cases in San Francisco, canine distemper — which we can sometimes identify by the injury it causes to an animal, tularemia, canine hepatitis and mange, which is associated with weakened immune systems caused by rat poison.

Scars are their histories — most of the stories we’ll never know, but what we should know is that survival requires some tough beatings. Here are some scars that have stories behind them — and I know only a very few of them. On the left, the scars have healed, but his scars were as disfiguring as these two to the right which were fresh when I took the photos.

So, a coyote’s life is hard and it is short — but it’s harder elsewhere I think, where they are subject to predation mostly by people, whereas wolves used to be their main predator, until we killed them all off. Fortunately, we here in San Francisco have gotten rid of the sinister culture still maintained in many areas: killing them to manage them. One old-timer told me that in the 1950s, San Francisco paid $4.00 bounties for a set of two ears. With all the killing humans have imposed on coyotes — 200K a year — their numbers have not gone down. As a species they are survivors and resilient. As individuals, just like us, they are trying to survive and thrive in a sometimes hostile world. We need to give them a break by simply keeping a distance and walking away from them if you have a dog: that alone will make life more pleasant for them AND for dog owners!

We don’t shoot them on sight here in SF

Two Instances of Crippled Pups This Year

I’m posting videos from two families today. Both families lost one of their pups early on — we don’t know the cause, but we do know that young pup mortality rate is high. In addition, each of these families has a youngster whose walking is compromised, leaving them physically challenged and disadvantaged.

The mobility problem, as seen by a wildlife vet who looked at one of the videos, seems not to lie in the legs, but in the lower back. I saw both of these youngsters early on in their lives, either in videos from field cameras or first-hand, and neither began life with this disability. It’s highly possible there was a lower spinal back injury, or there may be a developmental problem, or a disease that caused this, such as distemper. With distemper, which is a disease currently going around in our wildlife community, tremors, twitching, imbalance, and limb weakness all may occur. Signs may progress to death or may become non-progressive and permanent. Recovery is also possible [Google]. There is no cure.

Both the vet and I decided that it would be best to leave these animals to live their lives naturally. Coyotes are hardy, hopefully they will overcome their handicaps.

This is Tiny Tim. This video was taken at 2.5 months of age. He has improved tremendously and I’ll post that improvement soon.

I named the first little fella Tiny Tim, taken from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The second I’ve named/labeled Adams after Jane Adams, John Adams’ daughter, who was left crippled after contracting a fever as a young child. Please know that childhood diseases and injuries can lead to life-long disabilities in all species.

The important thing to note here is that these compromised youngsters are not being rejected by their families: they are right in there, interacting and participating to the fullest. It’s heartwarming to see this. It will be interesting to follow these two, if we are able to, to see how their lives progress.

If you see a coyote with walking difficulty — maybe not even difficulty, but definitely walking differently — please video or photograph and send to me: we can do updates occasionally! The second video in this posting in fact is not mine, but sent to me by Nick Jago who did a great job of videoing this family. Thank you, Nick! :)

This is the second youngster — taken when the pup is four-months-old — with apparently the same affliction. Notice how she interacts absolutely normally with her family members: the compromised animal, though disadvantaged, is living a normal life.

Injured Coyote Update

The injured coyote I wrote about in my last posting is doing great even though he does not have full use of his foot yet! He’s walking, running, and kicking up his heels for the fun of it, having a fantastic time with his mate. But it might not have been this way.

Apparently people on NextDoor had contacted a wildlife rehabilitator to actually trap this coyote — I was asked to participate by monitoring the trap. This “plan” came about based solely on visual reports, by well-meaning folks on that forum, that a coyote was injured — subject and situation unseen by the trapper who also didn’t know much about coyotes. I was not too happy about this because it was obvious to me that this was a step which should not be taken. It was almost four weeks after the injury and the animal was improving well on his own.

I explained the situation to them: That this coyote was healing beautifully, was able to run well on three legs, hunted wonderfully and could take care of himself. That he just needed to be left alone: the animal was very mobile and interference was not necessary. That the best thing that could be done for him was to give him space and to keep dogs from chasing him, because this was probably what caused the injury in the first place. The WORST thing in this case would be to “rescue” him — it was a short-sighted plan that neglected to look at the whole picture. This coyote is part of a very happy newly formed family unit, and trapping would absolutely disrupt what he had going for him. Coyotes are resilient and live beautifully in the wild even with huge handicaps. I sent videos to show the improvement over that last month. The day after the injury. Three weeks after the injury. And now, please take a look at the video above, six weeks after the injury.

When the coyote first showed up with a hefty limp, it appeared that the foot might be dislocated or broken. He could not use the leg at all and held it up. But within a day he had learned to run on three legs and continued to hunt well, so I didn’t want to interfere (see addendum below). Nonetheless, to cover all bases, I sent photos and videos to a veterinarian and I contacted Lou, my rancher friend who has had an intimate association with countless wild coyotes for 30 years.

The veterinarian responded, saying that indeed the foot looked either dislocated or broken in some way, which potentially could lead to problems in the long run. She said that there was no really good way to address this in a wild animal other than complete capture and wildlife vet intervention to surgically fuse his ankle. And then likely a wildlife sanctuary life for him. Otherwise, she said, we let nature take its course: allow the foot to self-fuse (self-arthrodesis). Once it is “fused” more weight will be placed on it, but this process can take months. The veterinarian agreed that the best option was to allow the coyote to heal on his own.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC) agreed that this would be the best course of action, and I also contacted Lou, my rancher friend for his input:

I concur with leaving the injured coyote. A coyote is a finely tuned canine and capture along with captivity, then release surely changes them and likely not for better. Also, most people cannot comprehend how tough canines are, especially wild coyote. Many a coyote has lived long and well with serious, permanent injury or debilitating condition. If a coyote had a choice, he would rather heal slowly or partially in wild then quick in captivity.

Wounded but still wild and healing is how the coyote has developed into such a super canine. They have learned to survive and thrive in a dangerous, painful at times, world.

One of the local coyotes is instantly recognized by his permanent limp, and scarred body. He is unusally banged up and old yet has been a dad and leader for years. A bum leg or foot hasn’t stopped him in the very least.

Although the coyote may not recover to exactly how he was before the injury, I’m told he’ll recover enough to lead as full a life as ever. Capture and confinement, which is what medical aid would entail, would unnecessarily terrorize the coyote and alter his “wildness” forever. We don’t need to do this. And most importantly, the possibility of life in a sanctuary is not an acceptable option for this coyote who is happy with his newfound mate right where he is. There are always tradeoffs, and this time the scales were in favor of leaving the animal in his fantastic social situation to heal on his own over an immediate but disruptive and traumatizing “fix”.

Addendum: Ten years ago I looked on and watched another coyote heal from a much worse upper leg and hip injury — most likely a break. The leg was dragged for months on end. I could see that she was able to take care of herself, so I decided to watch her instead of opting for an immediate fix requiring removal. I’m glad I did, because unbeknownst to anyone, it turned out that she was a single mom with two pups (well hidden, obviously) who would have perished had she been interfered with. Anyway, this taught me that we humans can’t possibly know all contingencies. IF nature CAN heal a wound/injury, I learned, it should be allowed to do so.

Which Limb Hurts, or Do All Three?

I first observed that there was a left back-leg injury as seen in this video, but over the course of a couple of hours, three different limbs were held up at various times, as seen in the photos below.

It could be that this two-year-old stressed her forelimbs as she moved about on only three due to the back-leg injury. Or, could she possibly have stepped into a field of thorns, or something like that, which might have affected all of these limbs, and the front limbs only minorly? Or, is it possible that she could be holding up a front paw to let all the other coyotes know that she has been injured? I say this because I know of dogs who switch the leg they hold up even though only one leg was hurt (in one case it was because the bandage was changed to the other leg!) I don’t know the answer.

Only the back-leg limp persisted for longer than the day.  Full weight was applied only gradually at the end of a week and soon she was fine. I’ve noted that limb injuries are not that uncommon in coyotes.

A Coyote’s Story, by AWARE

What follows is the story of a terribly injured coyote rescued and rehabilitated by AWARE. If you want to make more stories like this possible, please give what you can to their year-end campaign. And come back on December 17 for a video showing footage from his recovery!

Early this September, a coyote pup was making his way through a quiet pine forest in rural Fayette County when he came upon a long-forgotten rusty fence. While he was either exploring it or trying to get past it, his front legs become trapped, and he found he could not get away.

The coyote shortly after intake, scared and hiding under a towel.

We’re not sure how long he stayed there, stuck in the fence without food or water, but we do know that a rescuer found him on a stormy Wednesday morning and brought him to AWARE.  When he arrived, AWARE Wildlife Care Supervisors Marielle Kromis and Julia Sparks brought him to our exam room to perform an intake exam. They found that he was very dehydrated and had severe injuries to both front legs. It was clear that he had been struggling to pull the legs free, as the damage was on both sides of each leg. They were both extremely swollen and the wounds were so deep that both the radius and ulna on each leg was exposed. The wounds were seriously infected as well. Continue reading at

The coyote after several weeks of progress and therapy.

Eye Sore

This young female coyote spent considerable time rubbing and scratching her sore eye with her wrist, possibly even with her dew claw. When her wrist was not up in her eye to relieve the itch or pain, or possibly to dislodge the irritant, you could see that the eye was red, swollen, teared-up and recessed a little. I don’t know what was going on, except that it bothered her. I’ve seen quite a number of eye-injuries or irritations in coyotes, so it must be a fairly common malady. They are close to the ground where sticks, brambles, grit and bugs could easily get caught in and become lodged in their eyes. Coyotes are particularly dependent on their binocular vision for hunting, so it was important for her to take care of her afflicted eye.

We all tend to forget that wildlife has its share of ailments and injuries, not dissimilar to our own, and that even if these don’t incapacitate an animal, they make it that much more difficult to perform their daily living routines, and can serve to shorten their lives.

By the time I saw her on the next day she was no longer tending the eye — the affliction had passed.





Ear Trouble

2015-10-08 (1)

Coyote ears are large and their hearing is keen. Ears are crucial for a coyote’s hunting and self-protection. Even though protected by fur, sometimes, a foreign object can get in there and get stuck. The usual response of the animal is to shake its head, rub the ear with a paw, or scratch at it with a hind leg. All those tricks had been tried by this young coyote here, but these activities were not intense. As I watched her during the afternoon, what stood out was the way she held her one ear — the left one — really low.

What could have been causing the problem? Could something have entered into and be lodged in her ear? It’s well past foxtail season. Foxtails are the nemesis of all dogs in the area. These foreign objects have to be surgically removed because, since they are grass awns — barbed seeds — they work their way IN and can’t come out — it’s a one way journey. These barbs can cause infections in many dogs and having them removed helps keeps our vets in business.  I’m wondering how a coyote might cope with one of these, especially if it causes an infection. Since the next day this gal was okay, I’m going to assume the ear problem, however annoying and irritating, involved something small, such as a bug or small grain of debris.


photo by Charles Wood

“Mom” in the Los Angeles coyote family which Charles Wood wrote about for this blog (enter “Charles Wood” into the search box to find his postings) had an ear which shriveled up due to end stage otitis, according to a vet contacted by Charles. It resulted in a permanent disfiguration and therefore an identifying mark for her.

A New Wound


This new wound stands out, not only because it was not there yesterday, but because of its flaming blood-red coloring. This is a four-inch gash which, however, looks as though it has not ripped through the skin. My guess is that it was caused by some man-made item which the coyote encountered during a recent trek.

Living in the wild is not easy. Let’s not make it any harder for them. If you have pipes or anything sharp which could injure our wildlife, please try to remove these things from your yards. Our wild animals do not have the benefit of medicine which we and our domestic pets have. Let’s hope this heals quickly without getting infected.

Eye Injury

We all forget that wildlife suffers constant injuries: it’s not all that easy being a wild animal. In some cases, an injury could result in a permanent disability: I’ve seen coyotes with only three legs, with lacerations, with eye injuries, and I’ve wondered how long these injured animals might have to survive. If they do survive disabling injuries, life becomes that much more difficult for them, on top of a life in the wild that isn’t all that easy in the first place.

Here’s a coyote I caught with an apparent eye injury. The irritation plagued the coyote during the entire length of a day: whenever I spotted him, he was trying to wipe away whatever was in there. Probably a foreign object had lodged there, but it might have been a scratch or laceration. I suppose this fella was lucky: several days later I saw him and the irritant was gone. There are always hazards to contend with in nature — it’s why wild animals don’t live particularly long lives.

Ailments and Injuries: Infected Eye

We tend to forget that animals go through the same ailments and injuries that we do, only they don’t have medicines to help themselves out. I guess it really doesn’t matter, because nature seems to work pretty well. This coyote had an oozing eye infection which progressively got worse for a couple of days, but his immune system must be a healthy one because as of today, a week later, the eye looks like it’s back to normal. The watering eye may have been a minor hindrance for a few days — he may have missed a few hunting opportunities, but it probably did not slow him down in any major ways.

The eye may have been scratched either by a gopher the coyote had caught, or possibly by a twig he had brushed up against. I’m reminded that injuries can happen at any time to any of us by a friend who recently took her dog out for a hike along a rustic trail, and upon returning found that he had jabbed himself with a stick which went in a full two inches. The dog had to have surgery and stitches!

oozing eye infection

oozing eye infection

More Nicks and Dents

More wounds

More wounds

Oh, no!! More gashes and lesions are appearing on the wounded yearling male I posted about earlier. He’s looking totally pockmarked. What is going on? Is he being attacked? These are the kinds of wounds which are inflicted by another coyote. Is another family member, or several family members, attempting to drive this fellow out of the family pack? And is he refusing to go? Or is something else going on?

The Wound Got Bigger

We’ve worried about the fella with the two wounds which was posted a couple of weeks ago. The wound on its haunches grew larger and redder over the next few days, maybe due to its becoming infected. Intervention is always a bad idea unless it is absolutely necessary. Trapping a coyote is extremely traumatic and harmful to these wild creatures. If antibiotics were to be offered, say, hidden in food, there is no guarantee that the right animal would get them.

I recently spoke to a medical doctor about it.  The coyote has been biting and licking it, which I thought was making the condition worse. In fact, it turns out that licking is the best that can happen. Animal saliva contains some antibiotic properties, so this self-medication is the best proactive measure — and it’s being done by the animal himself!


Paw Injury

He just sat there at first, but the minute he stood up, I could tell there was pain in a paw. Sure enough, within a moment he held it up to keep the weight off of it. When he finally walked, the limp was subtle, but very definite.

He walked in a wide, wide circle around me and looked at me forlornly with ears “airplaned” out to the sides. He moved slowly, coping with the injury and perhaps resigned to living with the pain for a while. I had seen this exact same scenario before in his mother when she had been hit by a car four years ago: ears down, painful movements and a look of sadness. The sadness — I speculated that it might be due to the heavy weight of responsibility she bore — there had been pups to feed. And this was the case with this injured father coyote. Although the father’s injury was not nearly as severe as his mother’s four years ago, I was reminded of the pain, the resignation and that forlorn look from that past injury. In addition to pain, an injury puts a huge damper on what a coyote can do to protect and feed its family — this injury actually occurred back in July, but I forgot to post it. In July there were young pups involved.

I wondered how much parental injury contributes to the low survival rate of young coyote pups. I’ve heard it’s as low as 5-20% in the wild — that’s 5-20% survival rate in their first year. There’s no time to take a break when young pups are around: parents must catch enough food for themselves, and enough food to feed a litter of pups whose nutritional needs, since they are growing, is substantial.

Do coyotes know and comprehend when their ability to live up to their parental responsibilities has been compromised? It is a thought that crossed my mind four years ago when his mother was in the same situation. Of her pups, back then, only two survived, but I don’t know how many she began with.

The father coyote walked ahead and lay down a safe distance from me. He looked over at me and he licked the top of his paw a few times. Then he slowly got up and slowly walked into the bushes.

lying down to lick his paw                                airplane ears

Coyote Father Sustains Bad Injuries

Oh, no!! I watched this coyote walk out of the bushes at noon — he was on his way to another area across the park he inhabits. The limp was bad — there is a deep laceration on the right knee. That’s his mate with him — she walked most of the distance with him, possibly to make sure he was safe. He walked slowly and with effort — it looked painful. Then I saw his face. It’s lacerated over the eye.  And there are several “bite” marks on his body. Two possibilities exist for how he received these lacerations. One, he was in a fight with an adult raccoon parent, or two, he was in a territorial fight with another male coyote. I might include wounds from a domestic dog, but I have yet to see any intense fighting between dogs and coyotes.

I know that the best way for an animal to heel is to leave it alone — nature works miracles if allowed to do so. Trapping an animal to “help” it creates more of a problem for the animal, especially for a parent whose responsibilities are crucial for the survival of his pups. Please, everyone be aware that coyotes may be injured in your area, and please keep your dogs from intruding on them.

Foxtail Season

fox tail

fox tail

Foxtails tend to go one way: IN. The pointed quills make it very difficult for them to be pulled OUT.

I’ve had quite a time removing these from the soft lining in my boots. They become embedded and without a lot of effort, won’t come out. And they hurt!

Dogs frequently get them embedded in their noses or in the webbing of their toes, and it is only by going to a veterinarian that they can be removed. In fact, I know of a vet that wore a beautiful gold foxtail pendant around her neck. She said it was given to her because these beautiful little foxtails are what she made her living off of: extracting them from pets!

coyotes hunt and rest in foxtails

coyotes hunt and rest in foxtails

Our wild critters don’t have the benefit of a veterinarian who could help them, but I’m sure our coyotes are as affected as often as the rest of us. I’ve seen them attempt to pull things from their paws — probably foxtails, and I got a photo the other day (darn, can’t find it — I’ll add it when I find it) of a foxtail stuck to a coyote’s nose, which is what made me think of creating this posting.

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