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.

The Plight Of Some Of Our Urban Coyotes

Hi Janet,

I’ve been meaning to write you these last few days, but you beat me to it!  I have been thinking about those coyotes in the Presidio [where we took our walk — but now where trees and habitat are being removed because of Doyle Drive renovation work and because of non-native tree removal], and also have been worried that all that change is driving them into the city.  I really hope that the increase in activity won’t hurt their campaign to be seen as good neighbors!

But the reason I have been thinking of writing you is with very sad news.  We have a family of coyotes here in my new neighborhood in Sausalito, and sometimes they are even in my back yard at night, singing.  My house is about 1000 feet from the freeway, though a thick grove of eucalyptus makes it feel further away.  I have made a few attempts to find routes the coyotes must be using to cross to get out to open space of the Marin Headlands on the other side, but so far I have found only small drainage culverts that are only 36″ in diameter.  Then there is the spencer underpass about a mile from here.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  Friday morning I found a yearling male who had been struck trying to cross from our side. He was still warm when I pulled him from the second outer lane at about 6:30 am.  His death was instant, I’m sure.  But I am deeply saddened, as it feels like losing a neighbor’s kid.  We talk about how the youngsters get killed when trying to leave for new territory, but it’s different when you experience it in person. I thought of you when it happened, and knew you had experienced similar heartbreak.

The irony of this is that just yesterday I nearly hit a youngster bobcat that ran full speed in front of me out in the Marin headlands, but my antilock breaks saved the day.  We really need to work on this problem as a society — as it is such a terrible waste to kill so many animals.  We could prevent this simply with better planning, and putting in larger drainage culverts under roads with the idea that both water and animals could use them to travel from one side to another. And across freeways, the deliberate location of gaps every few thousand feet so animals who find themselves on roads can get off them safely.  I see even salamanders and snakes killed by cars on driveways, but it is so easy to use small pipes to act as tunnels under the asphalt. We have a lot of work to do!  And thanks for all your hard work on Coyote Yipps.  You are the human voice of those coyotes, and they really need it.  Jennifer


On  the coyote — I made some mistakes in my assumptions.  It’s worse than I had thought.  I don’t know my pack here as well as you know yours, but I now suspect the coyote I found last week was the alpha male. I had assumed a young male, given his small stature  and the fact that he had been inexperienced enough to be hit. But I did an autopsy to learn more about him, and found he was not young, but old enough to have several benign tumors, some of them quite sizable.  He also had some wearing on the teeth that make me think he was several years old.  But the shocker was when I recovered two 22-caliber bullets lodged in his shoulder.

Last year my neighbor told me he had been awakened by the coyotes singing, but then someone had fired shots and then my neighbor had heard one of them whimpering (in the city limits!)  It makes me wonder if this is the one who was shot then.  He also had some tapeworms, though no heart worms. All in all, he appears to have been quite healthy.  A real tragedy.  (You might wonder how I came to know enough to do an autopsy, but remember I was on my way to being a wildlife vet before discovering my passion for botany.) So my neighbors lost a father and mate last week.  I don’t know if they have pups this year. Not sure how this info effects your idea to post, but you are welcome to share this with your audience.   Jennifer

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.

Leg Injury

December 3rd is the first time I noticed a mild limp in the right back leg of this coyote youngster. I didn’t see this fellow for a few days, and then the next time I saw him the limp had become full blown: the coyote stayed by the bushes, moved only a little bit, and when he did move, that back leg was held up as he hopped into protective underbrush cover. The possibilities are that the injury might have been inflicted by his dominant sibling — this would not be uncommon, but just as likely he could have been hit by a car or motorbike, or gotten the leg caught or twisted in a fence or something similar. Another possibility is that an infection has developed.

What should be done when an injury is detected? Nothing, unless absolutely necessay. The first consideration is that trying to capture a wild animal produces an extreme amount of stress in the animal: his belief would be that he is being caught to be eaten. So no animal is ever captured unless the injury or illness is much more painful and stressful than the capturing procedure. Almost all wild animal ailments heal by themselves. The signs I’m watching for are drinking, eating and movement. If any one of these is not occurring, we’ll call for help — our humane societies are well equipped to handle this situation if the condition should worsen — I have spoken to them in detail about it and been advised what to keep an eye on.

How to tell if the animal isn’t eating? It will become thin very quickly — coyotes have little fat to sustain themselves. So the bones would poke out, but also the lack of protein would cause the fur to lose luster and become patchy and dull. These are the signs of malnutrition to keep an eye out for.

The good news is that the leg appears to be already healing — this is about one week after I first noticed the limp. Weight is being put on it when the coyote walks, even though it is still held up for the most part when the animal is running. The injury has not impeded the coyote’s movement from one end of the park to the other, so we feel he’ll be fine.

Notice the ears as this fellow as he sits up on the hillside. They are way down and to the sides. The low ears may be a sign that he’s dejected. Everyone could help by making absolutely sure that this fellow is not pursued by their dogs as he tries to heal.

Injured Front Paw

I remember thinking a few days ago that possibly this coyote was limping just a tiny bit. It was so minor that I forgot about it until today. From a distance the coyote seemed to function normally, but as it approached I definitely noticed a limp and that the paw was held higher at times. I can only guess that maybe a thorn has become embedded in the paw or maybe the paw became twisted as the coyote maneuvered over uneven terrain. The coyote’s behavior seemed totally normal: It hunted for a while but caught nothing — but this kind of bad luck occurs even when there is no paw injury. The coyote spent time resting by a path — this, too, is pretty normal behavior, though the injured paw may have influenced the coyote’s lying down.

Wild animals sustain all kinds of injuries. A while back I saw a coyote limp severely for well over a month. It was not until six months later that I met a person who had actually seen the accident which caused the injury: the coyote had been hit by a car as it tried crossing a busy road during peak traffic time. That was over a year ago: it involved a back leg.

UPDATE: It was suggested to me — something I had not thought of — that it was a dog chasing the coyote which probably caused this recent foreleg injury. Right before I first noticed the leg injury there had been an intense chase by a dog who was actually faster than the coyotes — this is not the case usually. The speed and distance was tremendous, even with two coyotes involved. That I noticed the leg injury right after this should have alerted me as to what had caused it. In flight, there is little time for a coyote to scan the terrain for glass, rodent holes, protruding rocks, sudden drops in topography or other hazards. We never think how treacherous an escape can actually be, but at full speed, when a coyote is running for its life, the obstacle course can become treacherous in places. Just walking over the same terrain I have caught myself repeatedly as my ankle gave way under me.

Two Eyes, One Eye, No Eyes!

These photos made a nice series: two eyes, one eye, no eyes! Small children play this game, though they use their hands to cover their eyes. In truth, there is more going one here: the right eye of this coyote has been infected for some time and most of the time appears smaller than the other with small amounts of secretions. Ailments are common in wild animals.

Bad Nose Injury

It was not until I got home and zoomed-in on these photos that I realized I had encountered an injured coyote. The black tip of the nose was lacerated around the edges and bent down, and it was somewhat extended as if it had been bitten into and pulled. There is something about Kipling’s “The Elephant’s Child” here. The entire end of the snout was swollen and there was red blood in a nostril. I’ve seen injured coyotes bask in the sun — I think this must be an instinctual reaction to help speed up, the healing — at least the warm sun might help soothe pain. And, in this case, this coyote spent time soothing its sore nose against the soft skin of its underside, as can be seen in the last photo.

This kind of laceration on the snout may have been caused by a fight. Might it have been with a raccoon as a predator, or maybe with another coyote over territory? Or maybe this coyote had been defending something precious, like a den? After all, it is pupping season.

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