The Missouri Department of Conservation is encouraging landowners to be vigilant of pets this winter in areas where coyotes are known to live.

Dan Zarlenga, media specialist, said breeding season for coyotes begins in February, which makes them more active this time of year.

Coyotes can attack pets both in rural agricultural areas and in cities.

He said unlike many other kinds of wildlife, coyotes adapt particularly well around human development.

These areas can include municipal parks, golf courses, cemeteries, suburban wooded common areas and even within subdivisions themselves.

This has led to encounters that occur between coyotes and cats. Coyotes also have been known on occasion to attack small dogs.

According to the conservation department, coyotes may attack family pets not as a food source but because they see them as territorial competition.

Tom Meister, wildlife damage biologist, said one of the secrets behind the coyote’s survival success is its wide-ranging diet.

He said coyotes are scavengers that will eat foxes, groundhogs, mice, rabbits, squirrels, fruits, vegetables, birds, insects or common household garbage.

Coyotes typically breed in February and March. Females give birth to four or five pups about 60 days later.

“Because food requirements increase dramatically during pup rearing, April through May is when encounters between humans and urban coyotes are most common,” Meister said.

At that time, coyotes are on the move more seeking food and may act more aggressively toward any animal they see as potential competition like family dogs.

Landowners are encouraged to ensure that their yard or property has no food sources readily available to coyotes.

“If food is deliberately or inadvertently provided by people, the adult coyotes and their pups quickly learn not to fear humans and will develop a dependency on these easy food sources,” Meister said.

He said the conservation department encourages dog and cat owners not to leave pet food outside, to securely cover all trash containers and consider waiting to put trash containers out as close to pick-up time as possible.

Meister said pet owners should not leave their pets outside unattended, especially during the hours of dusk, nighttime and dawn. These are the periods coyotes are most active both in rural areas and in cities.

Installing a fence around yards may also help. Fences should be at least six feet high and dug into the ground six inches deep so that coyotes cannot jump or dig under them.

For more information on dealing with nuisance coyotes, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Zaa or e-mail at pubstaff@mdc.mo.gov.

A free brochure can be obtained by writing to Controlling Conflicts with Urban Coyotes in Missouri, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Margaret Slayton can be reached at margaret.slayton@newspressnow.com.