Recent footage out of British Columbia’s Vancouver metro area has social media humming over fresh fodder concerning that age-old, universally interesting cat-vs-dog dynamic.

The video, taken by the Port Moody Police Department in the predawn of May 14, shows a black domestic cat running off a skulking coyote a few times its size in a city parking lot:

“The things our patrol officers see at 1, coyote 0,” the department tweeted when sharing the footage.

Concern by some online commentators that the boss-mode cat may have found itself in the waiting jaws of a coyote pack – a bait-and-switch situation, basically – was allayed by the Port Moody Police, who followed up that the humbled wild dog left the scene and that the cat was observed later in the same parking lot.

This particular feline's spitfire spunk provides a chuckle, but more typically the tables are definitely turned. Numerous studies and loads of anecdotal reports from across North American cities suggest domestic cats, whether outdoor housecats or strays, commonly fall on the menus of urban coyotes.

Coyotes – those super-opportunistic, adaptable, and omnivorous “songdogs” – have demonstrated major street-smart bonafides in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, proving themselves more than capable of thriving in such metropolises as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Toronto. In urban and suburban jungles, they mix up “natural” foods – say, voles, cottontails, and berries gleaned from parks, preserves, and overgrown lots – with human-associated subsidies such as garbage, pet chow, and (yup) kitties.

Domestic cats might contribute as much as 13 to 45% of coyote diets. Image © TexasEagle

Research from various metro areas suggests domestic cats might contribute as much as 13 to 45% of coyote diets, though the proportion may be much lower in certain settings. A widely cited study out of Tucson, Arizona documenting significant coyote predation on cats, mostly at night, showed that lone coyotes were just as effective as pairs or packs in snacking on the felines.

Fieldwork in the San Diego area of Southern California found domestic-cat remains in 29% of coyote scats collected in small habitat fragments, mainly scrubby canyons surrounded by urbanised uplands. Track surveys confirmed that both free-roaming cats (pets and otherwise) and coyotes heavily used these island-like patches of natural habitat. By contrast, coyote doo-doo in bigger blocks of undeveloped acreage in the region, such as protected reserves, didn’t include kitty traces.

A 2013 study in Greater Chicago suggested that outdoor cats were probably steering clear of parcels of natural habitat within the metropolitan mosaic because those constituted “core activity areas” for urban coyotes. Cats instead seemed to stick closer to more intensely developed environments.

“Coyotes essentially exclude cats from natural habitat fragments in cities either directly through predation or indirectly through the threat of predation,” lead author Stan Gehrt of Ohio State University said in a press release about the study. “The cats avoid these areas.”

Cats frequenting the more paved-over parts of the cityscape can still be vulnerable to coyotes on the prowl. But more fleeting and furtive movements of the canids through such zones (in the Windy City, anyhow) may explain why cats feel safer. “The way coyotes use developed areas is completely different from how cats use them,” Gehrt said in the press release. “They’re moving through those neighbourhoods or commercial areas very quickly, using every bit of cover they can find, to get from one hunting area to another, whereas the cats are sticking as close to the buildings as they can.”

The authors of both that Chicago study and the Greater San Diego one suggested that coyotes may help safeguard local biodiversity by suppressing or repelling cats in blocks of natural habitat within urban areas. After all, free-ranging cats – whether feral animals, coddled housepets, or something in between – are notorious for preying on songbirds and other wildlife, including vulnerable native species: a globally ginormous problem.

Meanwhile, let’s note that the whole cat/dog thing can play out in different ways in the world’s cities. In Mumbai, pooches – tens of thousands of which roam the city as strays – compose 40% of the average diet of urban leopards there; the big cats may even be benefiting city dwellers by reducing the frequency of bites from rabid dogs. In western North America, pumas (aka mountain lions) cruising the outskirts of towns and cities occasionally pounce on both domestic dogs and cats.

And all of this mirrors the complex back-and-forth between Fido and Fluffy’s wild counterparts. When not stalking alley cats, coyotes compete with bobcats and Canada lynx and periodically land on puma dinner plates; dholes square off with leopards and tigers; jackals rob caracals, which sometimes eat them; grey wolves hound pumas (but possibly avoid Amur tigers); lions kill painted huntings dogs that, in turn, may bully cheetahs – well, you get the picture. It’s complicated among carnivores, especially über-successful ones that have long shared mid- to top-level tiers in terrestrial food webs across much of the planet.

But bringing it all back home to the city: Notwithstanding that particular Port Moody kitty’s badassery, think twice – for more than one reason – before letting the ol’ cat out.

Top header image: Steve Thompson, Flickr