Dead cat - "forensic" investigation - coyote??

I found an eviscerated, 1-yr-old cat in a wooded area near my house. The head and neck looked OK but the innards were missing and one leg looked gnawed on. I didn’t see any signs of a struggle. The cat was at the edge of a grassy path.

Is there any way to tell whether the cat was more likely killed by a coyote or coyotes or died some other way and was partially eaten by raccoons. (Coyotes have been reported in the neighborhood recently and raccoons are common.)

I would be surprised if a coyote had killed it but did not eat the whole thing. Sounds more likely it was scavenged.

I agree with** Colibri**. There are lots of coyote kills, rabbits, on our golf course. What you see is some bits of fur an occasional a lower leg and now and then an ear.

It would be difficult for a coyote (or a pack of them) to kill a healthy cat in a wooded area. I guess it’s possible, though.

Paging Osip. We need a forensic anthropologist with an interest in nonhuman teeth.

The snouts of coyotes and raccoons are sufficiently different enough that a person with reasonable expertise could tell them apart from the teeth marks on bones.

Failing an anthropologist, an old hunter could probably do so, too.

I agree with the opinions above re: postmortem scavenging. When we find a human corpse in the wild which has died by other than animal attack and has been scavenged, small animals work on the head first, because the tissues are soft and have manipulatable edges such as the lips, ears, and eyelids. Insect activity also starts on exposed mucous membranes, which means the mouth is the first place, the eyes next; genitalia are rarely affected unless the person is not clothed across the genital regions, but if they are, the urethral meatus in males is a prominent source of insect activity. Insect activity increases accessibility for gnawing scavengers.

After the face is mostly scavenged, the neck becomes accessible, and it is not at all unusual for the animal or dead human to get its head gnawed off through the upper cervical vertebrae. A large enough scavenger will usually carry the head to its lair and work on it to get to the bran. After the face, too, larger animals such as coyotes usually dissect the arm away at the shoulder and carry it off.

I have worked on a number of corpses that were missing both arms, and some the head and both arms. Arm = forelimb for a cat.

So this sounds like a typical scavenger pattern to me. Postmortem.

You Called?

As I have said before it has been a long while since I have had any dealings with such. Yet, that does not stop me from adding two cents!
It does sound as if the was scavaged. As my dear Gabriela has stated most most small critters both insects and mammals chew where they can get the biggest reward for the least amount of effort. eyes, ears. nose and if availible entry/exit wounds. Larger animals will also go after the abdominal region and neck, lots of good chewy stuff in there.

Hard to pin it down as to a particular scavanger, with the body being a 1 year old cat, I doubt it was a larger creature chewing away.
With the remains found at the edge of a grassy path, we can almost rule out a coyote or larger animal (like feral dogs). Had the coyote made the kill there, he would have comsumed the meal or if , would have carried his meal away.
A racoon would have little trouble getting into the abdominal cavity and dine on the innards.
How the cat died, we can only guess.
The remains seem to be scavaged by smaller or similar sized creatures.

Hope that helps.

Thanks everyone.

A little more info (now that I have a better idea of what info to provide).

The head looked completely intact – no damage to mouth, ears, lips, or neck. Just the abdomen was empty (and probably the thorax, I didn’t look that carefully) and one leg was opened to expose muscle. No bones were exposed and the only insect activity was a few flies (the cat had been dead <24 hours). One other interesting fact: the cat wore a collar with a plastic name tag. When I grabbed the tag to read it, it came off in my hand; it was apparently broken where it attached to the metal ring on the collar but it was not not displaced - strange. The owner said the cat was healthy but not real smart. Because of talk about coyotes in the area and the unexplained death of an apparently health 1-year-old cat away from a road, I have to consider the possibility of a coyote kill even if the damage to the corpse was from scavengers.

How does a coyote kill a cat? Does it break the cat’s neck? Can you expect to see teeth marks on the head or neck?

How far away fom a road are we talking here? Cats are notorious for running away from car accidents. They are tough little critters and they don’t like other animals seeing them injured, as a result cats will normally run off from car accidents that aren’t immediately fatal.

So if the road within a few minutes running distance of a road you really can’t rule out car accident.

Normally when a dog or coyote kils something small and potentially dangerous like a cat they use a quick bite, shake and release method. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, they bite across the body somewhere behind the neck, pick the animal up and shake it vigorously. That basically rattles the internal organs to pieces, leading to ruptured spleens, shattered livers, floating kidneys and similary injuries. The animal is then dropped and the dog waits for it to collapse, which usually takes less than a second after release. The entire process happens so fast that an experienced hunting dog won’t even appear to stop running.

So don’t expect to see teeth marks on the head. Any teeth marks will most likely be found on the body, but you’re unlikely see them without skinning or shaving the animal.

Thanks. That’s helpful.

The nearest road was only about 10 m from the cat but separated by a stream about 3 m wide and several inches deep with embankments about 1 m on one side and 5 m on the other. The cat could have been hit on the road and made it to the spot on nearly level ground if it walked at least 40 m after being hit. But it lived in a house much closer and more accessible from the road than the place where I found it so I tend to doubt that it was hit by a car (although I can’t rule it out). Also, there was no dried blood around the cat’s mouth, nose, or ears.

:eek: :eek: :eek:

Well, that’s going to replace the white whale in my nightmares…

Sorry. I realized as I was writing that that it was probably too much. But anything for science, right?

Can you avoid nightmares by always going to bed in your pants?

What! No demand for pictures?

I’ve only just discovered this discussion. And as a cat lover I’m disturbed it was a dead cat. But perhaps someone can suggest what likely happened in the following case.

The body of a 60-pound child, female, found in southern California, late winter, probably dead for ± 2 weeks. The body was naked and on its back, and weighed only 36 pounds when found. Cause of death not determined and no observable injuries. Moderate decomposition. Extensive postmortem animal feeding: there was a maggot mass in the abdomen, and there are coyotes in that area. Superficial mummification of the body. Head and face intact, but (probably) a maggot hole in the neck. Much muscle missing from arms and legs (mainly from the thighs). One foot missing (removed just below ankle and taken away by scavenging animals?). Three teeth missing (taken away by rodents? - but the mouth was closed). Some organs, such as the heart and liver, were intact; others, such as the stomach and much of the kidneys, were missing (due to decomposition or animal feeding). Genitalia missing. (Due to maggot activity? But a sexual assault was suspected.) Large holes in lower right front of abdomen (due to decomposition?) and lower left back of abdomen (due to maggot activity and decomposition?).

There were two drag trails at the site. A short one, maybe 15 feet in length and a foot in width, close to the body; and a long meandering one, about 40 feet in length, maybe 90 feet away (so a big gap between the two trails). The trails were greasy, suggesting decomposing flesh, and had hair from the victim.

Some people think it took coyotes maybe two weeks to find the body. (Assuming it was coyotes and not say dogs that fed on the body.) I think they found it soon after it was there, while it was still fresh. But would they have eaten from the thighs rather than the abdomen? Would they have just opened up the abdomen and not fed there? Would they have detached and carried away the foot? And what caused those drag trails? Were they formed by an injured person crawling along the ground, trying to go for help? Or by the perpetrator, dragging the dead victim? Or by coyotes, either dragging the body to its final resting place, or dragging parts of the body away to their den? And if the latter, which parts? There don’t appear to be any likely “candidates”: for example, the bowel was intact, and the foot was small enough to be carried not dragged.