WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Wildlife officials say sightings of coyotes are increasing around Indiana as the animals go on the prowl without the cover of now-harvested farm fields.

Coyotes are also more likely to stray into neighborhoods in their search for food, and sometimes will go after pet cats and small dogs as prey.

Donna Ferullo said a coyote ran inside her West Lafayette home last month while chasing a family cat from a screened-in patio.

“He came right into my house where I was watching TV,” Ferullo told the Journal & Courier. “I screamed, and he stopped, looked at me. … I was thinking, `Please don't eat me.”'

The coyote turned and ran back out through the patio screen it had earlier torn apart.

“I never saw one before,” Ferullo said. “It's a real neighborhood here, not wooded.”

Shawn Rossler, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources biologist, said the combination of lost hiding places and the approach of winter breeding season help put the coyotes on the move, and more likely for one to be seen.

“Odds are that coyote has been around for years, and you just didn't know it,” Rossler told the Daily Reporter.

Coyotes killed family dogs in backyards, one in Lafayette and another in Frankfort, in recent weeks and a dog in the Oxford area was injured in a coyote attack, said Steve Thompson, a veterinarian at Purdue University's Veterinary Clinic.

Coyotes mostly eat small mammals such as mice and moles and rarely attack people, according to wildlife experts.

“With the harvest happening, they're going to be looking for more hunting areas,” Thompson said.

Jeff Leffel, director of Greenfield-Hancock County Animal Management, said he has spotted coyotes in neighborhoods around the city about 15 miles east of Indianapolis.

“They're just out for an easy meal,” he said.

Cass County Sheriff Randy Pryor said despite the increase in coyote sightings, vehicle crashes involving deer remain a far more common wildlife problem in his rural northern Indiana county.

“If a coyote is just in the neighborhood, there's really not a whole lot that we're going to be able to do about it,” he told the Pharos-Tribune.

Experts recommend not leaving pet food outside and keeping garbage secured in closed containers to help prevent coyotes from regarding a family's home as a constant source of food.

“If there's a draw for them, they're going to hang around,” Rossler said.