Just days after authorities warned that hungry coyotes were a threat to pets, small dogs have been killed by the predators in Westport and Fairfield.

In Westport, a West Hyland terrier died after being attacked by a single coyote last Wednesday night, officials said. It was uncertain when the last dog was killed by a coyote in Westport, but one was killed in 2006.

In Fairfield the same night, a Pomeranian in a backyard off upper Black Rock Turnpike was set upon immediately after its owner let it outside. It was the first documented coyote attack in Fairfield, according to the town's animal control officer, Paul Miller.

He called it "rare" to have two dogs in adjacent towns fatally attacked on the same night.

Authorities in both Westport and Fairfield in late February had warned pet owners of increased coyote sightings and warned that small dogs, cats and other small pets should not be allowed outside unattended.

Miller said authorities were considering whether the attacks were by the same coyotes or random.

A coyote expert with the state Department of Environmental Protection said that when coyotes attack other canines, it usually is to show their dominance over the species, not for food.

In the Westport attack, the terrier, named Henry, was attacked by the single coyote, which apparently had been lurking in the yard, according to a police report. The dog was taken to Norwalk Emergency Vet Hospital, where it died.

In Fairfield, Miller said the Pomeranian's owner said there were three coyotes in the yard. Two made a beeline for the dog while the third went after a deer. Miller said he believes the deer was the coyotes' primary target, but the dog became prey the moment it stepped outside.

The dog, named Pudding, probably weighed about 5 pounds, he said.

Chris Vann, a biologist with DEP's wildlife division, said small pets should not be outside unsupervised. The presence of coyotes in the state have been continually increasing, he said, and complaints were uncommon until 12 or 13 years ago.

While Vann would not say this winter's heavy snowfall had left coyotes hungrier than normal, he did say that it may be causing them to "increase their nocturnal travels and subsequently increasing encounters with pets."

"Food shortages certainly could be a motivator," said Vann, "But most of the attacks on dogs are not predatory. They're not attacking for food. They're exerting their alpha canine dominance over another canine. Coyotes will attack other canines. They attack foxes, other coyotes. They will defend their home ranges."

While attacks can occur at any time of the year, Vann said there seems be some seasonal pattern to the complaints. The greater number of calls come in around the breeding seasons.

"Approximately mid-winter, coyotes will pair up and establish a territorial male-female pair, and it seems like during that period, they become very protective of their area," Vann said. "We get an increase in calls in the mating and breeding period. The pups are usually confined to the den until late May-- when calls tend to decrease -- and by mid-to-late June, the pups start traveling away from their den sites and calls to local animal control offices and the DEP pick up again.

A state flier called "Living with Coyotes" offers tips on preventing conflicts with coyotes. Some of the tips include: do not allow pets to run free; never feed coyotes; always walk dogs on a leash; attempt to frighten away coyotes by making loud noises; be aware of any coyote behaving abnormally or exhibiting unusually bold behavior and report these incident to authorities; teach children to recognize coyotes and to go inside the house or climb up on a swing or deck and yell if approached; and close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds that coyotes or other animals may use.