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No, You Don't Need To Be Worried Your Dog (Or Cat) Is Eating Cicadas

A cicada that have been living underground reemerges in Washington in May.
Anadolu Agency
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A cicada that have been living underground reemerges in Washington in May.

You were hoping it would be an isolated incident.

Your cat catches a cicada on the balcony, brings it inside, chows down and promptly throws up on the hardwood floor.

But over the course of just a few days, it happens again. And again.

So you revoke his outside privileges and call the vet.

Brood X, as this resurgence of cicadas is called, has been 17 years in the making. It's inspired a renaissance in cicada cuisine — chefs advocate for the extra protein intake that comes with a cicada-crusted flank steak or chocolate-crusted cicadas.

So if humans can experiment with the newly-unearthed insects in the kitchen, could they really be that bad for pets? Or does your cat just have an uncharacteristically sensitive stomach?

The answer, according to Dr. Nita Vasudevan of Peachtree Creek Animal Hospital in Georgia, is a bit of both.

They can cause digestive issues

Dr. Nita Vasudevan of Peachtree Creek Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.
/ Courtesy of Dr. Nita Vasudevan
Courtesy of Dr. Nita Vasudevan
Dr. Nita Vasudevan of Peachtree Creek Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.

Cicadas themselves are not toxic — but if they're not a part of your furry friend's regular diet, then there's a chance they can cause discomfort or gastrointestinal upset, says Dr. Vasudevan.

"Also, rarely, ingestion can cause possible allergic reactions which would present as facial swelling, diffuse body hives and itching and if more severe of a reaction, fever, vomiting and diarrhea," she adds.

The American Kennel Club offered similar guidance in a recent blog post. Although a couple of cicadas probably won't do much harm, AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein warned that "dogs that gorge on the large, crunchy insects will find the exoskeleton difficult to digest and can suffer serious consequences."

Look out for quantity, not quality

The author's cat, chastised shortly after eating two cicadas.
Isabella Gomez Sarmiento / NPR
The author's cat, chastised shortly after eating two cicadas.

Brood X is coming out across 15 states, from the East Coast to the Midwest. There's even an app that helps map where they are. And if you live in an area where they're especially prominent, you want to keep down how many your pet nibbles on.

"If pets eat a large amount, the sharp parts of these cicadas can possibly cause GI perforations," says Dr. Vasudevan. "A few ingested likely will be harmless, but we always worry about the quantity ingested over a short period of time."

You can do something about it

Again, a cicada or two won't hurt in most cases. But to ensure your pet isn't adding extra crunchies between bites of their kibble, here are a few steps Dr. Vasudevan recommends pet owners take while Brood X continues:

  • Avoid areas where cicadas tend to concentrate, like wooded parks or big stretches of green space with treetops where they might be mating. Switch up your walks away from that grassy park and towards a paved trail for the next couple of weeks. 
  • Keep your pets on a short leash for the time being. Instead of letting them run unsupervised or climb trees (as cats with harnesses tend to do), tailor your walks or park hangs to where you can still see what they're doing. And if you usually let your outdoor cat roam free or give your dog long stretches of interrupted time in the backyard, maybe try to bring them in more frequently until Brood X subsides—or at least check in from time to time to make sure they're not feasting on the new garden guests. 
  • Watch out for predators! A boom in cicadas can also mean you'll see more predators — like rats and snakes — lurking around. Dr. Vasudevan says increased interactions between you pets and these predators is most definitely a cause for concern. "Certain venomous snakes (copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and coral snakes) can be lethal to our pets and rats/rodents can carry diseases like leptospirosis and even rarely, rabies. It would always be recommended to ensure your pet is vaccinated for leptospirosis and rabies vaccinations annually," she explains. "And if you live in an endemic area [for] rattlesnakes, there is an option for a vaccination towards this as well."
  • Pay closer attention. This, Dr. Vasudevan says, is key. "If you notice any change in symptoms in your pet, it is ALWAYS best to not delay and hope the signs and symptoms will self resolve," she explains. "Reach out to your veterinarian! They will be able to help!" 
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.