Billions of cicadas have spent the last 17 years underground! In fact, the last time they emerged was 2004, when Facebook was founded, and your high schooler was just a baby.
Once the ground warms to 65 degrees in late April or May, the young cicada nymphs will claw their way to the earth’s surface, transforming into adults. During the next 4-6 weeks, the males will use tymbal membranes on their abdomens to make loud songs, and the females will respond by clicking their wings. The cicadas will mate, and the females will lay hundreds of eggs in tree branches. Then the adults will die, leaving billions of exoskeletons in the environment. The eggs hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground, burrow down, and start their 17- year hibernation.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation for you, your family, and your pet—are you ready? While it’s certainly fascinating, as a pet owner, you might wonder what this incredible phenomenon means for your cats and dogs, particularly the ones who love to put everything in their mouths (read: all of them). And as veterinarians, we can appreciate the concern! We’ve taken some time to round up what this cicada boom means for your pets and how you can minimize any harm to them through a few simple preventive methods.
What Cicadas Mean For Your Cats and Dogs
First and foremost, you need to know that cicadas do not bite or sting and are not toxic. Unfortunately, however, they are slow-moving, buzzing, readily available, and just right for snacking! Some pets will actually gorge on these insects if not properly supervised. While they are not toxic, they have crunchy exoskeletons, and like anything in excess, can cause stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea.
You can prevent ingestion of too many cicadas by:
- Distracting your pet with a game of fetch or giving him a command.
- Keeping your cat indoors for this 4-6 week period. Keeping your dog on a leash - even in your own backyard.
- Taking a treat on your walk to redirect them to something even tastier!
- Teaching your dog the “leave it” or “drop it” command to develop better habits.
- Raking your lawn of the exoskeletons and discarding them.
Take your pet to the veterinarian if you see signs of:
- Not eating
Your vet will examine your pet and may recommend fluids or injections for nausea.
And With Cicadas Come the Cicada Killer Wasps
If you’ve ever had cicadas in your yard, you’ve surely seen the menacing-looking cicada killers. The truth is, they are virtually harmless to you. While the females do have stingers, they’re not after you. They’re after the cicadas! So unless you pose a direct threat to one, you should be fine. Male cicada killers don’t even have stingers, so they are even more harmless. They are territorial, though, so they may try and act imposing if you come across them while walking, mowing, or the like.
Will the Cicada Killers Harm My Pets?
Thankfully, cats and dogs are fast learners. Although some of them may catch cicada killers, they will typically remember that experience and not do it again—especially if they had the misfortune of catching and subsequently being stung by a female. According to the Entomology department at the University of Kentucky, “Some [pets] may have a severe reaction to the venom, especially if stung in the mouth. If that is suspected, the animal should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. Wasp flight begins in the early morning and can continue until dusk. Wasps remain in their burrows at night so encounters can be avoided by managing the activity of the pet.”
Other Bugs That May Be Harmful to Your Pets
The ASPCA is always a good source when seeking out information about keeping your pets safe.
The ASPCA warns of the dangers of the following three bugs to your cats and dogs:
Caterpillars - You’ve likely heard that the hair on these little buggers can be harmful when touched, but that is unlikely to happen to your pet due to their fur. However, cats and dogs will sometimes ingest them, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, head shaking, pawing at their mouths, and irritation around the mouth.
Asian Ladybeetles - if you’ve had these around your home, you know they are anything but subtle, and yet, still, our pets love to try and ingest them. Unfortunately, according to the ASPCA, “Asian ladybeetles secrete defensive compounds that may cause irritation and even ulceration in the mouth. While one or two of these small bugs are not likely to be a big deal, some pets don’t know when to stop, and more serious problems like stomach ulcers may be seen when a large number of beetles are ingested.”
Walking Sticks - These guys are tough to find due to their ability to camouflage, so your dog or cat may interact with them without realizing it. They release a foul-smelling compound when threatened that can cause pawing at the mouth, irritation, vomiting, drooling, or shaking.
If you suspect your dog or cat has gotten into something, they shouldn't have, definitely call your pet's primary care veterinarian right away so they can get to the bottom of it and hopefully avoid a true pet emergency.
In sum, bugs will mostly try and avoid you and your pets if you do the same to them, so monitoring your pet while outside is always a good idea. And feel free to marvel at this extraordinary feat of the 17-year cicada—just remember to keep your pets safe and educate other pet parents, family, and friends about these amazing insects. Repeat in 2038!