Can pets eat cicadas? Experts weigh in as 17-year Brood season nears

ByTara Molina, WBBM
Friday, March 29, 2024
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This spring's bugs are part of a genus, or group, of cicadas in the eastern US known as the Magicicada, or periodical cicadas.

The season of the cicada broods has almost arrived - with billions, if not more, of the insects coming this spring.

The 17-year cicada of Brood XIII is coming to the Chicago area. Downstate in Illinois' Springfield, Brood XIII will be joined by Brood XIX, which comes out after 13 years underground.

With this emergence, Illinois will see more cicadas than anywhere else in the country this spring. One question keeps coming up: How do creepy crawlers mix with furry friends, and what do pet owners need to know about the swarms expected everywhere?

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Caleb Wessner said if his puppy, Poppy, finds herself running around with a bunch of cicadas, she will not be content just to let them fly. She'll eat them.

"If she sees one, she's going to go after it," Wessner said.

He said he was concerned about "any kind of toxic things we should be worried about."

"They are not toxic to pets. They won't sting or bite your pet," said Dr. Cynthia Gonzalez of Family Pet Animal Hospital in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. "The only issue that would present for your pet is if they were to ingest a large amount of them, or if they're a smaller dog if they ate a small piece of the exoskeleton - sometimes that can really irritate their GI tract."

Cicadas leave exoskeletons behind when they emerge from the ground. Those exoskeletons, called shells, will cover the ground once the billions of cicadas emerge and shed them.

"Sometimes, in rare instances, an animal may have an allergic reaction to some of the components in that exoskeleton if that pet is also allergic to shellfish," said Dr. Kelly Cairns DVM, MS, DACVIM - a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist, Vice president of medical excellence and education for Thrive Pet Healthcare, and secretary of the board of directors of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association.

The shellfish category includes mollusks and crustaceans. Crustaceans, such as shrimp, crabs, and lobster, are arthropods - as are all insects, like cicadas.

If a pet is experiencing digestive woes after dining on cicadas or exoskeletons, it's time to call the vet.

"If you notice that after the ingestion, your pets are showing signs of vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite, those would be symptoms where you should call your vet," said Gonzalez.

And with 17-year cicadas expected to cover yards, sidewalks, local parks, and everywhere else people may go with their pets, the experts said the best course of action is to prepare.

"I would recommend that you start to think about proactively how and where you are going to walk your dog or give your dog activities so that you can minimize areas that are going to have a lot of cicadas on the ground," said Cairns.

Cairns said that pets sensitive to noises might also run into problems with cicadas.

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"I think it's important for pet parents to bear in mind that if they have a sound-sensitive pet, who might react with anxiety or be upset with loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks, they may be equally sensitive to the sounds of the cicadas," Cairns said, "so pet parents should take the same proactive preventive measures for cicadas they would take with thunderstorms - and talk to their veterinarian if they have any concerns there."

The 17-year cicadas will emerge in the middle of May. They are expected to clear out by the end of June.

Later, as happens every year, annual dog-day cicadas will arrive to provide a twilight lullaby to the Chicago area from July through September and into October.

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