Brood X’s cicadas give pets a moving feast of irresistible proportions
But every time the 4-year-old Shepherd Mix comes out into the yard to play or relieve herself right now, her owner, Julie Matthews, puts a muzzle on Bonnie’s face.
The goal? To keep him from indulging in a potential buffet of Brood X cicadas that recently started to come out of the ground after a 17-year hiatus.
“We don’t have a lot of cicadas yet, but I’m afraid that once she sees a bunch of them she’ll go crazy,” said Matthews, who lives in Fairfax Station, Va.
Bonnie loves to hunt. On several occasions, Matthews said, Bonnie has smashed catmint bushes outside their home while trying to pounce on bugs and salamanders. Once she almost put a toad in her mouth.
While Matthews said the muzzle gives her dog a creepy look – which she describes as much like the fictional Hannibal Lecter – the dog’s owner feels more confident letting Bonnie run free knowing that the mobile cicada feast is off the table.
Cats and dogs react to cicadas
While many people worry about Brood X’s emergence in 16 states and the District of Columbia, those with a canine or feline companion to care for have extra things to navigate.
Some pet owners are already learning how their cats and dogs respond to the sudden and abundant source of potential overstimulation and overeating at their doorstep.
“Our dog, Leo, considers the cicadas his endless buffet falling from the sky,” Laura Jenkins, who lives in Reston, Va., Said of her 8-year-old rat terrier mix.
It eats the insects like experts say dogs tend to – whole – and crunches the exoskeletons “like chips,” she says.
“I feel like I have to be on high alert to make sure he doesn’t spoil his meals with too many snacks,” Jenkins said via email. This includes staying away from heavily forested areas on their daily walks, where a large concentration of insects collects on the ground.
Cats tend to respond to movement – think cat and mouse play – and are more likely to hit and play with insects than to eat them, said veterinarian Dr. Craig Felton, medical director of the Old Dominion Animal Health Center in McLean, Virginia. They also usually chew whatever is in their mouth.
“Cats are unlikely to eat as many (cicadas) as dogs,” Felton said.
That said, he recently treated a cat at his clinic that had injured its tail after going through a screen door in pursuit of flying insects, so cicada-collateral injuries are not out of reach.
Gorging on cicadas can cause problems
Animals that gorge themselves on cicadas to the point of vomiting are a legitimate concern, Felton said.
When in their fenced yard, on their own, dogs, in particular, can get into trouble, he said.
“This is where we see the most problems with food indiscretions,” Felton said.
When a dog’s prey instinct kicks in, he says, overeating can extend to things like deer or fox droppings or even a construction worker’s lunch, in addition to cicadas. .
Cicadas themselves aren’t poisonous, Felton said, but it’s the amount some animals manage to ingest that can cause problems.
“The exoskeletons that protect the innards of cicadas are not very digestible, and their wings and legs are like hooks,” he said. “In the delicate lining of the stomach, it can be difficult,” causing digestive and gastrointestinal problems. This can cause dogs to vomit to the point of becoming dehydrated where they need to be rehydrated at the vet.
The animals aren’t the only ones feasting right now
Cicada snacks have a wider appeal than you might think. Chocolate coated cicadas make some humans try something new.
And for the animal kingdom as a whole – from birds and raccoons to chipmunks and turtles – insects provide an abundant but fleeting food source.
“Cicadas seem to be quite appetizing for many animals,” said Gene Kritsky, dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
“I saw blue jays catching cicadas in flight,” Kritsky said by email. “Many other birds feast on cicadas, including blackbirds, chickadees, sparrows, bluebirds, geese and turkeys.”
Birds learn to distinguish between males and females, said James English, an animal ecologist and assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, who did his doctorate on periodic cicadas.
Only male cicadas call, he said, so birds learn to peck insects for sound.
“If it doesn’t make any noise, it will catch it because it’s full of juicy and nutritious eggs,” he said.
The birds are even learning to pull off cicada wings, which is not worth eating, English said.
A potential choking hazard for small dogs
Dogs tend to be less picky. And for some, cicadas aren’t the safest snack.
The insects, which can grow to around 1.5 inches long, can potentially cause a choking hazard for small dogs with narrow tracheal and esophageal diameters, said Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinarian of the American Kennel Club. .
Among the breeds that fall into this category, he said, are Pugs, Shih Tzus and French Bulldogs. But choking is more likely to happen to any dog that eats quickly and doesn’t chew its food, he said.
If your dog has eaten cicadas and has trouble swallowing – but no difficulty in breathing, which is considered an emergency – Klein said to offer him a small piece of bread to see if that would help “push the dog”. object down the stomach. “
Then, he says, contact your vet.
“Every dog is different, but in general, eating a cicada or two shouldn’t harm a dog, although eating too much can cause vomiting and / or diarrhea,” he said.
There is a small chance that cicadas can cause an allergic reaction in some pets, said Dr Randy Benson of Benson Animal Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.
Such a reaction, he said, is “similar to the allergic reactions of humans to crustaceans,” but it is very rare.
The best way to keep animals from consuming too many cicadas, Benson said, is to stay alert during daily walks – something you should do anyway to make sure pets don’t swallow others. difficult to digest objects, he said.
“We’re all lazy and love the idea of a fenced yard where the dogs can do their business and we can take care of our chores,” Felton said. “But pet owners are learning that might not be the time to do it.”
“It is a natural wonder that we have to put up with,” he said.