Cicadas: Pet Treat or Pet Threat?

Cicada on a rock

Periodical cicadas have an unusual but ancient life cycle. They spend most of their life underground, emerging every 13 or 17 years (depending on which brood of periodical cicada they are) for a rush of mating and egg-laying. Once the adults expire, the next generation is tucked underground until their teenage years. 

This cycle will be on full display this spring, with both a 13-year brood and a 17-year brood emerging in Illinois–a very rare occurrence! Veterinarians with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine offer reassurances that the double cicada brood emergence in 2024 need not pose a threat to our pets.

Are Cicadas Dangerous for Dogs and Cats to Consume?

Cicadas are slow-moving, buzzing, and readily available. They do not bite or sting, and they are not toxic to dogs or cats–or people. “In some places, cicadas are consumed by people as a delicacy,” says Dr. Alyssa Baratta-Martin, a veterinarian with the primary care service at the college’s Veterinary Medicine South Clinic.

In short, cicadas may seem like a great snack to pets. However, the insects’ exoskeletons can be quite irritating to the digestive tract, possibly leading to increased salivation, vomiting, or diarrhea. 

“If a pet consumes a large number of cicadas, an obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract could occur,” says Dr. Baratta-Martin. For these reasons, it is advisable to limit pets’ access to these snacks.

How to Minimize Risk

Don’t worry! Your animals can still enjoy the outdoors during the cicada emergence. Although limiting access to cicadas may be hard to do, especially if we see such large numbers as predicted this summer, there are several ways to protect pets. 

Dr. Baratta-Martin suggests going for walks during less active times in the day. Cicadas are least active at nighttime, when they are most likely up in the trees, as well as early in the morning when the temperature is cooler.

“Additionally, removing cicadas from your yard, driveway, or sidewalk before letting your pets outside can help limit access,” advises Dr. Baratta-Martin. She also recommends keeping doors and windows closed. Cicadas are strong yet clumsy fliers and will occasionally unknowingly fly into homes if doors or windows are left open. 

Seeking a Veterinarian’s Help

“If you’re ever concerned about what your pets have eaten, please don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian right away,” says Dr. Baratta-Martin. “In some cases, having your pet examined sooner rather than later can make a big difference in the outcome. Certainly, if your dog or cat is having stomach upset, it’s worthwhile to have them seen by your veterinarian and get them feeling better faster!”

What About Zoological Companion Animals?

According to Dr. Stephany Lewis, director of the Wildlife Medical Clinic, the cicada influx should not affect non-traditional pets like iguanas, turtles, snakes, and birds. 

“Zoological companion animals are mostly housed inside, so they should not be impacted by the emergence,” Dr. Lewis says. 

She notes that cicadas are safe for reptiles to eat, assuming that the cicadas have not been sprayed with pesticides. 

Dr. Lewis points out that use of pesticides negatively affects wildlife. Not only could wild animals ingest the poisons by eating insects that have been sprayed, but the pesticides could eliminate insect populations that native wildlife rely on for food.

By Cassidy Kelly

Feature photo by Michael Coffman from AdobeStock