Cats, in general, love to hunt. The thrill of stalking, chasing, and catching prey is part of their wild game. And for a cat, hunting and playing with tiny, live creatures is way more fun than a feather wand or a laser pointer. To complete the hunting experience, most cats end up devouring the helpless little bug trapped under their paws.
While there is nothing you can do to stop their predatory drive, should you allow your cat to eat the bugs? Are these creepy crawlies safe for ingestion?
The short answer is (usually) yes, but there are certainly risks involved if you turn a blind eye to your pet’s bug-eating habit.
Is it okay to let my cat eat bugs?
Even though our furry companions are well-provided with food, we sometimes still find them hunting smaller animals and other creepy crawlies around our homes. And sometimes, they might also eat their catch. This is not because they do not like their regular cat food; it is just their instinctive behavior.
Cats are a predatory species and have much in common with their wild cat ancestors that survived through hunting small prey. So, despite our modern felines being domesticated, most of their predatory traits remain. They will chase, pounce on, and even consume any small moving creature to satisfy their impulse to hunt.
With that in mind, you may be wondering if it is safe for your cat to eat bugs.
In truth, most common creepy crawlies should be safe for your cat to hunt and eat, provided said bugs are non-toxic.
However, eating bugs can be a problem if your cat does not chew them thoroughly. Cockroaches, beetles, and other common household pests have tough exoskeletons that can cause intestinal blockage and upset stomachs.
Additionally, bugs can carry diseases and parasites such as tapeworms and heartworms, so if your cat enjoys hunting and eating these creatures, she will likely also acquire some parasites.
As their loving human guardians, we need to consider these risks before letting our beloved pets eat the bugs they catch. While these tiny creatures do provide some protein and other nutrients for your kitty, they can also pose a number of health risks. Stingers like bees can also cause injury, while some other exotic bugs can be poisonous to consume. With all of that in mind, you may prefer to intervene with your cat’s bug-eating habit in case anything untoward happens!
Why do cats eat bugs?
First of all, it is important to understand that not all cats intend to consume their prey. Often, they just stalk and chase small creatures like bugs as part of their hunting game. Felines are opportunistic hunters, meaning they are easily lured by any moving object or creature they spot, whether it is a toy or a bug.
But of course, some cats do eat their catch after a hunting session, and there are several reasons why. First, this behavior is linked to their innate need to hunt. Although they are fluffy and adorable on the outside, cats are still predatory machines on the inside. They are gifted by nature with sharp claws and teeth, as well as quick reflexes and the agility to catch any prey they discover by chance. Devouring their catch can give them some form of pleasure and satisfaction, even if they are well-fed by their humans.
Most bugs and insects are also healthy snacks for your cat. These creepy crawlies are rich in protein and nutrients that are well-suited for your cat’s specific needs. However, there is little evidence to suggest that cats hunt prey for nutrition. Instead, the urge to chase is driven mostly by their predatory instinct and playful nature.
Can I feed my cat live bugs?
Feeding your cat live bugs can be beneficial for her overall health. Bugs such as crickets and cockroaches are rich in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega fatty acids which meet cats; nutritional needs. Most bugs are also safe and non-toxic to cats, so it should be perfectly fine if your pet occasionally gobbles down a few of these treats.
The only downside to letting your cat eat live bugs is the risk of bacterial and parasitic infections. Some bugs can also inflict painful stings or bites and release toxins that are harmful to pets. Hence, you should be cautious before letting your cat play with just any bug or insect.
How bugs can harm your cat
Chasing bugs is an enjoyable pastime for most cats because it challenges their hunting prowess. Thus, no matter how well-fed they are, you will not be able to stop this predatory drive that is hard-wired in their DNA. You can, however, educate yourself about the risks associated with certain bugs, so you will know what to do in case your curious feline comes into contact with one of these critters. These are described in detail below:
1. Fire ants
Fire ants can cause injuries to everyone, including our pets. They are small but dangerous as their venomous bites can sting and trigger allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. And, if your pet cannot move away from the ant sand mound right away, these tiny creatures can potentially kill her.
If you think your feline has been assaulted by fire ants, take her to the vet right away.
2. Bees and other stingers
The sound of the buzzing insects can be attractive to your unsuspecting cat. However, the stings of these flying insects can be really painful, so you should be cautious about letting her get too close to them. The worst consequence of being stung would be an allergic reaction, causing irritation and swelling. If the sting is on the face or in the mouth, the swelling could also cause an airway obstruction.
If your cat has a strong reaction to being stung, such as breathing issues, vomiting, or swelling, take her to the nearest veterinary clinic. The vet will probably prescribe antihistamine or diphenhydramine to treat the allergy symptoms.
3. Poisonous spiders
Most spiders are safe for cats if they are ingested, because any venom can be deactivated once digested by your cat’s system. The bigger problem arises if your curious feline is bitten by one of these eight-legged critters. Spider venom can cause swelling, irritation, vomiting, or fever. Some poisonous spiders can even cause paralysis, muscle tremors, major wounds, or even death.
Some of the most poisonous spiders you must watch out for are black widows, hobo spiders, and brown recluse spiders. To keep your pet safe, make sure that any spider infestation in your home is controlled as soon as possible, and provide your cat with other stimulation such as interactive toy balls and puzzles, so that her interest in spiders will be reduced.
While eating scorpions is unlikely to harm your cat, a scorpion sting can be toxic. Localized reactions on the bitten area, such as pain, swelling and irritation, are common consequences of a scorpion sting. Some cats might also develop more serious symptoms such as vomiting, breathing difficulties, body tremors, drooling, and abnormal eye movements.
In most cases, it is unlikely for cats to get stung by scorpions due to their remarkable agility and quick reflexes. Scorpions are also likely to retreat from an animal’s attack. However, it is still best to remain vigilant and avoid these creatures, especially the most venomous ones like the striped bark scorpion and the Arizona bark scorpion. They might look small and harmless, but their stings can still cause injuries that could lead to secondary infections or allergic reactions.
5. Hard-bodied insects
Since most hard-bodied insects like cockroaches and beetles are non-toxic and harmless, your furry friend can happily hunt and eat them. In fact, a lot of people rely on their pets for pest control. And, since cats enjoy the thrill of chasing the pesky little bugs, they are only too happy to help guard your home from such pestilence.
Domesticated cats with minimal exposure to the wild will likely benefit from the exercise as well as the protein they can get from these insects. They might also enjoy the opportunity to play with live prey before eating it. The downside, however, is that eating hard-bodied insects or bugs does come with some risks.
Beetles, cockroaches, crickets, and the like have exoskeletons that can irritate your cat’s digestive tract if not properly chewed. Additionally, these insects are carriers of bacteria and parasitic larvae that can be harmful to your cat’s health.
So, if you see any signs of infestation in your home, try to get it under control right away. You should also keep your pet on a monthly preventative deworming treatment to protect her from parasitic infections.
6. Exotic caterpillars and moths
Moths and caterpillars should not pose any risk to your whiskered companions, even if they eat them. Most of these creatures will not harm your pet and are unlikely to be poisonous.
However, there are certain exotic species that can be poisonous and inflict painful stings. For instance, the garden tiger moth is known to release toxic fluids that can be harmful to your feline pal. If ingested, toxicity symptoms will include drooling, tremors, breathing difficulties, vomiting, and seizures.
Another poisonous moth you should watch out for is the southern flannel moth and its caterpillars – also known as puss caterpillars. These creatures have spikes in their tiny hairs that can sting your pet’s mouth and release toxins.
If your cat encounters any of these exotic moths or caterpillars and displays toxicity symptoms, make sure to take her to the vet immediately.
7. Large centipedes
Creepy crawlies like the common centipede are generally harmless and non-toxic if ingested by cats. However, they all have venom that can potentially cause localized reactions if your kitty is bitten. Larger centipedes will also not hesitate to bite if assaulted by a playful pet.
Exotic centipedes such as the Texas redheaded centipede and the giant redheaded centipede are more dangerous for cats. Thankfully, these arthropods are rare and can only be found in the rainforests.
8. Mosquitos, flies, and other creepy crawlies
If you think mosquitoes and flies cannot harm your cat, then you may be wrong. Although these common household guests are non-toxic to cats, they can be carriers of diseases and parasites such as tapeworm and heartworm. These infections can be fatal and can affect both outdoor and indoor cats.
Fleas and ticks are not only a nuisance, but also carriers of diseases and parasites as well. To avoid these pests from making your cat’s life miserable, make sure to apply preventative antiparasitic medications every month. Also talk to your vet as soon as you spot any of these pests, so that you can nip the problem in the bud.
Insecticide toxicity in cats
While we want to control household pest infestations, using certain insecticides is dangerous to our pets. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as organophosphates and carbamates can be life-threatening to our furry companions when consumed. Some common symptoms of toxicity include drooling, seizures, trembling, vomiting, and breathing problems. In the event that your feline ingests any of these chemicals, call your vet right away.
The ideal is obviously to prevent any pest infestations in your household in the first place. But, if you have the infestation already, try to implement pet-friendly methods to eradicate the problem without putting your cat’s life at risk. You can also seek help from a professional to ensure that every family member is safe.
Although some cats might avoid gobbling up anything with an unappealing smell such as that of a stink bug, it is still best to intervene if your pet has a habit of hunting and eating bugs of any kind. Discourage her from playing with or devouring the small creatures she finds by providing her regularly with new toys. Engage with her in interactive play as well, especially if she stays indoors most of the time, to drain her pent-up energy. Hopefully, you can keep her eyes off the tiny creatures lurking around your home.
How to stop cats from eating bugs
Hunting is innate in every cat and there is almost nothing you can do to stop it. But you can definitely do something to keep your furry friend out of harm’s way.
1. Keep the pests under control
Pesticides like Advantage II and bug baits might seem the easiest solutions to get rid of any household pests; however, these chemicals can also be harmful to your pet, so it is best to do your research before using these methods.
Homemade and pet-friendly alternatives are also available to keep the bugs and insects at bay. For example, you can use mosquito netting on the windows and clean your house regularly to prevent bugs and insects from invading your home.
2. Keep Fluffy indoors
The outdoors can be more fun, but also more dangerous for curious cats. If you allow your pets to play outdoors without your supervision, they might be lured by the spiders in your garden or bees in a nearby tree. And, since they are naturally curious predators, they might snack on crawlers that are poisonous or carriers of dangerous diseases and parasites.
Keeping your furry family members inside is the best way to lessen their interest in bugs and insects. Your cat might miss the fun, but this is better than exposing her to the dangers outside your home.
Wrapping it up
Although most bugs and insects are non-toxic and harmless to cats, it is best to avoid these tiny creatures if possible, due to their potential to carry diseases and parasites. They can also inflict injuries through stings and bites, causing pain and possibly secondary infections. To keep your furry companions safe, consider implementing regular pest control in your home, as well as applying preventative treatments to your cat such as vaccinations and deworming.
If your curious friend experiences any symptoms after eating a bug, do not hesitate to take her to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.
Image: istockphoto.com / Caíque de Abreu