Do bug-eating cats bite off more than they can chew? - Dr. Marty Becker

Do bug-eating cats bite off more than they can chew?

Thursday, Nov 5th, 2015 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Cat portrait. Cute red big cat portrait over nature green blurred background close up

Most cats like to hunt and eat insects that wander across their path. With a few exceptions, you shouldn’t let your cat’s love of the creepy crawly critters bug you!

Q: My cat likes to catch and eat bugs. Can they make her sick?

A: Cats do love to stalk bugs. Anything that flies, hops or crawls — flies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders — catches their attention and activates their hunting instincts. According to feline nutrition expert Deborah Greco, DVM, insects make up a third of the diet of small wildcats and are popular with domestic cats as well.

We can see how you might be concerned, though. Bugs are popular snack items in some cultures, but for many of us, it’s hard to overcome the ick factor. As far as whether bugs can make your cat sick, the answer is: It depends.

In most cases, crunching a few bugs isn’t going to do your cat any harm. Think of them as the feline equivalent of potato chips. As always, however, there can be exceptions.

Stink bugs, for instance, may exude a nasty-tasting liquid when bitten. (We know this because humans have reported accidentally biting into them.) It’s not necessarily poisonous, but it can cause drooling or vomiting or irritate your cat’s digestive tract.

If spiders such as black widows or brown recluses bite back, their venom can cause serious illness or death. Bees or wasps may sting the mouth. Seemingly harmless ladybugs (Asian lady beetles) can cause chemical burns in a pet’s mouth or digestive tract. Lightning bugs, also known as fireflies, produce chemicals that give them a bitter taste and may cause your cat digestive upset. Certain caterpillars are highly toxic or are protected by painful spines or stinging hairs. As with plants, the most colorful insects are most likely to be toxic.

Bugs can carry parasites. Cats can get stomach worms from eating beetles, cockroaches and crickets. That’s one good reason to give your cat a parasite preventive year-round. And if bugs have been poisoned by insecticides and are then eaten in large numbers by your cat, he could become sick.

Otherwise, just think of insects as an additional source of protein for your little carnivore.

All this and more in this week’s Pet Connection!