En español | They’re colorful, they make intriguing noises and they’re crunchy. The billions of cicadas about to emerge from their 17-year slumber will intrigue dogs, but canines shouldn’t chow down.
Not because the cidadas are toxic. In fact, they’re even high in protein. (Humans sometimes enjoy them dipped in chocolate or stir-fried.)
Dog doctors are warning against excessive snacking on the insects because “the crunchy shell can cause irritation to the stomach lining when eaten in large volumes,” says veterinarian Stephanie Liff, medical director at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York City. “Prevention is important.”
Helping canines avoid cicadas
Dogs may be drawn to the siren-singing insects for their satisfyingly crunchy exoskeleton, but they need to steer clear of these tasty treats to prevent stomach problems. Here’s how to help.
1. Keep walks short and closely supervised.
2. Opt for open fields. Cicadas “tend to congregate in areas where there are lots of mature trees, so it might be best to avoid the park and woods” during their appearance, according to veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt, a writer at Loveyourdog.com.
3. Head out at ideal times. “Cicadas are least active at dawn and dusk,” says veterinarian Georgina Ushi Phillips, “so if your dog is especially interested in them, try to keep walks around these times.”
4. Stay away from areas that have been sprayed with pesticides. Cicadas that emerge in these places could be even more toxic than other cicadas.
5. Prepare the yard. If you have a lot of cicadas congregating in your trees, use a garden hose to spray them off, so they’ll fly away before you allow your pets outside, suggests veterinarian Karen Lechelt.
An emerging curiosity
Hordes of cicadas will emerge from the ground this spring in 15 states in the mid-Atlantic and Midwestern parts of the country as the soil warms to 64 degrees. Known as Brood X (the Roman numeral for 10), these insects will crawl out of the ground, shed their shells and look for a mate after their long hibernation.
The heavy cicada infestation is sure to be a curiosity for dogs as they’re being walked or when they’re sniffing around the backyard. But dog owners should make sure their pets don’t overindulge.
If they do help themselves to a big serving of cicadas, it can lead to vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea or poor appetite.
Though rare, pets also may have an allergic reaction when they eat cicadas and can go into anaphylactic shock, which would require an urgent trip to the vet.
‘Dogs don’t know when to stop’
Cicada toxicity has been a common worry since a 2017 social media post about a dog dying from eating the insects went viral. A woman posted that years before, her dog had died after eating more than 300 cicadas.
But it was the excessive amount — not the cicadas themselves — that caused the fatality.
“The big issue is that our dogs don’t know when to stop, and because there may be hundreds of cicadas available to them, some dogs will just keep eating one after the other,” says Georgina Ushi Phillips, a veterinarian in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Depending on the level of supervision, it may be easy for dogs to eat dozens, if not hundreds, of the insects, leading to potentially severe symptoms that tend to be most extreme in smaller and older pets.
John Tegzes, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist with JustFoodForDogs, notes that if any living creature eats an excessive amount of something, regardless of what that something is, sickness — or worse — could follow.
“Think about a person eating 20 big bags of potato chips for instance,” says Tegzes. “While the potato chips themselves aren’t dangerous, a huge amount would supply a nearly deadly amount of salt.”
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Owners need to stay calm
Cicadas are the loudest insects in the world, with a mating hum that can hit 100 decibels. By comparison, a motorcycle engine is about 95 decibels. (Cicadas’ signature buzzing makes them tempting for cats, too, and will make kitties equally ill, notes Amber LaRock, a licensed vet tech and veterinary consultant at CatPet.Club.)
Ken Strobel, from Holland, Michigan, isn’t looking forward to this once-every-17-years swarm, which should last about four weeks.
“It sounds miserable,” says the 55-year-old, who takes two mile-long walks a day with his mixed-breed mutt named Hugo and two Bernese mountain dogs named Hazel and Harper.
“They usually don’t pull to eat every smelly morsel that they pass, but if these cicadas are everywhere and they’re really attracted to them, it’s going to be tough,” Strobel says. “It will be like taking untrained kids through a candy store.”
If you find your dog snacking on cicadas, don’t panic, especially if only a few have been ingested.
“Allow [your dog] to chew them up and then take your pet back inside,” advises Karen Lechelt, a veterinarian in Little Rock, Arkansas. “Trying to remove the cicada from your pet’s mouth may cause your pet to swallow the insect whole, which is a choking hazard, and you could be injured as well.”
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education and human-interest stories for several national publications. A former reporter for several daily newspapers, her work has also appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week. She is the author of the children's book M Is for Mindful.