Cats chase anything that moves. While this behavior is associated with birds and rodents, some cats will also chase after insects.
Cats can eat bugs with no ill effects, but there are risks. Bees and wasps, and certain ants and spiders, give a painful sting if threatened. Some insects have tough exoskeletons that are hard to swallow. Wings can become a choking hazard if they become trapped in the throat. Bugs can be unsanitary, and may have been sprayed with insecticide.
Your cat may even eat insects unwittingly. If your cat eats grass, it could be consuming an insect’s habitat. If your cat shows no sign of ill health after it’s done, it can continue snacking on bugs.
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Why Does My Cat Eat Bugs?
Some cats eat insects as a dietary supplement. A hungry (or greedy) cat will often stalk live prey, such as bugs, to sate hunger. An insect can provide a satisfying protein source.
What is more likely is that your cat is satisfying hunting instincts. The skittering, sudden movement excites and thrills felines, though. The cat will spot movement in its peripheral vision. From then on, the chase is on.
Just because your cat chases insects, it does not necessarily mean it will eat them. As Animal Behavior explains, cats are likelier to kill prey if hungry but not always eat.
Another reason for a cat to eat insects is curiosity. The presence of a bug will pique a cat’s interest. The colors and fluttering wings of butterflies, for example, or the buzzing drone of a housefly. The cat will want to explore what is providing these new sensory experiences. Oftentimes, this exploration leads to checking how something tastes.
Will Eating Insects Make a Cat Sick?
Eating any living thing could make a cat sick. This is the nature of eating live prey. Reaction depends on a range of things, including:
- Cat digestion
- Insect defense mechanisms
- Size, shape, and species of insect
- Insect health
Most often, cats will not experience any ill effects from eating bugs. It is a natural feline behavior, but it pays to know the risks involved.
Bites and Stings
Bites and stings are the biggest risks to most cats that eat insects. These are how insects defend themselves from predators, including felines.
Eating an insect or arachnid that bites and stings is not a concern. The natural acids in your cat’s stomach will neutralize the toxicity. It is during the hunting process that problems occur. Just like cats, insects have survival instincts. They will fight, bite and sting to avoid being eaten.
The impact of most bites and stings are comparatively minor. Your cat may be left in pain, but this will pass. All the same, as per The Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, anaphylaxis remains a threat.
Anaphylaxis occurs when a cat with a severe allergy is bitten or stung by an insect. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing if your cat has this allergy in advance. The symptoms will only present following an incident. Warning signs of feline anaphylactic shock include:
- Severe vomiting and diarrhea
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling and itchiness around the face
- Pale gums
- Low body temperature (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Lack of coordination
Even if your cat does not enter anaphylaxis, stings or bites can have an impact. Your cat will likely need comforting, and may require minor first aid. This depends on which bug attacked your cat.
Bee and Wasp Stings
Almost all cats will be stung by a bee or wasp at some stage. The way that these insects fly, emitting a distinctive sound, makes them irresistible to cats. In addition, cats also love to smell flowers. If a bee is pollinating at the time, it will sting to protect itself.
As long as your cat is not allergic, bee and wasp stings are not life-threatening. They are painful though. Offer your cat assurance and reduce swelling with ice.
You can also take measures to counter the venom in a bee or wasp sting. Identify which insect stung your cat. Bees leave their stinger behind; wasps do not. If you find a stinger, scrape it away with a credit card. Do not pull it with tweezers. You’ll squeeze the stinger, releasing more venom.
If your cat was stung by a bee, mix up a solution of water and baking soda. Gently rub this on the impacted area. The combination of gentle rubbing and the baking soda will reduce pain and swelling.
Wasp stings are alkaline, and can thus be neutralized with an acid. Replace the baking soda above with vinegar, and follow the same approach.
Fleet of foot and quick-witted, spiders are popular prey for cats. If your cat likes to stalk spiders, ensure it is not tangling with poisonous species’. They will bite back. If you find symmetrical puncture wounds on a cat’s skin, spider bites are the likeliest explanation.
Thankfully, there are few poisonous species native to the United States. The flipside of this is that this handful is dangerous to felines. Spiders to watch out for are members of the widow genus, the hobo spider, and the brown recluse.
Bites from venomous spiders are among the most dangerous injuries inflicted by creepy-crawlies. Initially, your cat will experience swelling around the bitten area, irritation and lethargy. Spider bites can also cause necrosis of skin tissue, though.
If your cat is acting out of sorts following a suspected spider bite, seek help. Most vet surgeries will have a relevant antidote for spider venom. Do not delay. The impact of this poison can spread quickly.
The vast majority of ants are harmless to cats. Although the common black ant has a venomous bite, your cat will not notice. The one exception is the fire ant. These larger, red-colored ants have a painful bite that can lead to anaphylactic shock.
Fire ants will typically target parts of feline anatomy unprotected by fur. This could be your cat’s underbelly, or potentially the nose. The paw pads could also be at risk.
If your cat is bitten by a fire ant, it is likely to break out in hives and a rash. It may also temporarily struggle to move the hind legs. Keep a vigilant eye out for any signs of anaphylaxis too.
One bite from a fire ant will be painful, but the issues will be transient. Do not allow your cat to approach large hives of these insects, though. Multiple bites in short succession will be debilitating, and possibly even fatal.
If you live in a desert territory such as Arizona, be mindful of scorpions. Cats will often hunt these arachnids. A cat could accidentally disturb a scorpion while exploring. In either event, the scorpion is likely to sting your cat.
The good news is that most scorpions will initially issue a ‘pre-sting’, devoid of venom. This is the equivalent of a warning shot. With luck, the cat will retreat after this. It will be a little sore, but nothing too concerning. Cat fur also offers a measure of protection against a scorpion’s short tail and stinger.
A genuine, venomous sting from a scorpion is more concerning. As cats have small bodies, the venom injected by a scorpion can have significant consequences. The most likely outcome is pain, swelling, rapid breathing, and agitated movement.
Scorpion stings also increase a cat’s heart rate, sparking temporary hypertension. As explained by The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, this can bring a variety of secondary symptoms, including blindness. Hypertension is always dangerous in senior cats, who have weaker hearts.
The challenge of crunching though an insect’s tough exterior can be appealing to cats. Grasshoppers, beetles, moths, cockroaches and other bugs will offer this opportunity. While this is largely harmless, your cat could experience issues in the aftermath. It depends on how sturdy the cat’s stomach is.
An insect’s exoskeleton is not designed to be processed by the feline digestive tract. Your cat may experience an upset stomach. Its body is rejecting the foreign item and forcing it to be purged.
You should also brush your cat’s teeth after it eats an insect. Parts of the bug’s outer shell may be trapped within your cat’s teeth. This will be irritable. Left unattended, this will also give your cat foul breath and impact smell and taste. The cat will reject its usual food as it smells and tastes strange.
While you’re doing so, check that your cat is breathing freely and without labor. Shards of an insect’s exoskeleton may get trapped in a cat’s throat. In some cases, this can restrict airflow. Some insects also have ‘hidden’ wings. Ensure these are not blocking your cat’s windpipe.
Insects can sometimes carry diseases transmitted to animals, as confirmed by Epidemiology and Infection. Some bugs are likelier than others to cause this problem. A lot depends on the lifestyle of the insect.
Take the cockroach as an example. Cockroaches have a bad reputation due to their unsanitary nature. As natural scavengers, the cockroach survives on spoiled food and even fecal matter. This does not concern the immune system of the cockroach, which is very resilient.
Cats are not quite so hardy. If a cat eats a cockroach, it also eats everything consumed by the insect. This could leave the cat with an upset stomach, or worse. The cockroach may be carrying any number of bacterial infections. It just did not notice while getting on with the business of surviving.
Other insects could also pose this same issue. Flies, for example, have less than exemplary table manners. If your older cat is in less than perfect health, watch it carefully. Eating insects may come with some unwelcome side effects.
Insecticide poisoning is a risk if your cat eats bugs. As with all diagnoses of toxicity, this could have grave repercussions.
Insecticides are used to kill or deter bugs and insects. When we consider the size of insects compared to cats, there is a big discrepancy. A cat would need to eat a lot of poisoned insects to make itself seriously ill.
Eating insects themselves is not the only way for a cat to ingest insecticide, though. If your cat eats bugs, it will likely hunt them. This means that your cat will enter territory known to contain insects. Regardless of whether this is public or private land, it may have been treated with insecticide.
As your cat walks through this territory, the insecticide will stick to its paws. The cat will later lick these paws while grooming. This opens up the risk of toxicity. A curious cat may even access the chemicals at the source and consume them from the bottle. Symptoms of insecticide poisoning to be aware of include:
- Dilated pupils
- Struggling to breathe
- Uncoordinated gait
- General disorientation
If you have reason to suspect that your cat consumed dangerous chemicals, seek help. While insecticide poisoning is rare in cats, it is serious.
Eating insects is a common cat behavior, and rarely anything to worry about. Cats are governed by survival instinct and quickly learn of potential dangers. Just supervise your cat where possible, and move quickly to treat any misfortune. Your cat will soon realize which insects are edible.