You may have heard about Brood X Cicadas recently, as they are all over the news and social media. So what are they exactly?
Cicadas are hard-bodied-flying insects that spend a large part of their lives underground. Brood X cicadas specifically spend 17 years tunneling and feeding beneath the soil of several eastern states in the united states.
Every 17 years, they emerge with one main priority. They need to reproduce quickly. They emerge in their larval state called nymphs and shortly after molt into their mature adult bodies, wings, and all. At this point, trillions of cicadas will start looking for a mate. Specifically, the males called drones will make a 📢 loud buzzing mating call with an organ called the Tymbal, which helps alert the females to their presence. You will hear this buzzing all day long when they emerge, and they will crawl and fly all over the place trying to find each other.
Why Does this Cicada Phenomonon Happen?
It is not known precisely why this only happens every 17 years. However, it is hypothesized that the reason all the cicadas come out at nearly the exact same time is to increase the likelihood of survival and, therefore, reproduction. If there are swarms of cicadas, each one has a better chance of finding and choosing a mate. This is true because it gives each cicada more options, but it makes it much more likely that they will find a mate just based on how many there will be ready to mate.
Cicadas are Safe in Numbers
Emerging in a large group also provides some protection to cicadas. We have all heard the saying, “there is safety in numbers.” This is the case for slow, loud, and ornate animals. Cicadas have hard exoskeletons, but they do not have time to worry about predators, all they care about above ground is passing on their DNA to the next generation. That is good news for predators, or is it?
What Happens if Your Pet Easts a Cicada?
Cicadas may seem like a fun toy or even a tasty snack to your cat or dog, or even your parrot or lizard! Generally, cicadas are not toxic to most pets. More than likely, nothing will happen if your dog scarves one down on your walk. The issue is, these little bugs will blanket your neighbors’ lawns and sidewalks when they emerge, and they will make their presence know as discussed earlier. That makes them very appealing to pets, and difficult to keep away from your pets when you’re outdoors. The possible side-effects of eating one too many cicadas can be mild to moderate or even severe GI upset.
Remember I said these critters are hard-bodied? These hard exoskeletons are hard to digest and can seriously irritate your pet’s digestive system. At worst, anecdotally, they have caused an obstruction when large amounts were consumed.
What Are the Signs to Look for If You think your pet ate a Cicada?
Signs that your pet may need medical intervention are vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy. That irritation can cause nausea, pain, indigestion, and even blockage. If your pet shows any of these signs, give your vet a call. If your pet ate cicadas, is acting differently, and you have any concerns, give them a call as well.
How to Prevent Your Pet from Overeating Cicadas
I have seen people muzzle their dogs to prevent them from gorging on these crunchy bugs. Monitoring during outdoor time may help as well or go on runs instead of walks. The most important thing for us in Wisconsin is that most of the state will not be affected this year. We are not due until 2024. That gives you three years to prepare! However, if you plan to travel to one of the neighboring states, remember the advice you just learned.
What About Other Bugs and Your Pets?
Now that we discussed Cicadas and their implications for your pets, we need to talk about other critters as well.
For one, fleas and ticks are relatively common. So much so that we recommend year-round prevention. Prevention can be monthly chews, chews every three months, or specific collars. Prevention is easy, affordable, and often tasty to your pets if administered orally. It is so readily available and highly recommended because fleas and ticks can cause a variety of illnesses and spread diseases.
Fleas can spread tapeworms to your cat and were even to blame for the black plague! While you do not need to worry about the bubonic plague in most of the world, it is still around in certain areas. Tapeworms are spread by fleas and can cause significant weight loss and GI disease in cats. This occurs when your pet has fleas and ingests one that is infected with a tapeworm larva. Once ingested by your pet, the larva can mature inside their GI and make your pet sick. Even if no tapeworms are ingested, flea bites can cause a severe skin allergy named aptly name allergic flea dermatitis (FAD). FAD can make your pet obsessively lick and even bite their skin because it itches so badly. Sometimes they can even give themselves wounds and infections from so much aggressive overgrooming.
How do Ticks Affect Our Pets?
Ticks may be even worse! Ticks make their way to the animal’s skin by questing, a behavior where they stand near the top of a blade of grass or other plant and spread their forelimbs out wide until an unsuspecting animal walks by. At that point, they use their grippy feet to hitch a ride and make their way to the skin where they will attach. Once they find the location they wish to connect for a blood meal, they secrete a substance that prevents your blood from clotting and makes it so you can not feel them biting you. They may stay attached for days until they have gorged themselves. If this was not terrifying enough, ticks could also carry many bloodborne pathogens.
These pathogens include but are not limited to Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Lyme disease. Anaplasma and Ehrlichia are both diseases of the blood cells. Lyme is a bacterial infection that can cause severe joint pain and malaise. Not only are they awful diseases that can make your pets very sick, but they can also take very long to get rid of with antibiotic treatment.
These pests are a nuisance and are worth preventing year-round, as they can spread disease and are easy enough to control. They are also challenging to treat once the diseases are acquired. There are other bugs that you cannot so easily deter, though. If you spot signs of severe itchiness, bugs in their fur, or find a tick on your pet, give them a call to determine the best next steps.
What About Bugs that Sting or Bite?
Venomous animals, including ants, bees, wasps, spiders, centipedes, etc, have a potent chemical deterrent that is injected under the skin either with fangs or a stinger. They use these stings to hunt and defend themselves. The chemical cocktail makes it very painful to whoever receives the sting but may also have other consequences. Some species have such potent venom that it can cause tissue necrosis and infections, or even death.
It is also possible that animals can have an allergic reaction to more abundant bugs like wasps, bees, or ants. Allergic reactions can range from mild swelling around the sting to severe facial swelling of the face and airways, difficulty breathing, and collapse. While this is rare, it is essential to look out for these signs whenever your pet is stung.
What to do if Your Pet is Stung
Try to safely identify which animal species stung them and keep a close eye on your pet. Look out for signs of the more severe reactions, but otherwise, call your vet with any concerns. Most of these stinging animals would prefer to use their venom to catch their next meal and are only going to envenomate your pet if they feel threatened.
Hopefully, this brief review of some of the critters you and your pet may encounter this summer can better understand which bugs may or may not be harmful to your pet and what to do if you encounter them. IF you have any concerns, call your veterinarian!