Cats and Insects - Tasty Treats or Toxic Trouble?

  • 01 of 08

    Moths Are Like Catnip to My Cats

    Garden tiger moth
    Garden tiger moth. Mark Hamblin/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

    I started this quest of writing about cats and insects primarily because I wanted to find out if moths were toxic to cats.

    Our cats are strictly indoors with the exception of going out on our large elevated deck off our living room. Since we live in hilly forest land, the deck is 25 to 30 feet above the ground. The cats love to go out there during nice weather, and they especially want to be outside on summer evenings. Why? Because the moths flock to the light above the sliding door. Billy and...MORE our youngest cat, Gaither, are particularly fond of catching and eating the moths, to the point of being addicted. In fact, I've started calling Gaither "Bug-Breath."

    After extensive search, I've so far found only one species of moth thought to be toxic: the Garden Tiger Moth (shown here). According to Wikipedia, "The conspicuous patterns serve as a warning to predators because the moth's body fluids are poisonous. Its effects are not yet fully known, but they contain quantities of neurotoxic choline esters which act by interfering with the acetylcholine receptor. The colours are also ideal for frightening predators such as small birds"

    Although the Wikipedia Reference links did not confirm these facts, I found the same identical language on at least five other websites.

    While Debbie Hadley has resources on the Tiger Moth family, her language about its toxicity is much milder than that of Wikipedia. She writes "Many tiger moths wear bright colors, which may serve to warn predators that they'd be an unpalatable meal."

    This article by the Arizona - Sonora Desert Museum sheds some light on the toxicity of some moths: "Moths in this group are poisonous due to toxins in the plant species that their larvae eat."

    I do limit the amount of time my cats are allowed outside in the evening, and make sure they are well-fed prior to playtime on the deck, and I've never seen any Tiger Moths around our home. But you can bet I'll be on the lookout for them in the future, just in case.

    Although most of us novices use the terms interchangeably, there is a  difference between venomous and poisonous. Debbie Hadley points out the difference in her article, ""

    Caterpillars May Give Painful Stings

    On the other hand, according to Debbie Hadley, Insects Expert for The Spruce, certain butterfly and moth larvae, more commonly known as caterpillars, should not be touched by humans, nor, I would assume, by cats. Debbie writes, "The reaction depends on the caterpillar, the severity of the contact, and the person's own immune system. You'll feel some stinging, itching, or burning. You might get a rash, or even some nasty pustules or lesions. In some cases, the area will swell or become numb, or you'll get nauseated and vomit."

    I can't imagine that if a cat catches one of these caterpillars that the stinging would be any milder, and if he eats it, the result could be much worse.

    See photos and learn more about these stinging caterpillars, from Debbie's Picture Gallery, Stinging Caterpillars.

    Caution! Moth Balls are Toxic to Cats

    One final caution about moths: Do not use moth balls to eradicate moths within your home, as they are extremely toxic to both cats and dogs. Cats may want to play with the moth balls, but then when they clean their paws they ingest the toxic substance. Actually, even just inhaling the fumes is dangerous, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.

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  • 02 of 08

    Cats and Poisonous Spiders

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    Female black widow spins a web. Mark Kostich/Getty Images

    We have a huge Black Widow Spider with two cocoon nests on the exterior wall of our home in the garden area adjacent to my home office. That makes us uncomfortable, because Debbie Hadley writes that "a female widow spider lays several hundred eggs, wraps them in a silken egg case, and suspends it from her web. She keeps watch over the eggs, and will defend them vigorously during the month of their development. During her lifetime, the female may produce up to 15 egg sacs, with as many as 900...MORE eggs in each one." Fortunately (for us), the emerged baby spiders are cannibals and devour each other until only a dozen or so are left.  Debbie also advises that black widows will leave humans alone, but will bite when touched or threatened. I'd assume the same thing would happen with nosy young cats, who want to check out everything they see moving.

    It is entirely possible that Black Widows and other venomous spiders can enter our home. In fact, we have seen Wolf Spiders and several other unidentifiable spiders inside our house regularly, often after noticing the younger cats chasing something on the carpet.

    We have a handy tool for capturing insects, spiders, and other bugs, called BugZooka. It operates by suction; sucks the insect into a clear plastic tube, which can be taken outside and emptied. We hate to kill any living creature, and although we know it is counter-productive, even though the spiders and other insects may return to our home, we have obtained temporary safety for our cats and ourselves.

    Other Venomous Spiders

    Lisa Jo Lupo, The Spruce Expert on Pest Control, lists three venomous spiders in the United States. The first, of course, is the Black Widow. The others are the Brown Recluse and the Hobo Spider, found in the Northeast area.

    Sadly, we may have to resort to hiring a commercial pest control expert to rid the exterior and garage of our home of these living creatures. We won't allow spraying within the house itself because of the cats, and will make sure that the cats are safe both during and after the procedure.

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  • 03 of 08

    Wasps, Bees, Other Stingers and Cats

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    Bumblebee on Cosmos flower. Brigitte Blattler/Getty Images

    Our outdoors are full of bees, wasps, hornets, yellow-jackets, and who knows what other kind of flying, stinging insects. Our cats are only exposed to them while out on our deck on pleasant days.  These flying critters are attracted to the sweet fluid in the hummingbird feeder which hangs at one end of the deck. Luckily, so far, none of our cats has been stung. Me neither (yet).

    The first vivid memory I have as a child was being stung by a nest full of hornets. I must have been about four years...MORE old, and my grandfather, Pappy, babysat me during the day. He had a one-car garage next to his log cabin, and he hung a rope swing with a wooden seat from the ceiling of the garage. Pappy pushed me on my swing until I could pump it by myself, then left to chop some wood. I apparently kicked a hornets' nest up near the rafters and was instantly attacked by a number of nasty hornets. They stung me over a dozen times, on my head, legs, arms, and hands. Pappy soothed the sting with a poultice of baking soda and a little water - still a good emergency household poultice for insect stings.

    Today I am violently allergic to stings of many insects, including hornets, wasps, and bees, and can go into anaphylactic shock from their stings. I have two or three EpiPens around the house and in my purse for emergency treatment.

    Debbie Hadley and a great article for preventing stings:

    You can be stung multiple times by the same bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. Only worker honey bees die after stinging a human or an animal, as the barb digs into your flesh and when the bee flies away, he leaves behind not only the stinger but a portion of his abdomen.

    For more information about the types of stinging insects, see

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  • 04 of 08

    Cats vs Centipedes

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    Giant Redheaded centipede. Terry L. McCornick, Russelville AR/Getty Images

    It was horrifying to see my two young cats playing with a long squirmy bug, and find out that it was a centipede - definitely not a good playmate for a cat. However Debbie Hadley, in her article , says that centipedes can actually be useful inside your home. She writes, "Within your home, they provide efficient (and free) pest control services for you, as they feed on silverfish, firebrats, cockroaches, carpet beetles, and other household pests."

    Centipedes don't usually go around...MORE looking for trouble. According to Debbie Hadley, "House centipedes choose flight over fight, skittering quickly out of harm's way." However, when one is cornered, you can bet your fluffy britches, kitties, they will use their venomous claws to inject toxin into your paw, nose, or other body part and you will be in big doo-doo.

    Find out more in Debbie's article, ""

    On the other hand, the Centipede in the photo, the Giant Redheaded Centipede, can be quite deadly when bothered. Ask Jerry Maynard, who was stung by one while hiking in the Ozarks.

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  • 05 of 08

    Cats and Scorpions

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    Boreal Scorpion Oregon, USA. Jared Hobbs/Getty Images

    We frequently found scorpions in and around our previous home, and have found at least one dead one under a box in the garage of our current abode. Since our younger cats are so inquisitive around all insects, I am particularly concerned about scorpions, because I have heard they are deadly.

    Our Insects Expert, Debbie Hadley, provides a certain degree of comfort, as far as humans are concerned, She writes, "Although they are venomous, very few species produce toxins strong enough to kill you...MORE or cause you serious harm," in her article, Habits and Traits of Scorpions.

    Okay, we humans are somewhat okay with scorpions, but what about cats? I looked to The Spruce Experts for information, and first found an article by Judy Hedding, our Phoenix Expert, "Are Cats Immune to Scorpion Venom?"  Apparently, in the hotter climate in Phoenix, there is a common belief that cats (and chickens) are immune to scorpion stings, and form an excellent first line of defense against scorpions in and around homes there.

    Judy came up with a list of reasons why cats may appear immune to scorpion stings (thick fur, more observant and quicker than humans). However, she concludes, "I tend to believe, therefore, that cats are not immune to scorpion venom, but rather they are better at avoiding getting stung."

    Janet Crosby, D.V.M., our Veterinary Medicine Expert, elaborates on the chances of cats being stung by scorpions. In her article, "Scorpions and Pets,"  Dr. Janet quotes the V.P.I. Communications Specialist, "In 2008, scorpion stings were 6th most common bite or sting, behind bee stings, spider bites, tick bites, wasp stings, and ant bites. All reported cases were located in Arizona. None of the animals experienced anaphylactic shock and all recovered uneventfully."

    With regard to anaphylactic shock, Dr. Janet also has an article on the use of Benadryl® as an emergency medicine for pets stung or bitten by venomous bugs. I'd suggest checking with your own veterinarian before using Benadryl or any other OTC medicine, as all cats have individual medical histories. Furthermore, Benadryl is counter-indicated for several medical conditions.

    While all this is good and well, I'm putting scorpions on my list of bugs to be avoided in my home.

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  • 06 of 08

    Cats vs Fleas, Ticks, and Mosquitoes

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    Cat scratching fleas. spxChrome/Getty Images

    Fortunately, we use Frontline Plus ® topical on our cats, which kills fleas, ticks, and a certain type of lice. I can't remember the last time we've seen a flea in our house, which is fortunate, as they can transmit a number of nasty diseases, including Hemobartonella, a form of serious anemia in cats.

    Debbie Hadley has an excellent article, , which should help rid your home of fleas permanently if you are consistent.

    Ticks Can Carry Lyme Disease

    A certain type of tick, commonly called...MORE "deer ticks,"  can carry Lyme Disease. While it is rare for cats to contract Lyme Disease, it is one of the most common diseases carried by ticks, according to Pet MD.

    Shortly after moving to our current home, my son took our oldest cat, Jaspurr for a short walk in our wooded area.  Some time later - a few weeks, we noticed a large hard lump on Jaspurr and took him to our veterinarian.  She knew right away that it was a tick embedded deeply under the skin, and removed it, then cleansed the area with alcohol. Since we have seen a number of deer whose sides are riddled with ticks, we were pretty sure it was a deer tick.

    Had it been Lyme Disease, Jaspurr could have started limping, later had a loss of appetite, perhaps vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and other symptoms. Serious but rare symptoms include heart block and/or nervous system complications.

    Mosquitoes: More Than Annoying

    Debbie Hadley calls mosquitoes "the deadliest animals on earth." She goes on to explain, "That's right, more deaths are associated with mosquitoes than any other animal on the planet. Mosquitoes may carry any number of deadly diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis. Mosquitoes also carry heartworm, which can be lethal to your dog."

    Read more about mosquitoes in Debbie's article, .

    Although she does not mention cats, cats can get heartworm too, according to Lorie Huston, D.V.M., in her article, Heartworms and Heartworm Disease in Cats.  In cats, according to Dr. Huston, "Heartworm disease in cats appears very similar to feline asthma and is often misdiagnosed as asthma." This was quite frightening to read, as my Joey, diagnosed with asthma,  has every single one of the symptoms of heartworm listed in the article.

    Although heartworm can be prevented by regular applications of products, such as Heartgard® for Cats, Revolution, or Advantage Multi, there is presently no approved treatment for heartworm in cats. Sometimes, they can be spontaneously cured. For the details, read Feline Heartworm Disease, from the American Heartworm Society.

    Flies

    We have been extremely fortunate, as we rarely see a fly inside our house, although occasionally I am pestered by one when I sit outside on my front porch or deck. Thus, I have never seen my cats capture, much less eat a fly.

    My friend Barry and I were emailing about bugs and other topics the other day, and he said, "How about house flies? Newman has caught two in his five years here. Both times he strutted around afterward, the great gray-and-white hunter."

    Newman is now a role model for my cats.

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  • 07 of 08

    Cats and Ants

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    Mockup of carpenter ants on house. Stefanie Timmermann/Getty Images

    One of our favorite cats, Bubba, had a strange habit of rolling around in a group of ants and licking them up as fast as his tongue could lick. I have never seen a scientific explanation of this fairly common trait in cats, except that it most likely had to do with pheromones, both those of the cats and the ants.

    I have seen nothing to indicate that eating ants is harmful to cats, except that if those ants have been sprayed with insecticide, I sure wouldn't want my cat to eat them. For sure,...MORE I would never allow a professional company to spray with Permethrin, as it is especially toxic to cats.

    There are  a number of safe ways to discourage ants from entering a home. I most frequently use a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. It has a pleasant odor, in my opinion, and it dispatches ants almost instantly. One caution, though, several months ago, I noticed the ants were not deterred by the vinegar-water mixture I was using - indeed, they seemed to flock around the area I had sprayed. Then I noticed I was using cider vinegar, which has a "sweeter" odor. I switched back to white vinegar, and the ants were dispersed quickly. Learn more about how to safely get rid of ants.

    Fire Ants

    Fire Ants are an entirely different story. Their sting is venomous, and if a cat (or a human) has an allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock can set in and the result can be death. Learn more about fire ants and how to protect your cat from them with this article from HowStuffWorks.com, 5 Tips to Keep Ants Away From Pets

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  • 08 of 08

    Insects Were Here Long Before the First Humans

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    Amber Block with fossilized insect. DeAgostin-R. Valterza/Getty Images

    The first insects were here on earth long before we were. Experts agree that the first insects were here about 400 million years ago. The first dinosaurs arrived about 230 million years ago - about 30 million years before we humans entered the scene.

    And cats are relative newbies on the scene, having been domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago. 

    This mind-boggling information from the John Dumont Company puts our relationship with insects in a different perspective.

    "There are more species...MORE of insects than there are plants, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and all other animals combined. Without humans, the Earth would get along just fine. Without insects, all terrestrial ecosystems on the planet would collapse, ending life."

    Keeping all these facts in mind helps me gain a new perspective about our relationship with insects. Cats look at them differently.  Some insects are fun to play with - even eat. Some give painful stings, and others annoying itches. As long as their humans take care of the itchy, painful part, they couldn't care less about the facts.