You might think eating bugs is ‘gross’, but your cat doesn’t. Your cat might chase bugs and gobble them down like it’s going out of fashion. But can bugs make cats sick, and if not, why not?
Is it safe for my cat to eat bugs? Typically, yes. Cats can eat flies, moths, butterflies, June bugs and other hard-shell bugs without gastrointestinal distress. The only exceptions are if your cat is eating bugs for the first time, it may react badly, and vomit or experience diarrhea; or it could eat a poisonous bug. Whether there are poisonous bugs near you depends on where you live. If you’re concerned for your cat’s welfare, take it to the vet, although it’s highly unlikely for a cat to be ill after eating a bug.
The guide below will first look at why cats eat bugs—and it’s their instincts that tell them to do it. We’ll also look at whether cats can get sick from eating bugs, and how. And if you’re interested in stopping this behavior, we’ve included a quick guide on that too—although to give you fair warning, there aren’t many good ways to do so!
Why Do Cats Eat Bugs?
You will almost certainly have read or heard that cats are obligate carnivores. That means they have to eat meat to survive.
We know that this rules out an all-grain or all-vegetable diet for cats. But what about your cat eating bugs…? Are bugs nutritionally similar to meat? Why do cats eat them?
Catching Bugs Is Fun
The main reason why cats eat bugs, believe it or not, is for fun.
Cats love to chase things. Your cat sees bugs scurrying around and wants to catch them, just like it might chase a laser pointer’s point. Bugs are almost tailor-made to elicit a cat’s chasing response: they’re small, they’re quick, they make sudden darting movements interspersed with staying still, and they like to hide in difficult-to-access places.
When your cat catches something, it often then bites it and tries to eat it. You will have seen this when you play with your cat, e.g. with a feather. It catches the feather and bites it, and kicks it with its hind legs (another thing wild cats do to kill their prey). Your cat’s instincts might kick in and when it catches the bug, it eats it.
Bugs Are Nutritionally Suitable for Cats
There’s also the possibility that your cat is just eating bugs because it wants to.
We associate meat with T-bone steaks and chicken tenders. But obligate carnivores aren’t limited to these kinds of meat; you may not think of insects as fitting into this idea of meat, but nutritionally speaking, they do. Insects are nutritionally closer to meat than they are to plants, despite not having big hunks of typical ‘meat’ on them. They contain taurine, for example, which is essential to your cat’s diet. They contain very high levels of protein, with comparatively low levels of fat. Not all bugs have the same nutritional content but this broadly holds true. Your cat can digest bugs better than plants, although it can’t break down the chitin in a bug’s shell.
It’s for these reasons that wild cats frequently eat insects. And when you think about it, it makes sense that cats have evolved to do so: bugs are found everywhere, and in large numbers. They therefore can add significantly to a wild cat’s diet.
Do Cats Need to Eat Bugs?
Wild cats don’t strictly need to eat bugs, but they can serve as a useful supplement to the diet. Wild cats don’t eat lots of variety, and stick to hunting what their mothers taught them to hunt. Eating a few bugs here and there could add in certain minerals or vitamins that the cat is missing. They are also surprisingly dense with proteins and fats, so can help during lean months when there isn’t much else to eat.
Your cat doesn’t need to eat bugs. It’s doing so for one of the reasons described above. If it’s eating them for their nutritional value, it’s likely still getting enough food at home; the same applies when cats hunt for other things like birds or mice too. If your cat is a healthy weight then there probably isn’t a problem with its diet.
Will My Cat Get Sick from Eating Bugs?
Despite all that, it’s possible that your cat could get sick from eating bugs. This depends both on your cat and on the kind of bug it finds to eat.
Are Bugs Toxic to Cats?
The kind of bugs you get in your house are highly unlikely to cause your cat any problems. So, for example:
- Are house flies toxic to cats? No. No kind of housefly contains anything toxic to cats.
- Are moths and butterflies toxic to cats? No. No kind of moth or butterfly contains anything toxic to cats.
- Are centipedes toxic to cats? No. No kind of centipede contains anything toxic to cats.
- Are June bugs toxic to cats? No. The only problem is the shell, which the cat can’t digest; this won’t cause it digestive issues, though. It will be passed whole.
- Are bees and wasps toxic to cats? No, but they can sting your cat, and that can hurt. And some cats are allergic to bee and wasp stings like people are.
And as stated above, insects are nutritionally suitable for cats, so they aren’t ‘toxic’ in that sense either.
However, you might live somewhere where there are bugs that cats shouldn’t eat. Your cat should avoid eating any bug that’s described as poisonous or venomous as these could harm it. An obvious but unlikely example is a black widow spider. When ingested, the venom a bug has can be broken down in your pet’s stomach, but there’s always the chance that it stung or bit your cat. If you suspect your cat has tried to eat a venomous or poisonous bug, contact a vet immediately.
Should My Cat Eat Bugs?
There also remains the possibility that eating bugs could upset your cat’s stomach and gut. That wouldn’t be because the bugs themselves are bad for your cat, but because your cat’s digestive system isn’t used to change.
This is a problem that many owners have encountered when trying to change their cats’ diets. They find that when they suddenly feed their cat a new food, the cat’s digestive system rejects it; this happens even if the food is more nutritionally suitable than the one it replaces. It can happen with anything. The cat will bring up its meal by regurgitating or vomiting, and may also experience diarrhea. If your cat never normally eats bugs, and then eats one big one, it may experience this problem.
The good news is that this problem is self-contained and has no lasting consequences. Your cat would bring up its meal, but then be perfectly fine unless it ate another big bug. There’s also the fact that this is unlikely to happen unless your cat eats big quantities of insects, which it’s unlikely to do. And even then your cat will likely have been eating bugs all its life, so its gut should be used to them.
There’s certainly no need to make your cat bring up its meal.
How to Stop a Cat Eating Bugs
You may be concerned that your cat is eating poisonous or venomous bugs. Or, you may just want your cat to stop doing something you perceive as gross.
Whatever the reason, there are ways to stop your cat eating bugs. Unfortunately, each of them has massive drawbacks; they can make your cat hate you, make your cat sick, or make it unhappy.
Should You Use Bug Bait?
If you want your cat to stop eating bugs, you may want to get rid of them by putting down some bait. But you might be making a bigger problem than you’re solving. Many baits are toxic to life, not just to bugs, and could harm your cat if ingested. There’s also the possibility that small amounts of the bait enter a bug’s system without being fully toxic, and so when your cat eats the bug, it then enters your cat’s system too.
Rather than using pesticide baits, pick a way of killing the bugs that won’t harm your cat. Using home remedies like diatomaceous earth would be a good start. You could also consider using fly paper or glue traps for bugs.
Should You Punish Your Cat?
Cats don’t understand punishment like we do. They don’t have as clear a grasp of cause and effect as people, or even as clear as that of other pets. They therefore don’t understand that your punishment—shouting, flicking its nose, spraying it with a water bottle, whatever—is linked to the act of eating bugs.
This means two things. First, it does mean your cat will stop. Just because it doesn’t understand that the act is a punishment, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hate it. Your cat will be surprised if you clap, or recoil if you spray it with water. So in that sense, it works. But it also means that your cat doesn’t see the punishment coming, nor understand why it’s happening… And this makes your cat dislike you. If you were sat at your office desk and somebody sprayed you with water for what seemed to you like no reason, then you wouldn’t like it either. And there’s no way to make your cat understand.
So, yes, this will work; but it will also damage your relationship with your cat.
Keep Your Cat Indoors
If your cat eats bugs that it finds outdoors, you could keep it inside. This would entirely curtail its bug-eating behavior.
The problem with this approach is that cats which have grown used to the outdoors hate being kept inside. A cat that’s raised as an indoor cat will stay indoors just fine, but if your cat has always had freedom to roam outside, then keeping it in will make it depressed. It will beg at the door, constantly pester you, and be sad if it doesn’t get its way. This is a hugely drastic step for something so trivial.
It’s difficult to come up with any workable plans other than these. If you can, then you can try, but even then this is all over something that likely doesn’t matter. Cats can eat most bugs without feeling sick afterwards, and accidents involving venom or poison are very rare. If this is something you’re still concerned about, consider talking to your vet; but otherwise, it’s not worth worrying about.