Caterpillars can be both a boon and a bane to gardeners. According to homeowners that have a well-maintained garden at home, there are good and bad caterpillars.
One thing that all gardeners can agree on is that it isn’t possible to totally stop caterpillars from appearing in the garden.
And given that many of these gardeners are cat owners too, some of these cats might get too curious about this creepy crawler.
Can cats eat caterpillars without being harmed?
Most of the time, when cats eat caterpillars, it is generally safe. However, there are toxic caterpillars that can be poisonous to cats when eaten. When ingested, it can cause a bad allergic reaction which can harm the cat.
Let us take a closer look at the relationship between cats and caterpillars and what you can do to protect your cats.
What Do Cats Eat Insects?
To some cat owners, they might find it hard to believe that their feline friends are also part-time bug eaters.
To understand this rather weird behavior from cats, we need to further understand the nature of cats.
Cats are curious and inquisitive creatures.
A lot more than most animals.
They love to investigate new sounds, sights and smells.
Born with a strong hunting instinct in them, many cats cannot resist anything that flutters, wriggles or crawls.
My cat loves eating ants that he finds crawling on the kitchen floor. I always try to top him but he’s just too fast.
Most cats will only be interested in playing and catching insects but some might get carried away and end up eating insects instead.
It isn’t common to find cats eating caterpillars but don’t be alarmed if yours do every now and then.
What Are Caterpillars?
Caterpillars are insects that are well known to be in the final stage before it blossoms into a butterfly or moth.
They will spin a cocoon around themselves and incubate in there before breaking out as a winged insect.
Caterpillars are pure plant-eaters are can be found on almost any plant even those that are known to be poisonous.
There are close to 180,000 different species of caterpillars and there are a few that can be rather poisonous to cats and humans.
Just in the USA alone, your cat can encounter 50 different types of caterpillars that are poisonous to cats.
Therefore, you need to exercise caution if you have plants in your garden that attract such species of caterpillars.
Are Caterpillars Poisonous To Cats?
Even though the majority of caterpillars found in our gardens aren’t poisonous to cats, there’s no telling when certain species of toxic caterpillars might appear one day.
There are a few species of caterpillars that are poisonous to cats and humans.
They have stings and hairs on their bodies that are tipped or laced with poison. These toxins can cause pain, swelling and internal damage to cats when touched or ingested.
Most cats are not insectivores which means that they don’t eat moths, grasshoppers or bugs. But this won’t stop your cat from trying to play and bite one.
Most caterpillars are good at hiding themselves between leaves or blending into their surroundings.
However, cats have excellent sensory organs and can easily spot one out in the open.
They might start smelling, pawing and biting into the poisonous caterpillar out of curiosity.
The poisonous stings or hairs can come into contact with the sensitive parts of your cat’s body like the face, eyes, mouth and paws which causes a burning sensation.
Some toxic caterpillars have stings that are tough enough to pierce your cat’s skin and get into the bloodstream before injecting the venom.
Can Cats Get Sick From Eating Caterpillars?
Cats can definitely get sick if they happen to eat certain caterpillars that are poisonous. Even if the poison isn’t strong enough to harm your cat much, the sharp stings and hairs can irritate your cat’s digestive tract and throat when ingested.
Most poisonous caterpillars live on poisonous plants. While feasting on these plants, the caterpillar is able to gather and concentrate the plant’s toxic to form a poisonous defense.
There’s a strong possibility that your cat will feel the effects of the poison when infected by it.
Here are some symptoms that your cat will show:
- Meowling loudly
- Pawing at its mouth
- Swelling and redness
- Trouble breathing
- Loss of appetite
What To Do If My Cat Has Been Stung By A Caterpillar?
If you suspect that your cat has been poisoned by a caterpillar, the best thing that you can do is to bring it to the vet immediately.
The longer that the poison or venom stays in your cat’s body, the more damage it can do.
You can try wiping the infected areas with cold water to try and remove as much toxins on the surface as possible.
If you notice stings or hair from the caterpillar on your cat, use a tweezer or a glove to remove them. Do not handle them with your bare hands.
Do not attempt to self-medicate your cat as that can cause more harm than good.
Take a picture of the caterpillar to give the vet more information about the toxicity of the venom or poison.
Can Caterpillars Bite My Cat?
Caterpillars are not known to bite predators or cats. They don’t have teeth or fangs but two mandibles attached to their head which help to cut away at leaves.
Even if the mandibles of the caterpillars were to grab onto your cat, it won’t cause severe injuries as they don’t exert much force or contain poison.
Furthermore, your cat’s fur help to act as a protective layer against such bites.
What Caterpillars Are Poisonous To Cats?
There are close to 50 species of caterpillars that are known to be poisonous to living things. But I will only mention those that can be commonly found in your garden.
Flannol Moth Caterpillar
The flannol moth caterpillar is also known as the ‘puss caterpillar’. It might look like a soft furry bug that is covered with fine hair but it spells trouble.
Those fine hairs contain a poison that can cause a bad rash that can last for days.
The caterpillar tends to live more on trees than on plants. So if you do have trees in your garden, keep your cat away from them.
The saddleback moth caterpillar is considered one of the more exotic caterpillars with its fleshy pair of horns on both ends.
Its back is covered in a bright green color with a dot in the middle. One look at this caterpillar and you’ll understand where it got its name from.
The hairs on the horns can cause a painful sting on your cat when contact is made.
Stinging Rose Caterpillar
The stinging rose caterpillar is very easy to spot with its bright red and orange colors. They are usually found amongst rose foliage hence the name.
They might look pretty but those venomous hairs on their bodies can give your cat a nasty sting.
IO Moth Caterpillar
The body of the IO Moth Caterpillar is lined with poisonous spines that can pierce your cat’s fur and mouth.
When stung, their venom can leave a very painful sensation on its victim. They are bright green in color and can be commonly seen moving together in a large group.
Some cat owners are fine with their cats eating catching and eating moths. Even though moths are generally safe for cats, there are some moth species that can be bad for cats.
Monarch caterpillars are easily recognizable with their brightly striped colors. The monarch caterpillar is poisonous because it feeds on the milkweed plant which contains toxic chemical compounds.
Monarch caterpillars do not have any stinging hairs than can sting cats. But when ingested, the highly concentrated poison in the caterpillar can cause adverse reactions.
These caterpillars are special as they morph into monarch butterflies which is the most studied butterfly on the planet.
How To Keep My Cat Away From Caterpillars?
The best way to keep your cat away from certain caterpillars that are poisonous is to keep your cat indoors at all times.
It is hard to keep a watchful eye on your cat at all times if it’s given access to your garden.
If your cats are too used to being outside, restrict their access during the caterpillar season of June to August.
You can try to keep your cat away from your potted plants or garden by using effective deterrents.
Remember to not use deterrents that can end up being harmful to your cat like spices, chilli or citrus fruits.
What Other Bugs Are Harmful To Cats?
Even though our cats eating caterpillars might sound rather gross to many cat owners, it isn’t the worst bug that your cat can be found eating.
There are other more venomous and dangerous creepy crawlies out there that can pose a deadlier threat to our cats.
These bugs have far more potent toxins in their bodies that can cause serious damage to cats and humans.
It would be advisable to keep your cat away from them at much as possible.
Can Cats Eat Mosquitoes?
Even though the tiny mosquito might seem so harmless, its bite is more fearsome than your cat regarding it as a snack.
Mosquitoes are known to pass heartworms and the Nile river virus to cats.
There are some cats that are also very sensitive to mosquito bites than can result in painful lesions.
There are certain precautionary measures that you can take to keep these pesky mosquitoes away from your cat.
Do Cats Eat Cockroaches?
The roach has to be the world’s number one most hated parasite. The sight of one rapidly running all over my floor freaks me out.
However, their wriggly motions make great fun for cats to chase.
Cats don’t enjoy eating roaches due to their bad smell and taste.
Even though cockroaches aren’t toxic to cats, they live in areas that are unsanitary and can pass contaminants to our cats.
It is pretty much impossible to totally keep our cats away from poisonous caterpillars and harmful bugs all the time.
Even though they say that ‘curiosity kills the cat’ our cats have an inbuilt radar to know what they should stay away from.
In the event that your cat lets its curiosity get the better of it, please bring it to the vet right away for medical attention and treatment.