Max, a longhaired dachshund, rests in the grass with a cicada perched on his muzzle. (Kevin Ambrose for The Washington Post)

Cicadas are an excellent food source, high in protein and low in fat, and have been called “tree shrimp” by people who are fond of eating them. Our pets, however, frequently have problems digesting cicadas. It’s particularly prevalent with dogs and cats.

Why do many of our pets get sick after eating cicadas? And does a cicada binge pose a danger or health risk to our animals?

I interviewed Lisa Lentz, a veterinarian at Pender Veterinary Centre in Fairfax, Va., to ask these questions and inquire about dog muzzles. My interview, lightly edited, is below:

Are cicadas harmful to pets to eat? Can cicada wings lacerate intestines? Is overeating the most significant problem?

Cicadas are not harmful [per se], but ingesting them can cause irritation to the GI [gastrointestinal] tract and possibly vomiting and/or diarrhea. If a large number of cicadas were ingested, it is possible they could ball up and cause a mechanical obstruction. I don’t think the wings can lacerate the intestines, but they can be irritating.

Has anyone brought a pet into Pender Veterinary Centre because of an issue from eating cicadas?

Pets have been brought in with a history of eating cicadas and GI signs. It is often unclear if the cicadas are truly the cause, or if an unknown factor could have contributed.

Do you recommend muzzles for dogs to limit cicada feasting? Any other prevention ideas?

You could try a basket muzzle to prevent picking up and eating things, including cicadas, while outside. Basket muzzles still allow dogs to pant and drink water. Cloth muzzles do not allow panting, which can be dangerous in hot weather. I don’t have any other specific prevention strategies other than close monitoring while on a leash outside.

For overweight dogs and cats, does eating cicadas pose an issue for weight gain?

I would recommend avoiding cicada eating in general, I don’t expect a weight gain issue [per se], but I would worry about GI upset, best to avoid.


Max with his loosefitting mesh muzzle. The muzzle prevents Max from eating cicadas during his walks outside. (Kevin Ambrose for The Washington Post)

Dog muzzle discussion

Last week, I wrote a story about cicada-eating challenges with my dog, Max, and searching for a proper-fitting muzzle to end his bug feasts while on walks. The story received primarily positive comments, but there were negative comments about my muzzle selection, as seen in the photo above.

In the story, I should have described the muzzle in more detail. It’s loosefitting mesh, and Max can drink, eat and bark while wearing the muzzle. But as several readers pointed out, tightfitting cloth muzzles are dangerous for dogs because they can’t open their mouths to breathe, pant and drink water. Thus, dogs can overheat.

Basket muzzles are best for airflow if you can find one that is a good fit for your dog.

But there is one major flaw with Max’s muzzle pointed out in comments by a few readers who had purchased similar muzzles. The muzzle has a big gap on top, and dogs quickly learn how to flip or scoop cicadas through the opening for a snack. After a couple of days of practice, Max could eat cicadas through his muzzle almost as quickly as he could without a muzzle.

I patched the gap in Max’s muzzle by sewing a piece of mesh across the opening. The patch was cut from another mesh muzzle that didn’t fit him. It was an easy fix.

With two weeks of active cicada time left for our area, I don’t plan to shop for another muzzle. Instead, I’ll continue to use the patched muzzle. In the meantime, Max’s walks are kept short, and muzzle time is minimized. After cicadas are gone, he won’t wear a muzzle.

I think by July, all muzzles for cicadas won’t be necessary. Instead, we’ll be left with strange muzzle memories from the spring of 2021, and few good stories to tell for the next 17 years, until the cicadas return.