Are caterpillars poisonous to cats? Can caterpillars bite or sting cats, or us for that matter? Here’s what you need to know….
I love caterpillar season here. I get various species of caterpillars in my garden in the summer, some are really colorful and it’s always a sign that better weather is coming.
But we all know that our curious cats can’t resist stalking, playing with, and eating insects and bugs of all shapes and sizes. So, we need to be aware of any potential risks of them being bitten, stung, poisoned, or worse by caterpillars where we live.
The problem with identifying potential risks for your kitty from caterpillars is that there are literally thousands of species of caterpillar. And they range from completely harmless to actually quite dangerous.
The good news is that most of the dangerous species of caterpillars are rare. They are not commonly found in residential areas, (unless you’re in Florida or Texas as I’ll explain later) and it’s very unlikely you or your cat will come across them.
There are a few common garden caterpillars that will put up a bit of a fight and can irritate cats. So, if you have caterpillars in your yard it’s worth checking out what types they are and what they are capable of.
The most comprehensive list of caterpillars I could find with details on how dangerous they are is here at AnimalSake. If you spot some in your yard, take a picture or note down any identifiable markings and find out what species they are on that list.
A general rule of thumb is that the brighter the color of the caterpillar, and the more hair, fur, and spikes, the more dangerous they probably are.
This is true for most insects. The bright color is a warning to predators that they pack a punch. They survive and evolve over time because other creatures learn to avoid them, let’s just hope our cats are as smart!
Interesting fact – The word ‘Caterpillar’ comes from the Latin words; Cattus, which means cat, and Pelose, which means hairy. So it translates to meaning ‘hairy cat’, kind of funny when you think about it!
Do Caterpillars Bite Cats?
Some caterpillars can and will bite predators when they feel threatened. This includes curious cats that are getting a little too close. There isn’t much of a risk, as it’s not easy for them to get close to an area of skin on a cat, even a short fur kitty.
Personally, I’ve never seen or heard of a cat being bitten by a caterpillar. It’s probably an issue with the more exotic and dangerous species. I wouldn’t worry about it with common garden caterpillars, however.
As I mentioned above, if you have caterpillars in your garden it’s still a good idea to check them out on the identification chart to be double-sure they aren’t dangerous though.
Do Caterpillars Sting Cats?
There are a lot of caterpillars that are capable of stinging a cat that’s posing a threat to them. Even if your cat is in a playful mood, this is going to be interrupted as a threat and they are going to get stung if they get too close.
As a general rule, if the caterpillar has spines or spikes, they are probably capable of stinging. Caterpillars use their spines to jab into the skin, they then release the spines and then toxins are released into the skin.
These toxins range in strength depending on the species of caterpillar. If you can, I’d take a picture of the caterpillar that stung your cat (we all have our phones/cameras on us, don’t we) and keep an eye on the area that was stung for the next 24 hours or so and your cat’s behavior.
If you see inflammation where they were stung or signs that your cat is sick, call your vet and show them a picture of the caterpillar (if you haven’t identified it yourself). They will be able to better advise you on what to do next.
If you’re concerned about handling caterpillars yourself now, maybe you should be. I know that before I did some proper research into caterpillars I always used to pick them up and take a closer look. Especially the colorful and pretty looking ones – which were probably capable of doing me some harm!
Hairy caterpillars can cause some serious irritation to human skin. Ranging from mild itching and redness to some really horrible rashes and ongoing skin conditions. So, please be careful.
Are Caterpillars Poisonous to Cats?
There are some species of poisonous caterpillars, yes. If they sting a cat, they will release their toxins into their skin and bloodstream and there is a real risk of the cat getting sick or even death in an extreme case.
As with the advice I gave above for cats that have been stung, try to identify the species of caterpillar that stung your cat and seek the advice of a vet as soon as possible.
Here are some of the most poisonous species of caterpillar and where they are found (Florida and Texas are the hot spots!);
Puss Caterpillar – Florida and Texas.
Saddleback Caterpillar – Florida, Texas, and north to Missouri.
Crowned Slug Caterpillar – Florida to Mississippi, and areas of Minnesota and Massachusetts.
Io Moth Caterpillar – Florida and Texas.
Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar – Marshes and beaches spanning Florida and Texas to southern California.
Stinging Rose Caterpillar – Florida and Texas, across coastlines.
White Flannel Moth Caterpillar – Florida and Texas, as well as forestry areas spanning Virginia to Missouri.
Spiny Elm Caterpillar – Florida and Texas, wetlands, forest edges, and mossy areas.
Related: Are stink bugs poisonous to cats? (They sure as hell release a bad smell).
Can Cats Get Sick from Eating Caterpillars?
There are a couple of problems with cats eating caterpillars;
Firstly, caterpillars with hair or spines can cause some irritation to a cat’s digestive tract. I mean, looking at some of those caterpillars. it doesn’t look or sound very appetizing, does it?
There is also the risk of parasites such as worms as a result of eating a caterpillar. It’s always a good idea to keep outdoors cats treated with de-worming meds anyway. If you’re already doing that you have nothing to worry about.
The second problem is that some caterpillars eat plants that are toxic to cats. Like the foxglove plant which poses some serious problems for cats. So, a cat that eats a caterpillar that has eaten foxglove will also be ingesting some of the harmful toxins from the plant.
All-in-all it’s just not a good idea for cats to eat caterpillars. There is a risk that they can get sick from doing so.
There are so many species of caterpillar that it’s hard to keep track of which are harmful and the other potential risks I’ve outlined. At the same time, it’s almost impossible to stop your cat from eating them if that’s what they are determined to do.
All we can do as cat owners is be as aware as possible of what they’ve eaten, and keep a close eye on them and act if we suspect they are sick or showing any signs of being in discomfort.
TL;DR – In Summary
Are caterpillars poisonous to cats? The answer is that some species of caterpillars are potentially poisonous, yes.
There are various health hazards associated with cats getting too close to, or even eating caterpillars. Especially the ones that have defensive behaviors and mechanisms, such as spines and hairs that are capable of stinging and releasing harmful toxins.
The bottom line here is to identify the caterpillars around your home and anywhere your cats roam. Be aware of which species they are and what they are capable of, so if your cat does get stung you know how serious it is and what to do about it.
Please check out the blog for information regarding how dangerous other commonly found insects and bugs are; such as millipedes, dragonflies, house flies, silverfish, and loads more.