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Watch Out for Invasive Ladybugs

Who knew this was something to worry about?

by Karen B. London, PhD
November 3, 2020
Black French bulldog in dandelion field
Jelena Markovic / Stocksy

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Whether it’s traffic, hot temps, toxic plants, choking hazards like rawhides, Xylitol, or something else, there are so many ways dogs can get into trouble, especially when it concerns their eating habits. Some dogs will eat just about anything, and there’s another thing to add to the list: Ladybugs.

More specifically, there’s a species of invasive ladybug, the Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), that poses a danger to dogs. Although encounters are rare, in 2016, a Kansas veterinarian reported a sudden increase in cases of dogs with dozens of these insects inside their mouths, sparking a viral panic. These bugs can be found across the United States, including Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and the northeast.

So, what’s with these Asian lady beetles?

Let’s start by saying Asian lady beetles are not the same as the sweet garden ladybug you know and love. But the two do look incredibly similar. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to spot the difference: just look at the area between the head and the abdomen (called the pronotum). On a regular ladybug, the pronotum is black with small white spots, but on a multicolored Asian lady beetle, it is often primarily white with black spots, in a “W” or “M” shape. These beetles are a nuisance and often swarm and form clusters, especially in the fall, when it begins to cool. Homeowners have found these bugs congregating in their walls, attics, and ceilings.

Ask a Vet

Sudden scratching? Finicky food eater? Loose poop? Whatever pet health question is on your mind, our veterinary pros are here to help.

How worried should you be?

The beetles secrete a smelly goo as a natural defense mechanism, and veterinarians believe that slime allows them to cling inside a dog’s mouth to avoid being eaten. While the bugs may cause irritation or minor chemical burns to the dog’s mouth because of these toxins, pet parents shouldn’t worry about their pup being poisoned.

According to veterinarians who have treated dogs with this condition, symptoms include foaming at the mouth, drooling, lethargy, and refusing to eat. It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by many other health issues — a mouthful of these insects is only one of many possibilities.

Some pet parents have been able to remove the insects themselves using tweezers or a wooden tongue depressor. Depending on your skills, and your dog’s willingness to allow you to work on their mouth, you may be able to remove them at home. Don’t hesitate to talk to your veterinarian if your dog shows signs or unusual symptoms, regardless of whether you spot any of these pesky bugs.

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karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.