Ladybirds & Dogs: Can Dogs Be Harmed By Ladybirds? · The Wildest

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Watch Out for Invasive Ladybirds

Who knew this was something to worry about?

Black French bulldog in dandelion field
Jelena Markovic / Stocksy

Whether it’s traffic, hot temperatures, 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: ladybirds.

More specifically, there’s a species of invasive ladybird, the Asian lady beetle or harlequin ladybird (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 insects can be found across the United States, including Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and the Northeast. They arrived in the UK in 2004 and have rapidly become one of the most common ladybirds in the country.

So, what’s with these harlequin ladybirds?

Let’s start by saying harlequin ladybirds are not the same as the sweet garden ladybird 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 ladybird, the pronotum is black with small white spots, but on a multicoloured 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 autumn, when it begins to cool. Homeowners have found these insects congregating in their walls, lofts and ceilings.

How worried should you be?

The beetles secrete a smelly goo as a natural defence mechanism and veterinarians believe that slime allows them to cling inside a dog’s mouth to avoid being eaten. While the insects 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.

Karen London holding up a small dog

Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA

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.

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