Ask a Vet: Ladybugs or Asian Lady Beetles in a Dog’s Mouth? What to Know

A white dog and a ladybug.
Dog with lady bug by Shutterstock. Photography by grafikwork / Shutterstock.
Last Updated on June 29, 2021 by

Ladybugs in a dog’s mouth? First, know that it absolutely is possible for insects to embed in a dog’s mouth. I have seen it many times, when debilitated dogs with dental abscesses or tumors suffered fly strike, leading to severe oral maggot infestations. I’ve also seen plenty of ant-infested mouths. But the insects embedded in your dog’s mouth only look like ladybugs. They’re likely Asian lady beetles. Asian lady beetles are not native to the USA, but they, too, have become quite common. Unlike native ladybugs, Asian lady beetles may bite, and they also produce chemicals that are toxic and can cause chemical burns, and when disturbed they release a very foul odor. Sadly, they were introduced to the USA intentionally in an attempt to control aphids; they now are pushing out our benign native ladybugs. I am not aware of any report of North American ladybugs ever embedding in a dog’s mouth, but let’s look at what happens with Asian lady beetles in a dog’s mouth:

Asian lady beetle by Shutterstock.
Asian lady beetle. Photography by dreamloveyou / Shutterstock.

Asian lady beetles in a dog’s mouth? Here’s what happens:

This article on Snopes links to and quotes from a paper by Ian Stocks and Derek Lindsey published in 2008. The paper is pretty well known in veterinary circles. It details a case study of a dog who suffered injury to his mouth after Asian lady beetles became embedded in it. Here is the abstract of the paper:

A six-year-old mixed-breed dog presented with severe trauma to the oral mucosa suggestive of chemical burn. Sixteen Harmonia axyridis (Coccinellidae) were removed from the oral cavity, which revealed trauma consistent with chemical burn. The beetles had become embedded in mucosa covering the hard palate and required manual removal. A diagnosis of beetle induced chemical burn was warranted and consistent with the nature of the chemical constituents of H. axyridis hemolymph.

Snopes manages to muddy the waters a bit with its analysis (below), which illustrates that the author does not know the meaning of the words “mucus” and “mucosa.”

First, the research paper identified the bugs as Asian Lady Beetles while many Facebook messages claimed they were common lady bugs. Second, while many Facebook posts claimed that the bugs had embedded themselves into the dog’s mouth, Derek’s paper states that they became embedded (in other words, they got stuck) in a layer of mucus.

Although Snopes, of course, is right on the first count, the beetles were not embedded in mucus. They were embedded in mucosa, which is the name for the soft pink tissue that lines body cavities such as the mouth.

What will Asian lady beetles do to your dog?

So, just how much of a risk do Asian lady beetles pose to your dog? Are the beetles attacking dogs’ mouths when they are sleeping? When they are panting? When they are minding their own business?

Almost certainly not. It is true that veterinarians have reported problems — ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset and ulcers in the mouth to intestinal ulceration, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, and death — from dog and Asian lady beetle interactions. But the beetles aren’t attacking the dogs. It’s the other way around.

The Asian lady beetles in the various photographs circulating on Facebook and Snopes most likely ended up in the dog’s mouths when the dogs tried to eat them. Large masses of Asian lady beetles may be found in structures and dwellings at certain times. Dogs, being dogs, may eat large quantities of them when they find them. Some of the beetles may hang on and become embedded in the mouth when this happens.

The final word on Asian lady beetles and dogs

So the good news is that your dog likely won’t get into trouble with the beetles unless he goes looking for trouble. The bad news, however, is that if he looks for trouble with the beetles he almost certainly will find it.

The Asian lady beetles, as has been mentioned, produce toxic chemicals in their hemolymph (which is a bug’s equivalent to blood). The toxic chemicals can cause chemical burns of the mouth. You can see such burns clearly on the tongue and in the back of the mouth in one of the pictures on the Snopes page.

The chemicals may cause ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract when swallowed. They may cause severe gastrointestinal upset, which in turn can progress to life-threatening hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Dogs who tangle with Asian lady bugs should get a trip to the vet.

To summarize, yes, Asian lady beetles may harm your dog. If he tries to eat them. So don’t let him do that.

Thumbnail: Photography by grafikwork / Shutterstock.

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