Are Asian Lady Bugs A Threat To Your Dog?
The Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis (Pallas), is relatively new to this country. The beetle is native to Asia (e.g., China, Russia, Korea, Japan), where it dwells in trees and fields, preying on aphids and scale insects. Some scientists believe that current infestations in the U.S. originated not from these intentional releases, but from beetles accidentally transported into New Orleans on a freighter from Japan.
DESCRIPTION AND HABITS
Adult Asian lady beetles are oval, convex, and about 1/4-inch long. Their color can vary widely from tan to orange to red. They often have several black spots on the wing covers, although on some beetles the spots may be indistinct or entirely absent. Multi-spotted individuals tend to be females while those with few or no spots tend to be males. Most beetles have a small, dark “M” or “W”-shaped marking on the whitish area behind the head.
When attacked, Asian lady beetles release body fluids (called hemolymph) containing stinky and poisonous chemicals. “Hemolymph is corrosive, and can cause chemical burns to the mouth and/or gastrointestinal tract. It also has a strong repellent odor and foul taste,” says Dr. Elizabeth Doll, a veterinarian with WVRC Emergency and Specialty Pet Care in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
That awful taste and odor is why few dogs will attempt to eat more than a few of them, she says. Dog and beetle conflicts are so rare, that aside from anecdotal reports (like Bailey’s), a lone formal published paperexists on the subject. In this case, the patient had 16 Asian lady beetles embedded in the mucous membrane covering the hard palate, Doll says.
If a dog quickly swallows the beetles, erosion to the mouth appears to be minimal, says Dr. Nancy C. Hinkle, professor of veterinary entomology in the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia, Athens. “Likely the dog will quickly seek water to wash away the taste—which is a good thing, because it minimizes the chance that beetles will get stuck in the esophagus.”
If the chemical burns are not treated properly, an infection could develop and potentially become serious. “Luckily for any dog with damage to their mouth, the gums and tissues of the mouth heal very quickly—usually within seven days,” says Dr. Jonathan Babyak, clinical assistant professor in the Emergency and Critical Care Department at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
The cases that Mitchell saw, “were limited to anorexia due to painful ulcerations in the mouth,” she says. “The ulcers calmed down with manual removal of the beetles and treatment of the ulcers.”
But Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD, adds, “While I’ve not seen any cases myself, veterinarians have reported a few cases of dogs ingesting these beetles and subsequently developing vomiting, diarrhea, and other signs of gastroenteritis. One dog even died as a result.”
Some signs of a dangerous encounter with beetles include excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, reluctance to eat, and a foul odor coming from the mouth, Doll says. “The beetles may be visible within the mouth, or open sores may be seen. Possible side effects after ingesting large quantities of beetles include reduced appetite, vomiting, diarrhea that may be bloody, and lethargy.” If any of these signs are present, call your vet for an immediate evaluation.
Treatment starts with physically removing the beetles, which your vet may need to perform under sedation or, if severely impacted, under general anesthesia, Babyak says. “Secondly, damage from the hemolymph should be treated with appropriate medications and nursing care. Usually, we would think about treating pain, inflammation, and accelerating healing by removing dead or severely injured tissue. An antibiotic may be necessary to treat or prevent infection. This treatment would be considered routine by most primary care veterinarians.”
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