Last updated on November 14, 2016
“My dog likes to eat bugs, Carol.”
The note started simply enough, but a fellow Cocker mom recently wrote me to tell me her dog likes to eat bugs. Despite trying to get her dog to stop munching on flying insects, a bit of a back story ensued.
“Our dog was found as a stray. The vet feels he developed a taste for bugs on the street.”
So this conversation got me thinking: Are there some bugs that are worse on a dog’s gentle digestive system than others? Can bugs, when ingested, be toxic? I went to two of my favorite online resources for information, both veterinarians by trade: Dr. Laurie Coger, of the Healthy Dog Workshop, and Dr. Lorie Huston, of Pet Health Care Gazette.
Here’s the scoop on the dreaded bug affair some dogs seem to have with insects and what dog parents need to know:
Wasps, Hornets, and Bees: Oh My!
These flying insects not only hurt when they sting a dog, but facial swelling can ensue as well as severe hives and allergic reaction. Dr. Coger says that dogs do not tend to experience throat swelling like humans, so airway obstruction is not a major worry. Since a dog’s “stress organ” is his or her gastrointestinal (GI) system, vomiting and diarrhea might occur.
“Owners of dogs who are “bug chasers” should always have Benedryl (diphenhydramine) on hand, and dose per their vet’s instructions following stings,” Dr. Coger shares. “It will slow the reaction to the stings down, decreasing swelling and hive formation. It’s a good thing to carry in your dog walking coat pocket.”
We carry a dog first aid kit with us and always have a pair of tweezers in the event a stinger must be removed in a hurry. If you see your dog limping, always check paw pads and in between toes. Since dogs walk around barefoot, the propensity for bees or any other type of insect to cause harm is high.
Years ago, a story surfaced about a Labrador Retriever who ate an entire nest of dead bees, which had been treated with pesticide. After a costly emergency surgery and hospital stay, the dog recovered, but pet parents need to be on guard at all times.
Named so due to an odor they emit when disturbed or crushed, the stinkbug has been known to cause intestinal upset and producing symptoms like vomiting, nausea, excessive salivation, and loss of appetite. Dr. Huston says the are not terribly dangerous and the symptoms often resolve without treatment.
Dogs are forever using their noses as their compass through life. Caterpillars are tempting mobile snack for many dogs. Teaching your dog a command such as “leave it” is helpful in these situations. Dr. Huston says some types of caterpillars (though certainly not all) can be toxic or their bristles can cause problems (i.e. irritation) in the mouth or GI tract if eaten. The exact type of toxin varies depending on the type of caterpillar. If you fear your dog has eaten a caterpillar, seek veterinary care immediately.
In the northeastern part of the United States, there are both brown recluse and black widow spiders, both capable of potentially fatal stings. “Even your everyday spider’s bite can cause a reaction,” Dr. Coger reports.
Flies and Mosquitoes
Flying insects like flies and mosquitoes are not toxic and generally do not cause a problem for dogs. These are what Dr. Coger calls the “fly catcher” dogs. As an aside, fly catching is considered by some to be a form of epilepsy, and is a presumed genetic disorder in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Lady beetles aka ladybugs can be toxic if ingested. That is worth repeating: lady beetles aka ladybugs can be toxic if ingested, says Dr. Huston. They cause what amounts to a chemical burn when swallowed. Here’s information about ladybugs and their toxicity from the NIH. This report talks about mouth lesions, but there have been many other reports with lesions in the stomach and intestines. Again, this is when a command such as “leave it” comes in handy.
One of the things I will see my dog doing is nosing at a crawling ant while we lounge on the back deck or if stopping to chat with a neighbor on our daily walks.
According to Dr. Coger, ants, especially fire ants, cause stings that produce a lot of swelling. And of course, the dog usually encounters a nest of ants, so gets stung by hundreds. Seek veterinary care immediately.
The dreaded nemesis of every dog everywhere: Fleas. Dr. Huston explains that besides the potential for toxicity, there is risk for disease transmission with fleas. “For instance, fleas can carry tapeworms and can pass them on to pets when ingested while grooming. Cockroaches and flies are both known to carry roundworms, which can be passed to a pet when the insect is eaten.”
Safe prevention, of course, is the key to keeping fleas and ticks away from your dog. When in doubt, if you suspect your dog has ingested or been harmed by an insect of any variety, seek veterinary care immediately.
Special thanks to our guests and please visit the websites of Dr. Laurie Coger, of the Healthy Dog Workshop, and Dr. Lorie Huston.
Has your dog ever ingested and/or been stung by an insect? What did you do?