What To Do About Insect and Ant Bites on Dogs


I love the great outdoors and it seems like my dogs enjoy a run through a grassy field more than just about anything else. Unfortunately, time spent outdoors also may result in insect bites for my pups. Here is everything that you need to know about what to do when dealing with insect and ant bites on dogs. With this information, you can keep on enjoying the wilderness with your dog despite the bugs.

Where are dogs most likely to be bitten?

Being “nosey” creatures, dogs are most likely to be bitten by an insect on the nose or face. This is unfortunate, as much of a dog’s face is quite delicate and susceptible to bites, such as the nose, eyes, and ears. It is also very common for dogs to be bitten on their paws as they navigate and play in their environment. Your dog may not notice that the fun pile of dirt that they are digging in is really an ant pile until they have already gotten a few bites.

What might bite or sting your dog?

There is a wide variety of insects that may end up biting or stinging your dog. Your dog is probably more likely to be bitten or stung by something than you are. After all, they always have their head to the ground and are pushing through bushes and long grass. Here are a few of the species most likely to hurt your dog.

Wasps and bees

If your dog blunders into a wasp nest or a beehive, the colony is likely to react with powerful resistance. If your dog has lots of stings all over their body, a wasp or bee colony is most likely the culprit. Wasps and bees may also sting your dog inside the mouth when your dog snaps at them. Keep in mind that your dog may be wary of certain types of bees or wasps if they have had bad experiences with them before; however, they might not show the same sort of sense around a new or different type of bee or wasp. Each sting will likely be quite annoying; also, depending on whether it was wasps or bees that attacked your dog, the stingers may need to be removed.

Ants

Dogs love to dig, and the perfect mounds created by ants are often irresistible. Your dog may also disturb ants by picking up pieces of wood that may be rotting or by finding food or a dead animal that ants are consuming and rolling in it or eating it. Your dog may be stung on any part of their body by one or many ants. Stings may be only mildly irritating or quite severe, depending on the type of ant and whether your dog is allergic.

Spiders

Most spiders deliver a bite no worse than a bee sting. Spiders generally do their absolute best to get away from your dog and will usually not bite unless they are stepped on or if your dog is chasing or biting at them. Occasionally, a spider bite can result in serious consequences for your dog. If you are not sure what created the sting or if you know it was spider but don’t know what type of spider, keep a very careful eye on your dog and watch for signs of toxin. Ideally, you will collect the spider carefully into a glass jar so that you can show the veterinarian, if necessary.

Ticks

If a tick bites your dog, the chances are good that they will stay attached. There are a number of different species of ticks throughout the United States that are more prevalent in different areas depending on climate and wildlife. Pretty much wherever you go in the wilderness, ticks are likely to find your dog. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, ask your veterinarian about a preventative to keep ticks from sticking to your dog. Also, make sure your dog is vaccinated against diseases that ticks may carry.

How to recognize that your dog was bitten or stung

If your dog is in the midst of an exciting activity like chasing an animal or their tennis ball, they may not immediately realize that they have been bitten or stung. You might not recognize this either. Some dogs are more stoic than others and may not show any signs. Here are some indications that a dog has been bitten or stung by something:
  • Rubbing and chewing at the area. Perhaps the most common indication that your dog has been bitten or stung is that they will be rubbing at the area that is bothering them. If your dog has been bitten on the face, they will likely rub with their paws. If they’ve been bitten on the paws or legs, they will probably be chewing on the bite.
  • Swelling or irritation. If you notice a raised bump or a red swollen area, a sting may be to blame. Some dogs experience a lot of swelling even with a relatively minor sting. Sometimes the swelling associated with a bite can be misidentified as a sprained or broken ankle or bone. Look for a bite mark if you notice unexplained swelling.
  • Look for a bite mark or stinger. If your dog was stung by bees, at least some stingers will likely still be in your dog, continuing to inject venom. Spiders often leave quite large and visible bite marks that allow you to identify the source quite readily. If your dog has thick fur, you may need to use a flea comb to slowly go through the fur until you find the bites. You can also use a blow dryer to separate the hair and make it easier to see the skin.

What to do if your dog is bitten or stung by an insect

Once you recognize a bite or sting on your dog, don’t panic. It is very common for dogs to be bitten and stung by things, especially if they’re young dogs exploring the outdoors. Stings and bites can be serious, but usually, they won’t pose a serious problem. Here are some things you can do to take care of an insect bite.

Try to find the insect

If you know that your dog has been bitten or stung but don’t know what the culprit is, try to find out if you can. Look at where your dog has recently been; see if you can find an ant nest or wasp colony swarming around. If your dog has been inside, look for a dead and crumpled spider or spiders in a web. If your dog begins to develop serious symptoms associated with more toxic poisoning, you will want to bring the insect to the vet with you. Be extremely careful if gathering unknown insects; you’ll want to make sure you don’t get bitten as well. Use a large glass jar so that you can keep a safe distance from the insect. Use a stiff piece of paper to slide underneath. Even if the insect appears to be dead, play it safe and avoid handling it directly just in case it has one more bite left in it.

Look for a stinger or body

If you suspect that your dog was stung by a bee, look for the stinger. These are the only type of insects that leave part of their bodies in their victims, thereby sacrificing themselves. Stingers will continue to pulse out venom into your dog’s body, so you want to get it out. Be careful not to squeeze the stinger by using tweezers or your hand. Instead, scrape a credit card over the stinger until it comes out, then flick it off. You may also want to squeeze it if you have difficulty getting it out. Ticks hold on to their victims and may even bury themselves deep into the flesh if given time. You want to remove the tick, but you don’t want to squirt the contents of the tick into your dog’s body. Use very fine-point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible so that the tick’s mouth won’t break off and embed in the skin.

Soothe the bite

Instinctually, your dog will want to scratch and chew at the bite. You don’t want your dog to do this, as many types of insects rely on this behavior to continue causing irritation and pain. In any case, scratching certainly won’t do any good. If your dog only has one or a couple of stings, you can soothe the itching with a paste made of baking soda and water and a little bit of honey if you have it. If your dog has been afflicted with lots of stings, a soothing oatmeal bath can give them relief.

Reduce swelling

To reduce swelling for larger areas, you can apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables or a cold towel. Reducing the swelling will reduce your dog’s pain and irritation and prevent the venom from spreading further.

Prevent allergic reactions

Many dogs have allergic reactions to all sorts of bug bites. Some reactions can be very severe, especially from bees’ stings. To play it safe, check with your veterinarian about what dosage to give your dog over the phone and then give your dog an oral antihistamine. You may have an antihistamine available for your dog or you can purchase children’s Benadryl and give the dosage your veterinarian recommends.

Keep your dog from scratching

Your dog will likely want to scratch and chew at the bite throughout your treatments and especially when you leave them alone. If your dog doesn’t listen when you tell them not to chew, you may need to use a head cone to keep them from accessing the bites.

How to know if it is serious

Some bites are more serious and require more attention than a soothing compress or ice to relieve the swelling. Allergic reactions can occur within 20 minutes of the bite or may be delayed for hours. Severe reactions known as anaphylactic shock can be fatal incredibly quickly, so fast action is necessary. If your dog has been bitten by a spider that is particularly toxic, they may begin to show signs of poisoning that worsens very quickly. Here are some signs that your dog needs to go to the vet.
  • Severe swelling. A little bit of swelling around the bite spot is to be expected; however, if your dog has severe swelling anywhere on their body, especially on the head and neck that may compromise respiration, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Hives. Hives indicate an allergic reaction. They are often one of the first signs. If your dog suddenly breaks out in hives, this may show that a serious and dangerous reaction (such as swelling around the throat) will follow. A sudden and intense outbreak of hives means a trip to the vet is necessary.
  • Difficulty breathing. If your dog is having trouble breathing, this indicates that their throat is swelling up. If the throat swells and closes completely, your dog could be unable to breathe. Any difficulty breathing after a bite means that your dog needs to go to the vet.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea. Sudden gastrointestinal distress can indicate that your dog is suffering from poison, not just a mild allergic reaction. If your dog suddenly starts vomiting or having soft stools after being bitten or stung, play it safe and go to the vet.
  • Dizziness or seizures. If your dog seems disoriented, stumbles, or shows any kind of muscle weakness or trembling, this can indicate an emergency. These symptoms may show a severe allergic reaction but are more likely to indicate poisoning because of a dangerous reaction to an insect such as a spider.

How to prevent your dog from getting bitten by an insect

No one wants to go through the things discussed above. You want your dog to avoid bites from any sources; however, you probably wonder how to prevent your dog from getting bitten in the first place. If your dog has suffered bites by different insects, or if your dog keeps suffering a bad reaction to a particular insect, you likely feel at your wit’s end trying to keep your dog from exposure to insects. Follow these tips to help you prevent your dog from getting bitten by insects.
  • Booties. For dogs that get repeatedly bitten on the paws and suffer serious reactions to those bites, booties may offer a good solution. Booties allow your dog to enjoy the outdoors while protecting their feet from bites and stings. It takes dogs some time to get used to wearing booties, but most dogs learn to tolerate them.
  • A basket muzzle. If your dog just can’t seem to resist taking a snap at a bee, no matter how many times they have had a serious reaction to being stung by a bee in the mouth, you may want to train your dog to wear a basket muzzle when outside. Basket muzzles are designed for working dogs and dogs that need to wear the muzzle full-time. They allow your dogs to breathe and drink normally but will keep your dog from taking a snap at a dangerous bug on your walk.
  • Training. You can teach your dog what is appropriate to chase and what isn’t. Train your dog not to bite at things flying through the air and to stay away from spider nests. Dogs are intelligent and able to distinguish by smell. You can even teach your dog to avoid certain species, like spiders. Give your dog an alternative activity that won’t be dangerous, like encouraging them to chase lizards on the lawn instead of bees.
  • Screens. If your dog just seems to find everything in the backyard that can hurt them, you may decide that building a screened porch and limiting your dog’s access to the outdoors is in their best interest. A screened area can prevent dangerous insects from getting to your dog while still allowing your dog to enjoy the great outdoors.

Summary

It can be very scary to find that your dog has been bitten or stung by something. This might well be a part of your dog’s life at some point. Most of the time, bug bites aren’t very serious; other times, your dog may have a severe allergic reaction or get bitten by a very toxic spider. If this happens, keep a careful eye on your dog. Look for symptoms of a more serious reaction while keeping them as comfortable as possible.

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Coral Dawn Drake

My fiance, Justin, and I live with our two little dogs, Sofie and Lisa, and three chickens in Gainesville, Florida. Justin and I are homebodies who occasionally enjoy a good adventure. I love living in Gainesville, and I love Florida. I can’t imagine anywhere more beautiful or strange than this hot, marshy place where people are guaranteed to be nothing other than themselves. Justin is always reminding me to relax. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m always busy. Making art or editing photos, digging in the yard or trying to grow some new moss or plant. There never seems to be enough time to do everything that I want to do. Life is so, so full and I want to plunge into every second of it.

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