Ant bites and stings are generally considered a minor nuisance for people and pets, but when dogs stick their curious noses into certain ants' business, the result can be extremely painful welts and potentially life-threatening toxicity. If your dog gets attacked by ants, then watching for symptoms of a severe reaction and seeking veterinarian treatment could help save your dog's life.
Red and black imported fire ants are the most dangerous stinging ants you or your dog may encounter. These aggressive ants attack in swarms, latching onto skin and stinging repeatedly. Excessive swelling, nausea, or difficulty breathing are signs of a dangerous allergic reaction. Seek medical attention right away.
What Are Ant Bites and Stings?
Ant bites are red, raised bumps caused by an ants' mandibles (mouth parts) pinching a dog's skin. These bites can be painful and itchy, and some ants' bites may draw blood, but bites are not generally considered dangerous.
Ant stings are welts or pustules caused by contact with stingers that some ants have on their abdomens. Stingers inject a small amount of venom that causes a local reaction and may also trigger an allergic reaction in sensitive dogs.
Symptoms of Ant Bites and Stings in Dogs
Ant bites and stings can occur anywhere on a dog's body, but they most often occur on the face and paws.
Ant bites and stings can be painful and cause the affected site to become red and swollen. Dogs that get bitten or stung may yelp in pain, hold up the affected limb, or scratch the affected skin.
Ant bites do not always cause symptoms. Mild bites or stings may not be painful and disappear on their own. However, some ant stings can be severe enough to cause an allergic reaction in sensitive dogs. Dogs with underlying health conditions may be more vulnerable, and small dogs may experience more serious reactions from numerous stings.
Dogs with severe allergic reactions may experience facial swelling and trouble breathing. Anaphylaxis is technically possible, but this has not been reported in dogs.
Causes of Ant Bites and Stings
Dogs are most likely to get bitten or stung by ants when they:
- Step on anthills
- Dig into anthills
- Sniff, paw, or try to eat ants
Fire ant colonies are known to be aggressive and attack when their nests are disturbed. The fire ant attaches to the animal with its mandible and injects venom from a stinger that comes out of the abdomen.
Fire ants are the most common types of ants that cause severe reactions. Fire ants are typically found in the southeastern regions of the United States but may be seen as far west as Texas and as far north as Ohio.
Red harvester ants are reluctant to sting, but their stings are very painful and the injected toxin can cause serious systemic reactions, particularly in small dogs.
Diagnosing Ant Bites and Stings in Dogs
Ant bites and stings aren't always readily distinguishable from the bites and stings of other bugs, but if you know that your dog encountered ants (stepped in a known anthill or has ants in its fur), then diagnosing the cause of its red, bumpy skin will be easy.
If your dog suffers an allergic reaction, then identifying the insect at fault will help your vet quickly determine the best treatment.
The treatment of ant bites and stings in a dog will depend on the severity of the attack. The pain or itchiness from ant bites is often self-limiting; it tends to go away on its own without the need for medical intervention. However, it's a good idea to contact your veterinarian for advice after your dog has been bitten or stung by any insects.
Your veterinarian may advise applying a cold compress to the area of the welts to reduce swelling. In some cases, an over-the-counter antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help. Consult with your vet to determine the appropriate amount to use.
Over-the-counter topical creams, ointments, or sprays are not generally recommended since they may cause dogs to lick the area and ingest the medicine.
If a dog suffers a severe allergic reaction to stinging ants, then veterinary attention is required immediately. Your vet may administer an intravenous injection of epinephrine (adrenalin) to help reduce your dog's allergic response. Oxygen will also be supplied if your dog is having trouble breathing.
Prognosis for Dogs with Ant Bites and Stings
Most dogs fully recover from ant bites and stings within a couple of days and require no medical treatment, Rare cases of severe allergic reactions can be fatal, but swift veterinary attention can usually counteract the reaction. With supportive care, these dogs recover as well.
How to Prevent Ant Bites and Stings
The best way to protect your dog from ant bites and stings is to prevent encounters with ants and their nests. The following preventative measures can help:
- Remove anthills from your yard and keep them from coming back. You may need assistance from a pest control professional.
- Keep your dog away from anthills when out for a walk or playing in nature.
- Keep your dog on a leash during walks and hikes.
- Do not allow your dog to roam free.
- Stop your dog from eating and sniffing insects.
Fire Ant Frequently Asked Questions. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.
Wasp, bee, and ant stings to animals - toxicology. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Kruse B, Anderson J, Simon LV. Fire Ant Bites. 2022 Feb 4. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 29261949.
Red Harvester Ant. Texas A&M Extension Entomology.