How to Treat Bug Bites and Stings on Dogs

bug bites and stings on dogs
Irina Fedorova / EyeEm / Getty Images

Has your dog been bitten by some kind of bug? There are several types of insects and arachnids that may bite dogs and puppies. Some are more dangerous than others and require medical attention, but you can help your dog quickly if you know how to recognize the bite or sting.

Fleas

Fleas are among the most common type of bugs that bite dogs. Some dogs seem unaffected by flea bites, but many are allergic and will experience itching and irritation of the skin. Dogs with severe flea allergies may experience itching all over after just one or two flea bites.

Effects

Flea bites may look like tiny, raised red bumps, or may simply cause a diffuse area of redness on the skin. Dogs with flea infestations often have black spots on the skin from flea feces. Flea bites can occur on any part of the body but are most common on the lower back near the base of the tail. Without treatment, secondary skin problems may occur.

flea bites on dogs
Skin irritation from flea bites dimarik / Getty Images

Ticks

Tick bites are common in dogs and can pose a significant health risk. Ticks are parasites that may carry diseases that can make dogs very sick. When ticks bite dogs, they attach to the skin and feed on the blood until they are full.

Effects

You can easily recognize a tick bite when the tick is still attached. Ticks will grow significantly while feeding and may look like a wart or other skin growth on the dog. If the tick has already fallen off the dog, you may notice a small red bump. This bump typically disappears after a few days and usually doesn't bother the dog unless the area becomes infected. Signs of tick-borne diseases may appear days, weeks, or months after being bitten.

tick bite on dog
Tick bite on a dog andriano_cz / Getty Images

Ants

Ant bites usually occur after a dog mistakenly steps on ants or tries to eat ants. Bites can occur anywhere on a dog's body, but the feet and mouth are more common.

Effects

There are many species of ants, so the effect of their bites will vary. Most ant bites cause mild to moderate pain, swelling, and redness at the site of the bite. The bite may itch while it heals, but serious allergic reactions are uncommon. Fire ants are an exception to this; their venom can cause intense pain and serious allergic reaction including facial swelling and anaphylaxis.

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

It's not uncommon for dogs to be stung by bees, hornets, and wasps. Many dogs are curious about flying insects and will chase them and try to eat them. Stings in the mouth and on the face are common. Dogs that disturb nests and hives may get stung multiple times on the body.

Effects

Stings from bees, wasps, and hornets are painful and become red and swollen. You may notice your dog yelp and suddenly pay attention to an area on their body. They may try to lick, chew, or paw at the site of the sting. Some dogs experience serious allergic reactions to bees, especially if stung in the mouth. This can cause facial swelling and anaphylaxis.

Flies

Fly bites are relatively common in some regions. There are a few types of flies that are known to bite dogs and feed on their blood. Bites from black flies and horse flies are among the most common flies that bite dogs.

Effects

Fly bites can leave red blotches on the skin that are round or oval in shape. They may resemble hives or welts. Fly bites can occur anywhere on the body, but they are especially common on the face and ears. Fly bites rarely cause serious allergic reactions in dogs, but they may be painful and itchy for a few days. Outdoor dogs may experience frequent fly bites that cause crusty lesions, especially on the ears. These can become infected without treatment.

Spiders

Spiders are most likely to bite dogs when they are threatened. A spider bite may occur if your dog tries to catch a spider and eat it. However, spider bites can easily happen while your dog is at rest. The most threatening bites come from black widow and brown recluse spiders.

Effects

Most spiders are venomous, but their bites are usually not severe enough to have serious effects on dogs. The appearance of a spider bite depends on the species of the spider.

Brown recluse spider bites are painless, so your dog may will not immediately react to a bite. Within a few hours, the site of the bite may look like a blister. This progresses to a red target lesion that looks like a bull's eye. The skin around the bite may become pale and then dark and the tissue dies due to the venom. Systemic effects are uncommon but may include lethargy, vomiting, fever, weakness within a few days due to the venom's effect on the blood cells.

Black widow spider venom contains a neurotoxin called a-latrotoxin. These bites cause mild to moderate pain followed by redness. Systemic signs include muscle pain, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, drunkenness, tremors, and paralysis. Black widow bites can be fatal to dogs and require immediate medical attention.

Scorpions

Scorpion stings are seen in dogs in certain areas of the world, most often in the southwest region of the US. Most scorpion species in the US contain non-harmful venom. However, the Arizona bark scorpion contains dangerous venom that causes systemic effects. Scorpions are usually reclusive, so a sting from one means your dog probably came too close to an area where one was hiding. A dog may be stung in the mouth or on the face if after trying to eat a scorpion.

Effects

Scorpion stings are very painful. You may hear your dog yelp and begin to bother the affected area. The site of the sting may become red and swollen and your dog may begin drooling. Stings from the Arizona bark scorpion can cause dilated pupils, drunkenness, tremors, walking drunk, and abnormal eye movement. Contact your veterinarian right away if your dog has been stung by a scorpion.

When to Seek Veterinary Attention

It's always best to call your veterinarian for advice after your dog is bitten or stung. Minor bites and stings can sometimes be treated at home, but your vet should help you determine the best course of action.

Home treatment involves cleaning the bite or sting and removing the stinger if present. You may apply ice to the site of the sting to reduce swelling, pain, and itching. If your vet approves, you can administer oral diphenhydramine, which is available over-the-counter.

Bring your dog to the nearest open veterinary facility after a bite or sting that causes intense pain, facial swelling, trouble breathing, or other signs of illness. Emergency treatment may be necessary and will depend on the type of bite or sting as well as the type of reaction experienced by the dog. Antivenin is rarely used, but supportive care may be needed. Potential treatment includes antihistamines, steroids, antibiotics, pain medications, and fluid therapy.

There are ways you can prevent some bites and stings from happening to your dog. Use an effective monthly flea control product to keep fleas at bay. Tick control products are also available if you live in a region known for ticks. Fly repellant can be used to keep flies away from your dog. Ask your vet about the best products for your dog.

Be sure to keep your dog away from beehives and the nests of wasps and hornets. Seek professional help to remove these from your property so you can keep pets and people safe. Supervise your dog and stop them from trying to catch or eat insects.

Article Sources
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  1. Spider and scorpion bites in animals - toxicology. Merck Veterinary Manual.

  2. Black widow spider is toxic to dogs. Pet Poison Helpline.