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- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
For many dogs and their owners, the great outdoors is a fantastic playground for spending quality time together, but it does come with a handful of health and safety ‘watchouts’ to be mindful of—including ants. Ant bites on dogs are not usually a cause for serious concern, but in some instances vet attention is needed.
Your dog may encounter ant bites by digging, playing, or sniffing near ant hills outdoors. Ant bites are somewhat common for dogs and usually include redness and swelling at the site of the bite. Your dog may also scratch or bite at these sites on their skin. However, it’s important to get your dog to the vet if they have an ant bite allergy: “Anaphylactic reactions can occur secondary to ant bites,” says Dr. Shannon Barrett, Charleston-based house-call veterinarian and owner of Downward Paws. “If your dog shows any signs of an allergic reaction, such as weakness or collapse, they should be taken to the hospital immediately as this can be life-threatening.”
Dr. Barrett explains that there’s not a breed predilection for ant bites, but Boxers do tend to be more prone to allergic reactions. In general, bites can be more concerning for small dogs when comparing their size to the number of bites. “Longer fur may offer some protection,” says Dr. Barrett, “but since many dogs are bitten on their extremities and abdomen, the length of fur in these areas is often quite short.”
With the help of Dr. Barrett, we’ll look into the signs, reactions, treatments and more that you should know if your dog gets bitten by ants. Read on!
What Are the Signs of Ant Bites on Dogs?
Dogs can become the target of several small pests, including fleas, ticks, and ants—so how do you know if your dog was bitten by an ant, specifically?
Though humans experience ant bites, too, Dr. Barrett says they can look different on dogs: “In dogs, these bites tend to cause grouped pustules at the site of the bite.” Dr. Barrett notes the following changes observed over time:
Initial bite: pain and swelling occur within seconds
15 minutes after the bite: redness and swelling at the site of the bite
6 hours after the bite: bright, red, raised itchy bumps
However, it can be hard to distinguish if your dog was bitten by a fire ant or stung by a wasp, certain bees, hornets, or yellow jackets—due to these ants envenomating their victims. “It can be difficult to differentiate which of these insects may have bitten your furry friend,” says Dr. Barrett, but “if your dog was stung by a bee, or other insect, you may see a puncture wound, or a stinger may still be present.”
In other words, if there’s no puncture or stinger, but you observe redness, swelling, and a raised bump, perhaps accompanied by itchiness and/or pus, and your dog has been digging or playing outdoors, it’s quite likely the bite may be a from an ant.
“The good news is that the bites will usually resolve in one-to-two days,” says Dr. Barrett, “as long as you do not allow your dog to lick or continue to scratch them.”
Is My Dog Allergic to Ant Bites?
Under normal circumstances, pet parents should be able to treat ant bites at home, but an allergic reaction warrants medical attention.
According to Dr. Barrett, signs of anaphylaxis include: vomiting, diarrhea, hives, facial swelling, trouble breathing, severe lethargy, or collapse. “This allergic reaction can occur if your dog was bitten by one ant or 12 ants. Quantity does not matter,” says Dr. Barrett. “If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, get your dog to your veterinarian immediately.”
Fire ants, in particular, may causes an anaphylactic reaction with their bites, so it’s important to head to the vet if your dog has had such an encounter.
What Are the Different Treatments For Ant Bites on Dogs?
If your dog experiences mild symptoms from an ant bite, you can try the following at-home remedies:
- Ice packs
- Cold baths
- Dog cone
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Aloe vera gel
- Baking soda solution
- Apple cider vinegar
It’s important to make sure to keep your dog from licking or scratching the area, says Dr. Barrett, which can lead to secondary skin infections.
Though pet parents often take Benadryl for allergic reactions, the answer on whether or not it’s safe for pets depends. “Dogs can take over-the-counter diphenhydramine—trade name Benadryl. Ensure the only active ingredient is diphenhydramine,” says Dr. Barrett. “Pets cannot take decongestants, so make sure the diphenhydramine is not Benadryl-D, and never give your pets any antihistamines that contain decongestants.”
To be on the safe side, always contact your vet before administering a medication.
What Kind of Ant Bit My Dog?
It’s important to be aware of two different types of ants, as their bites can have more serious consequences for your dog. Should your pup get bitten by fire ants or red harvester ants, a trip to the vet is a must.
According to Dr. Barrett, fire ants tend to bite when they have been disturbed, such as when a dog lays on their nest. “Fire ants use their large jaw to bite their victims’ skin while using their stinger to deliver the venom,” says Dr. Barrett.
Fire ants can also sting multiple times in one incident. “Since we tend to see more anaphylactic reactions with fire ants, monitor your dog closely if you think they have been exposed,” says Dr. Barrett.
Red harvester ants
Similar to fire ants, red harvester ants also tend to bite when they have been disturbed.
Though red harvesters are less into stinging with their bites, they are still capable of it. Unlike the fire ant, where anaphylaxis is an upmost concern, it’s the sting spread in the lymph channels that can present a problem.
“Red harvester ants have a substance in their venom that can lead to anemia in dogs,” warns Dr. Barrett, which is why you should see your veterinarian right away if your dog has been bitten by these ants.
Where Do Ants Typically Bite Dogs?
The following are some common areas of the body where you might find ant bites on your dog:
- Lower legs
“Dogs are most likely to be bitten on their extremities since they are likely to step onto ant mounds,” says Dr. Barrett, which is why you’ll want to examine their paws and legs. “It is not uncommon for them to get ant bites on their snouts or mouths, as dogs love to investigate their world by sniffing and licking,” she continues. “We have also seen ant bites on the abdomen of dogs who have laid on ant mounds.”
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Being Bitten By Ants?
Spring and fall are when it’s particularly important to keep on eye on fire ant bites, as that’s when they occur the most often.
It’s also important to check your yard for ant mounds, and eliminate them—if possible. “If you do have to eliminate ant hills, be sure to read the ingredients in any products you use to ensure that they are pet safe,” says Dr. Barrett.
Other prevention methods include keeping your dogon a leash, or close by to you during a walk; limiting free roaming; and stopping your dog from sniffing or eating insects.
For dogs who love to spend time outdoors, ant bites are an occasional occurrence that, although irritating and unpleasant, can be solved with home remedies and clear up in a few days.
However, dogs experiencing an allergic reaction, or who have been bitten by fire or red harvester ants, may all require medical attention.
Whether it’s fleas, ticks, or ants, it’s important to implement prevention strategies to keep your dog healthy, and know what to do should your doggy encounter these, and other, pests.