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With 10 quintillion insects on the planet, insect bites are naturally very common - even in dogs. (A quintillion is 1 followed by 18 zeroes.) Though dogs are covered with fur, they are likely to get bitten in the less hairy areas like the ears and nose.

Some dogs are sensitive to the proteins in the saliva or venom of biting insects. Nosy dogs who have the habit of sniffing everything near them are more prone to bee stings and ant bites.

Though most of the bites are not so harmful and resolve on their own, in some cases, these bites can lead to a severe life-threatening condition like anaphylactic shock.

Read more: What to do if your dog has fleas

  1. Types of insect bite in dogs
  2. Symptoms of an insect bite in dogs
  3. How to prevent insect bites in dogs
  4. Treatment of an insect bite in dogs

Dogs are most commonly bitten by the following insects:

  • Fleas: Fleas look like black moving specks. They can usually be spotted in an infected dog’s head, neck and groin area. Flea saliva can cause an allergic reaction in dogs, medically known as flea allergy dermatitis. Sometimes fleas carry eggs of tapeworm and can easily transmit them to the dogs. (Read more: Tapeworm infection in dogs)
  • Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are potent disease carriers. Just like humans, dogs are also susceptible to some diseases which are transmitted by a mosquito bite. The severe types of infections that are spread by mosquitoes are heartworm disease in dogs, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. 
  • Vespids: Vespids like wasps, hornets, and yellowjacket wasps are capable of stinging a dog multiple times as their stinger is not sharp and does not get stuck in a dog after stinging.
  • Formicids: Formicids - for example, fire ants - contain formic acid in their stinger. They transfer that acid on every bite. This bite can lead to a severe burning sensation.
  • Apids: Apids, like honeybees and African killer bees, have a sharp stinger that remains in the dog’s body after stinging. Even after getting detached from the body of the bees, the stinger keeps on pumping venom into the dog’s body. Apids can only sting once, and they die shortly after their stinger is detached from their body.

Read more: Ear mites in dogs

The mild symptoms of an insect bite in a dog are: 

  • Lameness
  • Scratching the bitten area
  • Licking the bitten area
  • Mild swelling at the bite site

There are some major symptoms that can appear after an insect bite. These symptoms usually appear 20-30 minutes after the venom of the sting spreads in the body. If you see any of these symptoms, call the veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Excessive swelling around the head or neck can compromise breathing as it can constrict the airway. Swelling in the neck can also occur even if the bite is somewhere else in the body. 
  • Since the swelling constricts the airway, the dog would be seen panting and wheezing, gasping for breath. 
  • Due to excessive swelling in the neck, the dog would start drooling excessively. The dog will not be able to swallow the saliva due to constriction, thus would drool. (Read more: Drooling in dogs: symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis, treatment)
  • Red bumps on the body, medically known as hives, appear on the body and are very prominent on the hairless body parts like the belly. Hives are very itchy, so your dog would roll a lot on the floor to scratch his or her entire body. (Read more: Itching in dogs could be a sign of mange)
  • Due to all the itching and breathing difficulty, the dog might get anxious and agitated.
  • The dog might start vomiting. They might also suffer from mild diarrhoea in dogs
  • In some cases, the dog may appear to be dizzy and may be seen stumbling as his or her body reacts to the venom of the sting.
  • If your dog starts seizing, you must call a vet as soon as possible. This can be a sign of anaphylaxis reaction of the body.

You cannot keep an eye on your dog 24x7 but these are some measures which can help prevent insect bites in your dog:

  • While you can't keep your dog off the grass at all times, you can hold them back them from sniffing flower beds and the places where fruit would have fallen to the ground. These sites are filled with honeybees, wasps and red ants.
  • Many sprays and repellants are available over-the-counter keep insects like mosquitoes out of your dog kennel. Always consult your vet before using any such product as your dog can be allergic to any of the ingredients present in the repellant. Do not use the same repellant that you use for yourself. Repellants such as sandalwood or citronella are advised for the dogs.
  • Fleas in dogs can be prevented with the help of chewable tablets, topical solutions and even flea collars.

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If the symptoms are mild, you can take care of the bite at home. But if your dogs start to show severe symptoms, call the vet as soon as possible. These are the things you can do in order to manage an insect bite in dogs:

  • If you see your dog suddenly pawing at their face or chewing at their foot, this can possibly indicate an insect bite. If any limb or part of your dog's body starts swelling, this can also indicate an insect bite. Always remember, early detection leads to better management. 
  • If possible, try and identify the insect. This makes it easier for the vet to treat your dog. 
  • If your dog has been stung by a bee, look for a stinger. The broken stingers continue to deposit venom in the dog’s body. So the sooner you remove the sting, the better it will be for containing the amount of toxin deposited. Cautiously remove the stinger because if the stinger sac gets pressed during removal, it will squeeze out more venom into the body of the dog.
  • To soothe the bite site, you can make a thick paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the sting site. 
  • If your dog has a swelling, you can apply an ice pack to the affected area for 10 minutes. This will minimise the swelling and also reduce the inflammation.  
  • Your dog may cause more trauma to the affected site by scratching and biting it again and again. Continuous disturbance to the site also prolongs the healing period. You can use a head cone (Elizabethan collar) to prevent your dog from licking, biting and scratching the site.
  • Give your dog lots of water to drink to make sure that he or she is properly hydrated. If your dog got stung in the mouth, give them moist food to eat, as it would be difficult to swallow dry food. 
  • You can ask your vet for anti-allergic medications like diphenhydramine which would reduce the itching and prevent further inflammation.

Read more: Why is my dog not eating? Inappetence in dogs

Ant bite treatment for dogs

Some ants release acid into the dog's body with every bite. This can cause a burning sensation. Your dog may scratch or lick the site of the bite constantly. You can do a couple of things to ease symptoms like mild swelling and itching:

  • Clean the area and apply a thick paste of baking soda and water over it.
  • You can also apply a mix of apple cider vinegar and water on the bite site with a cotton ball to soothe the itch.
  • Consider placing an Elizabethan collar or cone on your dog to stop him or her worrying at the bite site and forming hot spots in dogs.
  • Look for ants in your dog's bed, kennel and other places he or she sleeps and plays. Clean these out with a dog-safe disinfectant to prevent future bites. Our dogs can hide their favourite treats in strange places -  like behind the bed, inside the sofa and in other favourite nooks around the house. Be sure to look in these areas, too.

Ant bites can take anywhere between 12 hours and two weeks to heal completely.

Read more: Tips to bathe and groom your dog

Wasp sting treatment for dogs

Dogs are often excited to follow the movements of wasps, honeybees and other bees in parks and gardens. However, a bee sting can be very painful for a dog. Here are some things you can do to help your dog if he or she has been stung by a bee or wasp:

  • Look for the stinger. To narrow your search, look in places your dog may be trying to lick himself or herself.
  • If you don't find a stinger, look for mild swelling or redness on the dog's skin. This is the bite site (be careful and thorough in your search as there may be multiple bite sites). Apply a thin paste of water and baking soda over it. You can also apply an ice pack to soothe the pain and itching.
  • If you do find a stinger, use a pair of tweezers to carefully and completely remove the stinger. Try not to push the stinger further in while trying to grab or pull it out, as this may release further toxins into your dog's body. Remember also that the sooner you find and remove the stinger, the better it will be for your dog.
  • If you notice serious swelling around the mouth or neck, rush your dog to a doctor.
  • If your dog has eaten a wasp and there's swelling near his or her mouth, rush your dog to the doctor asap.
  • Ask your doctor to recommend an antihistamine and Benadryl for pain relief. (Do not give your dog any medication without a doctor's prescription. Remember that dogs have their own medicines and dosage, which are not always the same as human medicines and dosage.)
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