Ant Bites on Dogs: How to Recognize and Treat
For such small-sized creatures, ants have quite an impact not just on humans but also on our pets. These insects fall into the category of social animals, which is why you’re likely to find them living in large groups. Their colonies can at times reach millions.
Although ants play a vital role in the ecosystem, they also sting, bite or do both to our furry friends.
When an ant bites a dog, they experience numerous health effects that range from mild skin irritation to life-threatening conditions.
Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to protect your canine friend from ant bites. In this post, I’ll explain how can you identify ant bites in dogs and how to treat them.
Which Species of Ants are Dangerous to Pets?
These insects are known for their large, strong jaws that can chew through wood, needless to say, they can bite into your pet’s skin as well.
That said, it’s very rare for carpenter ants to bite animals and humans. Often, they only bite when they feel threatened. Their bites can be excruciating, and they’re followed by an irritation feeling similar to a bee sting.
Although their bites are very painful, carpenter ants are unlikely to bite your pooch, and they don’t transmit any diseases either.
This is a tropical rainforest ant species that is aptly named for its sting. In fact, a bullet ant’s sting is the most painful according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Entomology experts liken the experience to being shot with a bullet or walking on hot charcoal.
Good news is, these ants rarely attack dogs, and animals in general. They prefer to have nectar and tiny arthropods on their menu. The only time they bite is when they’re provoked.
A fire ant or simply RIFA (meaning the red imported fire ant) is one of the most common ant species that attacks dogs.
Originally from South America, the ants have colonies that consist of hundreds of workers. The workers are between ⅛ and ¼ inch long.
These insects can be identified by their red brown color. They also have two nodes on their petioles and two-segmented antennal clubs. In a nutshell, fire ants look very similar to the house ants that we see in our homes.
What makes these insects so dangerous is the rate at which they multiply. Within one year, an undisturbed colony can increase to 10,000 workers.
Winged fire ants are usually produced around the second half of the first year. With a mature colony- one that is 3 years old- you can expect to find as many as 100,000 to 500,000 worker ants and a couple of hundred winged forms.
The painful sting from this insect burns like fire; hence the name. This is all too familiar for many residents of southeastern states in U.S. like Alabama, Florida and Arkansas.
However, if your dog gets bitten by a fire ant, the pain they experience should be the least of your worries. What you should be more concerned about is the venom present in their stings.
Usually, when other ant species bite, they release formic acid on the target area. By contrast, fire ants only bite to get a good hold. They then sting from their abdomens delivering a toxic alkaloid venom that can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive dogs.
To protect your dog from severe consequences of ant bites, you should take quick measures. But first, how can you tell whether your dog has been bitten by any of these ants?
How to Identify Ant Bites on Dogs
Signs and symptoms differ slightly based on the species of ant that bit your pup. The severity of these signs also varies depending on whether they’re allergic to ant venom or not.
When the bites occur, the majority of dogs will start displaying symptoms within the first 30 minutes or so. Pain and inflammation are the most immediate effects. But depending on the ant species, the bitten area may also feel hot when you touch it.
Most dogs get an inflammation at the site of the bite. Some feel irritation and yet others experience a combination of swelling and itchiness.
Prevent your dog from scratching themselves incessantly after being bitten. Doing so is only going to aggravate the swelling.
If your pup is bitten by a colony of fire ants, they can get overwhelmed by the amount of venom injected into their body. Due to this, they can experience serious effects such as difficulty breathing and impaired mobility.
Some, especially those that are allergic to ant venom, can even get anaphylactic shock.
If your canine friend seems disoriented or appears to be experiencing a severe allergic reaction due to an ant bite, you should get them treated immediately.
You can also check whether they have other signs of bug bites such as redness, formation of hives at the bitten area and an inflammation of their eyelids, ear flaps, lips and in some instances, their whole face.
How to Treat Ant Bites on Dogs
Stop the attack
If you realize that your pup has been bitten by ants, the first thing you should do is move them to a more secure area. Remember to wear gloves to prevent yourself from getting stung in the process.
As stated early on, ants are social insects meaning they’ll attack in large numbers. Fire ants, in particular, are very aggressive and will continue to bite and sting unless the pet is removed from their territory.
One mistake that dog owners do is to bathe their pets in an attempt to drown the insects. Sure, ants don’t like water and the technique may work. However, their immediate reaction will be to sting your pet even more.
Instead of drowning them, you should brush them off. This is particularly handy for dogs that have long fur. When brushing, be gentle but fast so you can avoid further injuries. When you finish, examine your pet’s skin thoroughly to ensure there aren’t any ants hiding in the more unnoticeable areas.
Wash the wounds
When you’ve checked every inch of your dog for ants, the next step is to wash off the wounds using an antibacterial and dog-specific soap. Next, dry them and apply an anti-itching cream.
In the event that you don’t have anti-itching creams, you can improvise one using readily available products. For instance, you can make a soothing bath of oatmeal.
This approach works because oatmeal contains an antimicrobial compound that prevents the spread of bacteria. Oatmeal is also effective at preventing irritation.
Follow these steps to make the oatmeal bath:
Once you’re through cleaning your pet, consider applying baking soda paste on the sites of the ant bites. This ingredient is great for relieving pain and preventing swelling. To make this solution, add a few drops of water to baking soda. Stir lightly until you get your desired texture.
For pets that appear to be in a lot of pain, using ice packs can also help. However, you should not place ice directly on the bitten area. Wrap it in a cloth and then apply on the bites.
Moreover, you should not apply ice for a very long time as this can disrupt their circulation. Anything between 10 and 15 minutes is enough time to soothe pain and prevent an inflammation.
Monitor your dog
Ant species like fire ants, are capable of causing allergies and severe infections through their venom. So even after offering first aid, you should keep a close eye on your pup. This way, you can notice any symptoms of infections that crop up.
Some of the signs that dogs could experience later on are: fever, formation of red line that extends to the ant bite, extreme warmth in the bitten area. In severe cases, they may also experience diarrhea, difficulty breathing, agitation and seizures.
* Often, such symptoms occur within the first 24 hours, and they require serious medical attention.
Treating Allergic Reactions
If you’ve always known that your pup is allergic to ant venom, then you’ll need to do more than cleaning the infected sites. This way, you’ll ensure that their condition doesn’t worsen over time.
The most recommended medication for treating allergies in pets is Benadryl. This is a type of antihistamine, which is sold as an over-the-counter medication in any pet store. While it works for most dog breeds, there are a few conditions for using it.
For one, it shouldn’t be used to treat just any pet condition. It’s meant to help treat environmental allergies including adverse reactions that result from insect bites and stings. Secondly, it can also be used as a pre-treatment of reactions from vaccines.
That said, there are instances where you should never use Benadryl. More specifically, this medication interacts with drugs used to treat conditions such as glaucoma, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
To be certain that Benadryl won’t cause negative side effects, inform your vet that you’re planning to administer this medication.
There are also guidelines on the amount of Benadryl you can give to your pet. The recommended dosage is 1 milligram per 1 pound of body weight. This should be given at an interval of 2 to 3 times per day.
The Benadryl you purchase from your local pet store is likely to be the 25 mg dosage. This is ideal for any dog weighing 25 pounds.
It’s a good idea to inquire about the dosage and ingredients of the Benadryl medication before leaving the pet store. Some manufacturers have specific dosage guidelines that should be followed to the letter.
Similarly, some formulations incorporate Tylenol. Thus, asking about the composition helps you determine whether the antihistamine only contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Here's a video example of what an allergic reaction may look like in your dog,
How to Prevent Ant Bites
Keep your Dogs Indoors
Ants live in one of two places: wood or soil. The majority live in soil where they aerate and turn it so as to facilitate the transfer of water and oxygen to plant roots. The similarity between the two habitats is that both of them are outdoor settings.
This means that if you keep your pets indoors, they’re less likely to encounter these six-legged creatures. Sadly, most dogs would rather spend their time roaming outdoors. In fact, many pet owners prefer to let their dogs run loose in the backyard or dog parks.
If your pup prefers the outdoors, there are a few things you can do to minimize his chances of getting bitten by ants. For instance, you can look for ant repellent products to apply on your dog.
On the same note, you should regularly inspect your yard for ant mounds and get rid of them when you find them.
There are dozens of sprays designed to kill ants without causing any harm to your pets.
Don’t Keep Loose Food in Your Home
One of the reasons why ants come into your home is because it’s brimming with food. Like any living creature, they’re always looking for food.
Once they find a spot that has readily accessible food, they will start leaving a chemical trail inviting their buddies over for a feast. To avoid such an ant infestation, you should store all food in air-tight sealed containers or the fridge.
After meals, clean up any crumbs. Similarly, dispose of any leftover food as soon as you can.
Related article: Dog Proof Trash Cans
And while this may seem like a tedious job, taking out the garbage can every day also goes a long way in keeping these critters out. Here are a couple more strategies to get rid of food sources within your home:
Clean your kitchen appliances
Ants live quite a bit longer than other species of insects. One thing that contributes to the long lifespan is the fact that they can survive on almost any type of food. These includes the grease and food spills near your appliances.
Always clean the areas under and behind your stove, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, dishwasher and sink.
Limit food consumption to one area of the house
Restricting food consumption to one part of the house reduces the likelihood of food spills and crumbs, which in turn, attract ants.
Clean the kitchen every night
Like most pests, ants mostly come out to feed when it’s dark. By keeping your kitchen clean, you’re guaranteed that they’ll have nothing to eat when they invade your pantry.
Ant-proof your Dog’s Food Bowl
No matter how much you try to store food properly or get rid of leftovers, there’s one place where you’ll be forced to leave food out in the open- your dog’s food bowl.
If you’re planning to leave your pet all by themselves for a long time, then you have no choice but to leave some food in their dishes. Although this is convenient for both you and your pooch, it’s also a treasure trove for the pesky ants. Within no time, they will start inviting their friends to come and dine.
If you don’t want these pests all over your pet’s food, here are a few tricks to ant-proof your ept dish:
Create a moat barrier
To achieve this put your pup’s bowls in a pan filled with water. This pan will act as a moat, making it impossible for ants to access the pet food.
Alternatively, you can look for two stainless steel dishes- with one slightly bigger than the other. Using industrial-strength glue, connect a tiny block of brick or stone to the underside of the smaller bowl.
Once the glue dries, add water to the larger dish and place the tinier bowl with attached stone to the center of the larger dish.
As in our first example, the water-filled dish will act as a barrier. The brick or stone is meant to stabilize the smaller dish that contains the pet food, while also elevating it well above the water level.
Look for ant-proof pet dishes
If you don’t have the time to set up a moat, your best bet is to invest in ant-proof pet bowls. These are designed to give your pets a quick access to their food while eliminating the likelihood of ants accessing it.
The only thing I’d caution you about is to check the recommended usage of the particular pet dish you’re purchasing. Some are designed for indoor use.
Others, have a more solid build, enabling them to withstand any environmental elements. If you’re getting a pet bowl to set up outdoors, ensure that it’s not one that can easily be swept away by the wind.
Keep the area around your pet dish clean
For easy cleanup, consider placing the food bowl on a surface like a placemat. This way, all you’ll need to do is to remove the mat with crumbs.
Usually, ants rely on pheromone trail to trace their way back to the food source. Cleaning the mat or surface on which the dish sits helps to throw them off their scent.
Equip your Pet with Fipronil
If all else fails, armoring your pup with a spot-on treatment like Fipronil is a great option. Simply put; this is an insecticide that’s applied on your dog’s skin to deter ants.
The good thing about this particular repellent is that it’s been found effective in combating a variety of pests. Apart from ants, it can also kill beetles, cockroaches, ticks, termites, and weevils.
That said, it’s important to consult your vet before using this treatment. In addition to giving you the green light to use this product, they can also advise on the specific dosage to use on your pup based on his weight, age, and other factors.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that Fipronil is not safe for all household pets. While it’s safe for dogs and cats, it can cause debilitating effects on rabbits, and some kinds of birds and reptiles.
So if you have a bunny that likes cuddling up with your puppy, consider other ways of ant-proofing your pet.
For dogs that love to explore the outdoors, their adventures can sometimes come at a cost of ant bites. If they stumble upon a colony, they may get bitten or stung. However, even dogs that live indoors face a risk of ant bites. Thus, the best thing you can do is learn what measures you should take when these bites occur.
The first step you should take is to take your pet to a safer area, away from the colony. Next, use a brush or comb to get rid of the pests. Subjecting them to a soothing oatmeal bath also helps to prevent the spread of bacteria and ease irritation.
However, if your dog suffers from ant-venom allergy, you might want to give them a stronger medication like Benadryl. Still, you should seek advice from your veterinarian before administering any medication.