Dogs are naturally curious, exploring and sniffing their way through the world. However, your dog will probably come across insects throughout their adventures. As a pet parent, you’ll want to know how to identify bug bites, as well as when to treat them at home versus when to call your veterinarian. This way you’re prepared to care for your dog, whether they come home with a bee sting on the tip of their nose or a tick clinging to their paw.
While most bug bites on dogs may only cause mild irritation and fade on their own, some may be severe and even life threatening. Venomous spider bites and bee stings can be especially dangerous and may need immediate medical attention. Ticks and mosquitoes may also transmit diseases like lyme disease or heartworm through their bites, which may need long term treatment.
Read on to learn about the symptoms, types of bug bites, and how to treat bug bites on dogs.
Bug Bite Symptoms in Dogs
There’s a huge range of clinical signs to watch for when it comes to bug bites on dogs. Most are just types of mild irritation and will go away on their own. Here are some common signs of insect bites on dogs:1
- Howling, whining, or whimpering when bitten
- Swelling or redness at the site of the bite
- Localized pain or itching at the site of the bite
- Swelling of the face
- A stinger or tick sticking out of the skin
Some bites can be dangerous or even life-threatening to your dog. It’s especially important for pet owners to be able to identify anaphylactic shock from bug bites.
An anaphylactic response can be a life-threatening medical emergency. It means your dog’s immune system is hypersensitive to the bug bite and is having an extreme reaction. Here’s what to watch out for:2
- Bluish tongue or gums
- Swelling of the face and muzzle
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive drooling or vomiting
Treating Bug Bites on Dogs
While you should watch your dog for symptoms of anaphylaxis, tick-borne diseases, and spider venom, many bug bites can be treated with home remedies after consulting with your vet. Here are some treatments you can use to help relieve itching and swelling from most bug bites:
- Baking soda paste: Consider mixing baking soda and water together to create a paste and apply it to the bite. Baking soda can balance the PH levels and could help to reduce the swelling.1
- Oatmeal bath: You can grind oatmeal into a fine powder and dissolve it in warm water to bathe your dog in. Massaging the solution into your dog’s fur and having them soak in the oatmeal bath for 10 minutes can help. Oatmeal can be an anti-inflammatory that could help to soothe your dog’s itchy skin. 1
- Aloe vera: Applying aloe vera gel to any irritated skin can also help. The gel can soothe itchiness and promote healing as long you can prevent your dog from licking it off.1
- Ice: Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to the wound to help reduce the swelling. If your dog has a bug bite or sting in their mouth, consider giving them ice to chew on can help relieve the pain, while keeping them hydrated! 1
- Benadryl and hydrocortisone: Ask your veterinarian if you can safely give your dog benadryl or apply hydrocortisone cream to their bug bites. These human medications are both used to treat allergic reactions, and may help reduce swelling and itchiness on your dog. However, they are not always safe for all dogs.1
Types of Bug Bites and Stings
Let’s take a look at some common bug bites and how their bites and stings could affect your dog.3 Although spiders are not technically insects, we’ve included them as well, since your dog may come across these dangerous pests.
Fleas are pests that can jump onto your dog’s fur to be carried home. They can multiply quickly and can easily become an infestation. This is why a flea and tick prevention program can be crucial to protecting your dog. You can apply a topical treatment, use a flea collar, or give your dog flea medication orally. Just be consistent with whatever type of preventative you choose.
Flea bites can be painful and may cause dogs to scratch and chew on their skin. This may lead to open wounds that may become infected. Flea bites can also cause dermatitis.
If you suspect your dog has fleas, look for flea dirt and live fleas hopping around their fur or bedding. Flea dirt is a mix of dried feces and blood, which often crusts along dogs’ lower back, hind legs, and tails. 3
Bed bug bites
Similar to fleas, bed bugs can quickly become an infestation in your home. Bed bug bites on dogs may not be visible, or may appear as a line of red raised bumps. While bed bug bites can cause itchiness, they are not known to carry any diseases. 4
Because these parasitic creatures hide in suitcases, sofas, mattresses, sheets, and box springs, they are easy to accidentally transport and may be hard to spot. Instead of looking for the actual bed bugs, look for spots of blood on your sheets or dog bed and tiny black droppings.
Ticks are tiny parasites that feed on your dog’s blood and may infect them with diseases. They're often found in tall grass or wooded areas. Flea and tick medication is the best way to protect your pet. But if you do find a tick on your dog, here’s what to do.
Use tweezers to remove the entire tick and thoroughly clean the area. Tick bites may appear red or inflamed. If there is a red bullseye around the bite, it may be a sign of Lyme disease.
Other common tick-borne diseases include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Watch your dog for symptoms of fatigue, fever, and muscle pain, which could indicate a tick-borne disease.
Most dog owners know what a mosquito bite feels like. They can be irritating and may cause your dog to scratch or chew at their skin, making it prone to infection and hotspots. Mosquito bites are more than just an irritation though. Some mosquitoes carry and can transmit heartworm and West Nile virus. 3
Protect your dog by putting them on a heartworm prevention plan and applying pet-safe bug repellent to them whenever you’re going outside.
Horse flies and black flies are two common bug bite culprits. While fly bites can hurt, they can also lead to secondary infections. Flies may lay eggs in open wounds, causing a maggot infestation known as a fly strike.3
Flies are generally found in stables, around farms, or near standing water. They’re attracted to decay, fecal matter, and still water. Keep your dog well groomed and away from areas like these that may attract flies.
While most ants can bite, fire ants are the worst of them all. Ant bites are painful and may cause a severe allergic reaction. This is especially true if your dog is swarmed by and bitten by multiple ants. This often happens when dogs wander into ant hills.3
Keep careful watch over your yard and other outdoor areas for ant hills and treat them when they are found. If your dog is swarmed by ants, brush them away or rinse them off with water to keep them from biting your dog repeatedly.
Bee, wasp, or hornet stings
Has your dog ever sniffed around a bee hive or otherwise bothered stinging insects? These bugs have painful stings. Dogs may whine or cry when they’re stung. If they’re stung on the leg, they may also start to limp.3
Many stinging insects leave their stingers behind on the skin. If there’s a stinger sticking out of the wound, use something stiff like a credit card to scrape it off the skin. Be careful not to squeeze it, as this may release more venom into your pet.
Once the stinger is removed, clean the area, then apply ice to the wound to keep the swelling down. You should also watch your dog for symptoms of anaphylactic shock.
While spiders aren’t technically bugs, their bites can be similar to bug bites with the added risk of venom. Most spider bites can cause irritation or pain. However, there are some spiders that are especially dangerous.
Two common venomous spiders are brown recluse spiders and black widow spiders. Their toxins can cause pain, paralysis, and even death. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a venomous spider, keep them still and call your veterinarian. They may recommend you treat your dog with a painkiller or come into the clinic for the antivenom.
The Best Protection Is Prevention
When it comes to caring for your dog and bug bites, prevention is key. Be careful when taking your dog to densely wooded areas and try to keep your dog away from potential bee hives or ant hills. It’s also best to avoid situations where there are swarms of flies or mosquitoes. If you suspect you may have an infestation, you may want to contact pest control.
MetLife Pet offers the Preventative Care add-on that covers parasite prevention and treatment.5 This may include flea and tick prevention, heartworm protection programs, and any parasite treatments. Plus, if your dog needs emergency medical attention for a bug bite, having dog insurance can help cover the treatment.6
Protect your dog with a MetLife Pet insurance policy. Keep learning about how a dog insurance policy can help by getting a free quote today!
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1 “What To Do With Insect Bites On A Dog,” Veterinary Emergency Group
2 “Anaphylaxis in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals
3 “7 Common Bug Bites on Dogs,” PetMD
4 “Bed Bugs and Pets FAQ,” American Veterinary Medical Association
5 Available at an additional cost.
6 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.
Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).