- Bug bites and stings on dogs can happen any time of year — Parasite prevention is important whether it’s January or July.
- Keep an eye on the site — Bug bites aren’t usually a big deal, but the itching and stinging can be super uncomfortable to your doggo. If the bite looks worse after a few days, talk to your vet.
- Although it’s rare, some dogs experience scary allergic reactions— Call your vet if you notice hives or swelling outside of the affected area. Pale gums, respiratory distress, and digestive upset are all signs of anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.
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If your pup comes inside from a romp in the backyard with red itchy bumps on them, there’s a chance they got into insects that have a knack for stinging or biting.
For the most part, bug bites on dogs aren’t life-threatening, but even mild symptoms like itchiness can pose problems for your pup. In this guide, you’ll learn how to spot different bug bites, possible ways to deal with them, and how to handle an allergic reaction.
🔍 What to look for: If you think your dog has been bitten by a tick, one of the first things you should do is search your dog for the tick. If you can’t find it, you should look for a small red bump that could look like a mosquito bite.
Ticks can be active in any season or weather. Check out the AKC’s guide to learn about your state’s official flea and tick season .
How to remove a tick from your dog
When tick season rolls around, prevention is key. Be sure to use parasite preventatives and check your dog for ticks after you go outside. There’s no evidence that your dog can spread Lyme disease to you and your family, but they can still bring ticks into your home.
If your pup is bitten, you’ll need to use a tick removal tool or a pair of sharp tweezers to ensure you get the whole tick. Don’t use your hands or a pair of dull tweezers you have lying around, as you could leave part of the tick still embedded in the skin. You could also accidentally squeeze infectious materials into your dog.
Before you remove a tick, make sure it isn’t actually a skin tag. These can look similar, but it will hurt your dog really badly if you try to pull it!
There are tons of tick removal tools out there to help you safely remove ticks, from the tick scoop to the tick twister. No matter what kind of tool you use, it’s important that you grasp the entire tick—not just the head—as close to the skin as possible, and gently pull straight up. Here are a few of our team’s favorite tools:
Ticks and Lyme disease
Lyme disease is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and it can only be spread through tick bites. Though Lyme disease is a common concern for dogs, the diagnosis can be tricky. The bite mark may look like a mosquito bite at first, which makes it nearly impossible to diagnose based on the bite alone. Other symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include fever, lethargy, and joint swelling.
If you take your pup to see the vet for a tick bite, your vet will likely run a C6 test to differentiate between natural infection versus immunity from vaccination. If the C6 test is positive, your vet will determine if there are enough antibodies for treatment to be necessary. If there are, and if your pup has symptoms of the disease, your vet may consider antibiotics.
Your vet may also run other blood and urine tests before making a final say. This is because they would treat a positive but asymptomatic pup if there is protein in the dog’s urine.
🔍 What to look for: You should look for mild tenderness and swelling around the bite location. Most spider bites won’t cause your pup a lot of harm, but two venomous spiders can cause serious problems: Loxosceles (recluses) and Latrodectus (widows).
How to tell if your dog was bitten by a venomous spider
Immediate clinical symptoms of brown recluse or black widow bites can show up in just hours, and they could last for days. Pain and redness are the most telling signs, but other symptoms may include seizures, muscle stiffness, lethargy, paralysis, vomiting, and fever.
While brown recluse spiders mostly cause localized reactions around the bite at first, black widows affect the whole body within a few short hours after the bite.
So just because you don’t see physical marks, your dog still may have been poisoned. If your dog shows any of the symptoms we mentioned above, we recommend you take them to the vet.
🔍 What to look for: If your dog has been bitten by a flea, they’ll probably be scratching and licking themselves a lot. The classic area for hair loss and flea bites is over the lower back at the base of the tail. In addition to itching and hair loss, it can also cause rashes and patches of scaly itchy skin (called flea allergy dermatitis).
You should look for clusters of small, red bumps (often with red halos around them) around the paws, ears, belly, or folds of skin. Small black pepper-like spots called flea dirt are a common way to tell if fleas are the cause of your pup’s problems. Flea dirt is actually flea poop. It contains specks of dried blood and will turn a rusty red when wet.
How to get rid of fleas
Fleas are usually more aggressive in the warmer months. But regardless of season, our vet advisor Dr. Erica Irish says vets recommend year-round flea prevention. This is because fleas can infest your home at any time of the year. Winter can actually invite infestations in your home more than usual as parasites seek refuge from cold temperatures outside.
Prevention is important, so it’s important to find flea-prevention meds and use them regularly. ask If you have an infestation on your hands, a medicated flea shampoo should be able to help you get rid of them by killing adult fleas on contact. However, like Capstar tablets, flea shampoo typically doesn’t kill flea eggs and larvae, so they aren’t a substitute for flea prevention.
👉 We strongly recommend using pet-safe pesticides for your lawn and home to help wipe out infestations.
🔍 What to look for: Mosquito bites will cause firm, irregularly shaped bumps in random, isolated spots. They’ll also become itchier much more quickly than other insect bites. So, if your dog comes in from a day of play and starts scratching and licking at a particular spot, this pesky pest is likely to blame.
How to tell if a mosquito bite will be a problem
For the most part, mosquito bites on dogs are harmless. Though mosquitoes can spread heartworm disease, dogs who take heartworm preventatives will likely be protected.
There are some things to look out for, though. Some dogs are allergic to mosquito bites. But unless swelling in the face, nose, or throat interferes with breathing, your pup will be fine.
And if your dog was infected about a month before starting medication, they could still contract heartworms. Heartworms reach their adult stage after about 50 days and cannot be eliminated by preventative meds.
Avoid walking during times of day when mosquitoes are most active and using a dog-safe mosquito repellent can help mitigate their chances of being bitten.
Hornet, wasp, and bee stings
🔍 What to look for: Swelling is the biggest identifier for hornet, wasp, or bee stings. You can usually find swelling on the face, head, or paws after your dog accidentally disturbs a nest of a hive.
Not only do bee stings hurt, but they are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than wasps or hornets. Bees aren’t considered aggressive and probably won’t sting unless your dog goes near their nest or tries to swat them, but always be mindful near bee hives.
Wasp stings burn like fire but don’t leave a stinger behind, which also means they can sting multiple times. Look for wasp nests on your car and porch areas where your unsuspecting dog may accidentally encroach on their territory.
Hornets may make their nest high in the trees or below ground. Either way, it’s not hard for your dog to accidentally get stung. Like the wasp, hornets won’t leave a stinger but their stings are extremely painful.
They also can sting multiple times, so be cautious of more than one sting spot.
How to remove bee stingers from your dog
If a bee stinger is embedded in your dog’s wound, don’t use tweezers to remove it, as you could release more of the venom into your dog’s skin. Instead, scrape a credit card over your pup’s coat until it pops out, then flick the stinger away.
🔍 What to look for: Ant bites can cause small red bumps with a rounded raised center. Fire ants are the main type of ant that bite dogs. After a fire ant bites, they inject their stinger into the site (yep, they can do both). The venom from the stinger is actually what causes the intense burning and itching sensations. These small insects pose big problems for your furry friend, causing bites to turn into pus-filled blisters that look a lot like pimples.
Since dogs are on their feet and lead with their nose, ant bites are common on the paws, legs, and snout. However, be sure to check for wandering ants in other places on the body. Check your yard periodically for ant hills, especially in areas where your dog likes to play.
👉 Not all red bumps are bites, however, so make sure to check with your vet before treating.
Diatomaceous earth for ants
Unlike many pesticides, diatomaceous earth is safe to use around pets and is a good thing to sprinkle on prominent ant beds. Diatomaceous earth kills ants by piercing through their exoskeletons.
While it’s not inherently harmful, it’s still a good idea to keep your pets away and wear a mask when spreading it in your yard because the tiny particles can cause lung irritation.
🔍 What to look for: These annoying insects will often leave a flat, red splotch. Sometimes fly bites will have an outline and other times the entire splotch will be a dark red.
Small flies, like yellow flies and no-see-ums, will leave a smaller mark. Larger flies, like black flies and Horseflies, primarily buzz around large farm animals and may even draw blood. If you live near or on a farm, the likelihood that the bite you’re looking at came from a larger fly is much higher.
What you should know about canine allergic reactions
There are four types of allergic reactions your dog can have after an insect bite or sting, but only two of those reactions can be life-threatening. The good news is that each type comes with easily identifiable symptoms.
- Anaphylactic. This is the most severe type of allergic reaction and is fatal without treatment. Symptoms can reach a life-threatening stage in as little as 20 minutes. If your dog has pale gums, dizziness, swelling, nausea, or difficulty breathing, take them to the vet immediately.
- Edema. You’ll see significant swelling in the face or throat, but it’s easily treatable and only fatal if the swelling interferes with your pup’s ability to breathe. Vets usually treat this with a steroid injection to quickly reduce the swelling. They may also give your pet opioids if they’re in pain.
- Hives (Urticaria). Hives are annoying and itchy, but they’re not life-threatening.
- Allergic dermatitis. Your dog will have itchy skin that might appear flaky. While there are some things you can do to mitigate dermatitis at home, your vet will be able to give you more specific answers to your pup’s case.
What happens if my dog has an allergic reaction?
🚨 If your dog has an allergic reaction beyond irritation on the skin, you should take them to see your vet as soon as possible.
Some of the clinical signs of a serious allergic reaction include:
- Hives or swelling in areas other than the bite
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Excessive drooling
Hives or swelling in areas other than the bite is a major sign of anaphylaxis: a systemic reaction that affects the entire body and multiple organs. In rare cases, insect bites can cause anaphylaxis, so it’s important to treat your dog’s bug bites as soon as possible.
How to treat insect bites and stings on your dog
Even if a bug bite on your dog isn’t life-threatening, itchy and irritated skin can make your pup miserable. Scratching and licking will only make things worse. Luckily, you can help your pup feel better from insect bites with a few of these easy at-home, natural treatments.
- Oatmeal baths. Start by grinding up oats and pouring the powder into a tub of warm water, stirring throughout. Place your dog in the tub and slowly pour the warm oatmeal water over them using a cup. This soothing natural remedy will help ease the itchiness.
- Ice packs. Use an ice pack to ease swelling for your dog’s insect bite. A cold compress can also do the trick. Make sure to never apply ice directly to your pet’s skin. Wrap the ice pack or compress in a towel first.
- Hydrocortisone. This OTC treatment should be safe for your dog when applied directly on the bite in very small quantities. However, make sure your dog doesn’t lick the product off.
- Epsom salts. Make a small mixture of 1 cup warm water and 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts. Then, dip a small cloth or cotton pad in the mixture and gently apply it to your pup’s insect bite. If your pet has itchy bites all over, you can give them an Epsom salt bath, mixing in 1 cup of Epsom salts for every gallon of water. Be sure to choose plain, unscented Epsom salts to avoid exposing them to possible toxins.
- Baking soda paste. Combine 50% water and 50% baking soda. Blend until it’s a thick paste. Apply this to your dog’s bites to reduce redness and inflammation, but first consider where they’ve been bitten. The baking soda paste remedy works best for a bug bite on a dog’s belly, or generally any areas with bites that have less fur as this remedy can get messy. After 15-20 minutes, rinse the mixture off (and try to ensure your dog doesn’t lick it off, either).
- Aloe vera. This can be applied to your dog’s insect bites to soothe swelling as well as moisturize dry, itchy skin caused by bites or stings. Just apply sparingly and ensure your pup doesn’t lick it off.
- Benadryl. This OTC antihistamine made for humans is safe for dogs when used properly, and can help reduce itchiness and swelling. Our vets recommend one to two mg per pound of your dog’s body weight.
🚨Never use calamine lotion on your dog, as zinc can be toxic to them .
Preventing bug bites on dogs
While it’s virtually impossible to ensure your dog will never have a bug bite, here are some things you can do to reduce their chances.
- Control your dog’s environment. Frequently survey your yard for nests, hives, and ant hills. Use pet-friendly bug sprays in your home and yard to eradicate parasites such as ticks. Walk your dog on a leash and take notice if they start scratching or whining.
- Use dog-safe insect repellent. Before you go to the dog park or anywhere that’s impossible to control, you might opt to spritz your dog down with a safe insect repellent. Never use insect repellent for humans since it might contain toxic chemicals or essential oils.
- Schedule regular vet visits. Your veterinarian can write you a prescription for parasite prevention and give you tips on how to reduce your dog’s chances of being bitten by pesky insects.
What kind of bug bites dogs?
Most bugs that bite humans can also bite dogs. Dogs can suffer from tick bites, flea bites, spider bites, fly bites, ant bites, and mosquito bites, as well as hornets, wasps, and bee stings.
How long does a bug bite last on a dog?
Most bug bites should disappear within a few days. But, if your dog has a more severe allergic reaction to the bite, it could last for a week or longer. Certain spider bites can take anywhere from days to months to completely heal.
Can you give a dog Benadryl for a bug bite?
Benadryl is safe for dogs to ingest. It can help ease reactions to a bug bite/sting that may include swelling or difficulty breathing. Start with a low-end dosage, which should be 1-2 mg per pound of your dog’s body weight, and administer twice per day.
How do you tell if your dog has been bitten by a spider?
Mild tenderness and swelling around the bite location are signs your dog may have a spider bite. While most spider bites aren’t serious, if your dog is bitten by a recluse or widow, they could have more serious side effects. Contact your vet if your dog experiences symptoms like seizures, lethargy, muscle tightness, paralysis, vomiting, or fever, as these are signs of a possible venomous spider bite.