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dog parent basics

A guide to bug bites on dogs

Everything you need to know about common bug bites and how to deal with your dog’s itchies 

Updated July 22, 2021

Created By

Asher Alt,

The essentials

  • All bites pretty much look the same. Identifying exactly what bug bit your dog is less important than treating the symptoms. According to our vets, it’s really hard to determine what type of bug is reponsible.
  • Bug bites on dogs usually aren’t a big deal. But even mild symptoms like itching can be super uncomfortable for doggo. If bites look worse after a few days, talk to your vet.
  • 🚨  It’s rare, but allergic reactions can be serious. Hives or swelling in areas other than the bite is a major sign of anaphylaxis. If you notice this, call your vet immediately.
  • Seasons don’t matter. Bug bites and stings can happen at any time of the year, so year-round prevention is important.

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, how to treat them, and how to handle an allergic reaction.

Tick bites

🔍  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. As long as the temperature is above freezing, ticks can be a threat to your pup. Check out the AKC’s guide to learn about your state’s official flea and tick season.

removing a tick from a pet with the Tick Twister

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.

But if your pup is bitten, you’ll need to use a proper tick removal tool 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.

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, but 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 two tests: C6 test and Quantitative C6 test. 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.

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Spider bites

🔍  What to look for: You should look for mild tenderness and swelling around the bite location. Most spiders won’t cause your pup a lot of harm, but two venomous spiders can cause serious problems: Loxosceles (recluses) and Latrodectus (widows).

black widow

black widow, 📷 by Palahret

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 up to days. Pain and redness are the most telling signs, but other symptoms may include seizures, muscle stiffness, lethargy, paralysis, vomiting, and fever.

While brown recluses cause localized reactions around the bite, black widow bites affect the whole body. 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.

Flea bites

🔍 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.

You should look for clusters of small, red bumps (often with red halos around them) around the paws, 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.

Closeup the skin and dog hir,this show the Dermatitis in dog and disease on dog skin from itching and scratch.

fleas are incredibly itchy and can cause skin dermatitis

How to get rid of fleas

Fleas are usually more aggressive in the warmer months. But regardless of season, our 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.

Prevention is important, so take a look at our favorite flea-prevention meds and ask your vet for their opinion. If you’re not able to stop the fleas in their tracks, a medicated flea shampoo should be able to help you get rid of them.

👉 We strongly recommend using low-toxicity pesticides for your lawn and home. Here’s a list of the safest products you can buy.  

Mosquito bites

🔍 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.

mosquitoes on a dog

mosquitoes are the worst, 📷 by nwtarcticrose

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. (Some vets are starting to see resistance to heartworm meds in areas around the Mississippi River delta.)

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. In rare cases, dogs can get some of the encephalopathies (brain diseases that alter brain structure or function) from mosquito bites that humans can.

Hornet, wasp, and bee stings

🔍  What to look for: Swelling is the biggest identifier for stings. You can usually find swelling on the face, head, or paws after your dog accidentally disturbs a nest of a hive.

puppy bee sting

the poor puppy got stung, 📷 by Eddie Flores

How to remove bee stingers from your dog

If the 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.

Ant bites

🔍 What to look for: Ant bites can cause small red bumps with a rounded raised center. Fire ants can pose bigger 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.

ants

📷 by icx1

Fly bites

🔍 What to look for: These annoying insects will often leave a flat, red splotch. Sometimes the bites will have an outline and other times the entire splotch will be a dark red.

fly on ground

📷 by Christine Lynch

Different types of fly bites

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.
  • 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 an antihistamine injection, but untreated, it will subside in a couple of days.
  • Hives (Urticaria). Hives are annoying and itchy, but they’re not life-threatening.
  • Allergic dermatitis. Your dog will have itchy, flaky skin.

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
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Wheezing
  • 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.
  • 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 warm water and Epsom salts. Then, dip a small cloth or cotton pad in the mixture and gently apply to your pup’s insect bite.
  • 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.

What about stings?

Dog stings can often be treated in the same way as bites. Using remedies such as baking soda, Benadryl, or oatmeal baths can help with swelling and itchiness caused by wasp, bee, or other insect stings.

Important: never use calamine lotion on your dog, as zinc can be toxic to them.

A few skin balms that can help reduce inflammation and itchiness

The more comfortable your dog is, the better. That’s why also we recommend using dog paw balms and skin moisturizers to help reduce swelling and itchiness.

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FAQs

What do insect bites look like on dogs?
Most bug bites in dogs look like small, red bumps. However, small black dots are signs of flea bites, and swelling will help you identify hornet, wasp, or bee stings. Pus-filled blisters are a sign of fire ant bites. If your dog suddenly shows symptoms of seizures, muscle stiffness, lethargy, paralysis, vomiting, and fever, immediately call your vet. This could be a sign of a venomous spider bite.

What kind of bugs bite 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.

Can a bug bite cause a lump on a dog?
Most bug bites appear to be small red bumps. But, if a red bump swells into a larger lump, it could be a sign of a spider bite, or a hornet, wasp, or bee sting. If you notice a very large lump, contact your vet. Your dog could have an allergic reaction to the bite.

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 properly 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.

Can a spider bite kill my dog?
It’s possible but extremely rare for spider bites to kill dogs. Only two spider species could cause death: black widows and brown recluses. These spider bites are rare, to begin with, and the chance that these bites would cause death in dogs is extremely small (but possible). If you’re worried your dog has been bitten but one of these spiders, head to your vet immediately.

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.