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dog looking at a garden spider

that's a garden spider — it's harmless

The essentials

  • Life-threatening spider bites are very rare— There are only two species of spider that can cause real harm, and it rarely ever happens. Plus, if you see a bite, chances are it came from a mosquito, flea, or another biting insect.
  • Venomous bites are easy to recognize — Most venomous bites will cause “drunk walking,” whining, changes to heart rate, blood pressure, which are all obvious symptoms.
  • Balms are a great way to soothe bites and irritated skin — Try one of our favorite balms like Snout Soother or Musher’s Secret Paw Protection Natural Dog Wax.

Spider bites explained

Before worrying yourself about the various kinds of bites that can affect your pup, stay calm. There are only two groups of spiders that can cause serious harm. For the most part, spider bites affect humans in the exact same way as they do their pets.

Spider bites are the red, itchy spots on the skin that we as humans are all too familiar with. It may sound obvious, but the first sign of a bite might be a sudden yelp from your dog. Look for any swelling or tenderness around the affected area or site of the bite. These are usually the worst symptoms visible to the naked eye. In some cases, your dog will appear uncomfortable. They might scratch, bite, or lick the irritated area.

Venomous bites may develop black lesions around the affected area. Aside from the evidence of the actual bite, look for any change in your pup’s activity and behavior.

Here’s what no caring pet parent wants to hear: Unless your dog was bitten by a venomous spider, it’s almost impossible to determine what type of spider bit your dog. In fact, this is true with pretty much any type of bug or spider bite. The good news is that both rarely ever result in a life-threatening situation.

How to distinguish venomous spider bites from nonvenomous spider bites

There are a few symptoms of spider bites to look out for when differentiating types of bites.

How to distinguish nonvenomous bites

Most spiders aren’t able to produce significant amounts of spider venom. These bites appear as small red bumps that hardly irritate your pup. They can be treated by natural remedies. Sometimes your pup will itch the area, sometimes they won’t.

How to distinguish venomous bites

Black widow. These bites develop quickly after the spider intervenes. They are painful for your pup, red, and swollen. Your dog will often display discomfort. The good news is that 15% of these bites are “dry” and do not allow envenomation, or venom injection. This means 15% of these bites end up being benign. Female black widows are the most dangerous. Black widow spiders live in dark, warm, and secluded places like sheds or piles of wood. They are small, black, and have an orange reddish hourglass marking on their body. If they do inject their venom, it may cause cramping, muscle pain, drooling, or vomiting.

Brown widow. Brown widow spiders are similar to black widows but they are much less aggressive. They only bite when agitated. They are brown with long legs and an hourglass marking. Symptoms of a brown widow bite include bleeding, cramping, lethargy, and bruising around the affected area.

Brown recluse. Recluse bites are hard to spot because they’re typically painless for your pup. The area may be red and overtime develop a white blister with a bulls-eye or surrounding tissue destruction. Brown recluse spiders hang out in quiet and undisturbed areas like closets. These spiders typically need to be agitated for them to bite. The first sign of a bad brown recluse bite would be limping. Your dog might avoid putting pressure on the bite. In the most severe cases, your dog may experience bleeding, seizures or respiratory collapse. If you think a brown recluse has bitten your dog, head to the vet.

Tarantulas. Tarantula bites are painful for your dog. Due to their size, dogs often try to eat the spider themselves. When they do, it can cause oral pain for your pup. When swallowed, the hair of the tarantula can cause drooling or vomiting.

👉 Most venomous bites will cause “drunk walking,” whining, changes to heart rate, blood pressure, or obvious distress for your dog.

🚨 Do you know if you live in a region with venomous spiders? The West and Midwest regions of the United States don’t have a ton of the bad guys. If you live in the South or Northeast, you might have to proceed with extra caution if your dog gets a bite. You’ll find a detailed map here.

At-home remedies to treat spider bite symptoms

👉 If the affected area does not seem to be improving after several days, call your vet.

  1. Basic treatment. If your pup doesn’t seem to be showing signs of illness or discomfort, the spider bite is likely benign (it will be in most cases). Start by cleaning the area using plain soap, water, and a cold compress or ice pack. If you notice any swelling around the area, elevate the limb.
  2. Potato poultice. That’s right, we said it. Slice up a potato and put the pieces into a cloth. Apply it on the bite to help reduce inflammation.
  3. Baking soda. There is a simple paste you can make by mixing water with baking soda. This step will speed up the healing process.
  4. Turmeric powder and olive oil. Create this mixture and rub it on the spider bite to help with inflammation. Turmeric is a superstar treatment (it can also be ingested) that has many other benefits for dogs.
  5. Salt. This step is great for venomous bites. Wash the affected area with warm water and sprinkle a bit of table salt with lukewarm water onto a clean cloth. Rub it on the bite to effectively soak up some of the venom.
  6. Skin balms. Check out our two favorite balms, Skin Soother and Musher’s Secret Paw Protection Natural Dog Wax to calm the irritation.

When you should go to the vet

If your dog is displaying any lethargy, a weak pulse, “drunk walking,” vomiting, cramps, or tremors it is imperative you head to the vet. Also, if the area surrounding the bite appears to be black, has a foul odor, or is oozing with discharge, you should take your pup to the vet because sometimes spider bites can become infected with bacteria.

When you get to the vet let them know your dog has a bite (or if you don’t know, say that you might suspect it). They will identify the spider bite and provide the dog with an antivenom if necessary. Antivenins are injected and contain antibodies to fight venomous infection.

Then, they might prescribe other things like antibiotics (if there appears to be a secondary infection), muscle relaxers, or pain medications. With recluse bites, there’s no antivenom (don’t worry, these bites are rarely fatal). The vet will instead remove any dead tissue and soothe the lesion caused by the bite.

🚨  The vet may recommend local wound therapy in more serious cases.

Spider bites, fleas, ticks and more

Sometimes bites don’t come from spiders and are actually from other bugs. It can be hard to differentiate stings, bites, and fleas.

Mosquitoes can bite dogs too. Lots of scratching and itchiness is usually a sign, and they appear less swollen than a traditional spider bite. If you live in a humid, buggy area, look for a safe bug spray that’s suitable for dogs. Check that DEET is not included in the ingredients.

Fleabites appear like a cluster of small, red bumps. They are often accompanied by little black specks (flea dust). You’ll want to consider a flea treatment to fix these bites, like K9 Advantix II to kill and repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.

Signs of an allergic reaction may be profuse scratching or paw licking. If you suspect your dog is having an allergic reaction to bites, the vet can help. They might prescribe an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, steroids, or IV fluids. If your dog has neck swelling or difficulty breathing head straight to the vet. Never self-prescribe.

What happens if my dog eats a spider?

Probably nothing. The most that could happen after eating a spider is an upset puppy tummy — even if the spider is venomous! Both venoms and poisons are toxins. The difference is that venoms are only toxic when absorbed into the bloodstream. If your dog eats a spider, the venom inside it is broken down by stomach acid just like any other protein.

Are spider bites deadly?

All dogs can get spider bites. Older pups may have worse reactions due to weakened immune systems. Spider bites are rarely deadly, so dog owners shouldn’t get too worried unless their pup displays serious symptoms.

The good news is, there are some things you can do to ward off insects and dangerous spiders altogether. Clean out any areas of your home or backyard where spiders and other insects could be hiding. We recommend not leaving your dog unattended in these areas, like basements or sheds.

The smartest thing you can do if your pup gets bit is to watch them for worsening symptoms of spider bites. Go to the vet if your dog displays pain, trouble walking, or irregularities in their activity. They might need an antivenin. Spider bite or not, It’s always a good idea for pet owners to check in on their pup’s daily habits and mood.