How to Identify and Treat Bug Bites on Dogs

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Girl Playing With West Highland Terrier In Back Of Car

When my silly fun-loving German shepherd pup Magic transformed into a whimpering swollen fur-kid I knew he’d need first aid and bug bites treatment for an insect sting. Here in North Texas, we have plenty of ticks, fleas, fire ants, spiders, mosquitos, wasps and bees — and even a few scorpions. Any of these could have caused Magic’s eyes to swell shut and his muzzle to inflate like a hippopotamus. Hives made fur stand off his body in a checkerboard pattern that made him itch and scratch for days.

Stinging Targets

Fur offers protection for most puppies. But paw pads and sparsely furred tummies are at risk especially in areas that host fire ants. Your pup may flop down to rest in the grass and get stung multiple times by these tiny creatures, leaving blisters that easily become infected.

Puppies won’t know any better than to chase and try to play with bees, wasps, spiders or scorpions. Nose pokes or biting these bugs can result in stings on the face, head or even inside the mouth. Most spiders and scorpion stings hurt like crazy but only cause painful swelling at the site and can be treated like bee and wasp stings.

First Aid for Common Stings

  • Bites and stings beneath the fur may be hard to see or treat, but first-aid usually is all that’s needed to relieve any minor swelling, itching or redness.
  • Bees leave behind the stinger, which may continue to pump venom into the skin. Use a credit card or similar rigid tool to scrape it free.
  • A cold pack or compress applied to the bite helps reduce the swelling. A bag of frozen peas or corn works well, and molds against the puppy’s body.
  • A baking soda and water paste works great to soothe the sting, but it can be messy when applied to fur so use only on exposed tummies.
  • Ammonia cools the pain of fire ant bites. Moisten a cotton ball and dab on the stings. Calamine lotion also soothes ant bites.
  • For stings inside the mouth, offer ice cubes or ice water for the pet to lick and drink.
  • You can also mix a teaspoonful of baking soda into a pint of water, and squirt the solution into his mouth with a turkey baster or squirt gun if he’ll allow you to do this.
  • Benadryl, an antihistamine, counters swelling and itching. A safe dose is one milligram for every pound your pet weighs or a Benadryl ointment can be used directly on the sting.
  • Hives usually go away on their own after a day or so, and sooner if treated with an antihistamine. Benadryl also causes drowsiness as a side effect so an affected pup may sleep through the worst of the symptoms.
short coat beige dog
short coat beige dog

As long as your pup continues to breathe with no problem, a veterinary visit may not be necessary even if the face swells quite a bit. Magic cried and whined nonstop — it was heartbreaking! — but his eye swelling and itchy hives quickly went away after the first dose of Benadryl. The medicine also lets him sleep through the night, and the next morning his face looked like a German shepherd again.

Dangerous Reactions

Most pups won’t have problems with one sting or two. But a percentage of puppies like Magic suffer severe allergic reactions when stung or bitten by otherwise harmless insects. A single sting can prompt the pet’s muzzle to swell to cantaloupe proportions.

An anaphylactic reaction usually happens suddenly within twenty minutes of the sting. This causes the puppy’s face, throat, and airways to swell so much he can’t breathe and can die. Anaphylactic shock requires immediate veterinary treatment.

There also are several dangerous spiders and scorpions and your pup will require immediate emergency care from your vet if stung by them. Watch for these signs alone or in combination:

adult yellow Labrador retriever with collar lying on floor
adult yellow Labrador retriever with collar lying on floor
man walking on pathway
man walking on pathway
2 brown short coat adult dogs
2 brown short coat adult dogs

If you hear “gurgling” as your puppy breathes, pick up a small pup by the hind legs or a larger pet around the hips. Hold upside down for 10 seconds to help drain fluid from the lungs. Then wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm on the trip to the vet, and seek emergency care immediately.