By Patrick Mahaney, VMD
Bug bites and stings are common occurrences faced by all pet owners. Just as numerous are the types of bugs that go after our beloved dogs and cats. That’s why recognizing, treating, and preventing bug bites is an essential component of responsible pet ownership. To help with the first part, here are a few common bugs your pet may encounter and clinical signs associated with their bites.
Remember, though, insects can transmit life-threatening bacteria, parasites, or viruses so it's crucial to focus on prevention by using veterinary-prescribed topical, oral, or collar-based medications. Concerns that your pet has been bitten or stung should also be immediately addressed with your veterinarian.
Fleas are bloodthirsty insects that leap onto our pets’ bodies and zoom across the skin surface. The head, neck, groin, perineum (area around the anus) and tail base are common locations where fleas congregate, bite, and irritate the skin. As a result, your pet will lick, chew, or scratch in an attempt to alleviate the irritation. Flea saliva is very allergenic, so the bite of a single flea can cause a dog or cat to itch all over his body. Skin lesions from flea bites can exhibit swelling, redness, hair loss, crusting, and oozing.
Ticks opportunistically latch onto fur of animals that brush against a blade of grass, leaf, branch, ground, or other environmental surfaces. Ticks are slow moving creatures that crawl across the skin surface until they find a suitable location to bite through layers of the skin to take a blood meal.
The face, head, ears, and sides of body (flanks), and limbs are common sites where ticks are discovered on dogs and cats. Non-engorged tick bodies measure only a few millimeters in diameter and may go unnoticed until they feeding and become engorged. Redness can occur around the tick bite; swelling and crusting can then occur once the tick is removed or falls off.
Mites like mange (Sarcoptes, Demodex, etc.) are microscopic insects that burrow deep into the layers of the skin to feed and live. Chewing their way through your pet’s skin creates inflammation and leads to secondary infections (bacteria, yeast, etc.).
Skin-lesions from mange can manifest all over the body, but the armpits, groin, ear margins, and areas having minimal hair (elbows, etc.) are most commonly affected. Swelling, redness, hair loss, crusting, oozing, or other lesions can occur secondary to mange.
Pets feel the sensation of a mosquito bite penetrating the skin, so sudden licking, chewing, or scratching directly at the bite site commonly occurs. All body surfaces are prone to mosquito bites, but larger surface areas (back, flanks, etc.) of the body provide broad surface areas to be bitten. Swelling, redness, and hives can be seen post-mosquito bite. The body’s inflammatory response will motivate a pet to itch for minutes to hours, but will not likely have long-term effects.
Like mosquitoes, the sting of a bee, hornet, or wasp, tends to be localized to the point of entry into the skin and can occur anywhere on the body. However, the sting from these insects causes significant pain that can lead to sudden onset vocalization, lameness, itching, or other signs. Additionally, their venom creates a significant inflammatory response leading to swelling, redness, hives, and more systemic signs like vomiting, diarrhea, stumbling, collapse, and low blood pressure (hypotension) in sensitive pets.
Ant bites also cause localized pain and swelling but typically do not have significant whole-body effects. Ants crawl on animals at the contact point between a body part and the ground, so standing pets get bitten on their feet and lounging animals can be bitten anywhere on the body having contact with the floor. Itching, redness, and lameness are most commonly associated with ant bites on dogs and cats.
Like fleas and ants, fly bites tend to cause pain and swelling but typically do not have significant whole-body effects. A fly can land anywhere on your pet, so fly bites have no specific location where they occur. Newborn, geriatric, and mobility-compromised animals are most prone to the consequences of fly bites, including itching and redness.
Flies may deposit eggs on your pet’s skin, especially in open sores. Within days, the eggs hatch into larvae which crawl around on the surface or burrow within deeper skin layers and lead to swelling and secondary infection (bacteria, etc.).