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Ant Bites on Dogs: How to Identify and Treat Them

Dog with ants on face
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As a dog owner,  you’re likely well aware of the risks posed by fleas, ticks, and even mosquitoes. Unfortunately, those aren’t the only creepy-crawlies that many of us will encounter in our yards. Ant bites on dogs, while usually mild, can also cause problems for our pups.

What should you do if you find an anthill in your dog’s favorite corner of the backyard? In this article, we’ll cover danger types of ants, the risks they pose for our dogs, and how you can identify and treat ant bites. 

What Types of Ants Are Dangerous to Dogs?

fire ants

Depending on where you live, your home is likely surrounded by large numbers of ants. Fortunately, most ant species are completely harmless to you and your pets. However, there are some ant species that are more likely to bite than others, leading to bite wounds that can become painful and inflamed. 

Ant species to watch out for include: 

Fire ants: Fire ants are an imported species that originally came from South America. They are now found throughout the Southeastern United States and their range is gradually expanding. Fire ants have a reddish-brown to reddish-black color. They are aggressive biters when disrupted, leading to frequent conflicts between fire ants and dogs. 

Harvester ants: Red harvester ants are found in the southwestern United States, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. They are typically red in color and can deliver a powerful sting. The venom in their sting is capable of killing small animals, such as rats and mice. While their stings are rarely fatal to dogs, they can be extremely painful.

Leafcutter ants: Leafcutter ants are primarily recognized as an agricultural threat. They don’t tend to bite people or dogs, but they can bite if they are feeling threatened. Leafcutter ants are primarily found in South America, but they occasionally are observed in the southwestern United States. 

Carpenter ants: Although carpenter ants are relatively large, they will only bite if threatened. Carpenter ants and dogs do not tend to bother each other very often, but it is possible. Carpenter ants are found primarily in the northern United States. 

Your geographic location determines which ant species you are likely to encounter around your home. If ants are a concern, take some time to research ants in your area and determine which species, if any, pose a risk to you and your pets. 

10 Signs of Ant Bites on Dogs

Dog biting on paw

In most cases, dogs with ant bites will only experience a mild reaction in the immediate area of the bite. Just like a person receiving an ant bite, affected dogs may develop small, pus-filled, itchy bumps on areas where they were bitten by ants. 

A local reaction to ant bites may include the following signs:

  • Red, swollen bumps that may contain pus 
  • Itching or licking the affected area
  • Limping (if one or more paws is painful due to ant bites)
  • Agitation/discomfort (dogs may act anxious or frenzied if receiving multiple ant bites)

Although most ant bite reactions are mild and localized, more severe reactions can also occur. In some cases, dogs may have an allergic reaction to ant venom or saliva. This reaction can cause more generalized inflammation, affecting multiple body areas of the body. 

Signs of an allergic reaction to ant bites or venom include: 

  • Generalized redness of the skin
  • Generalized itching
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face or muzzle
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing 

While most ant bites on dogs are little more than a nuisance, an allergic reaction to ant bites is a medical emergency. If you notice signs of an allergic reaction in your dog, seek veterinary treatment right away.

How to Treat Ant Bites on Dogs

If your dog stumbles into an anthill and is being bitten, remove them from the area. Try to remove as many ants from your dog as possible. Brushing ants off your dog (ideally while wearing gloves, to prevent bites to your hand) can reduce the number of bites that your dog receives. 

Any signs of an allergic reaction warrant treatment by a veterinarian. Generalized itching, facial swelling, hives, and respiratory difficulties could indicate a potentially life-threatening reaction that requires immediate care. If your veterinary hospital is not open and you suspect your dog is having an allergic reaction to ant bites, contact a local veterinary emergency hospital. Allergic reactions are typically treated with steroids and antihistamines, and your dog may require hospitalization. 

Mild reactions to ant bites on dogs typically do not require veterinary treatment. A cold compress can help alleviate pain in the initial moments after an ant bite, if your dog appears to be in pain. Ointments should be avoided – they can cause your dog to lick the affected area, leading to infection. In fact, you may need an Elizabethan collar (e-collar or cone) or dog cone alternative to block your dog’s access to the affected area and prevent excessive licking after ant bites. 

In some cases, Benadryl can help alleviate itching and minimize the risk of reaction. However, Benadryl should only be given under the guidance of your veterinarian, who knows your dog’s medical history and health status. Contact your veterinarian before giving any over-the-counter medications to your dog. 

Can Dogs Eat Ants?

Ants in grass

While eating insects may sound unappealing to you, dogs don’t seem to mind ingesting the occasional ant. Unlike some other insects, ants are not typically associated with the spread of infectious disease. Therefore, there’s no reason to worry if your dog ingests an occasional ant. 

If your dog ingests an ant trap, however, you may encounter some problems. Ant poison is not toxic to dogs, but the sugar and oils that are used to appeal to ants can cause diarrhea in dogs. Additionally, a dog that ingests an ant trap often ingests a significant amount of plastic. This plastic can damage the intestinal tract or cause an obstruction. Keep ant baits out of your dog’s reach to minimize the risk of ingestion.

How to Prevent Ant Bites on Dogs

The best way to prevent ant bites is to limit the number of ants in your dog’s environment. Store dog food and other foods in airtight containers, to avoid attracting ants to your home. If your yard has large numbers of ants, talk to a pest-control professional about dog-safe ant killer options.  

Some companies market pet-safe insect repellents that you can spray directly on your dog. Unfortunately, insect repellants seem to be less effective against ants than they are against mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and other biting insects. Therefore, these sprays are unlikely to offer significant benefits for most dogs. 

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