By Darlene Stott
Published: 07/16/2017, edited: 09/24/2021
Save on pet insurance for your pet
You don't have to choose between your pet and your wallet when it comes to expensive vet visits. Prepare ahead of time for unexpected vet bills by finding the pawfect pet insurance.
All of us will, at some point in our lives, run afoul of a particularly annoying insect looking to sink their fangs into our skin. Whether as a defensive reaction to our encroaching on their space or as an attempt to feast upon our blood, insect bites are seemingly unavoidable. More than being an annoyance, bites can lead to skin irritation and allergic reactions, as well as viral and bacterial infections. But surely, dogs, with their protective fur coats, must be immune to such irritation?
Can Dogs Get Bug Bites?
Even our furry best friends fall victim to insect bites quite regularly. In fact, many types of insects prefer the cover afforded by a dog’s coat, under which they can go about their business unmolested. Because of this, it is wise to exercise caution when handling a dog that is harboring a significant number of biting insects, as they can quickly spread to other animals that come into contact with them.
Does My Dog Have Bug Bites?
There are myriad issues that can cause a dog significant skin irritation, making it hard to determine if their discomfort is due to bites or some other cause. However, there are some telltale signs that you can look for in order to confirm insect activity (besides seeing the bugs themselves).
The first of these is the presence of small red welts on the surface of the dog’s skin, which may often appear as clusters of isolated dots instead of a large rash or blisters (such as those caused by nettles or poison ivy). Some insects can also leave behind droppings, which will appear as small black and red balls on the surface of the skin. The third distinctive symptom is the presence of egg casings on the skin, which range in color from black to grey and indicate the presence of a parasitic infestation such as fleas.
There are two main causes of irritation for the dog: the injection of venom or poison via the bite, or the movement of insects across an already bitten area. This results in scratching or gnawing of the affected area as the animal tries to soothe the itching and soreness. To diagnose the problem, the vet will typically conduct a physical examination and then try to capture the insect for examination if possible.
For more information on insect bites, be sure to check out our condition guide, Bug Bite Allergies in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Bug Bites?
Fortunately, it is relatively simple for a vet to treat most insect bites or for you to do it yourself at home. The majority of dogs will simply need some time for the swelling to subside and for the irritation to disappear, though soothing creams and antihistamines can speed the recovery process up. You should, however, be careful to only use products that have been specially formulated for dogs, as some products contain chemicals that they may find toxic.
Particularly poisonous bites may need to be treated with fluid therapy to dilute the toxins in the dog’s bloodstream, or anti-venom compounds, which can neutralize the effects of the substance. Dogs suffering from infestations of insects such as fleas or lice may need to be repeatedly treated with a specialized shampoo, which will kill the insects but keep the dog’s coat and skin intact. This process will take several weeks to complete, as new parasites may keep hatching even after the previous generation of adults have been killed off. If the treatment is successful, then the dog’s damaged skin should only take a few weeks to heal if there are no additional complications.
More details regarding treatment methods can be found in our guide to Bug Bite Allergies in Dogs, along with firsthand accounts from dog owners.
How Are Bug Bites Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
Although there are various disparities in the manner in which insect bites affect dogs and other animals, there are certain similarities that remain the same across the board.
The itching produced by parasites such as fleas or lice results in far more damage being done than the actual biting itself. A dog afflicted with the condition will start scratching themselves and further damage the skin, opening up the possibility of a bacterial infection taking hold.
Parasitic infestations of insects can be dealt with using shampoos in both humans and dogs.
Allergic reactions to insect bites will usually progress over a similar timescale and in the same manner for most types of animal, enabling you to spot the symptoms of your dog suffering effects in much the same way you would recognize the problem in a human.
How Are Insect Bites Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?
While there are definite similarities between cases of insect bites in dogs and other animals, there are also important differences that you should bear in mind when approaching the situation.
Both can be treated with soothing topical ointments, though many products suitable for use on humans may contain chemicals such as zinc, which is poisonous to canines.
As well as causing irritation, bloodsucking insects can often spread diseases from one dog to another due to their need to break the skin in order to feed. However, these illnesses are rarely passed between species, so humans and cats would not be at risk of picking up a condition, such as distemper, from an infested dog.
Due to dogs’ comparatively thick skin, many smaller insects with weaker jaws (such as ants) may not cause them as much concern as they would for humans and smaller animals.
A 1986 study conducted in Scandinavia applied human diagnostic techniques to determining the cause of particularly bad allergic reactions by dogs to unknown substances. The trial involved using a ‘grid’ technique whereby certain allergens were applied to different ‘grid squares’ on the dogs’ bodies with the objective being to see which one produced a visible reaction. The study was a success, meaning that veterinarians are now able to use the technique to help isolate specific common insect proteins and venoms that may be causing your dog a great deal of difficulty. Once identified, treatment strategies can be formulated to help prevent the type of insect in question from being able to continue to harm the dog.