Things That Bite and Sting: Beware the Insects of Summer
Summertime means picnics and outdoor living… as well as bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants and other biting, stinging bugs that can make life miserable.
Various members of the insect family can cause problems for not just us but also for our pets. Bees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets are commonly encountered in both urban and rural landscapes. Some pets are fascinated with these flying insects and will endlessly try to catch them — with occasionally painful results. Unfortunately, sometimes these insects' activities or nests place them close to the ground where pet attention is almost guaranteed.
With most stings, you won't know anything has occurred until you see your pet with a swollen face or notice him limping. Facial swelling (angioedema), eyelid swelling and hives are commonly seen after a pet is stung. In the case of a bee, if you can locate the stinger, use a credit card or fingernail to gently scrape it out. Many times, however, the stinger cannot be located. You can use a cool compress on the affected area to help reduce the swelling and pain. Do not use an ice pack as that can cause frost bite. Monitor your pet for a couple of hours to make sure signs are not worsening.
Discuss with your veterinarian if there are any additional home remedies you can use. Aloe Vera gel or a baking soda paste can be used, but you will need to keep the animal from licking the area. Antihistamines can be used in mild cases, but be sure to call your veterinarian to find out which product is safe for your pet and what the appropriate dose is.
If your pet experiences a severe reaction (anaphylaxis), see the veterinarian immediately. Anaphylaxis is a shock type of reaction. Your pet may have difficulty breathing, trembling, diarrhea, pale gums, weakness or may even be unconscious. If any of these symptoms occur, take him immediately to your veterinarian — this is an emergency! Your veterinarian may need to administer antihistamines, steroids or other medications to help reverse the problems. In sensitive animals, a single sting can result in anaphylaxis. Many times, veterinarians will prescribe an epi-pen-type auto injector for animals with a history of anaphylaxis. Owners are then able to start treatment on the way to the veterinarian.
Encounters with Africanized bees or animals that get more than 10 stings per pound can result in death. These animals can die from multiple organ failure. If your pet receives multiple stings, you must get your animal to the veterinarian immediately. You can help keep your pet safe by placing low fenced borders around flowering plants and by noticing and avoiding any insect nest sites.
People living in the southern United States also have to contend with fire ants, an invasive species that was first accidentally imported into this country from Brazil in the early 1900s. Fire ants are extremely aggressive and will bite anyone or anything that they feel is threatening them or their mound. Fire ant bites are extremely painful. The ants inject an oily venom that produces a reddened, raised bump. With some species of fire ants, within 24 hours these reddened bumps will turn into a white pustule that can become infected. Do not allow your pet to scratch the bites.
If fire ants have attacked your pet, remove the animal from the area to stop additional ants from attacking. Carefully brush off the fire ants that you see on your pet's body; attempting to slap them can simply aggravate them more. Make sure that you are wearing gloves and protective clothing, as the fire ants will attack you during this process. Don't spray water on your pet to remove the ants because it can increase the amount of bites.
Cool compresses can be used on the affected area to help reduce pain and swelling. Antihistamines can be used in mild cases, but be sure to call your veterinarian to find out which products can be used on your pet and for an appropriate dose. Anaphylaxis can also occur secondary to fire ant bites. See your veterinarian for treatment if your pet is having any difficulty breathing or if they seem painful.
Treat fire ant mounds with pesticides to help protect your pets and children. Fire ants live in large societies, and their mounds can house anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of ants. Always follow label directions and make sure to keep your pets away from treated areas.
Venomous Walking Sticks
While the “sting” from these insects doesn’t come from their bite, it can be just as painful. While most species of walking stick insects are completely harmless, in the southeastern United States there are some species that have the ability to spray defensive venom when they think they are being threatened. These walking sticks can aim the spray into your pet’s eyes and mouth. When this venom gets in the eyes of a cat or a dog, it is very painful and stops the animal from hurting the walking stick. The venom can actually cause a chemically induced corneal ulcer (burn) and even temporary blindness. If your pet is squinting or rubbing at his eyes, or his eyes look red and swollen, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. You may be directed to rinse the eyes with saline solution or tap water before your appointment.
While not all bee stings or fire ant bites require medical attention, you do need to know when to contact your veterinarian if your pet is attacked by one of the many ubiquitous stinging and biting insects of summer.
Read more Vetstreet articles by Dr. Tina Wismer: