Fire Ant Bites on Dogs: Prevention & Treatment for Dogs Bit by Fire Ants

Pet care & safety

Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), also known as red ants, are a common nuisance in the environment in certain areas, especially within the Southeastern United States. They originated in South America but have migrated to the US through various means, including commerce and travel. Fire ants build nests or colonies that look like large dirt mounds (i.e., ant hills). They are often attracted to moist areas and tend to prefer to build their nests around structures, such as sidewalk edges and cracks, against housing, or at the base of trees and bushes. They will travel pretty far from the nest for food and water if needed, so an ant hill near your house could result in a home infestation in some cases. 

But let’s be real, if you live in an area where fire ants are prevalent, you know exactly what those little mounds look like and you also know that accidentally stepping on one is almost inevitable, both for humans and for dogs. 

Are Fire Ants Biting or Stinging your Dog? 

Fire ants don’t actually bite, or, more accurately, they don’t just bite. Fire ants are classified within the order Hymenoptera, sharing the group with bees and wasps, and are known for their stinging rather than biting behavior. They grasp their target with their jaws and inject venom with a stinger located on their abdomen. So actually, if your poor pup has a fire ant bite, they’ve been both bitten and stung! 

Identifying Symptoms of Fire Ant Stings on Dogs 

Dogs, with their boundless curiosity and adventurous spirits, can sometimes encounter these less friendly aspects of nature. It’s helpful for pet parents to recognize the early and later reactions that dogs may experience from fire ant bites, ensuring prompt and effective care. 

Early Reactions to Fire Ant Bites on Dogs 

Within the initial minutes after a sting from a fire ant, dogs might begin to show early reactions indicative of envenomation. Dog parents may notice noticeable swelling at the sting site, along with redness and a thickening of the skin. This immediate response is the body’s natural reaction to the venom of the fire ant, which contains irritants that cause such inflammatory responses. 

Later Reactions to Fire Ant Bites on Dogs 

Several hours after the sting, the early signs can develop into more significant symptoms. The affected area is likely to become a raised, reddened area that is extremely itchy for the dog, leading to discomfort and distress. In some cases, this can progress to the formation of pustules, which are akin to blisters filled with fluid, much like those seen in human reactions to insect stings. Alternatively, the sting might manifest as a flat, red circle on the dog’s skin, which should be carefully watched for any signs of infection or allergic reaction. 

Are Fire Ant Stings Dangerous to Dogs? 

They can be. If a dog is bitten by many ants at one time, the amount of venom injected can lead to severe reactions. In rare cases, some dogs can also develop an anaphylactic reaction from just one sting. Symptoms of a reaction include trouble breathing, laying on their side and not responding to an owner’s voice or touch, seizures, and pale skin or bruising. Reactions can be an emergency situation and veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible. 

Safely Removing Fire Ants from Dogs 

If you see fire ants on your dog, brush them off quickly. You may want to use a cloth or gloves to avoid getting the fire ants on you. Rinsing your pet off with a hose can be helpful. Unfortunately, removing ants while they are stinging can be difficult because their jaws are strong and used to hold themselves in place to inject venom. Trying to remove ants can also agitate them more and lead to more stings, so be as quick as you can. 

This process can be distressing for everyone involved, but just stay calm and help keep your pet calm and brush or wash away all the fire ants you can see. 

Treating Fire Ant Stings 

Just a few stings on a pet are not typically a cause for concern if they are acting normally. Within 24-72 hours, the sting sites should improve. If your pet is itchy or uncomfortable, Benadryl or diphenhydramine can be used. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with the proper dose based on your pet’s age and body weight. Cool water baths can help with some of the inflammation in their skin. Avoid using over-the-counter creams or lotions unless your veterinarian says they are safe. 

If your pet is extremely itchy or uncomfortable, the veterinarian may give them a steroid injection or dispense steroid tablets. Antibiotics are usually not necessary unless your pet develops an infection from scratching the stings. If your pet is showing symptoms beyond itchiness, this could be a sign of a reaction. Your veterinarian may need to take other measures such as epinephrine injections or hospitalization to ensure your pet recovers well. 

Preventing Fire Ant Encounters with Dogs 

Treat your yard if you see fire ant mounds. Many products are available, just be sure to read the labels so that they are safe to use around your dog. If ants are a problem in your home, treating your home may be necessary too. Do not use outdoor baits inside the home because they attract ants. Clean any food or drink spills. Keep food, including dog food, in tightly sealed containers. 

No products can fully prevent fire ants from targeting dogs; however, avoiding damp areas during walks and steering clear of ant hills can significantly reduce the risk. In areas with dense fire ant populations, protective gear for dogs, such as booties, can provide an additional layer of defense during outdoor activities. 

Fire Ant Bite Treatment and Pet Insurance Benefits 

In the unpredictable world where nature’s small hazards, such as fire ant stings, can lead to unexpected veterinary visits, it’s wise to be prepared. Pet insurance can alleviate the financial strain of treatments, ranging from simple antihistamines for mild reactions to more complex care for severe cases, ensuring that your furry friend gets the necessary attention without compromise. Let Embrace Pet Insurance be your partner in protecting your dog’s health and your peace of mind through all of life’s little surprises.