Mosquitoes and other biting pests can ruin a fun outing. Your pet is as vulnerable as you to bug bites and stings, some of which can lead to a life-threatening problem. While many insect bites are benign and require no treatment, others may cause allergic reactions, local rashes, infections, or chronic diseases. Our Animal Care & Emergency Services team describes pets’ most common bite and sting reactions and explains how to prevent or reduce your furry pal’s bug exposure.

Flea allergy dermatitis in pets

Fleas live and reproduce on their hosts, constantly biting to feed on their blood. The bites are itchy and irritating, but some pets seem oblivious. However, some pets develop an allergy to flea saliva, and the constant exposure causes them to become extremely itchy, lose hair, and chew and lick until their skin is raw. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common dermatologic problem in pets and can occur after a single flea bite. Therefore, before doing anything else, your veterinarian will first check your itchy pet for fleas and start your furry pal on a monthly flea control medication.

Tick-borne disease in pets

Ticks are notorious for carrying and transmitting disease, which your pet can contract after one of these parasites attaches to their skin for a few hours or a few days, depending on the specific disease the pest is carrying. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease pets contract, but ticks transmit other conditions as well, including anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Some pets exposed to tick diseases do not become ill, others develop a short, self-limiting illness, but some animals can suffer from chronic consequences, including kidney or liver failure. To help reduce your pet’s disease risk, promptly remove ticks from your four-legged friend’s skin as soon as you find them. The best way to ensure your pet does not contract infectious disease is to ensure you administer their tick preventive product regularly.

Heartworm disease in pets

Mosquitoes can transmit heartworms through their bite. Heartworms live in their host’s heart and lungs, and can grow up to a foot long. As heartworms reproduce and the population increases over time, they can permanently damage your pet’s cardiac and respiratory systems, causing heart failure and death. Treatment for heartworm disease is painful, lengthy, and expensive. Because mosquitoes are stealthy and can easily sneak into your home, all pets should be on year-round heartworm prevention.

Bug bite infections and rashes in pets

Some bug bites can cause a local reaction or itchy rash around the bite area, which may resolve without treatment. However, some pets require veterinarian-prescribed oral or topical medications. A pet who bites, chews, or licks an itchy skin area can also develop a secondary infection, which requires veterinary attention. Call your veterinarian if a red area on your pet’s skin doesn’t resolve after a few days, or if your four-legged friend is incessantly licking or chewing their skin.

When a bug bite becomes an emergency

If your pet is allergic to an insect’s bite or sting, they can suffer a potentially life-threatening emergency. This most commonly occurs in response to bee and wasp stings, and spider bites, but some pets may also react to fire ants, certain flies, and occasionally mosquitoes. Most pets will develop itchy hives all over their bodies and facial swelling during an allergic reaction, but some may have a more serious (i.e., anaphylactic) response that progresses to vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or shock.

Immediate veterinary care is required to reverse a severe allergic reaction and help resolve your pet’s signs, usually through the use of injectable, fast-acting steroids and antihistamines. If your pet frequently experiences severe reactions, they may benefit from a veterinary dermatologist consultation, allergy testing, and allergy immunotherapy (i.e., desensitization shots).  

Preventing the most common bug bites in pets

You can dramatically reduce your pet’s exposure to fleas and ticks and prevent associated diseases by administering a veterinarian-recommended monthly parasite preventive. You can administer these medications orally to your pet or topically to their skin. Preventives provide long-lasting, continuous protection. You should also give your pet a monthly heartworm preventive. This medication will not reduce bug bites but will prevent your pet from contracting heartworm disease, which is a life-threatening condition. 

Flea and tick preventives do not repel or kill all bugs, so you may need to use an additional repellent product to help protect your pet. Ensure you choose a repellent that is created specifically for pets, because products intended for humans are unsafe for your four-legged friend. You can also reduce your pet’s bug exposure by keeping them inside during peak mosquito hours, staying on paved walking paths, and avoiding wooded areas.

Despite your precautions, your pet is likely to encounter a bug bite now and then. Contact our Animal Care & Emergency Services team if your pet has an acute allergic reaction to a bug bite and needs urgent care, or call your primary veterinarian for assistance in treating benign bug-related illnesses and concerns.