As several popular movies have pointed out, bugs live an entirely strange life and outnumber humans and pets to an exponential degree. With so many bugs out there, bites and stings are nearly impossible to avoid, and pets are as much or more at risk than people. While many bug bites are harmless and heal without complication, others can lead to serious illness, infections, rashes, or anaphylactic shock. Here are seven steps from our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team for treating and preventing common bug bites on your pet.

Step #1: Rule out other pet skin problems

If you see itchy bumps, red skin, or hair loss on your pet but aren’t sure if bug bites are to blame, schedule a visit with our veterinary team. Bugs could be the problem, in the form of fleas or mange mites, or your pet could have an allergy or skin infection. During your pet’s visit, we will thoroughly check them for parasites and take skin and hair samples for microscopic and culture analyses to formulate a treatment plan that relieves itching and discomfort. 

Step #2: Address an acute bite or sting with basic first aid

If you know or suspect your pet is bitten by a bug, spider, fly, or mosquito, being stung by fire ants, a bee, wasp, or hornet, or find a tick on your pet, you can institute first aid measures to reduce the immediate discomfort and prevent secondary problems. Try the following:

  • Remove visible stingers with the edge of a credit card—avoid squeezing with tweezers, which may release more venom into the skin.
  • Remove visible ticks with blunt-edged tweezers or a tick removal tool.
  • Apply a baking soda paste or aloe and ice to reduce pain, itching, and swelling.
  • Keep over-the-counter Benadryl tablets, antibiotic cream, and cortisone cream in your pet’s first aid kit. Remember that you must always speak with our team before administering any over-the-counter medications, to ensure they are appropriate.
  • If your pet has many bites from ants, flies, or mosquitoes, a soothing anti-itch aloe or oatmeal shampoo can help.
  • Keep your pet from scratching or chewing the area with an Elizabethan (i.e., cone) collar, if needed.

Step #3: Monitor for allergic reactions or bite complications

Any bug bite or sting can cause a mild to severe allergic reaction. Mild reactions may include local swelling or a rash, while a severe reaction can lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. If your pet develops widespread hives, facial swelling, trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, or collapse, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.

Other complications include infections that develop after your four-legged friend licks or scratches their skin, and from tick-borne diseases or heartworm infections from ticks and mosquitoes, respectively. Schedule an appointment if your pet becomes acutely ill in the weeks or months following a tick bite. Also, ask for a combination heartworm and tick disease screening test at your pet’s annual wellness visit.

Step #4: Administer a monthly pet flea, tick, and heartworm control product

A good monthly parasite control product can help prevent complications associated with flea, tick, and mosquito bites. Flea and tick preventives keep these pests off your pet for a month or more per dose, and heartworm preventives kill immature heartworms that were transmitted through mosquito bites before they matured into dangerous adults. 

Step #5: Purchase a pet-safe insect repellent

A pet-safe repellent is another helpful tool for preventing itchy or dangerous bug bites. Products made for humans, including those formulated for children, are not always pet-safe, but pet-specific products can be purchased. Ingredients often include pet-safe essential oils, which have the added bonus of smelling great. Remember to reapply frequently, according to the label instructions, to maintain efficacy.

Step #6: Practice bug avoidance strategies with your pet

Possibly the best way to prevent bug bites is to avoid the bugs altogether. Here are a few key bug avoidance strategies:

  • Stay out of wooded or grassy areas during peak mosquito hours, or after rain.
  • Keep your yard grass cut short and remove leaf litter, wood piles, and other debris that can harbor ticks, spiders, or insects.
  • Keep your dog on a leash and stay in the center of paved or mowed trails when you walk.

Our Valley Center Veterinary Clinic team can provide further guidance if you’re concerned about bug bites or other skin problems on your pet this summer. Call us to schedule a visit for a skin check, wellness examination, parasite screening testing, or for more tips on treating and preventing bug bites.