If your pooch has a run-in with these insects, here’s what to look for and know when to seek professional care.
closeup of a dog sniffing an ant
Credit: Andar / Shutterstock

Dogs love snuffling around outdoors, and every hidden nook and scent on the breeze spark their curiosity. But sometimes, they need to keep their noses to themselves to avoid troublesome encounters with all the creepy crawlies in the world. Ants, for example, can react negatively to zealous sniffing around their colony.

Yet do you know what ant bites on dogs look like, and what to do if you find them? Albert Ahn, DVM, is the veterinary advisor for MYOS Pet. He tells Daily Paws that depending on the insect, ants might be a short-term bother … or an emergency situation.

Which Ants Are Most Dangerous to Dogs?

According to National Geographic, there are more than 10,000 ant species around the world. With the classification order of Hymenoptera, they're in the same insect family as bees and wasps. Only about 1,000 are in the U.S, and of those, there are 25 species most commonly found around humans and pets.

We don't have to list them all, though, because there's really one primary bugger that raises concern. "Generally speaking, fire ants pose a bigger problem for dogs, because they produce venom which contains an alkaloid called piperidine, which is related to piperine, the main ingredient in black pepper," Ahn says. "The venom is capable of causing local irritation and swelling at the site of the ant bite."

Imported fire ants first appeared in the U.S. in the 1930s in Mobile, Ala., aboard cargo ships from South America. They've since spread rapidly throughout the southern and western regions of the country. Predominantly reddish-brown and black, averaging one-eighth to three-eighths of an inch, these insects are aggressive and ready to fight. Any canine interloper is likely to be attacked by not one, but many, fire ants defending their nests—they use their sharp mandibles to latch on, then inject venom with a stinger. Ouch!

Other insects typically found around your home, such as carpenter ants, pavement ants, and sugar ants, rarely sting pets. 

Symptoms of Ant Bites on Dogs

So what do ant bites look like on a dog? "They're typically raised, red swollen lesions on the skin," Ahn says. "In some cases, these skin lesions can also contain pus." Here's how they look on a human, which is similar to how they might appear on your pup.

Ant bites on dogs frequently appear on your pooch's paws, lower legs, and snout—but depending on the thickness of their fur, could be difficult to spot. So what you're really keeping an eye on are other serious signs of trouble, such as: 

  • Continuous limping or pawing at their nose, or pain in a particular part of their body.
  • Weakness, facial swelling, and trouble breathing. Ahn says they might be having an allergic reaction. Not all dogs respond this way to insect bites, but some do.
  • Progressive symptoms such as pale gums, vomiting, or collapse. "These are signs of anaphylaxis," Ahn says. "An anaphylactic reaction requires immediate veterinary attention."   

Because fire ants tend to attack in groups and coordinate their stings during an attack, their bites are more likely to cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Fortunately, not all ant bites cause a reaction. If the bite is mild, your dog may not show any symptoms of being bitten and the bite will go away on its own. Keep in mind, though, that dogs have different sensitivities to ant bites. What may be a harmless ant bite for one dog may cause an intense reaction in another dog. Don't hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog's symptoms after an ant bite.

How to Treat Ant Bites on Dogs

Ahn says that if your pet doesn't have any of the more severe symptoms of ant bites, some simple home remedies might ease the irritation of superficial encounters.

"These include a baking soda solution or lemon juice combined with baking soda or apple cider vinegar," he says. "Additionally, a pet parent can use olive oil to help soothe the itchiness from an ant bite or a drop or two of honey." Make sure to prevent your dog from licking the bite site; an e-collar will help prevent licking.

You can also apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in towel to the bite site to reduce swelling.

Any allergic reaction requires proper professional treatment. Ahn says depending on the severity, this might include: 

  • A steroid to counteract the anaphylaxis while providing supportive care in the form of fluid therapy, anti-vomiting medication, and in more extreme cases, oxygen therapy. 
  • Most anaphylactic cases can be treated within an hour or two. In more complicated cases, hospitalization for up to 24 hours may be warranted for continuous monitoring.

How to Prevent Future Ant Bites

"The most important thing pet owners can do is be vigilant and watch for any ant hills or colonies which could represent a potential biting/stinging hazard for their dog," Ahn says. "Prevention is the best course of action." If you live in a fire ant-prone area, conduct weekly scans of the backyard, and consider fewer visits to off-leash dog parks and open fields.

He also recommends staying consistent with preventative treatments to protect your outdoor-loving fur babies from other pesky pests such as:

"Talk to your veterinarian to learn more about an appropriate product to protect your dog from these other insects that can carry and transmit serious, life-threatening diseases," he adds.