Ant Bites in Dogs

Ant bites in dogs don't usually produce very severe effects. However, there are always exceptions, so you have to be careful.
Ant Bites in Dogs
Francisco Morata Carramolino

Written and verified by the biologist Francisco Morata Carramolino.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Ants (family Formicidae) are close relatives of other insects that are famous for their poisonous sting: Bees and wasps. Together with them, they form the order Hymenoptera. As such, it’s not surprising that some species of formicids are poisonous, although ant bites in dogs aren’t usually clinically significant.

Due to their evolutionary divergence from other Hymenopterans, the vast majority of ants are harmless. For this reason, in almost all cases, the sting of a poisonous ant has no medical importance in dogs, cats, humans, or other animals. Even so, there are some species with which you need to be more careful.

In this article, we’ll talk to you about the venom of ants, the most common symptoms, and how to act in the case of ant bites in dogs. We invite you to continue reading to learn more.

Poison in ants

Ants are an incredibly diverse and large family of insects. In fact, they account for up to 25% of the Earth’s animal biomass. What’s more, they’ve specialized in very different life strategies. As a consequence, the venom of these animals and the way they use it has also varied enormously between taxa.

In some cases, ants use their toxins to subdue prey. In others, they use it to defend the colony from predators or competitors. What’s more, they can function as herbicides or antimicrobials and intervene in the communication of the colony.

Experts believe that around 71% of ants are capable of stinging, as some species have lost this ability. Not all of them inject their venom through a stinger and some are able to expel it under pressure to spray their victims.

Despite this, ants produce very small amounts of poison, from 1 to 300 micrograms per individual. Therefore, the sting of a single ant doesn’t usually pose any danger. However, when tens or hundreds of workers bite the same victim, the effects can be more damaging.

Still, most ant stings aren’t medically significant, unless an allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock occurs. Some types of ants whose sting is more harmful are the following:

  • Solenopsis (fire ants): This genus includes more than 280 species throughout the world. They are very small but carry stingers that are capable of causing bites. Their strength is not found in the individual specimen, but in the massiveness of the colony.
  • Pachycondyla: A genus of ponerine ants that includes more than 300 species. They’re usually large species, with small and very aggressive colonies.
  • Myrmecia (bulldog ants): 90 large species, all endemic to Australia. Experts consider them to be the most dangerous, as the risk of anaphylactic shock after a sting is much greater than that of other species. Some humans have died from its bite.
  • Paraponera (bullet ants): This genus only includes 2 species and the most famous is Paraponera clavata. The sting of this ant is said to be the most painful in the world and far exceeds that of any other hymenoptera.

Symptoms of ant sting in dogs

Dogs are naturally curious, which can lead to unnecessary risks when interacting with other animals. Dogs can encourage bites by burrowing into ant hills, sniffing at them, standing on top of them, trying to eat these insects, or similar acts.

Therefore, dogs are more vulnerable to ant bites on the paws – which are barer and in contact with the ground -, on the muzzle, and on other parts of the face. In these areas, the poison can be more dangerous.

In most cases, ant stings produce mild symptoms in dogs, although this depends on the number of bites and the sensitivity to the venom of the animal. Some of the most common symptoms are the following:

  • Irritation of the area
  • Mild inflammation
  • Redness between the toes or in other areas that receive the toxins
  • Sudden lameness, aversion to supporting the leg, or jerking of the leg
  • Attempts to bite or lick the sting site

Normally, no more significant symptoms develop, and the effects of the venom pass without complications. However, there are always certain risks having to do with toxins, especially if allergic reactions or a very high number of inoculations occur in a short period of time.

More severe cases

Anaphylactic reaction is always a possibility, albeit remote, when dealing with toxins. Anaphylactic shock involves a prior release of histamine and other compounds that, among other things, cause tissue inflammation and constriction of the airways. In these unfortunate events, the dog can develop the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Hives and inflammation.
  • Weakness.
  • Breathing difficulties. The animal may breathe faster than normal – greater than 30 breaths per minute – and in a jerky manner.
  • Gums that are pale or purple in color (cyanosis).
  • Intense pain.
  • Collapse and possible death.

Overreactions are especially troublesome when they occur on the pet’s snout. In these conditions, inflammation can make breathing difficult or, in extreme cases, obstruct the airways.

How to treat an ant sting in dogs

If you suspect that one of these hymenopterans has bitten your pet, the first thing to do is remove it from the anthill. After that, you should examine their body surface for ants, marks, and sting symptoms.

Mild reactions to an ant sting don’t always require veterinary treatment. They don’t cause serious discomfort and they also decrease naturally in a short period of time.

On these occasions, you can apply cold for between 5 and 10 minutes on the affected area, in order to relieve it. For this purpose, a baking soda and water ointment is also a common remedy. You must keep the animal from licking the area so that it doesn’t become infected. The typical Elizabethan cone or collar is a very useful tool in these cases.

You should continue to observe the dog carefully until you’re completely certain that the symptoms aren’t worsening. If you detect that the canine’s situation progressively worsens, it’s best to contact a veterinarian quickly.

This professional is the most qualified to determine if the dog is suffering an allergic reaction. Likewise, they’re responsible for choosing the most recommended type of treatment. If necessary, the vet can administer antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, or other emergency medications.

A dog at the vet.

Ant toxins are usually relatively benign, but as always, there may be exceptions. You should note that, in any situation that could threaten the health of a companion animal, it’s imperative that you consult a veterinarian regarding any other alternative.

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