Insect bites on dogs and cats

Cats and dogs, like all other animals, love the outdoors. As a result, they are prone to insect bites. It is therefore important for all pet owners to be able to recognize, treat and prevent insect bites. Few insect bites on your pet are extremely dangerous, but some can be very irritating and painful to your dog. There are some home remedies for treating insect bites on your pet that are safe and effective. Remember though, that some insects can transmit life-threatening bacteria, parasites, or viruses so it is crucial to focus on prevention by using veterinary-prescribed topical, oral, or collar-based medications.

Below is a list of the most common insect bites in the Lowveld, symptoms to look out for, and the treatment we recommend.

1. Fleas

A flea is a parasite that bites and feeds on the blood of your pet.

Common bite areas: Head, neck, groin, perineum (around the anus) and tail base.

Symptoms: Because your pet’s skin is irritated, your pet will lick, chew at or scratch the affected area in order to try to alleviate the irritation. Skin lesions from the flea bites can exhibit swelling, redness, hair loss and crusting.

Treatment: You should take note of where your pet is licking and scratching. Get a physical exam of your dog by his veterinarian. Your vet can help diagnose how severe the manifestation is, and may prescribe oral medication

2. Ticks

Ticks are slow-moving creatures that crawl across the skin surface until they find a suitable location to bite through layers of the skin to take a blood meal. These tiny pests suck blood until they are full. Once full, they drop off, and before they die, adult ticks lay several thousand eggs in the area which will eventually hatch into seed ticks. If you are not using effective repellants this cycle will continue and can quickly result in an infestation.

Tick bites can lead to many deadly diseases in both dogs and even the dog owner.

Common bite areas: Face, head, ears, sides of body (flanks) and limbs.

Symptoms: Redness can occur around the tick bite. Swelling and crusting can then occur once the tick is removed. If your pets has been infected with tick bite fever, the following symptoms will likely appear with a week or 2 of being bitten:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever and shallow breathing
  • Anemia – Pale gums which may turn yellow as the disease progresses.
  • Darkening of urine
  • Yellowing of faeces

Treatment: The best treatment by far is using effective tick control, like Bravecto, Nexguard or topical treatments obtainable by your vet. These treatments kill the ticks within 2-3 hours. The ticks will then fall off and die. You can also remove the tick carefully, and make sure that you kill it. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a tick . Have your dog evaluated by your vet to rule out disease.

3. Mosquitoes

Pets feel the sensation of a mosquito bite instantly, just as we do. Follow this link to learn more about mosquito bites on dogs: https://vanwijkstreetvet.co.za/care-guides/mosquito-risk-and-your-pet/

Common bite areas: All body surfaces are prone to mosquito bites, but larger surface ares (back, flanks, etc.) of the body provide broad surface areas to be bitten.



Symptoms: Sudden licking, chewing or scratching at the bite site occurs.

Treatment: An itchy bite is unlikely to do any lasting harm unless your pet has an allergic reaction. Certain pet-safe and natural bug repellents can keep mosquitoes at bay, but others can be toxic to your pet, so ask your vet about what’s safe to spray.

4. Bees, Hornets & Wasps

A sting will cause significant, unexpected pain, so much so that you might hear your dog yelp for help! You might also notice some immediate lameness if he’s stepped on a bee. Some dogs are allergic to bee stings and will exhibit far worse symptoms. Read more here

Common bite areas: Can occur anywhere on the body, and the sting tends to be localized to the point of entry into the skin.

Symptoms: Itching, lameness due to pain, swelling, redness, hives and more systemic signs like vomiting, diarrhoea, stumbling, collapse, and low blood pressure (especially if allergic).

Treatment: Treat bee stings on your pet the same way you would treat yourself, however never give your dog human medication without consulting with your vet first. The best way to remove a stinger is scrapping if off using a credit card or a similar object. Avoid using a tweezer as it may cause the stinger to release more venom.

5. Ants

Ant bites typically do not have significant whole-body effects on pets.

Common bite areas: Ants crawl on animals at the contact point between a body part and the ground, so standing pets get bitten on their feet and lounging animals can be bitten anywhere on the body having contact with the floor.

Symptoms: Itching, redness and lameness.

Treatment: Most bites go away on their own. Common treatments are for symptom relief and include pain relievers, ice packs and soothing lotions. Bites that trigger a severe allergic reaction may require emergency care.

6. Flies

Newborn and mobility compromised animals are the most prone to the consequences of fly bites, including itchiness and redness.

Common bite areas: A fly can land anywhere on your pet, so fly bites have no specific location where they occur.

Symptoms: Like fleas and ants, fly bites tend to cause pain and swelling, but typically do not have significant whole-body effects. Flies may deposit eggs on your pet’s skin, especially in open sores. Within days, the eggs hatch into larvae which crawl around on the surface or burrow within deeper skin layers and lead to swelling and secondary infection (bacteria, etc.).

Treatment: An itchy bite is unlikely to cause any lasting effects. However, be sure to speak to your vet if you suspect your pet to be infected.

7. Mites

Mites like mange (Sarcoptes, Demodex, etc.) are microscopic insects that burrow deep into the layers of the skin to feed and live. Chewing their way through your pet’s skin creates inflammation and leads to secondary infections (bacteria, yeast, etc.).

Common bite areas: armpits, groin, ear margins, and areas having minimal hair.

Symptoms: Inflammation, hair loss and skin lesions. Mites also usually cause intense itching.

Treatment: The best way to treat mites is to cut the dog’s fur short and give him a medicinal bath once a week for a month. The dog’s bedding and other areas he frequents should also be treated with an insecticide that is pet-safe. Ask your vet about remedies to help relieve itching that are safe for your pet.