Insect Bite Reaction in Dogs

By Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Emergency Situations, Medical Conditions, Pet Services

What causes a reaction to an insect bite?bee_insect_bite

Many people and pets are sensitive to the proteins contained in the saliva or venom of biting insects. They may be born with certain sensitivities or, more often, they may develop sensitivities if they are exposed numerous times to a particular insect bite. Bee stings and the bites of spiders, fleas, and ticks are the most common causes of insect bite reactions in pets.

What are the clinical signs of an insect bite reaction?

The most common clinical signs associated with an insect bite reaction include:

  • swelling and redness at the site of the bite
  • hives or multiple red, raised swellings over the body
  • a swollen face or muzzle
  • difficulty breathing and vomiting

Some patients will progress to severe respiratory distress and anaphylactic shock.

How is an insect bite reaction diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and history of the pet being stung/bitten. In certain cases, blood samples will be analyzed looking for the presence of eosinophils, the white blood cell associated with many allergic reactions.

How is an insect bite reaction treated?

Treatment is based on the type of insect bite, the number of bites, and the severity of clinical signs. Treatment typically consists of removal of the stinger or other insect parts, followed by administration of anti-histamines and anti-inflammatory agents such as corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone) as needed.

In patients that progress to systemic or anaphylactic shock, supportive measures such as intravenous fluids, corticosteroids, oxygen therapy, and epinephrine (adrenaline) are often required. In these severe cases, electrolyte levels will be monitored and a urinalysis will be performed to evaluate urine output and kidney function.

What is the prognosis for insect bite reactions?dog_insect_bites_2018-01

Except in rare cases of anaphylactic shock, the prognosis is excellent. Cases that involve tens to hundreds of bee stings merit a more guarded prognosis.

"Many pets that demonstrate insect bite hypersensitivity are also hypersensitive to flea and tick bites, pollens and molds, and many foods."

Future insect bites should be avoided because many reactions worsen with repeated exposure to the offending proteins or toxins. You should always tell your veterinarian if your pet has ever experienced an insect bite reaction so that preventive measures can be taken in the future. Many pets that demonstrate insect bite hypersensitivity are also hypersensitive to flea and tick bites, pollens and molds, and many foods. Speak to your veterinarian for information on products that are safe and effective for preventing insect bites in your dog.

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