Beware the Biting, Stinging Insects of Summer

BY DR. TINA WISMER DVM, DABVT, DABT | Article Featured on

Summertime often means more time outside…and also more bees, wasps, hornets and other bugs that bite and sting and can make life miserable not just for us, but also our pets.

There are various insects that can cause problems for pets, who may try to catch them — sometimes with painful results. And unfortunately, sometimes these insects’ activities or nests are close to the ground, where they can easily capture your pet’s attention. And then there are spiders, which can be found everywhere in the environment and it can be hard to totally prevent your pet from coming in contact with them.

Here are some tips on how to deal with some common injuries pets can sustain from these pests, and how to help your pets keep a friendly distance from them.

Bee Stings

With most stings, you probably won’t know anything has occurred until you notice your pet has a swollen face or is limping. Facial swelling, eyelid swelling and hives are common after a pet is stung. In the case of a bee, if you can locate the stinger, use a credit card or fingernail to gently scrape it out. However, sometimes the stinger cannot be located. Use a cool compress to help reduce swelling and pain, but don’t use an ice pack because that can cause frost bite. Monitor your pet for a few hours to make sure signs are not worsening and talk to your veterinarian to see if there are any additional home remedies you can use. If your pet has a severe reaction — like difficulty breathing, trembling, diarrhea, pale gums, weakness or even unconsciousness — see your veterinarian immediately. Also see your veterinarian immediately if your pet is stung multiple times. 

To help keep your pet safe from stings, put low fenced borders around flowering plants. Also, take notice of — and avoid — any insect nest sites.

Fire Ant Bites

People in the southern United States often have to contend with fire ants, which are aggressive and will bite anyone and anything they feel is threatening them or their mound. Their bites are extremely painful and with some species of fire ants, within 24 hours these reddened bumps will turn into a white pustule that can become infected. 

If fire ants have attacked your pet, remove him from the area the insects are located. Carefully brush the fire ants you see off of your pet’s body; slapping them can aggravate them more. Be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing so you aren’t bitten and don’t spray water on your pet to remove the ants because it can increase the amount of bites. Use a cool compress to help reduce pain and swelling and talk to your veterinarian to see if an antihistamine might help your pet. Do not allow your pet to scratch the bites. See your veterinarian immediately if your pet is having difficulty breathing or if the bites seem painful.

Treat fire ant mounds with pesticides to help protect your pets and children. Always follow label directions and keep your pets away from treated areas.

Venomous Walking Stick Burns

Most species of walking stick insects are harmless, but there are some species found in the southeastern United States that spray venom when they think they are being threatened. They can aim the spray into your pet’s eyes and mouth to stop the animal from hurting them. The venom can burn your pet’s eyes and even cause temporary blindness. You’ll need to take a trip to the vet if your pet is squinting or rubbing his eyes or if they look red and swollen. Your vet may tell you to rinse your pet’s eyes with saline solution or tap water before your appointment.

Widow Spider Bites

There are five species of widow (hourglass) spiders in the U.S. They like dark, undisturbed places and are not aggressive — they will generally only bite defensively. A single bite can cause life-threatening signs, but fortunately “dry bites,” in which no venom is released are possible. The severity of the signs depends on two sets of factors — the spider and the victim. Spider-dependent factors include the size of the spider, the amount of venom injected and the time of year, since warmer temperatures appear to increase the toxicity of venom. Victim-dependent variables include the animal species, the animal’s size (smaller animals are often more susceptible), the location of the bite, any underlying health problems and the animal’s age (younger and older victims tend to show more severe signs).

Any suspected widow bite should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Treatment generally involves pain medications and muscle relaxants. Most animals recover in 48 to 72 hours and fatalities are uncommon.

Brown Recluse and Hobo Spider Bites

Brown recluse and hobo spiders can cause a large area of cellular damage with their bites. The brown recluse is nocturnal and not aggressive; the hobo spider is large and aggressive and builds webs at ground level or in basements.

Recluse and hobo spider venom has compounds that destroys cell membranes and attracts white blood cells, which also increases cellular damage. If the venom is absorbed into the blood stream, it can break down red blood cells and cause anemia; it also affects coagulation and can cause bleeding. The bites are only slightly painful initially, but over an eight-hour period they will become red, swollen and tender. Tissue around the bite begins to die and a wound as large as 10 inches in diameter can occur. Animals are treated with pain medications and antibiotics, but healing is slow and may take months. If you think your pet has been bitten by a recluse or hobo spider, call your veterinarian.


Not only can the tarantula be found in the wild in some parts of the country, but people are increasingly keeping them as exotic pets in the home. And there are some species of tarantulas that produce venom that can cause local pain. But it’s not just the tarantula’s venom that can cause problems for pets. Ingestion of the stiff hair that covers the spider’s legs can cause drooling, oral irritation, pain and vomiting. Tarantulas can throw these hairs in defense when they feel threatened, so you should never let your pet put his face that close to one — and you shouldn’t either. However, no serious problem should occur from a tarantula bite. Still, if you suspect your pet has been bitten by a tarantula, be sure to talk to your veterinarian.


Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Dr. Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine) welcomes referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.

Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital

9339 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy,
Beaverton, OR 97005.

Phone: 503.292.3001
Fax: 503.292.6808
Email: [email protected]