Biting Stinging Things Abound

The biting, stinging things are out in force.

We’ve had a rash of rashes at Hillcrest Animal Hospital lately and quite a few were caused by black fly bites. On the heels of our warm winter and early spring, the black flies have been out for some time and they do love to feast on dog bellies.

The welts left by black flies are distinctive – a bright red circle, usually about the size of a nickel and most often found on the hairless skin of the abdomen. (Photo of black fly bites on a dog) One dog I saw last week had more than a dozen of the spots, but fortunately he didn’t seem bothered by them. Several clients brought their pets in concerned they had ringworm or Lyme Disease because of the circular sores and were, no doubt, relieved to find out black flies were to blame.

The “bullseye” lesions people get from ticks carrying Lyme Disease do not occur in dogs. Likewise, ringworm doesn’t usually cause the same kind of wound on pets that it does in humans. We tend to develop raised, circular outlines on our skin. This can sometimes happen in dogs and cats, but usually they get crusted areas and thinning hair. Veterinary Partner offers some great info on ringworm in pets.

But we were talking about insects and ringworm, despite its name, is a fungus. So what other bugs can bug your pets aside from black flies? There’s a pretty long list, including fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, spiders, wasps, ants, mites and several other varieties of flies.

Cats can suffer horribly from mosquito bite allergies. We call it Ear Nose Toes (ENT) syndrome because those sparsely-haired areas are the easiest targets for bugs and they can be badly swollen in allergic kitties. Mosquitoes can also carry heartworm which mostly affects dogs and West Nile Virus, a killer of horses and people.

Although there are excellent products to kill fleas and some skin mites in dogs and cats, repelling ticks or mosquitoes takes pretty potent pesticides many of which are harmful if ingested – a likely outcome if you put them on pets. Never treat dogs or cats with DEET-containing products unless instructed by a veterinarian. Talk to your vet about safer options and recommendations for managing the risk of tick-vectored Lyme disease, such as spot-ons or vaccines.

The best protection against mosquito and black fly bites is to keep pets indoors when the bugs are swarming. It’s also really helpful to rid your property of standing water where mosquitoes love to breed.

Insect experts can’t predict whether our weird weather lately will create a bumper crop of mosquitoes or if the early risers will just die off and leave us alone. (See Buggy news from the ROM.) It will, they say, depend on what the weather is like from here on. Apparently one species, the grasshopper, is expected to do well this year as it survives best through warm, dry winters. Fortunately for Fido, grasshoppers don’t often bite. Fleas on the other hand most certainly do and they are definitely off to an early start.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital
Trenton, Ontario – May 2012